13 Pages

(a) Early long poems

The first important movement in Browning’s poetry is represented by the three long works written between 1832 and 1840, Pauline (1833), Paracelsus (1835), and Sordello (1840). During these same years Browning was experimenting in other directions. His first dramatic monologue was probably ‘Porphyria’s Lover ’, which may have been written as early as 1834 (it was published anonymously in The Monthly Repository, a liberal-radical journal in 1836), and with his play Strafford (1836) Browning began his intense but unsuccessful involvement with the theatre [14-18]. However, Pauline, Paracelsus, and Sordello remain a powerful testament to Browning’s preoccupations as a developing writer, and are interesting for readers whose concerns lie in this area. The reputed difficulty of these works, particularly Sordello, has led to the witty description of them as ‘three great dragons guarding a hoard of gold’, the gold being ‘the more accessible middle period work’ (Roberts 1996: 16). Some readers may want to pass straight on to the ‘middle period’ work [60-100] but there are of necessity losses in doing so. What follows is an attempt to show, in a brief space, what these might be.