A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 488 pages of information about A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.).

                        “...  The Three, I do not scorn
       To death, because they never lived:  but I
       Have lived indeed, and so—­(yet one more kiss)—­can die!”
                                              (vol. v. p. 77.)

“PORPHYRIA’S LOVER” is an episode which, with one of the poems of “Men and Women,” “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” first appeared under the head of “Madhouse Cells."[70] Porphyria is deeply attached to her “lover,” but has not courage to break the ties of an artificial world, and give herself to him; and when one night love prevails, and she proves it by a voluntary act of devotion, he murders her in the act, that her nobler and purer self may be preserved.  Such a crime might be committed in a momentary aberration, or even intense excitement, of feeling.  It is characterized here by a matter-of-fact simplicity, which is its sign of madness.  The distinction, however, is subtle; and we can easily guess why this and its companion poem did not retain their title.  A madness which is fit for dramatic treatment is not sufficiently removed from sanity.

“JAMES LEE’S WIFE” is the study of a female character developed by circumstances, and also impressing itself on them; the circumstances being those of an unfortunate marriage, in which the love has been mutual, but the constancy is all on the woman’s side.  “James Lee” is (as we understand) a man of shallow nature, whose wife’s earnestness repels him when its novelty has ceased to charm.  The “Wife” is keenly alive to his change of feeling towards her:  and even anticipates it, in melancholy forebodings which probably hasten its course.



Love carries already the seed of doubt.  The wife addresses her husband, who is approaching from outside, in words of anxious tenderness.  The season is changing; coming winter is in the air.  Will his love change too?



The note of apprehension deepens.  The fire they are sitting by is supplied by ship-wood.  It suggests the dangers of the sea, the sailor’s longing for land and home.  “But the life in port has its dangers too.  There are worms which gnaw the ship in harbour, as the heart in sleep.  Did some woman before her, in this very house perhaps, begin love’s voyage full sail, and then suddenly see the ship’s planks start, and hell open beneath the man she loves?”



She remonstrates with her fear.  Winter is drawing nearer:  nature becoming cold and bare.  But they two have all the necessaries of life, and love besides.  The human spirit (the spirit of love) was meant by God to resist change, to put its life into the darkness and the cold.  It should fear neither.

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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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