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Breathing on the British public

Danny Karlin, 31 August 1989

Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism 
by Herbert Tucker.
Harvard, 481 pp., £29.95, May 1988, 0 674 87430 7
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Browning the Revisionary 
by John Woolford.
Macmillan, 233 pp., £27.50, November 1988, 0 333 38872 0
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Poetic Remaking: The Art of Browning, Yeats and Pound 
by George Bornstein.
Pennsylvania State, 220 pp., £17.80, August 1989, 9780271006208
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The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry 
by Eric Griffiths.
Oxford, 369 pp., £35, January 1989, 0 19 812989 0
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... Nine years ago Herbert Tucker wrote an excellent first book, Browning’s Beginnings; like many first books it gave the impression of being a labour of love. Tucker’s second is a tremendous disappointment. It has all the inflated idea of itself that the title suggests. Browning’s Beginnings was short, keen and suggestive ...

Prolonging her absence

Danny Karlin, 8 March 1990

The Wimbledon Poisoner 
by Nigel Williams.
Faber, 307 pp., £12.99, March 1990, 0 571 14242 7
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The Other Occupant 
by Peter Benson.
Macmillan, 168 pp., £12.95, February 1990, 0 333 52509 4
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Possession 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 511 pp., £13.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3260 4
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... the literary origins of the two Victorian poets, Ash and LaMotte. Ash descends (swervingly) from Robert Browning; LaMotte is compounded from (but again, not reducible to) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson. (Byatt lectured on all these writers in the days when she taught in the English ...

Cumin-coated

Colin Burrow: Two Novels about Lost Bellinis, 14 August 2008

The Bellini Card 
by Jason Goodwin.
Faber, 306 pp., £12.99, July 2008, 978 0 571 23992 4
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The Bellini Madonna 
by Elizabeth Lowry.
Quercus, 343 pp., July 2008, 978 1 84724 364 5
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... of James Roper, Anna’s great-grandfather. This describes a trip to the Veneto in the company of Robert Browning and the love of his late years, Mrs Bronson. The diary explains that Roper married into the Italian family which was given the Bellini Madonna by the artist in the 16th century in lieu of a debt. It’s written in a style that’s perhaps ...

Cold Winds

Walter Nash, 18 December 1986

Answered Prayers 
by Truman Capote.
Hamish Hamilton, 181 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 241 11962 6
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A Rich Full Death 
by Michael Dibdin.
Cape, 204 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 9780224023870
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Leaning in the Wind 
by P.H. Newby.
Faber, 235 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 571 14512 4
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The Way-Paver 
by Anne Devlin.
Faber, 155 pp., £8.95, November 1986, 0 571 14597 3
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... in the year 1855, and the narration takes the form of letters written by a young American, Robert Booth, to his friend Professor Prescott, an authority on Theoretical and Practical Ethics. Booth, in retreat from rejection in love and a sense of his own failure in literature, has known at least one stroke of luck: he has become, he tells his ...

Chronicities

Christopher Ricks, 21 November 1985

Gentlemen in England 
by A.N. Wilson.
Hamish Hamilton, 311 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 02 411165 1
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... and Gain, to say nothing of Modern Love and The Europeans, and – best of all and best used – Browning’s great poem of comedy and sadness, of hopes dished, ‘Youth and Art’. The allusions are child’s play for homo ludens. It is true that the decision to compile a compendium both does and doesn’t help with Wilson’s notorious difficulty in ...

Foiled by Pleasure

Matthew Bevis: Barrett Browning, 30 August 2018

Elizabeth Barrett BrowningSelected Writings 
edited by Josie Billington and Philip Davis.
Oxford, 592 pp., £14.99, February 2018, 978 0 19 879763 0
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... as a foil; more often, though, it wants to be foiled by pleasure. A hundred years later Barrett Browning had become a damsel famed in story. In 1934 Virginia Woolf observed that ‘“Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” is glanced at perhaps by two professors in American universities once a year; but we all know how Miss Barrett lay on her sofa; how she escaped ...

Poetry is a horrible waste of time

Frances Wilson: Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 28 October 1999

Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Selected Poetry 
edited by Judith Higgens and Michael Bradshaw.
Carcanet, 116 pp., £8.95, June 1999, 1 85754 408 0
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... to this history of ambivalence, in 1883 Beddoes’s entire oeuvre ended up in the care of Robert Browning. Browning had expressed to Kelsall, Beddoes’s executor, his admiration for the poet, and Kelsall, hoping that Browning’s influence might help in establishing ...

Tons of Sums

Michael Mason, 16 September 1982

Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer 
by Anthony Hyman.
Oxford, 287 pp., £12.50, July 1982, 9780198581703
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... imitation of Babbage’s machine printed the English Life Table No 3, of 1864. And that was that. Robert Browning remarked to Elizabeth Barrett that certain revisions Tennyson had made to his poems in deference to the critics were ‘much as if Babbage were to take my opinion – undo his calculating machine by it’. ...

Death for Elsie

Christopher Ricks, 7 August 1986

Found in the Street 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Heinemann, 277 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 9780434335244
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Private Papers 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 214 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 0 7011 2987 5
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... Papers makes the most responsible and unexpected use of Emily Brontë and of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But it is Robert Browning who fails to furnish the one thing needed, and this is where the novel fails. The dramatic monologue, after all, grew out of the epistolary novel. Forster is writing essentially an ...

Snakes and Leeches

Rosemary Hill: The Great Stink, 4 January 2018

One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli and the Great Stink of 1858 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Yale, 352 pp., £25, July 2017, 978 0 300 22726 0
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... weaves together the lives of the famous, the obscure and the forgotten. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning plan their elopement. Samuel Rogers entertains the Gräfin Hahn-Hahn, a romantic novelist who has come to meet her English public and disappoints them by turning out to have false teeth and a glass eye. The painter Benjamin Haydon approaches ...

Out of the closet

Tom Paulin, 29 October 1987

Emily Dickinson 
by Helen McNeil.
Virago, 208 pp., £3.50, April 1986, 0 86068 619 1
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Emily Dickinson: Looking to Canaan 
by John Robinson.
Faber, 191 pp., £3.95, August 1986, 0 571 13943 4
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Emily Dickinson: A Poet’s Grammar 
by Christanne Miller.
Harvard, 212 pp., £15.95, July 1987, 0 674 25035 4
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Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Story 
by Jerome Loving.
Cambridge, 128 pp., £20, April 1987, 0 521 32781 4
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... models among famous women writers of her day – George Eliot, the Brontës, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Yet as Christanne Miller points out, Dickinson didn’t actively support the political campaign for women’s rights ‘or, apparently, sympathise with women generally’. It is in the radical new language of the poems themselves that the battle against ...

A Cousin of Colonel Heneage

Robert Crawford: Was Eliot a Swell?, 18 April 2019

The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume VIII: 1936-38 
edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden.
Faber, 1100 pp., £50, January 2019, 978 0 571 31638 0
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... for Dunbar – but Eliot’s fine sense of naming in poetry owes more to 19th-century precedents. Robert Browning, who called one of his lippiest poems not ‘Filippo Lippi’ (the name by which the artist was usually known) but ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’, had the name-gift, and some of his finest poems bear the names of their speakers. Eliot owed more to ...

Umpteens

Christopher Ricks, 22 November 1990

Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications 
edited by Adrian Room.
Bloomsbury, 354 pp., £17.99, September 1990, 0 7475 0521 7
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Unauthorised Versions: Poems and their Parodies 
edited by Kenneth Baker.
Faber, 446 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 0 571 14122 6
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The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 407 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 14470 5
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... to an occasional session of sweet silent thought, or even to the consulting of a concordance. Robert Browning, Luria, 1846 – I dedicate this last attempt for the present at Dramatic Poetry to a Great Dramatic Poet: ‘Wishing what I write may be read by his light’: if a phrase originally addressed, by not the least worthy of his ...

Behind the Veil

Richard Altick, 6 March 1986

The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England 1850-1914 
by Janet Oppenheim.
Cambridge, 503 pp., £25, March 1985, 0 521 26505 3
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... the Continent with a succession of séances, two or three of which were attended by Elizabeth and Robert Browning. On the first occasion, an unseen hand lowered a clematis wreath (laurel was hard to come by) on Elizabeth’s brow. She believed in spiritual manifestations, but Robert, though he shared her dislike of ...

Want-of-Tin and Want-of-Energy

Dinah Birch: The lives of the Rossettis, 20 May 2004

The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Formative Years 1835-62: Charlotte Street to Cheyne Walk. Volume One 
edited by William Fredeman.
Brewer, 464 pp., £95, July 2002, 9780859915281
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The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Formative Years 1835-62: Charlotte Street to Cheyne Walk. Volume Two 
edited by William Fredeman.
Brewer, 640 pp., £95, July 2002, 0 85991 637 5
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William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis 
by Angela Thirlwell.
Yale, 376 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 300 10200 3
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... of Blake, crucial to the development of aesthetic thought in the period. His allegiance to Robert Browning, recipient of several deferentially adoring letters in these volumes, was comparable, and became yet more fervent after his first meeting with ‘the glorious Robert’ in 1851. Gabriel was among the few to ...

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