Robert Browning

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What is Browning's philosophy about the success and failure of life?

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Robert Browning advocates a philosophy based on optimism. He believes that struggles and imperfections are a part of life. But they are a foundation stone for future success. An honest effort is more important than the cause itself. Browning's protagonists remain undaunted in failures and disappointments.

In Cristina, a man loves and fails. He has no regrets, as he has loved and lost a queen. He finds a guiding principle in failure:

She has lost me, I have gained her;

Her soul’s mine and thus, grown perfect,

I shall pass my life’s remainder

According to Browning, a person who is satisfied with his achievements ceases to grow. Temporary success can encourage us, but it is failure that inspires us to strive. This doctrine is illustrated in Rabbi Ben Ezra:

For thence,-a paradox

Which comforts while it mocks,-

Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:

What it aspired to be,

And was not, comforts me:

A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale

As we strive to rise above ourselves, it is natural to be disappointed with the outcome of our efforts. Browning describes this disillusionment as "apparent failure," which reflects the difference between our lofty purpose, and our limited abilities.

Browning believes that the soul is immortal. His optimistic philosophy creates the hope of a reward in the next world.

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Browning does indeed seem to have a philosophy about success and failure in life. I would suggest that failure for Browning would be in not even trying. This thought appears in a few of his poems such as the dramatic monologue 'The Last Ride Together' in which Browning writes 'Why, all men strive and who succeeds?' This applies to love in this case.

In 'Andrea Del Sarto' he writes 'Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/ Or what's a heaven for?' For Browning life and art is about striving for something that may be out of reach but the action of striving is a kind of success in itself. Failure for the poet is in not taking part at all. This reflects his own life in which he married someone that was forbidden to marry and then caused a scandal by eloping abroad.        

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