Robert Browning

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What are the Victorian features of Tennyson and Robert Browning? Are they linked to Romantic poetry?

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Tennyson and Browning are Victorian period poets. Victorianism differs from Romanticism in dramatic ways. For instance, Romanticism presented an idealized view of nature and of the joys of simple rural living. Even when death and suffering were the topic, as in Wordsworth's "The Ruined Cottage," it is presented in an embellished, idealized way with suffering on a transcended moral plane. For Victorians, nature became a cold hard reality; Tennyson even refers to nature’s bloodied claws.

Another instance of differences is that in the Romantic period, society was feeling the expansiveness of a rising industrial based middle class and the poetry of the Romantics reflected this expansive feeling, with a focus on individualism and self. By the Victorian period, society was feeling the crush of the reality of an industrialized urban culture with the division between the wealthy and impoverished growing wider and cities becoming overburdened with laborers coming from the farm to make a living. This urban reduced the moral oversight provided by small communities and close relationships, so poverty, violence and immorality of all kinds grew at astounding rates, triggering the emphasis on Victorian moral purity and some prevalent topics in Victorian poetry.

This, coupled with the discoveries and theories in science, which added to the further weakening of Christian belief, led Victorian poetry down the path of realism and protest, whereas Romantic poetry was that of idealization and celebration of expansiveness. Within this spirit, the Victorians favored the influence of Medieval and Baroque poets, along with classical poets like Virgil, while Romantics had favored the Renaissance and classical Greeks like Aristotle.

Tennyson displayed these Victorian qualities in his writing. Although at times he chose topics that might harmonize with Romantic period sensibilities, as with “Ulysses,” he more often chose topics protesting contemporary life and explored society’s psychological aspects, as in “Mariana,” and that presented moral themes, like the moral theme of the role of woman in “The Lady of Shalott.” Some of his pressing social concerns were the role and treatment of children and women and politics; he advocated higher education for women and spoke out on issues like the Crimean War.

Tennyson had strong Christian religious beliefs and was personally and philosophically dismayed over the sciences of evolution, geography and such that were seeming to contradict a literal meaning for the Judeo-Christian idea of Creation as found in the Bible. His poetry explored the meaning and import of sciences to Christian faith, concluding that there was no need for a loss of faith, which comforted his Christian readers.

Robert Browning displayed Victorian qualities in his writing in that he explored the cognition and psychology behind some of the moral questions of the day, e.g., “Porphyria’s Lover” explores the cognition of a madman (consciousness) and the psychology of power and dominance. Browning is noted for his use of dramatic monologue, differing from a soliloquy by the presence of a listener in the text, while the soliloquy is the private musings of a character alone in the text.

Browning’s explorations of social topics--using violence and immorality as in society--including scientific and religious topics, raise more questions than they answer, like about art and morality. Browning builds a link from the Victorians to the upcoming Modernist poets like T. S. Elliot, thus he is considered a “protomodernist,” anticipating future major developments.

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