Robert Browning Biography

Robert Browning had a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps more than any other nineteenth-century writer, he was able to fuse the aesthetics of drama and poetry into a truly theatrical verse. In fact, some of his most famous poems (“Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess”) are structured like dramatic monologues, and storytelling was also an integral part of Browning’s poetry, as evidenced by his verse adaptations of classic tales such as The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Although his reputation swung between popularity and obscurity during his lifetime, his works are now considered classics and have influenced writers as diverse as T. S. Eliot and Stephen King, whose epic Dark Tower series was even inspired by one of Browning’s poems. Take a bow, Robert.

Facts and Trivia

  • Robert Browning was married to the poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who wrote the famous sonnet beginning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
  • Although a British citizen, Browning spent nearly a fourth of his life (and writing career) abroad in Italy. Its culture was incredibly influential upon his work. “Italy was my university,” he would often say.
  • Browning’s most popular work during his lifetime was the dramatic poem The Ring and the Book, which comprises an astonishing 20,000 lines.
  • Browning died on the same day that Asolando, his final volume of verse, was published—December 12, 1889.
  • Though Browning has influenced countless poets in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, perhaps his most obscure connection is to the film remake of Get Carter, starring Sylvester Stallone. The movie opens with a quote from Browning's The Ring and the Book.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1229

Robert Browning was born in a London suburb, Camberwell, on May 7, 1812. His family could be characterized as comfortably middle class, politically liberal, and dissenting in religion. His father, a prosperous employee of the Bank of England, had collected a large private library. The family was dominated to some extent by the powerful personality of Browning’s mother, the former Sarah Anna Wiedemann from Dundee, who was deeply committed to the Congregational religion. At a time when Oxford and Cambridge were religious institutions, admitting only Anglican students, Browning attended the newly instituted University of London for a short time in 1828, but he did not complete a coherent course of study. Browning was largely self-taught, and like many autodidacts, he had difficulty appreciating how deeply learned he was and judging what his more conventionally educated audience would be likely to know. His poetry bristles with allusions and historical references that require a specialist’s explanation.

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As a boy, Browning showed remarkable enthusiasm for the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Such an admiration is particularly surprising in the light of their divergent beliefs. Shelley was antireligious, especially in his youth, and was in fact expelled from his university for publishing a pamphlet on the necessity of atheism, while Browning’s mother was firmly committed to a fundamentalist and emotional Christian belief. In any event, throughout his life, Browning depicted churchmen in an unfavorable light in his poems—a tendency that is perhaps understandable in a follower of Shelley, but one that suggests considerable tension between the mother and her son over religious matters. Shelley glorified the romantic rebel, as in his depiction of Prometheus, for example; Browning’s father, on the other hand, was employed by the Bank of England, and the family comfort depended on the stability and success of that existing order. Shelley’s extremely liberal ideas about politics and personal relationships must have been difficult to fit harmoniously into the boy’s comfortable, religious, suburban home life.

In 1852, when...

(The entire section contains 1229 words.)

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