Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22

On January 22, 1846 Miss Barrett responded to Browning’s show of manliness in the previous days letters by telling him how much she liked his new poem, “Luria”. It is interesting to me that she is more interested in the story than the mechanics of the poetry. The fact that she loved stories and novels goes a long way to explaining how Browning appealed to her. He was full of stories. Many of his arguments in the letters take the form of extended analogies that ramble into disjointed stories of people he has met or heard or read about. His mind must have been racing at all times making connections amongst all kinds of subjects.

Miss Barrett is certainly not shy about giving her opinion about what might be corrected in the poem but her overall praise seems to dampen what might have been presumption in another person. She suggests a replacement of ‘spirit’ for ‘sprites’ in the following lines:

The angel in thee and rejects the sprites
That ineffectual crowd about his strength,
And mingle with his work and claim a share!—

“But why not 'spirits' rather than 'sprites,' which has a different association by custom? 'Spirits' is quite short enough, it seems to me, for a last word—it sounds like a monosyllable that trembles—or thrills, rather.” Not much of a correction for a poem of “Luria’s” length.

Other business in the letter included the question of whether he wanted her old pen holder. This gift giving goes on for several letters, wherein the poets discuss the finer points of nibs and holders. This I analogize to modern couples passing on their old Macs and Dells (although passing on old Dells seems improbable given that they are usually passed to the landfill before…..).

After a bit of the old tease about his deficit of letters she moves on to the subject of his manly speech about what a great husband he would make as opposed to what a poor excuse for a father that she has. I was holding out for her to thump him for his braggadocio, but she placates because she can’t help but agree with Browning:

“But the first letter was not what you feared—I know you too well not to know how that letter was written and with what intention. Do you, on the other hand, endeavour to comprehend how there may be an eccentricity and obliquity in certain relations and on certain subjects, while the general character stands up worthily of esteem and regard—even of yours. Mr. Kenyon says broadly that it is monomania—neither more nor less. Then the principle of passive filial obedience is held—drawn (and quartered) from Scripture. He sees the law and the gospel on his side. Only the other day, there was a setting forth of the whole doctrine, I hear, down-stairs—'passive obedience, and particularly in respect to marriage.' One after the other, my brothers all walked out of the room, and there was left for sole auditor, Captain Surtees Cook, who had especial reasons for sitting it out against his will,—so he sate and asked 'if children were to be considered slaves' as meekly as if he were asking for information. I could not help smiling when I heard of it.”

She loves her Papa but she sees him for the tyrant he is. Her wonderful humor in the “and quartered” aside is worthy. Even today there are people living in this type of psychological bondage. Wives stuck in marriages that cannot be ended due to lack of funds and abundance of children, often held in place by religious conditioning or fear of societal disapproval. How many of these poor souls are blind to the bondage? Is it worse that she sees it and has felt and was still feeling that she could do very little to escape it? And even if she escaped she was leaving her sisters behind in perhaps a worse state due to her impertinence. The real possibility that she would not be able to communicate with her totally father dependant sisters existed. Our poetess risked far more than our poet in this affair.

But with such good humor. She is in a teasing mood as she ends the letter:

“Dearest—when, in the next dream, you meet me in the 'landing-place,' tell me why I am to stand up to be reviewed again. What a fancy, that is of yours, for 'full-lengths'—and what bad policy, if a fancy, to talk of it so! because you would have had the glory and advantage, and privilege, of seeing me on my feet twenty times before now, if you had not impressed on me, in some ineffable manner, that to stand on my head would scarcely be stranger. Nevertheless you shall have it your own way, as you have everything—which makes you so very, very, exemplarily submissive, you know!”

Browning’s letter of the 22nd is short and full of good humor as he returns the teasing about the pen holder. He accuses her of (essentially) attempting to win his love by the gift. Cute. Characteristically he makes a short (not characteristic) analogy about a play full of non-sequiturs or perhaps sequiturs. He also confesses that he uses Bramah nibs because he cannot make a quill pen. Shocking in a writer!

1 comment:

  1. It's not just wives in that bondage but it was a good example. Makes me think of the bondages that I have been in during my life. What about you?