- Robert Browning
Was Browning’s career as a playwright more successful than critics have presumed? Is Browning experimenting with the monodrama in The Ring and the Book (1868/1869), and does this mark a shift in his poetics? In what ways does Browning’s writing fit within Victorian cultures of translation? How do we read Browning’s language, and how does the poet mobilize patterns of repetition and deferral?
These are some of the questions scholars have posed this year in research on Browning. Richard Pearson’s work on Victorian theater highlights debates about the state of the theater and the public role of the author- playwright, suggesting that Browning carved out a unique response to theatrical authorship by choosing to publish his plays. A number of essays propose innovative ways of reading Browning’s writing and career. Patricia Rigg suggests that Browning began to experiment with the monodrama in The Ring [End Page 344] and the Book, possibly through the influence of Augusta Webster’s poetry. Yopie Prins and Annmarie Drury also recast the later work: Prins, by focusing on Browning’s creative appropriations and translations of classical literature, particularly in the decade of the 1870s, and Drury, by considering translation itself as a trope. Browning’s language is a significant theme this year. In a fine article on “Sordello,” Ewan Jones studies the poem’s transfiguration of “the nature and effect of dysfluency” (p. 121), and Joshua Taft reflects on the characteristic density of Browning’s language, which he sees Augusta Webster resisting in her practice. Stefan Hawlin examines intertextual echoes of Keats in Browning’s poetry, and numerous critics consider Browning as part of a network of influence, reading his work in conjunction with that of Augusta Webster, William Michael Rossetti, William Morris, Ezra Pound, and even James Joyce.
The most unusual context in which Browning appears is in the analysis of an early silent film directed by Lois Weber in 1915. Critic Paul Young argues that the film Hypocrites (1915) may have been inspired by the structure of The Ring and the Book, as well as by the poem’s preoccupation with notions of truth. Young mentions other films with links to Victorian poetry: the 1909 adaptation of Pippa Passes, for instance, and a homage to Tennyson in The Golden Supper (1910), suggesting that critics of Victorian poetry have fertile ground to explore in early film history.
Books and Book Chapters
Ann Marie Drury, Translation as Transformation in Victorian Poetry. (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Annmarie Drury sets out to clarify our understanding of Victorian translation as a kind of “translation culture,” the effects of which extend into the early twentieth-century. In Translation As Transformation in Victorian Poetry, Drury undertakes some novel conceptual work in her analysis of the dynamics of translation, particularly in the context of British imperialism. She describes “the incorporative impulse” by which foreign elements, whether actual objects or a poem in another language, are assimilated as part of the desire “to enlarge and enhance the English world of life and letters by incorporating non-English things into it” (p. 5). Victorian translators shared a range of cultural assumptions, including “[r]ejeuvenated interest in Eastern civilizations, conflicts over racial identity associated with the ascendance of Welsh nationalism, and uncertainty about the viability of [End Page 345] imperialist undertakings” (p. 5). Among her concerns are “the role of translators as key agents of assimilation” and the notion of poems themselves as “enacting intercultural negotiations,” as Victorians sought to “incorporate foreignness” (p. 8). Drury also makes a compelling case for considering translation as a kind of collecting (p. 45) and as “a strategy for the accrual of cultural wealth” (p. 45).