In "Porphyria's Lover," why does the narrator kill the woman he loves?
Since its first publication in 1836, the popularity of the poem “Porphyria’s Lover” among readers and critics hasn’t waned. It’s written in the form of a dramatic monologue, whose speaker describes why and how he strangled his beloved to death on a stormy night. Though the cold-hearted murder of the woman causes much discomfort to the readers, the insane speaker finds nothing wrong with his brutal act. Instead, he justifies it in a number of ways.
For over one hundred and fifty years, the question of why Porphyria’s lover killed her has perplexed the readers of the poem. He loved Porphyria, and he knew that she loved him too, yet he killed her. Why?
It seems that the speaker and Porphyria must have known each other for quite some time. There must have been an illicit relationship between them. But, according to the speaker, Porphyria, for her “pride, and vainer ties,” wouldn’t set her “struggling passion free.” This suggests that though she loved him, she wouldn’t make love with him and accept him “for ever.” This could have been because of some personal reasons or social concerns.
The narrator had always wished to win Porphyria’s love "for ever." That night Porphyria took the initiative to express her love for him, quite passionately. At first, she put his arm around her waist, and then she rested his chin over her "smooth white shoulder bare." Her lover was gladly surprised. He said,
...at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and...
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"Porphyria's Lover" is a Victorian poem and one of the characteristics that Browning uses here is the dramatic monologue. Browning tells the story from a madman's point of view, allowing the reader's moral judgment of the subject of the poem, murder, to be determined. There is no hope for the lover in this poem as our narrator has already slipped into madness and the demands he has for her are unattainable. He wants her to giver herself to him 100% and break away from the world completely, which she doesn't do. He kills her out of a jealous madness and the way her death is described proves his madness. The flat, factual descriptions he gives shows his inability to see the wrongs he has committed. His cool indifference to the matter proves his insanity.