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Browning’s Beginnings

The Art of Disclosure

Author:

Herbert F. Tucker Jr.

Browning’s Beginnings

“Tucker has the literary skill to convey even the most delicate of his perceptions, and the wit and wisdom, the march and play of his sentences, are a pleasure to observe.”

A. Dwight Culler, Yale University

Browning’s Beginnings

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Browning’s Beginnings offers a fresh approach to the poet who, among major Victorians, has proved at once the most congenial and most inscrutable to modern readers. Drawing on recent developments in literary theory and in the criticism of romantic poetry, Herbert F. Tucker, Jr., argues that Browning’s stylistic “obscurity” is the result of a principled poetics of evasion. This art of disclosure, in deferring formal and semantic finalities, constitutes an aesthetic counterpart to his open-ended moral philosophy of “incompleteness,” Browning’s poems, like his enormously productive career, find their motivation and sustenance in his optimistic love of the future - a love that is indistinguishable from his lifelong fear that there will be nothing left to say.

The opening chapters trace the workings of Browning’s art of disclosure with extensive and original interpretations of the unduly neglected early poems, Pauline, Paracelsus, and Sordello, and place special emphasis on Browning’s attitudes toward poetic tradition and language. A chapter on Browning’s attitudes toward poetic tradition and language. A chapter on Browning’s plays identifies dynamics of representation in Pippa Passes, Strafford, and King Victor and King Charles. Tucker discusses the pervasive analogy between Browning’s ideas about poetic representation and about representation in its erotic and religious aspects, and shows how the early poems and plays illustrate correlative developments in poetics and in the exploration and dramatic rendering of human psychology. The remaining chapters follow the poetic psychology of Browning to its culmination in the great poems of his middle years; exemplary readings of selected dramatic lyrics and monologues suggest that the ways of meaning in Browning’s mature work variously bear out the sense of endlessness or perpetual initiation that is central to his poetic beginnings.

Tucker thus contends that the “romantic” and the “Victorian” Browning have more in common than is generally supposed, and his book should appeal to students of both periods. Its discussion of general literary issues - poetic influence, closure, representation, and meaning - in application to particular texts should further recommend Browning’s Beginnings to the nonspecialist reader interested in poetry and poetic theory.

Browning’s Beginnings

Herbert F. Tucker, Jr. is John C. Coleman Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Browning’s Beginnings

“Tucker has the literary skill to convey even the most delicate of his perceptions, and the wit and wisdom, the march and play of his sentences, are a pleasure to observe.”

A. Dwight Culler, Yale University