Robert Browning

Topics: Robert Browning, Victorian era, Victorian literature Pages: 6 (2282 words) Published: June 24, 2013
Robert Browning is very well known for his exploration of the psychology of people through his use of the dramatic monologue. Many of his pieces deal with individuals who possess seemingly uncommon morals and sometimes appear irrational, misguided, or even deranged. The various behaviours Browning's characters express serve to personify many common outlooks among his contemporaries as well as provide a framework within which he could express his opinions about Victorian ideals in an effective and thought provoking way. One of his earlier pieces titled "Porphyria's Lover", deals with the manner in which women were treated by men during the Victorian era. There are many theories that attempt to explain what exactly is occurring in this piece. Some scholars have suggested that the speaker in the poem murders his lover in an attempt to preserve a perfect moment, or because they come from different classes and the speaker cannot bear to be apart from her. The strangling of Porphyria appears to be a dramatic representation of the metaphorical manner in which women were suffocated by their controlling and often abusive families. This work then serves as a comment on the gender relations of the Victorian era. Browning sheds light on the well accepted fact that men had been enthusiastically overruling women for such a length of time without a hint of reproach. The speaker in the poem coolly relates his story of incapacitating his lover with no indication that he feels remorseful or guilty as a result of this act. Whether Porphyria dies or not should not be the central focus of this poem. Browning intended to write this with ambiguity to show the fine line women trod between possessing a life and being malleable objects denied of agency and treated like children. "Porphyria's Lover" is the expression of the collective patriarchal mindset common amongst the men of the Victorian era. Although there was movement toward gender equality this was still an extremely conservative time period. The mid-Victorian period saw increased rights for women in that they gained the legal right to their property upon marriage through the Married Women's Property Act created in 1882, the right to divorce, and the right to fight for custody of their children upon separation. "Porphyria's Lover", however, first appeared in 1836 when there was still an overwhelming pull toward patriarchy. This combined with the independence women were starting to fight for contributed to a great deal of marital violence and conflict between the sexes. Browning was known to be quite liberal minded in this respect, and it can be assumed his marriage with Elizabeth Barret Browning was not in typical Victorian form. With all the power struggles between men and women at this time, "Porphyria's Lover" serves as an excellent response to this unjust and widely accepted behaviour. At first glance, the speaker in the poem appears to be severely unbalanced, speaking fondly of his lover and then one action turning a tender moment into a murder scene. The speaker explains "I found/ A thing to do, and all her hair/ In one long yellow string I wound /Three times her little throat around,/ And strangled her." While it feels as though one is reading a confession from a psychopath, upon closer inspection this mentality closely mirrors what was happening in society at the time, a mentality shared by endless well respected individuals and accepted as an ideal. Only the most foolish of women would enter into a commitment such as marriage if she knew beforehand that her days would largely be spent performing meaningless and unfulfilling tasks, living by another's standards, and never gaining such privileges as mobility or a voice outside the home. It was essential that an eligible bachelor participate in the typical courtship process, in hopes of lulling his bride to be into a false sense of security. It seems that is what the speaker is doing in the poem. The two lovers are looking...
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