- Robert Browning
The overarching themes in this year’s work on Browning are the transatlantic influences that “network” Browning within an international culture of creative work and exchange. Various critics consider Browning’s reception in other countries, including the United States and Canada, his place in print culture, as well as the impact of his formal and dramatic innovations. Browning’s poetry appears in dialogue with works by Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Jorge Luis Borges, Elizabeth Barrett, Alfred Domett and Leigh Hunt. Reasons for his hold on nineteenth-century popular culture are suggested in Hédi Abdel-Jaouad’s study of the Rochester Browning Society in his new book Browningmania: America’s Love for Robert Browning (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2014) and in an essay by Heather Murray, who looks at canon formation in the teaching of Browning’s poetry in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Canada. Browning in the periodical press is a theme in a number of essays, from sections on Browning’s reception in Browningmania, to essays by Linda Hughes and Alison Chapman, both of whom achieve new insights into poems by considering them in dialogue with other texts on the published page. Other critics work on Browning’s poetics and on issues of rhetoric and style, describing distinctive tropes and patterns within the poems in the context of theories of voice, ethics, affect, imagination, and cognitive processes.
Publications also include a monograph by distinguished scholar W. David Shaw. Browning has been a key figure for this critic, beginning with his first study, The Dialectical Temper: The Rhetorical Art of Robert Browning (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1968). In The Ghost Behind the Masks: The Victorian Poets and Shakespeare (Richmond, VA: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2014), Shaw confesses his scholarly operandi, arguing that “literary history is . . . not a museum of inert ideas but a playhouse of dramatic tones and contending voices” (p. i). Shaw has always been interesting for considering Victorian poetry not only in the context of broader cultural discourses but also as a unique mode of philosophical thought. He has consistently presented the work of Browning and other poets in dialogue with the thinkers and prose theorists of the Victorian age, as part of an aesthetic web that encompasses theories of knowledge, perception and belief. In this view of Victorian poetry, the works of the poets are inexhaustible, in that they are part of a distinctive language through which Victorians studied human behavior and motivation, and engaged in reflection on the questions that have always preoccupied philosophers. Victorian poetry is a different, though equivalent, discourse. [End Page 300]
Books and Book Chapters
W. David Shaw, The Ghost Behind the Masks: The Victorian Poets and Shakespeare (Richmond, VA: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2014).
In this work, W. David Shaw takes the discursive field represented by Shakespeare’s characters and stories, themselves in dialogue with sources in Ovid, Plutarch, and Montaigne, and reads these forward into the domain of Victorian poetry and fiction. Work by Browning figures throughout this study, as an integral part of that conversation. Shaw is particularly interested in Shakespeare’s language, and examines various forms of wordplay in Shakespeare as pre-figuring elements in the poetry of Browning and other Victorians. Shaw also argues that the creation of specific voices within Victorian poetry is one of Shakespeare’s most important contributions to nineteenth-century writing. In his final chapter he outlines his own theory of poetic voice, expanding on elements of his earlier work in Origins of the Monologue: The Hidden God (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999). In addition to a “first or lyric voice,” and a second “rhetorical” voice, there is a third voice in Victorian poetry, the dramatic voice, that Shaw sees as...