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“Soul-Talk”: Networks of Political Poetry in a Trans-Channel Literary Triangle


During the mid-Victorian decades poets, like novelists, were embedded in political and formal networks. Many harnessed nationally inflected lyric forms to triangulate French and British exchanges with the marginalized perspective of Risorgimento Italy. An especially lively debate of the early 1870s concerned Louis Napoleon, in his third and final exile in Britain after his defeat by Prussia. For Robert Browning, who saw poetic forms like the dramatic monologue as means to animating ethical choices, the effects of Louis’s actions on the French and Italian peoples demanded rigorous accounting. This Browning undertakes in Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (1871), voicing civic-republican “soul-talk”: poetry’s feminized counterpart to the discourse of manly character. In doing so, Browning demonstrates his own immersion in overlapping republican and liberal political networks.

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