Browning’s Beginnings

Browning’s Beginnings: The Art of Disclosure

Herbert F. Tucker
Copyright Date: 1980
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttswfh
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    Browning’s Beginnings
    Book Description:

    Browning’s Beginnings offers a fresh approach to the poet who, among major Victorians, has proved at once the most congenial and most inscrutable to modern readers. Drawing on recent developments in literary theory and in the criticism of romantic poetry, Herbert F. Tucker, Jr., argues that Browning’s stylistic “obscurity” is the result of a principled poetics of evasion. This art of disclosure, in deferring formal and semantic finalities, constitutes an aesthetic counterpart to his open-ended moral philosophy of “incompleteness,” Browning’s poems, like his enormously productive career, find their motivation and sustenance in his optimistic love of the future - a love that is indistinguishable from his lifelong fear that there will be nothing left to say. The opening chapters trace the workings of Browning’s art of disclosure with extensive and original interpretations of the unduly neglected early poems, Pauline, Paracelsus, and Sordello, and place special emphasis on Browning’s attitudes toward poetic tradition and language. A chapter on Browning’s attitudes toward poetic tradition and language. A chapter on Browning’s plays identifies dynamics of representation in Pippa Passes, Strafford, and King Victor and King Charles. Tucker discusses the pervasive analogy between Browning’s ideas about poetic representation and about representation in its erotic and religious aspects, and shows how the early poems and plays illustrate correlative developments in poetics and in the exploration and dramatic rendering of human psychology. The remaining chapters follow the poetic psychology of Browning to its culmination in the great poems of his middle years; exemplary readings of selected dramatic lyrics and monologues suggest that the ways of meaning in Browning’s mature work variously bear out the sense of endlessness or perpetual initiation that is central to his poetic beginnings. Tucker thus contends that the “romantic” and the “Victorian” Browning have more in common than is generally supposed, and his book should appeal to students of both periods. Its discussion of general literary issues - poetic influence, closure, representation, and meaning - in application to particular texts should further recommend Browning’s Beginnings to the nonspecialist reader interested in poetry and poetic theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6474-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. A NOTE ON TEXTS
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION BROWNING AND THE FUTURE
    (pp. 3-29)

    Browning wrote the poetry of the future, in at least two senses. The first sense is historical and has to do with his place in the literary canon as an influence on future poets. Within the Victorian era itself, Browning was an important precursor both of poets such as Rossetti and Swinburne, who confessed their admiration for his work, and of poets such as Hardy, Hopkins, and Yeats, who explicitly resisted him. In addition, Browning is generally acknowledged to be the Victorian poet who has exerted the greatest influence on poetry written in English during the present century. His concerns...

  6. CHAPTER ONE RENEWED BY CHANGE: PAULINE
    (pp. 30-52)

    When inSordelloBrowning approaches closure by embracing a poet of his own creation, he confirms a habit at least as old as his first published work,Pauline(1833). The closing words of that poem, “Love me and wish me well,” are addressed not to Pauline, but to the “Sun-treader”—Browning’s hyperbolical name for his acknowledged master Shelley. The hyperbole expresses an exaggerated reverence whereby, as W. C. DeVane observes, Browning “at once repudiates and yet follows adoringly his master.”² DeVane’s phrasing indicates a paradox of secondariness, a paradox of whichPaulineis Browning’s initial exploration: Browning follows his Shelley...

  7. CHAPTER TWO AUGUST ANTICIPATIONS: PARACELSUS
    (pp. 53-83)

    Browning endsPaulineby binding himself in “bands of friends” (Pauline, 1022), in a shared community of the guilty. A major difference betweenPaulineandParacelsus(1835) is that the latter work gives to this communal bond a temporal dimension. It extends the burden of guilt backward in time to Paracelsus’s predecessors, and forward in time to his successors, through the failure of his limited attainment to match his infinite aspiration. At the point of failure inPauline, “The last point I can trace” (Pauline, 818), Browning embraces a wise deference and finds in his guilt a possibility of reorigination;...

  8. CHAPTER THREE COMMUNICATION DIFFERENT: SORDELLO
    (pp. 84-119)

    The culminating vision ofParacelsusdescribes a humanity defined by transformation, by the activity of its becoming human. The poem celebrates a humanizing energy that leaps into the future to overcome the sterilities of a mistaken dualism. This energy functions much as a verb functions in a sentence when it creates meaning in active transit between a pair of fixed and, in themselves, unmeaning nouns. Without straining the analogy, one may observe that the subject and object of a sentence, or of a perception, or of a quest, derive their vitality from the course of action that relates them. Paracelsus...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR PRECIOUS WEAKNESS: THE DRAMAS
    (pp. 120-147)

    As a dramatist even more perhaps than as a poet, in the years 1836-1846 Browning had special reason to concern himself with time. Temporal themes and techniques for making beginnings, maintaining suspense, and retarding conclusions not only preoccupied him as essentials of the playwright’s craft, to an uncommon degree they became the very stuff of the works he crafted.Strafford(1837), the seven plays of the following decade, and the one-act closet dramaIn a Balcony, which Browning published inMen and Women(1855) as a coda to his playwriting career, all turn on “Action in Character rather than Character...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE SUCH VARIOUS INTENTIONS: THE DRAMATIC LYRICS
    (pp. 148-183)

    No poet was ever more fascinated by intentions than Browning or more willing to insist upon their significance.¹ InSordello, in his prose essays on Chatterton and Shelley, and elsewhere, Browning asserts that what a poet writes is less than what he means, that realization betrays impulse, that form even at its best expresses purpose inadequately.² Criticism written in recent decades, in its just recoil from superficial assessments of poetic intentionality like those issued by the Browning Societies, has been ill at ease with those who would champion intentions. Criticism has not been slow to draw from Browning’s assertions the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX TAKING MEANINGS: MEN AND WOMEN
    (pp. 184-208)

    The end of the preceding chapter suggested an analogy between Browning’s Duke and the ducal reader of poetry, who defensively chooses “never to stoop” to the pursuit of eventual meaning but insists instead on extracting and possessing meaning now. For such behavior, at least in Browning’s world, the ducal reader pays the heavy price of possession. In taking meaning as an entity to be possessed, such a reader is possessed by that meaning and bound—bound to miss, among other rewards, the invigorating play between what a poem says and how the poem says it. Or to adapt an epigram...

  12. EPILOGUE CLEON ORDERS HIS URN
    (pp. 209-220)

    Browning knew as early asPaulinethat artistic tradition is a fiction, perhaps an indispensable one, that is constituted and maintained by artists long before it is reconstituted by the custodians of artistic history. The fiction of artistic tradition, like any living fiction, is perennially subject to fresh interpretation. Browning revises Shelley as the Sun-treader, and Fra Lippo Lippi revalues the school of Giotto—each in order to place himself at the beginning of a new chapter in the history of art that he is engaged, in writing. In “Cleon,” Browning creates an artist who does just the opposite and...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 223-242)
  14. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 245-248)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 251-257)