Subject and Power in “Porphyria’s Lover”

Jennifer Gribble

Abstract


In his pioneering book, Robert Langbaum sees the dramatic monologue as a generic response to nineteenth-century cultural crisis, enabling debate of contending ideas, requiring the reader to respond to its speaking subject with a balance of “sympathy” and “judgement”. Later critics have found in the dramatic monologue a tension between the passionate utterance associated with romantic lyricism and the challenge to idealist notions of the single and essential self, one which gives the poet a political or “interventionist” role. And certainly for Robert Browning, the dramatic monologue seems to have offered a way out of the dilemma of “the subjective poet” as he himself characterized it: a movement out of the solipsism of addressing the state of his own soul, reaching beyond the confessional mode towards dramatization and the attainment of a more authoritative or public vision, dialectical in its strategies, the attainment of “what God sees”. By the end of “Porphyria’s Lover”, “God has not said a word”. And what the reader might see is problematic.

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