1. Many of Robert Browning’s poetry shows Browning in a light where the poet becomes a curious observer of the evil that is in human nature without taking up the responsibility of passing judgments over the same. A dramatic monologue like Porphyria’s Lover which captures the mind of a lover who has just murdered his beloved by strangling her with her own hair, in all its suave subtlety, attempts at justification, and of course, insanity shows Browning’s capability to detach himself from the subject position of a poet and explore the dramatic possibilities of the evil the human mind is capable of.
The same can be said about My Last Duchess, another dramatic monologue by Browning. This passive, almost amoral, curiosity about the nature of evil in the human heart differed greatly from the general Victorian discourse about evil, voiced by the likes of Tennyson. The Victorians took a highly moralistic stance about evil and good in the world and were too ready to pass judgments on the same. It differed from Swinburne’s understanding of the problem of evil too, for Swinburne consciously attempted to justify the presence as well as the necessity of evil in the world.
A philosophy which is closer to the romantics, most memorably that of William Blake, but very far from Browning’s scientific curiosity in the nature of evil. 2. In The Scholar Gypsy, Matthew Arnold celebrates the unaffected, unsullied and simple faith of an Oxford student who went and joined a group of gypsies as his humble birth made advancement in the University circle difficult. Arnold suggests that the scholar gypsy is at peace with himself and his surroundings unlike the scholars of the Victorian age for his knowledge and understanding of reality is based on some religious or mystical faith.
Unlike Arnold and his contemporaries he is not split apart with the choice between science and faith. In the Victorian period, new discoveries in the field of science (e. g. Darwin’s theory of Evolution; Lewyll’s theory about the creation of earth) challenged and shook the edifice of Christian faith, a keystone of English society. Intellectuals, scholars and the common mass were left without any handhold that could give them a sense of direction or meaning in life.
In The Scholar Gypsy, this lack of faith is what laments, as he finds in the protagonist of the poem an instance of a man who lived happily in the security and warmth of his faith. This breaking down of the religious structure also sets the stage for modernism, a time when, man came face to face with the dark abyss of faithlessness and the lack of any absolute truth. 3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is best remembered for her Sonnets from Portuguese which is undoubtedly one of the best love-sonnet cycles in English meriting comparison with Spenser’s Amoretti, Sydney’s Astrophel and Stella and even the sonnets of Shakespeare.
It is unanimously recognized that Browning as a poet found her best expression in the strict metrical and structural confine of the sonnets which balanced her passionate effusiveness and unrestrained poetic imagination. One of Browning’s greatest achievements in her sonnet sequence is the way she brings together the lofty ideals of love and the abstract concepts of the soul to express her earthly feelings. She is almost Shakespearean in the sense that, in her sonnets one can discern the personal touch, the longing of a woman for her lover.
However Browning, unlike many of her predecessors, often compromised on form for content and introduced variations in the strict structural format of sonnet to suit the need for expression. Her philosophy of poetry was strongly founded on a belief in the honesty of feeling and expression immortalized in the line by Sir Philip Sydney: “Foole, sayde my Muse to mee, looke in thine heart, and write”. 4. Childe Roland is a unique creation, even for such a creative mind like Robert Browning. He seems to symbolize the modern man, as much Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Hardy’s Clym in The Return of the Native.
He has no foes to fight or dragons to slay like the medieval knights. He is a cynic and his most crucial fight is fought not outside but inside, within his soul, against the whole appearance of things. He is the symbol of a social, religious and political order that has gone to the ruins. In the Victorian times with a breakdown of the socio-religious order of society, a hero like Browning’s Childe Roland epitomizes the struggle of a mind confronting a nightmarish reality. The romanticized vision of military and knightly heroism has become distorted and Childe Roland is the modern man left with no great cause to fight for.