Robert Browning's "obscurity" in modern perspective



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Browning's reputation for "obscurity" was established, in the nineteenth century and this problem is the theme of some contemporary criticism of the poet's work. This thesis is an attempt to reassess the problem in light of current attitudes toward the nature and function of poetry. The great majority of the Victorians who criticized Browning for being too difficult to understand were the reviewers of the popular periodicals of the period. An examination of their criticism reveals that most of those aspects of Browning’s world which they called "obscure" were really simply characteristics of the poetry which did not conform to the popular concept of what poetry ought to be. These criticisms of "obscurity," which were really objections to certain aspects of Browning's poetry which the Victorians disliked or which their reading habits made difficult for them, are re-examined in light of modem poetics. A comparison between the two attitudes shows that whereas the Victorians condemned Browning for his irregular syntax, his recondite allusions, and the subject matter with which he dealt, the modem poets and critics consider these things to be essential if poetry is to be successful. [...]