19 Pages

(c) The early monologues: a variety of approaches (i) ‘Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister ’:

Latané makes his argument in definite terms, postulating a selfconscious ‘aesthetics of difficulty’ in the 1830s, one that may not really have existed. But in a much simpler sense we can think of Browning as a brilliant young poet showing off his brilliance, writing his work at a sophisticated level, giving a kind of bravura performance, with much play of irony, much apparent air of improvisation, much complex but nonetheless enjoyable time-sequencing. Perhaps the image of the virtuoso – ‘one who excels in, or devotes special attention to, technique in playing or singing’ (OED) – is a useful one in trying to understand Sordello. Whereas the virtuoso in music was a respected and venerated figure in the nineteenth century (Chopin, Paganini, Liszt, etc.) and could make nineteenth-century ladies swoon, a virtuosic piece of poetry – demanding that the reader participate in creating every passage – might quite easily fail to impress.