It was a tale of two lovers uniting in the night to express their affection and devotion. So how exactly did this tale of love, end in cruel, cold-blooded murder? Good evening and welcome to Poetry Break Down, I’m your host Jemima Hazell. Tonight, we will delve into the fascinating world of classic Victorian literature. Under the microscope is canonized poet, the late Robert Browning. Browning’s poetry was a reflection of his life and times living in Victorian England. Later on this evening we will analyze just how his times came to play a major role in some of his greatest works, in particular his revered poem Porphyria’s Lover. Released in 1836 (Catherine Maxwell, 1993, p.27), this esteemed text follows the murder of beloved Porphyria, the lover of the enigmatic speaker who, after inviting her to his cottage for a romantic rendezvous, strangles her. Stay tuned, for tonight we explore just how this poem come to be a perfect representation of a society that was obsessed with the dominate preoccupation of male dominance.
Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover skillfully epitomizes the male desire to dominate women in all spheres of life during the Victorian Era. This power construct is foregrounded as the dominant reading through a range of literary devices in the poem, pertaining to gender roles. Originally, the dramatic monologue highlights Porphyria and her strong presence in contrast to her passive male lover.
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there
(Browning, Porphyria’s Lover, Lines 16-19)
Porphyria dominates her partner’s actions, forcing his check against her bare shoulder; a symbol of control. Narrating the story from the male perspective is a literary device which allows the audience to infer a specific reading in regards to the power constructs. The speaker objectifies Porphyria through his inner dialogue, stating that ‘Porphyria worshipped me’ (Line 33) and that she will ‘give herself to me forever’ (Line 25). This literary device foreshadows the enigmatic speaker’s premeditated intent on murdering Porphyria as an act of possession. The emasculation and submissive role the narrator has been faced with ultimately leads to the climax of the poem. In an attempt to preserve Porphyria’s love and exercise power, Porphyria’s lover strangles her with a lock of her own yellow hair (Line 39-40). The obsessive speaker then proceeds to prop Porphyria’s ‘drooping’ neck against his shoulder (Line 39-41), a complete reversal of his previous compliance to her controlling actions. This is symbolic of recovering masculinity from prior submission and depicts the male agenda of the Victorian period.
Gender inequalities formed the fabric of society during the Victorian Era, as reflected in Porphyria’s Lover. From 1837 to 1901, Victorian England was a civilization of male dominance and supremacy. Men were viewed as superior beings that were far...