Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26

On April 26, 1846 Miss Barrett writes a very chatty letter to Browning discussing mostly literary items, specifically French novels, one of Miss Barrett's favorite subjects:

"...You know I like listening to stories--I agree with the great Sultan & would forgo ever so much cutting off of heads for the sake of a story--it is a taste quite apart from a taste for literature: a storyteller, I like, apart from the sweet voice. Now that book of Duma's on the League wars, which distressed me so the other day, by having the cruelty..the 'villaine'..of hanging its hero in the fourth volume...(regularly hanging him on a pair of gallows---wasn't it too bad?..) that book is amusing enough, more than amusing enough, to take with one's coffee..which is my fashion,..because you are not here & I have nobody to talk to me. The hero who was hanged, deserved it a little, I think, though the author meant it for pure misfortune & though no good romance-reader in the world, such as I am, could bear to part with the hero of four volumes in that manner, without pain,--but the hero did deserve it a little when one came to consider. In the first place, he was a traitor once or twice in war and politics, & was quite ready to be so a third or fourth time, he said to the lady he loved...'je perdrais votre estime. [I would lose your esteem.]' 'Is that you only objection' she enquired. 'The only one' he answered! (How frightfully true, that those brilliant French writers have no moral sense at all! do not, for the most part, know right from wrong! here, an instance!) Then from the beginning to the end of the four volumes, he loves two women together...a 'phenomene' by no means uncommon, says the historian musingly,..& except for the hanging, there might have been a difficulty perhaps in the final arrangement. Yet, see one's hero, the hero of four volumes, & not a bad hero either in some respects, hung up before one's eyes! wrongs the natural affections to think of it!--it made me unhappy for a full hour!--There should be a society for the prevention of cruelty to romance-readers against the recurrence of such things!--Pure nonsense I write to you, it seems to me."

You have to love her enthusiasm for these torrid French novels. She has no problem confessing her love of these books to Browning, who might be a literary snob for all we know. In letters she sends to other literary lights she feels them out first, asking their opinion first to see whether their tolerance for naughty books is a strong as hers. She apparently has no such compunction with Browning.

And Browning is in a nonsense mood as well, taking one of his convoluted rides around his brain trying to explain how he could never love these other women who might love him:

"In your last letter you spoke of 'other women.' and said they 'might' love me--just see! They might love me because of something in me, lovingness in me, which they never could have the effect produces the cause, my dear 'inverter!' If there had been a vague aimless feeling in me, turning hither and thither for some object to attach itself to and spend itself on, and you had chanced to be that object..I should understand you were a vary little flattered and how a poplar does as well for a vine-prop as a palm tree--but whatever love of mine clings to you was created by you, dearest,--they were not in me, I believed--those feelings,--till you came: so that, mournful & degrading as it sounds, still it would, I think, be more rational to confess the possibility of their living on, tho' you withdrew,--finding some other--oh no, it is,--that is as great an impossibility as the other,--they came from you, they go to you--what is the world to them!"

What? Is this an example of a passage that only God and Browning can understand? I guess that he is trying to say that even if other women did love him he would not respond because what he responded to was Miss Barrett. Or some such. And then he flounders around. Yes, a lot of his poetry is like this too. A lot of words as he tries out all the ideas in his head. But you have to like him, he's such a nice guy. (Although I wouldn't want him vexed with me!)

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