Through the continual friction between binary opposites, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ reflect a context of progress, allowing for a new, more powerful expression of love. Browning’s optimistic views on change and progress are idealised, thus reducing society to “contrarious voices”, dismissing it in one line. By contrast, Fitzgerald’s modernist novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’, incorporates Flaubert’s realistic depiction of a society deluded by the impulse to romanticise. The “golden orb of perfect song”, the attainable ideal, becomes the problem in ‘The Great Gatsby’ as the pursuit of dreams is undermined through modernist uncertainty and the era’s inadequate understanding of ideals and their high cost.
Browning’s sonnets show the persona’s progression from reluctant shyness, through emotional empowerment to satisfied union through the motif of silence and expression. Browning emphasises the distinction between silence, love and the persona through the consecutive sonnets, XIII and XIV. Sonnet XIII is a response to a request, which portrays Browning’s unwillingness to give voice to love due to love’s ineffable nature. “And hold the torch out, where the words are rough”. This metaphor depicts how Browning is repressing the expression of love through her adoption of silence as she embraces platonic ideals. She reflects acceptance towards the silence of womanhood in the final lines of the sonnet. “Rendering the garment of my life, in brief, / By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude”. Yet Browning changes the meaning of women’s silence into something requiring ‘Byronic fortitude’ allowing her definition of love to require both physical strength and platonic spirituality. Browning challenges the Victorian masculine hegemony as she conveys her perspective that in order for a man to comprehend “woman-love” he needs to embrace silence.
Sonnet XIII is paradoxical, a published poem revolving around ideas concerned with silence; Browning is...
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