Victorian Poet Trying to Capture Everyday Life in His Own Poetry


Another strength of the biography is the clever comparison between Barrett Browning’s care for pets (especially the often-abducted Spanish Flush, famous for his pseudo-epic biography of Virginia Woolf) and his care for his servants. Both were alarmed, both read; But when the chips went down, employers’ whims always eclipsed the needs of employees. In that regard, Barrett Browning fits the norm for upper-class Victorian Britons. Like his wealth inherited from slave plantations in Jamaica, his mix of euphoric generosity and thoughtless class privilege provides indispensable ground for understanding his radicalism and sympathy for revolutionary Italy.

Sampson lets this background color, but does not overshadow, the groundbreaking political verse of Barrett Browning’s 1851 “Casa Guidi Windows.” This political advantage is vital to understanding Barrett Browning’s innovations. Unlike his romantic predecessors, he sought to embody the spirit and morality of his age, making his poetry an incarnation of the country’s traditions rather than a corrective.

This wish led him to turn to a genre that seemed to be a new medium for crowd-pleasing: the poetry novel. “Aurora Leigh” – nine semi-Miltonic books describing the emerging profession of a female poet – was published immediately (if not universally) in 1856, five years before Barrett Browning’s premature death. According to Sampson, “the work is the grand account of a literary development that is certainly centrally similar to Elizabeth’s own: it is the story of someone who becomes herself by becoming a poet.” Woolf admired Barrett Browning’s “enthusiasm and abundance, brilliant descriptive power, shrewd and caustic humor”, as well as “the true genius that occurs when he rushes into the living room and says this is where we live and work.” real place for the poet.” Woolf realizes what the poet is after: the normalization of the verse as a means of capturing everyday life. If he had succeeded in making his poetry a real rival to the prose of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, subsequent literary history might have looked quite different: Stephen King might be writing in blank lines, and Tony Soprano might be speaking in rhyming couplets.

The groundbreaking “rush” to the rhythms of everyday life that Woolf praises left its mark not only on Barrett Browning’s husband, Robert (“The Ring and the Book,” 1868), but also on followers such as Vikram Seth (“The Golden Gate”). ”, 1986) and Anne Carson (“The Autobiography of Red”, 1998). Barrett Browning understood poetry as a force emanating from within the poet, often for the benefit of an apathetic and indecisive audience. Published just a year before his death, “A Musical Instrument” ends by comparing the poet to a reed that Pan carved to make divine music:

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
To laugh while sitting by the river,
Making a poet from a man:
True gods sigh for cost and pain, –
For the reed that never grows again
Like reeds and reeds in a river.

Sampson understands what it takes to be Barrett Browning’s poet. On top of that, it hopes to inspire a new generation of readers so it’s worth the price, after all.


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