"Truth Never Hurts The Teller"

Context: Among Browning's greatest achievements in poetry was his refinement of the dramatic monologue. In his hands it became an instrument of penetrating and incisive revelation of the psychology of human action. Frequently, he dealt with subjects and characters that offended the propriety of his age. In Fifine, for example, he describes–by the contrasts of her admitted standards and values–the falsity and hypocrisy of those who come to observe her at the fair. In the introduction, drawn from Molière's Don Juan ou le Festin de Pierre, Donna Elvira berates Don Juan–who needs "must declare the truth"–for his inability to maintain his wonted social façade. The poem itself, as Juan and Elvira decide to trip arm in arm and observe the "tumbling-troop" of the fair, contrasts the hypocrisy of the socially élite with the unabashed frankness of those who form the entourage of the carnival; the one lives in a world which hides the truth from his companions; the other lives in a world which exploits the truth for the profit possible because of human curiosity. In the monologue Juan quips that those of the fair traffic in "just the things/ We,–the proud ones who do scorn dwellers without the pale" hold so private. "I say, they sell what we most pique us that we keep:/ How comes it, all we hold so dear they count so cheap?" And yet, he admits, there is a freshness, if not about Fifine's life, about her attitude toward it–an attitude so antithetical to the civilized mores of social pride:

Well, then, thus much confessed, what wonder if there steal
Unchallenged to my heart the force of one appeal
She makes, and justice stamp the sole claim she asserts?
So absolutely good is truth, truth never hurts
The teller, whose worst crime gets somehow grace, avowed.
To me, that silent pose and prayer proclaimed aloud
"Know all of me outside, the rest be emptiness
For such as you!" . . .