Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Robert Browning

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Robert Browning

Article excerpt

The pronounced rise in the number of publications on Browning's work coinciding with the bicentenary year 2012 is followed in 2013 by a strong series of sophisticated book chapters and articles. These publications consider a range of Browning poems in contexts as diverse as literary stylistics, thing theory, histories of lyric and the dramatic monologue, orality and performance, archaeologies of influence, Risorgimento politics, legacies of Romanticism, philosophical investigations of skepticism, and cross-cultural representations. The number of new voices in publications on Browning is striking, including work by scholars who have published in other fields and who are writing on Browning for the first time. The Ring and the Book continues to garner significant attention, and Browning is well represented in new surveys of Victorian literary genres and histories, from Kate Flint's outstanding Cambridge History of Victorian Literature (2012) to Mathew Bevis's equally impressive Oxford Handbook to Victorian Poetry (Oxford UP, 2013), following Richard Cronin's Reading Victorian Poetry (2012), Valentine Cunningham's Victorian Poetry Now: Poems, Poems, Poetics (2011), Linda Hughes's Cambridge Introduction to Victorian Poetry (2010), and other generalist and specialist surveys. These works map the terrain of Victorian studies with a comprehensiveness not available to scholars in earlier decades. Specialist overviews like Michael Wheeler's St. John and the Victorians (Cambridge UP, 2012), in which Browning figures prominently, or The Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature (2009), though it contains just one reference to The Ring and the Book, begin to form a corpus centering on specific cultural or intellectual issues, supporting specialist publications within the field of Victorian poetry (for instance, Charles LaPorte's Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible [UP Virginia, 2011]) and, without doubt, fostering future research on Browning's writing.

The essays in Matthew Bevis's The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry (2013) may be regarded as marking something of a breakthrough for the study of Browning, bringing some of the complexity and "mystery," to borrow W. David Shaw's term, of Browning's multiple poetic worlds into contact with current research issues in Victorian studies. The significance of Browning to the history of Victorian poetry is simply taken as a given in this volume, as it should be, and in contrast to some of the more sensationalized assessments of his reputation in the popular media during the bicentenary year (see Dawson 2013). Essayists in the collection engage not just with Browning's contributions to the genre of the dramatic monologue but also with a series of issues that are integral to the study of the poet's work. These include questions of rhyme, addressed in Matthew Campbell's essay (chapter 5), in which Campbell notes of Browning that "the bindings of grammar and the bindings of rhyme can work creatively in divergent ways that need not necessarily seek to state that 'the end is organic completion'" (81). Garrett Stewart reviews diction in Browning under a variety of categories including "lexical engineering," characterizing the poet as "an exaggerated naturalist of the vernacular" (chapter 6; 98). Isobel Armstrong traces Browning's "organic syntax," focusing on "Two in the Campagna" as it dramatizes "the tangled act of thinking" (chapter 7, 120-24). Isabel Hurst's chapter "Victorian Poetry and the Classics" opens with Browning's "Development" (chapter 9; 149-50), and Browning's appropriately named "Shakespearean imagination," together with his verse dramas, appears in Bharat Tandon's "Victorian Shakespeares" (chapter 12, 203-7). The list continues: Adam Piette's "Modernist Victorianism" thinks Browning forward into modernism, reviewing the Ezra Pound-Browning binary (chapter 16; 277-80). In "Inner Space: Bodies and Minds" (chapter 42), Stephanie Kudek Weiner reflects on the ramifications of Victorian poetry's "fascination with the interaction of minds and bodies in real-life sensation and cognition" (672), arguing that in Browning's poetry "both bodies and minds are emphatically present" and that "Browning's poems take as their central subject how the human mind works" (680). …

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