Robert browning Context


Browning Authorial Context

  • He was born in 1812
  • His parents took an interest in his education and personal growth
  • He read alot and wrote poetry from a young age
  • He was inspired by Percy Shelley whose radicalsim urged a rethinking of modern society
  • His early works got some negative attention due to his expression of strong sensations and morbid tone.
  • Due to this he bagn to work  on plays and used fiction for experimentation and deveelopment but he returned to poetry due to a lack of success.
  • His subtle detail oriented poems are attractive to modern critics.
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Social and Historical Context

  • Lived during a time of social and intellectual upheaval, and his poems reflect this world.
  • England beame increasingly urban
  • Newpapers assaulted the senses daily with tales of crime and lust in the city.
  • People beagn to lose faith in religion as new scientific theories rocked society e.g. Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
  • Art was also changing and moving towards the 'art for art's sake' movement- Browning's poems explore the realltionship between morality and art and the conflict between aesthetics and didacticism.
  • Moral decay of Victorian society and the ebbing interest for religion led to a morally conservative backlash.
  • Victorian prudery arose so everything came under moral scrutiny even art and literature.
  • Browning's poems often feature artists and painters and try to work out the relationship between art and morality.
  • His most important poetic message regards new conditions of urban living.
  • Population had become centered in large cities due to Industrial Revolution.
  • Many people lived in close quarters so poverty violence and sex became part of everyday life.
  • Peeople felt less restrictions of behaviour because no longer faced fear of non acceptance of smaller communities and could act anonymously.
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Social and Historical Context 2

  • Absence of family and community ties meant new found personal independence but meant loss of social safety net - a sense of freedom mixed with sense of insecurity.
  • There was a rapid growth of newspapers which were really scandal sheets filled with violence and carnality.
  • Overstimulation led to a kind of numbness according to theorists
  • Many writers felt in order to provoke emotional reaction they must cometet with turmoils and excitement of daily life and shock readers in sensational ways.
  • Violence became aesthetic choice for most writers - in Browning's poems violence and sex are symbols of modern urban dwelling conditions.
  • There was economic turmoil too, wealth and consumption were rising but at the same time poverty soared.
  • There was a similarity in struggle to decide between material beauty and morality (concern for the poor).
  • Browning explores these issues in his poetry, but sets many in Renaissance or distant historical periods to achieve relevance but not being moralistic or overly strident.
  • The fascination of his poetry comes from strong portrayal of characters and wealth of detail.
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Aesthetics and Didacticism

Aesthetics: branch of philosophy dealing with nature of art, beauty and taste with creation and appreciation of beauty.

Didacticism: philosphy that emphasises instructional and informative qualities in literature and other types of art.

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Dramatic Monologue

Three features that apply to poetry:

  • Single person, not the poet, utters the speech that is the whole of the poem - in a specific situation at a critical moment.
  • Person addresses and interacts with one or more other people but we only know of the auditors presence and what they say and do from clues in the discourse of the speaker.
  • Main principle that controls how poets choose and formukate what the speaker says is to reveal to the reader the speakers temperament and character in a way that enhances interest.

Browning's fame is due to mostly dramatic monologues.

  • His words not only convey setting and action but reveal personas character
  • it is not what the speaker directly reveals but what they inadvertently give away about their character in the process of rationalising their past actions or pleading their case to a silent auditor in the poem.
  • The persona forms a self defence which the reader is challenged to see through.

Browning chooses some of the most debased extreme and criminally psychotic characters to create the challeng of building a sympathetic case for a character who doesn't deserve one.

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Women on the pedestal

  • Respectable Victorian women are hevaily idolised.
  • Women seen as innocent creatures who need male protection - best form of protection is confinement to a solid middle class home.
  • Notion of seperate spheres - men deal with business, women deal with private, women's sphere is moral but men's is material.
  • Women seen as not just homebodies but embodiments of pure virtue, humble and submissive.
  • Wear bodicces that completely cover bosom and arms and skirts reach their ankles.

A victorian myth is that of a fallen woman:

  • The idea is that women are innately prone to corruption
  • Victorian societry has a rigid seperation between pure angels and immoral women.
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Hypocrisy and Double Standards

  • Conceptions of women's passive sexual nature were equal to male dominance - aswell as ideas about possessive patriarchal individualism.
  • Sexual transgression in polite society was severely policed - by leaving her hiband women quit respectable society and becomes outcast - may have done nothing wrong but  is fallen woman, fallen women are excluded from polite society.
  • System gives middle class men opportunity to indulge in hypocrisy and double standards - natural for men to use prostitutes but unnatural for women to have affairs.
  • Many middle class women accept system, priorities of working class women are different.
  • Factory and mines legislation motivated more by concern of women's morals rather than concern for physical health- working hours limited, more time to spend at home caring for families.
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Changing the Law

  • Women active in campaigns for removal of laws that force them into subserviance.
  • Amendments to divorce bill allowed married women when seperating from husbands to keep property they had before marriage, secures right for married women to sue and be sued and make contracts in own names.
  • Campaigns for female equality - divorce law is reformed but still favours husband - Married Womens Property act gives women full right to own property in own names and keep own earnings.
  • Made easier for mothers to get custody of children and appoint guardians.
  • 1985, violence become grounds for a judicial seperation with payment of maintenance by the husband.
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  • Is not illegal.
  • Number of protitues in Victorian London differs: Police say 7,000 but society of supression of vice says 80,000.
  • A 19th century city has 1 prostitute per 36 inhabitants or 1 per 12 adult males.
  • 55,000 in Victorian London- was named the whoreshop of the world.
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Off Limits

  • London has relatively few brothels - does have many rooming house that tolerate prostitution.
  • 1870's Mary Jeffreys exclusive brothel catered for aristocracy - had a fitted torture chamber for sado masochistic sex.
  • Prostitutes were independant working women, primarily young single and aged between 18 and 22, previously had low wage jobs working as domestic maids and a few supported illegitimate children.
  • Visited pubs which are off limits to respectable women.
  • Only work temporarily and soon settle down often marrying former clients.
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Enlightened View

  • Lower classes more tolerant of sexual behaviour that middle class finds immoral.
  • Prostitution is a transitory stage adopted by women forced to earn a living.
  • Was believed that women feel no sexual desire.
  • Venereal disease was believed to be cured by having sex with children - virgins were prized and became highly marketable commodity between £5 and £25
  • In 1850's age of consent is 13.
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  • growth of printing and photography created production of *********** could be bought of London's streets.
  • Typical example is of the alleged encounters of one man withover 1,000 'willing' women and other victorian **** showed taste for girl-on-girl sex.
  • Politican william gladstone well known for walking streets at night encouraging prostitues to come home with him where he and his wife gave them food and shelter and help them change their way of life.
  • There were asylums for prostitutes to reclaim to a life of virtue - In Charles Dickens charitable work he believed in their redeemability but writings reflect rapid decline and death of fallen women - one fallen forever lost.
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Infection and Violence

  • Working class prostitues had certain advantages over respectable women, able to afford more comfortable accomadation and better food, less prone to tuberculosis.
  • Obvious diadvantages were liable to catch often fatal STI's and at increased risk of violence.
  • Typical of Victorian double standards there was no attemot to penalise men for having sex with prostitutes, women who sell sex were sinful and in 1860's attacked by law.
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Sexual Diseases

  • rise in prostitution led to increase in gonorrhea and syphilis - asylums for treating STI's 'lock hospitals' served to punish and seperate sufferers from general public, medical treatments were primitive and painful.
  • Half of outpatients in hospitals suffered from STI's - main killer was syphilis.
  • Parliament passes first of several contagious diseases acts in 1864, intended to regulate prostitution in 6 garrison towns and ports where it was assumed soldiers and sailors needed prostitutes.
  • Women found within certain radius of area would be arrested and physically examined to see if has STI.
  • Laws are unjust- middle class women are arrested and prostitutes brutally examined.
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Education and Careers

  • Before compulsory education 1870, many working class women poorly educated - 27% of bride in england and wales unable to sign their names.
  • Later part of Victoria's reign, middle class women seek activities and careers outside the home, it was easy enough to work in local charities, churches or the arts but harder to receive higher education and break into professions.
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Opposition and Scorn

  • London University allowed women to take degrees - they could attend lectures and sit exams but weren't allowed to receive degrees.
  • The first woman to decide to become a doctor had to fight male student opposition and public scorn of medical profession to attend lectures but had to go to Paris to complete her degree - she became first licensed British woman doctor.
  • Other women got degrees by going to the United States
  • By 1871 there were only eight female doctors in Britain
  • In 1875 the first women qualified as dentists.
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Women's work and Factory Workers

  • Most common work for women is domestic service - 1851, 752,000 female servants and in 1890, well over a million.
  • In London 1 in 15 people is in service as many found the lifestyle more preferrable with accomodation, food and regular wages compared to grind of factory work.
  • More jobs for factory workers than domestic servants with largest sector being textiles, more than 600,000 were employed in textile factories.
  • 40% more women working in them than men and other industries requiring female labour but in heavy enginieering towns paid women's work was less common.
  • Many women work part time doing sewinh washing and hawking goods in streets, others work  in nursing and run hotels but professions remain dominated by men.
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Offices and Sweatshops

  • there was an increasing number of women working in offices - the invention of the typewriter and telephone help women because both machies are easier to operate than men. Post Office also became major employers of women.
  • For working class women life is tougher, rarely work from choice and look forward to marriage as a release from wage slavery.
  • Cheap sewing machine provided new source of employment for women in sweatshops working long hours for low rate pay.
  • Men earn more than women for same work as trade unions are slow to organise female workers.
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The New Woman

  • Popular journals and magazines were publishing stories and articles about 'new woman' - she wears her hair down, has a job, rides a bike, smokes and looks down on men but reflected changing role of women as more find new roles.
  • She no longer needed a chaperone and can speak for herself, independant minded, usually single and prefers a white collar job.
  • Being a female reformer was dangerous- women wanted smaller families so the could do things other than bear children. A women published a pamphlet advertising birth control was arrested but managed to escape imprisonment.
  • Traditional men sniggered at new women but future was hers- with growth of suffragette movement and success of modern feminism she will become most significant social and political force.
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The Protestant Work Ethic

  • Concept in theology, sociology, economics and history - emphasises hard work, frugality and prosperity as display of person's salvation in Christian Faith.
  • Protestants reconceptualised worldly work as a duty - benefits both individual and society as whole.
  • Catholic idea of good works transformed into obligation to work diligently as sign of grace.
  • Catholicism teaches good works are required of catholics as necessary manifestation of the faith they received.
  • Calvinists said that the predestined to be saved woukd be saved but as it was impossible to know who was predestined, it might be possible to determine by observing their way of life - hard work and frugality were important consequences of being predestined - Protestants attracted to these qualities.
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Victorian attitues to those that will not work

  • Victorians had near  obsession with sociology - rise of machine and scientific method, strong belief in both possibility and importance of self education and improvement, holding informed opinions on issues of public importance - all led to publication of numerous social and scientific studies.

Percieved class of thieves, beggars, drunkards, gamblers, prostitutes - meticulous cataloging of low life types, an invaluable guide to determining character traits of any low brow character- includes information on:

  • clothing and health
  • personal habits/mannerisms
  • social and educational background
  • usual methods of criminal operation 

The most effective beggars described as 'pretend to be "deserving" poor'- Victorians seperated poor into two classes as a matter of law and social attitude- the deserving being anyone thrown out of work or into finanical straights by events beyond their control like illness age or elimination of job and the undeserving were who declined to work, made percieved effort to live off dole or by conning people, who were ill or disabled by own actions e.g. drunk or STI.

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Victorian Attitudes To Criminals

  • Crime was seen as a moral issue or issue of character
  • Criminals which were largley from poorer classes of society were seen as to have not chosen to rein in more primitive desires and unable to delay gratification - views based on conceot of self-aware individual and informed actor.
  • Criminals knew what they chose to do was wrong but chose to commit crimes- maybe due to alcoholism, upbringing or laxity in justice system.
  • It was accepeted crime was connected to poorer classes there was little recognition that poverty led to crime - criminals seen as rational individuals who chose to commit crime instead of work.
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Impact of Industrial Revolution on Social Structur

  • huge economic and social change
  • created great wealth and new monied middle class but also great poverty - the industrial working classes
  • New urban areas = great poverty, overcrowding, unemployment and uneven distribution of economic growth
  • All contributed to decline in traditional views of poorer classes- increase shift to a market based economy
  • Middle class view of the poor changed from viewing them as a group to be socially controlled to a dangerous class at risk of being corrupted by modern life and unable to control base instincts.
  • New mobility industrialisation gave to poor people made middle and upper class begin to view them as incapable and immoral and a threat to their authority.
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  • Strong associations with childhood - emphasis of strong rhythms, repetition of key phrases and rhymes
  • song like to remind reader of oral poetry - parents to children, ancient poets reciting to live audience
  • Simple language - composes for audiences of non specialist hearers
  • Narrative poems that tell stories
  • Ballad stanzas consist of four lines rhymed abcb or abab as long as 2nd and 4th lines rhyme, first and third lines have 4 stresses, second and fourth have 3.
  • Repetition- has a refrain, repeated section that divides segments of the story or incremental repetition - phrase recurs with minor difference.
  • Dialogue - include multiple charcters into stories
  • Third person objective narration- narrators usually dont speak in first person unless speaking as character and dont comment on their reactions.
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Industrial Revolution

  • driving force behind social change- changed nearly all aspects of life through new inventions legislation and new economy.
  • New inventions like steam engine locomotive and powered looms production meant goods transportation radically changed
  • With new machinery factories could be built and mass produce goods at a rate human labour could never achieve.
  • Led to migration of people from rural areas to urban cities.
  • the economy began to surge- individual investors and financiers led to founding of banks to regulate and handle the flow of money
  • Common for children to learn a skill or trade from their father and open owen business in their twenties but during IR children paid menial wages to be primary workers in mills and mines.
  • Sending boys up chimneys was common - dangerous and cruel
  • Factories were criticised for long work hours, deplorable conditions and low wages
  • Children young as 5 and 6 - forced to work a 12-16 hour day, earn little as 4 shillings per week
  • Parliament passed acts to regulate child labour:minimum working age to 9, maximum working hours to 12 a day, inspections for factories on child labour regulations and enforce law, then limited working hours to 10 per day for women and children
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Child Labour

  • brought about by economic hardship and played important role in the IR
  • children as young as four were put to work
  • coal mines began work at age of 5 and died before age of 25
  • Laws were passed to limit the number of working hours but were largely ineffective.
  • Under nine's no longer allowed to work with new laws.
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This is so good and full of detail, thank you :)

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