By Rieko Suzuki, Ph.D., Waseda University, Japan
It has been a privilege for me to be able to return to the Armstrong Browning Library for the third time—my first occasion being as a participant of the Golden Jubilee Conference, second as a Visiting Scholar in 2007. As I reflect back on the first trip to the ABL, I was heavily jetlagged, worn out by the heat, and overwhelmed by the scale of Texas. Not much had changed regarding the first, but as for the weather, I was surprised to find Texas positively cold in March (only in the first week); as for the last factor, I was well acclimatized to say that it even felt like a homecoming.
My encounter with Texas has been brought about by no other than Robert Browning whose works I have been examining since my doctoral years at the University of Manchester, England, under the supervision of Professor John Woolford. I did not begin my academic career as a Browning scholar, however, but rather as a Shelleyan: I was readily able to see what Browning saw in Shelley and had much to sympathize with; but as years went by, I became captivated by Browning’s works, by his most memorable poems. So it has been a delight for me to spend a full month examining Browning’s works in relation to Shelley.
My goal of this research trip was twofold: to examine Browning’s argument on art and to look at Fifine at the Fair in relation to Shelley. Not only was I able to consult all secondary materials pertaining to the above topics, I was also able to consult the Brownings’ correspondence database that covers their unpublished letters. To be able to do a search for any reference to “Shelley,” for example, and come up with the results in a matter of seconds was truly remarkable. Sure enough, it came up with many, which I need to process in the coming months back home. I am unable, therefore, to disclose any “discoveries” that may shed light on a new influence of Shelley on Browning at this point in time, but hope to do so in due course.
What did I accomplish then during my month at the ABL? I was able to get a good grasp of the art criticism scene in England at the time of Browning’s composition of the painter poems, and I was able to read deeper into Fifine due to secondary materials available at the ABL. It is often the case back in Japan that I need to go look for articles or books not only in my own library but also in other libraries through inter-library loan, which can take weeks to come through. By the time I get all the materials in hand, I may have lost the thread of my argument. Such inconvenience was not once felt here at the ABL, and I am truly grateful for the environment that enabled me to explore further into the topics without being held back.
The holdings of art and artifacts of the ABL were of immense interest and inspiration too: the paintings and sculpture by Pen Browning revealed a taste that he had cultivated; of course, this does not necessarily mean that it was that of Robert Browning, but it did shed light on the kind of artistic environment where Pen developed his taste.
Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to all the staff at the ABL for the hospitality and professional assistance I received during my stay there: not only in researching on subjects and gaining assistance to go forward, but also in doing my weekly grocery shopping, in enabling me to satiate my taste buds through Texan cuisine, and in getting cultural insight into the south by being invited to see a play. All this amounted to a memorable stay in Waco. Thank you!
To learn more about the Armstrong Browning Library’s Visiting Scholars Program, visit our website.