English Coursework Stephanie Saunders
Porphyria’s Lover: A poem of its time?
Robert Browning was born in Camberwell in 1812. Although he received little formal education, he had access to the home’s large library and his father encouraged him to read. At the age of sixteen, Browning attended London University, but later withdrew.
It was in 1833 that he published his first poem anonymously and whilst he sold none, a year later, The Monthly Repository took interest and proceeded to publish several of Browning’s shorter poems. His recognition continued to increase until in 1846 he married the poet Elizabeth Barrett. He wrote very little poetry until his wife died in 1846. Browning wrote his greatest work The Ring and the Book after his wife’s death.
His reputation once again grew and in 1881 the Browning Society was established. Browning died eight years later in 1889.
Porphyria’s Lover was written by Browning in 1836 and is based around three key events. The first of which is when Porphyria enters and sits with the narrator: “When glided in Porphyria” The narrator then begins to describe Porphyria and her actions.
The next key event is the narrator killing Porphyria. He gets a piece of Porphyria’s hair and strangles her with it: “Three times her throat around, and strangled her.”
The last key event is the narrator opening Porphyria’s eyes and kissing her: “I wearily oped her lids”
Browning explores three key themes in this poem. The first is the struggle between good and evil, with different characters and actions representing good and evil. The second is the battle for power between the social classes; Browning explores this through the actions of the characters. The last is moral decay, which links in with the first key theme and is explored in the actions of the poem’s narrator.
Browning was writing for a Victorian society, well known for their prudery. However, beneath this prudery lay moral decay as murders, violence and scandal became ever more common. Whilst people still clung to their religious beliefs, many were also beginning to look to science for their answers.
One change, the Industrial Revolution, would have shaped this poem. The Industrial Revolution brought many from the country to the cities in search of jobs. As more people flocked to urban areas, they began to live much closer to one another than they had done before and because of this poverty and violence become commonplace. Without the close-knit communities they had left behind, people felt they had more independence; they could act in anonymity without fellow villagers’ constant scrutinising.