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Romantic Ideals In Porphyria’s Lover By Robert Browning

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Robert Browning’s 1836 poem, “Porphyria’s Lover,” relationships are represented as destructive and obsessive when based on different social classes. This idea that people are restricted to their class was something that the Romantics often reflected in their poems. The Romantics valued emotional sensitivity and individuality, and prized relationships that had passionate love which would end all loneliness and were guided by intuition. The most important creative faculty for the Romantics was imagination, rather than reason. During this period, the main focal point was the importance of the individual’s experience in the world and his or her interpretation of that experience, rather than the interpretations that were handed down by the church or tradition. Robert Browning reflects these Romantic ideals in “Porphyria’s Lover”.

Robert Browning was a poet and playwright born on the 7th of May 1812, in Camberwell which was a middle-class suburb of London. Browning decided at a young age that he wanted to be a poet and he never seriously attempted any other career paths. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is one of Browning’s earliest and most shocking poems, written 10 years before he met his wife, Elizabeth Barret. The setting of the poem takes place on a stormy evening in a cottage in the 1830s, and is a poem about a typical romantic encounter that comes with a shocking twist: the lower class narrator’s calm strangulation of his upper-class lover, Porphyria. This poem represents obsessive, violent, and destructive love as he believes the only way for Porphyria to be with him forever is for her to die. The narrator believes this because they are of different classes and they would struggle to be together as she may go marry someone of her own class. In the 19th century, the Victorian period was not equally shared between male and female; their social spheres were separated. The man reserved power, dominance, and possessed all kinds of freedom, whereas the women were seen as private, submissive and quiet, with not many rights. Many of Browning’s poems reflected Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the social contract which states, “man is born free and everywhere still in chains”. This challenges the traditional order of society and in many of Browning’s poems, he interprets this idea and depicts the separation of social classes. Therefore, the idea of obsessive and destructive love is represented in the poem by the narrator’s and his lover’s divide in social classes.

‘Porphyria’s Lover’ has a rhyming pattern of ABABB which suggests the madness concealed within the speaker’s reasoned self-presentation in the murder of his lover due to their social class differences. The poem is narrated in first person, but not addressed to a specific reader. This makes the reader feel like they are eavesdropping on the man as a captive audience, allowing them into the mind of a psychotic speaker. The poem has roughly 60 lines of past tense narration which shifts to the present tense when the narrator says, “And thus we sit together now,” at line 58. This change in tense is particularly powerful as the poem takes a dark turn with this line, inferring that the whole poem was the speaker thinking as he reclined on the chair, with Porphyria’s corpse snuggled next to him. This use of imagery shows an even more grotesque visual as the speaker strangles Porphyria with her own blonde hair. The narrator makes a decision; “in one long yellow string wound, three times her little throat around, and strangled her.” By murdering Porphyria, he becomes instantly in control as she is now dependent on him as the gender role has now reversed from the beginning of the poem. Porphyria was introduced as being of high social class, since she wears gloves and attends feasts, whereas the narrator is of a lower class since he lives in a cottage. She possesses freedom while she is outside of the cottage while her lover is at home feeling vulnerable while awaiting her return. This is portrayed when the narrator says, “I listened with heart fit to break”. Therefore, Porphyria had dominance over the narrator due to her high social class but this switches due to him taking her life.

The narrator reinforces his belief as to what he did was right as the ending of the poem is referenced to a higher power than social influences since he says, “And yet God has not said a word,” which effectively provides proof that these gender roles is what God wanted. The narrator strangled Porphyria to gain this dominance as promised by his God. This shows his obsessive and violent love due to the social classes around this time. It also shows his spiritual connection which is highly valued within Romanticism, and authorises his dominance by a higher power.

Robert Browning’s, “Porphyria’s Lover,” shows that relationships are destructive and obsessive when based on different social classes. The values of the Romantics were reflected by emotional sensitivity, passionate love to end loneliness and guided by intuition. By the end of the poem, it is concluded that the narrator is a deranged and lovesick man as he kills his lover because he is afraid that she will leave him for someone of her own class. Therefore, Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” portrays an obsessive and destructive relationship by demonstrating the Romantic beliefs at the time.

Bibliography

  • https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/robert-browning
  • https://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/poetryperformance/browning/biography/browningbiography.html
  • https://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/browning/section1/
  • https://www.owleyes.org/text/porphyrias-lover-robert-browning/analysis/historical-context
  • https://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/utopia/revolution1/rousseau1/rousseau.html
  • https://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/browning/themes/

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