Author Archives: nybrowning1907

Bob Griffiths Presents “Why Browning?: A Poet of Questions and Ambiguities”

Date Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Time 1:00– 2:00PM

 Bob Griffiths: “Why Browning?:
A Poet of Questions and Ambiguities”

by Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join us on April 14th for Bob Griffiths’ talk, “Why Browning?: A Poet of Questions and Ambiguities.”

In this world of 24-hour connectedness, with literally half the world’s population (four billion people) on social media, and the average person spending two hours and 24 minutes a day looking at it, why should we care about a 19th-century poet named Robert Browning?

Scholar Camille Paglia reminds us that “poetry envelops the imagination and focuses the soul.” I suggest that it can deal with the human condition in a unique and telling way. And in that context, Browning excels, as no other 19th-century poet does, in his preoccupation with the metaphysical and abstract. President Emeritus Steve Downey calls Browning “a surgeon of human character.” And in his dissection, Browning frequently is a poet of ambiguity who doesn’t resolve for us the paradoxes and conflicts he writes about: human and divine love, good and evil, love and hate, ambition and the greater good. Indeed, Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus (720-86) wrote about the power to be found in ambiguity – and Browning is a master of it.

In this program, President Emeritus Bob Griffiths shows us why Browning still matters, how he can enrich our lives, and how we can gratefully lose ourselves in careful readings and contemplation of our poet’s gifts – a welcome and rewarding break indeed from Instagram, Tik-Tok, Facebook, Twitter, and the TV news cycle.

As a poet of ambiguity, Browning does not directly tell us what to think; he indirectly elicits realizations in the reader through our perception of the limitations and flaws inadvertently revealed by the speakers of his dramatic monologues. One particularly good example of how Browning does this can be seen in his poem, “How it Strikes A Contemporary,” which shows Browning’s view of the poet’s role through the perspective of a speaker who entirely misunderstands it.

In this monologue, Browning’s speaker recounts his encounter with a poet he once knew. He recalls that the poet meticulously studied the material world: “He walked and tapped the pavement with his cane, / Scenting the world, looking it full in the face.” In observing “all thought, said and acted,” the poet surveyed and appreciated the minutiae of daily life in the town of Valladolid. Yet although the speaker intuits that the poet had some kind of power and insight into their lives, he inverts Shelley’s notion (and Browning’s) that the poet is the spiritual legislator of humankind, conjecturing that the poet was the town’s “chief-inquisitor” who reported to the king on the daily activities of the locals.

The speaker tells of how he once followed the poet home and was surprised to find that he did not lead the extravagant and decadent life he had been rumored to lead, but rather lived contentedly and simply with little material wealth. Imagining ahead to the sparsely attended funeral of the poet, the speaker perceives the poignant tragedy in the discrepancy between the man’s seeming power and his actual lack of material wealth and societal influence. He ponders the poet’s frugal appearance and congratulates himself upon his good fortune to be dressed in fine attire, exclaiming jovially, “Well I could never write verse,” which is a statement that equates the speaker’s materialism with his shallow understanding of poetry as merely the skillful metrical arrangement of language rather than as the embodiment of spiritual truths apprehended through imagination. When the speaker calls upon his friends to join him at the Prado and to embrace the brevity of life, it is clear that he slips back into a prosaic daily existence that is unaffected by his brief interaction with a man of vision. Through the speaker’s vanity, the reader is guided to see for themselves what he has missed: the true spiritual vocation of the poet.

We are currently discussing the possibility of meeting outside for the final meeting of the season. I will be in touch soon with updates.

James Kepple Presents “Robert Browning, Ezra Pound and the Modernists.”

Date Wednesday, March17, 2021
Time 1:00– 2:00PM

“Robert Browning, Ezra Pound and the Modernists.”

by Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join us for James Kepple’s talk, “Robert Browning, Ezra Pound and the Modernists.” From our President:

St. Patrick’s Day calls forth a Lecture of Red Hair! A Testament to both Poets’ insatiable designs! Ezra has Robert Browning on his mind all throughout the Cantos as well as in his work with Yeats and Joyce. Celebrate a pint with the President of the New York Browning Society as he presents: Browning, Pound & a Pint. Sláinte!

The influence of Browning’s poetry on the modernists is a particularly interesting study because it illuminates what the modernists appropriated and rejected from Victorian poetry. While the modernists may have left behind Browning’s Christian values and metaphysical ideas, they experimented with the dramatic monologue and admired his emphasis on the psychology of his individual speakers.

A letter written by Thomas Hardy to Edmund Gosse on April 6, 1899 reveals the conflicted response to Browning. Hardy exclaims to Gosse: “The longer I live the more does B’s character seem the literary puzzle of the 19th century. How could smug Christian optimism worthy of a dissenting grocer find a place inside a man who was so vast a seer & feeler when on neutral ground?” He admits that: “One day I had a theory which you will call horrible—that perceiving he would obtain in a stupid nation no hearing if he gave himself in his entirety, he professed a certain mass of commonplace opinion as a bait to get the rest of him taken.”
Despite his skepticism about Browning’s “smug Christian optimism,” Hardy, who knew Browning personally from literary gatherings in the 1880s, made a serious study of his poetry for over sixty years. Hardy owned fived editions of Browning’s poetry, saved reviews of Browning’s poetry, and transcribed lines from Browning’s poetry into his notebooks.

One of Hardy’s favorite poems by Browning was “The Statue and the Bust,” which tells the story of the unrequited love between Duke Ferdinand and a woman who is married to the head of the Riccardi family. She watches him as he rides through the town square and he admires her through the window. Growing older, the lady has a youthful bust placed of her in the window while the duke places an equestrian statue of himself in the town square. Never acting on their love, their inactive passivity is translated into frozen statues. It is not surprising that Hardy loved this particular poem of Browning’s, as he was also a writer who lingered on the tragedy of lost chances and postponed fulfillment.

We look forward to seeing you at James’ talk.

Bob McNeil: Love in Poetry of the Brownings

The New York Browning Society, Inc.Newsletter
Founded in 1907

Date Wednesday, February10, 2020
Time 1:00– 2:00PM

Bob McNeil: Love in Poetry of the Brownings

by Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join us next Wednesday for Bob McNeil’s talk on the subject of love in the poetry of the Brownings:

The quotes and poems in this recital deal with the importance of love and hope. However, some of the words understand more often than not that the feeling and wish seem to lack permanence or relevance. Without question, cynics will say these sentiments seem better suited for art than everyday existence. They may argue that devotion to a dream is as illogical as mythology.  Nonetheless, there are words in this program that realize love and hope are parts of a building that require brick-strong devotion. Sans their foundation, there would be no place to house the best aspects of our humanity.

McNeil’s talk is especially important as Robert Browning’s concept of love is critical for understanding his poetry. Browning’s idea of love is derived from Plato and from the Christian concept of love of which John speaks in his First Epistle, for which God is love and to love is to know the divine. Browning agreed with the German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schlegel that religion is not a particular theological creed but anything that touches the infinite; thus, human love, as the embodiment of the divine, is a religious expression. This notion of love and religion meant that Browning did not think of unlawful love as blasphemous if it sprang from a genuinely spiritual feeling.

This is the subject of Browning’s long narrative poem Red Cotton Night-Cap Country or Turf and Towers (1873), which shocked readers with its scandalous plot. Based on real-life events, the narrative follows a Norman gentleman, Léonce Miranda, who falls in love with a married woman and begins a relationship that conflicts with the tenets of his Catholic upbringing. Driven to a psychological crisis, Browning’s protagonist jumps from a tower, a symbol of his religious faith, believing that the miraculous powers of the Holy Virgin of La Ravissante will save him, only to be killed on the unforgiving turf of the real world. As Browning sees it, Miranda’s problem is that he fails to make a distinction between religion and theology. Browning conceived of theology as the outward forms and creeds that embody the divine ideas of religion. Miranda makes a terrible mistake because he focuses too much on these forms, which dictate his separation from Clara, and thus misses the fact that love is the true expression of religion

The plot of Red Cotton Night-Cap Country is based on the life of the Paris jeweler, Antoine Mellerio, who killed himself in 1870, leaving his property to the Church but stipulating that his mistress, Anna de Beaupré, could remain in their home. This was contested by Mellerio’s relatives who lost a law case against de Beaupré. Browning stays close to the facts of the case, so much so that he only changed the real names (Mellerio to Léonce Miranda and de Beaupré to Clara de Millefleurs) at the last minute because he was concerned about legal ramifications, and his observations are derived from visits that he made to

Normandy in 1870 and 1872. However, although Browning refers to real-life events, these details have a more important symbolic role in the poem since they are a vehicle for exploring his deeply held views on love.

Miranda hopes that he can live with Clara even though the Catholic Church forbids it, but this becomes impossible because Clara cannot divorce her husband. When Miranda’s mother dies, ostensibly broken-hearted as a result of her son’s actions, he has a complete breakdown. Relying on external laws dictated by the Church—the forms of theology—Miranda decides to renounce his relationship with Clara. He begins to engage in a series of ritualistic acts, burning his love letters and his hands, as well as giving generously to the Church, in an attempt to purify his body. This ends with his unfortunate attempt to test his faith by jumping off the tower.

Browning makes it clear that although Miranda’s love for Clara was illicit in terms of Catholic law, it was true in terms of the spirit: “Truth I say, truth I mean: this love was true.” Browning also does not judge Clara’s morality in terms of her sexual mores but only for her selfish interpretation of love. In only caring about seeking her own spiritual sustenance through her relationship with Miranda, she does not help him to attain a higher religious vision through their mutual love. Browning believes that if Miranda had possessed the imagination to distinguish between religion and theology, he would have found an expression of the eternal ideas of religion in his own love for Clara, and if Clara had loved Miranda as a reflection of God rather than for her own nourishment, she would have experienced the real religious transformation that transcends the temporal.

Finola Austin, author of Bronte’s Mistress

The New York Browning Society, Inc. Newsletter
Founded in 1907

Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2020
Time 1:00– 2:00PM
Pick up a Copy of Her New Book Bronte’s Mistress

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by Laura Clarke

We are excited that the historical novelist Finola Austin will be
talking to the New York Browning Society about her debut novel,
Bronte’s Mistress, which was published by Atria Books (Simon &
Schuster) in 2020. Austin, who has a Master’s degree in nineteenth
century literature from the University of Oxford, will talk about her
research into the real-life scandal that rocked the Bronte
family, which is the basis of her novel, and feminism in Victorian
novels, including Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Barrett
Browning’s Aurora Leigh. Find her online at

Before I discuss how Bronte’s Mistress continues the feminist
legacy of Jane Eyre and Aurora Leigh, I would like to first look at two
contemporary reviews of Jane Eyre and Aurora Leigh that show
how Bronte and Barrett Browning were maligned for the overtly
feminist content of their respective novels. When Jane Eyre was
published in 1847 under the masculine pseudonym Currer Bell, it
was criticized for challenging conventional Victorian notions of how
women should act and behave as well as for its raw and honest
portrayal of the inner life of a governess. An anonymous reviewer
for The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction expressed
alarm at how Jane Eyre challenged the Victorian ideal of submissive
“People were once ashamed to stand forth as the advocates of vice
… but such barriers are unhappily broken through, and not by men
only, but by women, from whom we naturally look for all that is
gentle and loveable. The desire of the present generation is to be
bold and fearless.”
The reviewer observes that “the heroine herself is a specimen of
the bold daring young ladies who delight in overstepping
conventional rules.” Making a correlation between  the character of
Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte herself, the reviewer laments how
“it is the boast of its writer that she knows how to overstep
conventional usages – how, in fact, to trample upon customs
respected by our forefathers, and long destined to shed glory upon
our domestic circles.”

In Florence, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was disappointed that she
had to wait longer to get her hands on a copy of Bronte’s famous
novel. Her curiosity about Charlotte—a curiosity that is shared by
Austin’s protagonist Lydia Robinson—reveals that she saw
something of herself in the famous author. Indeed, she too was a
woman who, albeit for different reasons, had been condemned to
live an invisible life and had escaped her veritable prison through
the powers of genius and imagination. It is clear from a letter that
Barrett Browning wrote to Mary Russell Mitford that she believed in
the myth surrounding Charlotte Bronte. She informs Mitford that
Jane Eyre was not written by a man, as many people assumed, but
by “a Miss Bronté, a clergyman’s daughter, diminutive almost to
dwarfishness—a woman of thirty, who had hardly ever left her
father’s parish in Yorkshire. There is great success in mystery.”


As Austin will show in her talk, Aurora Leigh is clearly influenced
Bronte’s Jane Eyre. While George Eliot identified the explicit
similarities between both novels, most reviews praise or criticize
Barrett Browning for the outspoken views on women that were
implicitly inspired by her reading of Jane Eyre. A reviewer for the
Athenaeum noted that Aurora Leigh is Barrett Browning’s
“contribution to the chorus of protest and mutual exhortation,
which Woman is now raising, in hope of gaining the due place and
sympathy which, it is held, have been denied to her since the days
when Man was created, the first of the pair in Eden.” Although the
reviewer appears to sympathize with Barrett Browning’s aims, his
review deliberately misreads the ending of the poem to reassert a
traditional view of femininity: “The poetess confesses her life has
been a failure, and lays her love in the arms of him who has been
hungering and thirsting for it many a weary day.” In focusing on the
Aurora’s marriage, the reviewer conspicuously omits the fact that
Barrett Browning conceptualizes a new conception of womanhood
through her transcendental poetics. Bronte’s Mistress pays homage
to and expands upon the feminist ideas central to Jane Eyre and
Aurora Leigh. While Bronte and Barrett Browning focus on the
struggles of young women, Austin explores the plight of the
invisible older woman. Although Lydia Robinson is in fact only forty
five, she feels irrelevant in Victorian society now that she is past her
birthing years and the height of her beauty. Lydia’s husband is no
longer interested in her, and she yearns for companionship, love,
and sexual fulfillment. Reflecting on her marriage, Lydia poignantly
observes, “How funny it is that men and women struggle as they
die, but few of us kick or scream as we are lowered alive into our
tombs.” Lydia’s affair with Branwell Bronte, the brother of her
children’s governess, Ann Bronte, makes her feel seen again, and
we are witness to the awakening of her physical and intellectual
life. But when this affair is exposed and her husband dies, Lydia is
forced to occupy yet another precarious social and economic
position: the older widow.

Austin’s novel gives voice not only to Lydia Robinson but to the
many Victorian women whose lives were constrained by
conventional ideas about the role of women in society.

The New York Browning Society, Inc. Newsletter
Founded in 1907

Annual Holiday Poetry Reading
Date Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Time 1:00– 2:00PM

Join Zoom Meeting:

By Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join us on December 9th for the New York Browning Society Annual Holiday Reading.

Every December I reread A Christmas Carol so I thought I would spend a few moments discussing what the holiday spirit meant to Dickens and how he invented the celebration of modern Christmas as we know it. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, many of the traditional Christmas festivities celebrated by the folk dwindled out as England became more industrialized and as more people moved to the cities to work in factories. Dickens saw the decline of the traditional Christmas celebration as a symbol of the decline of modern society. He worried that modern industrial and capitalist Britain only cared about money and was becoming a completely materialist society.

Dickens presented a vision of Christmas as a holiday centered in the family. It was a holiday that venerated the innocence of children and brought the family together to sing, eat, and play. His depictions of Christmas carols, parties, food, and celebrations became widely adopted in Victorian Britain as a result of the massive popularity of his novel. Dickens also envisioned Christmas as time for Christian charity and love, as a time to remember and care for the poor. This for Dickens was the “Christmas Spirit.”
Dickens depicts Scrooge as the embodiment of an unfeeling and cruel modern capitalist society, and we know this because he does not understand the meaning of Christmas. When Scrooge is asked for a donation for a charitable cause, he declines by referring to Thomas Malthus’ idea of the surplus population. In his essay “An essay on the Principle of Population,” Malthus wrote that the rise in human population would outpace the production of food, which would lead to widespread starvation. He argued that this problem of “surplus population” was the fault of the poor because they were having too many children. He observed that if they did not stop having children, they should be left to die from poverty, disease and famine. Scrooge grumbles: “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge also asks why he should donate money when poor people could go to the workhouse. The Poor Law of 1834 abolished systems of poor relief and established workhouses instead. Workhouses provided shelter and work for destitute men, women and children, but, in reality, they were institutions that enforced child labor and starved the people who were forced to stay there. For Dickens, Scrooge embodies everything that is wrong with modern society.

Dickens tells us that Scrooge has no sense of fancy or imagination. This is a crucial problem for Dickens as in his essay, “Frauds on the Fairies,” Dickens argues that a country without belief in fancy will never be a great country, because only people with fancy can
believe in the ideals of the good that cannot be proved by fact and logic. The characters who have Christmas spirit in A Christmas Carol are those individuals who have fancy and who are able to feel and enjoy transcendent feelings of joy, happiness, and love.

Christmas for Dickens was the antidote to the materialism of modern society. Ironically, it was in the nineteenth century that Christmas became commercialized; however, it is still possible to celebrate the holidays in the way that Dickens envisioned it. Dickens’ idea of Christmas is encapsulated in the words of Scrooge’s nephew:

“Apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seen by one consent to open up their hearts freely, and to think of people below them, as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

The holidays will look different this year, but we hope that you will be able to find some joy in the season.

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball
John Leech
Steel engraving, hand-coloured
9.6 x 8.7 cm vignetted
Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, 1843 Edition. frontispiece.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

James Browning Kepple, President
Robert Kramer, Vice President
Laura Clarke, Corresponding Secretary
Nancy McGraw, Recording Secretary
Gene Bierhorst, Director-at-Large
KT Sullivan, Director-at-Large
Tom D’Egidio, Director-at-Large
Stephen Downey, President Emeritus

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Dr. Robert Kramer: “The Brownings’ Continental Rivals”

The New York Browning Society, Inc. Newsletter
Founded in 1907
The National Arts Club
15 Gramercy Park South
New York NY 10003
Date Wednesday, November 11, 2020.

Time 1:00– 2:00PM

Dr. Robert Kramer: “The Brownings’ Continental Rivals”


SEE THE POEMS – THE PAINTINGS – The Brownings’ Continental Rivals by Robert Kramer

by Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join us this month for Robert
Kramer’s exciting talk, “The Brownings’ Continental Rivals.”
Dr. Kramer will give a talk on the poetry of Central Europe written
in German by several contemporaries of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. The poets discussed come primarily from Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Switzerland, and are usually considered so
called “late Romantics.” Though they often differ greatly from each other, their poetry tends to share certain common characteristics: the expression of intense emotions, as well as the examination of
subtle shades of feeling and profound psychological analysis of self
and society; aspecial interest in the unconscious, in dreams, the
irrational, and the mysterious; an increased appreciation and
exploitation of the creative powers of the imagination; a fascination
with memory, history, and the past in general; a preoccupation with
nature as cosmic or sacred force, but also involving close
observation and precise description; a loss of belief in traditional
religions; a frequently skeptical, ambivalent, pessimistic, or ironic
world-view; an ardent sense of yearning for what is absent, distant,
past, or lost; and also that perennial theme in literature–the
transitoriness of all earthly things.

The Brownings were more oriented to Romance languages and literature–Italian and French. But they were broadly educated and well aware of German cultural contributions. In fact, Elizabeth translated a number of Heine’s German poems into English verse. All translations from the German included here are by Robert Kramer. Dr. Kramer’s presentation will provide an important contribution to our understanding of the Brownings, especially as the influence of German ideas on both poets is often overlooked. Perhaps, as Kramer notes, this oversight is the result of the fact that they stated their preference for Romance languages and literature. However, both Elizabeth and Robert were keen to learn
German. In a letter to Lady Margaret Cocks, Elizabeth wrote:

“Talking of the Greek dramatic writers,
reminds me of envying your German. I must
learn German some day before I have
attained to the age of man—or at least to
the fourscore years. I have had my hands &
head full of a book called the Greek
Theatre, composed in part of extracts, &
edited by a Cambridge Student. It is an
admirable work; but what I am going to
speak of, is this. In the body of the work, are
extracts from Schlegel: so full of poetical &
classical enthusiasm, that I should like to
know something of the German Schlegel!”

Elizabeth was extremely impressed with  August Wilhelm Schlegel’s Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, so much so that she turned to redo her translation of Prometheus Bound, having concluded that she had not done it right the first time without the light Schlegel shed on dramatic writing. In a letter to Hugh Stuart Boyd, she recommended that Boyd’s wife read the German critics on Shakespeare, those “poet-critics” who know “more of Shakespeare than any of Shakespeare’s compatriots do.” Elizabeth was a keen reader of German writers, and she was determined to read them in the original rather than in translation. In another letter to Lady Cocks, Elizabeth wrote that she had been reading
Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling’s autobiography. “I read it in English of
course,” she remarks, but “I am yearning to look into the German souls of some German writers, without arriving at their thoughts by
“transfusion.” Elizabeth persevered with her German studies, writing to Lady Cock that “I must learn German before I arrive at the age which is ‘but labour & sorrow.’” One reason that Elizabeth was so attracted to German writers was because she shared their transcendental philosophy. Of course, it was this German mysticism that disconcerted English audiences. Carlyle, a great champion of German writers in England, notes in his essay “Novalis” that more empirically minded critics are quick to dismiss German philosophical ideas as unintelligible, and it was in response to these assumptions that Carlyle wrote Sartor Resartus, his humorous novel which seeks to parody and explain idealist metaphysics through Herr Teufelsdröckh’s philosophy of clothes. That many English writers assumed Germans writers to be overly abstruse is clear from an exchange between Elizabeth and Richard Henry Horne. Planning to write a drama together, Horne discouraged Elizabeth from using German names in case their work was negatively associated with German obscurity. She responded: “Though perfectly right in abjuring German names you made me smile a little by protesting against them because ‘it would be called German mysticism.’ Do you really suppose it will be called anything else, in any case? You will see what Mr Darley (for one) will say to us, in the Athenæum.”

Elizabeth, it is clear, was able to poke fun at the fact she was known and criticized for the difficulty of her ideas, which were associated
with foggy Germanism. Robert Browning also wanted to learn German, but he found his natural inclination was for Spanish. In a letter to André Victor Amédée de Ripert-Monclar, he wrote, “I have learned Spanish enough [to] be able to read “the majestic Tongue which Calderon along the desert flung.” I am more & more possessed by a perfect antipathy for the North & its sights & sounds—which is strange truly, but real– I will not learn German for instance—& can’t help learning Spanish!”

And yet Browning also persevered. He asked Alfred Domett, “How do you get on with German?” noting that he now reads “tolerably” and that he finds the best help in Schlegel and Tieck’s translation of Shakespeare. Browning was not as comfortable as Elizabeth to be associated with German obscurity, exclaiming defensively to F. J Furnivall, President of the Browning Society, that “I have never read a line, original or translated, by Kant, Schelling, or Hegel in my whole life.”

However, Browning’s works were clearly influenced by German
idealist philosophy, and it is impossible to miss German metaphysics in Browning’s Sordello. We look forward to learning more about the affinities between the Brownings and German writers in Dr. Kramer’s presentation.


James Kepple is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Dr. Robert Kramer: “The Brownings’ Continental Rivals”
Time: Nov 11, 2020 01:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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Tom d’Egidio: The Poet And His Double: Split Personalities, Alternate Identities, and THE PESSOA-BROWNING CONNECTION

Pessoa Lecture Text

The New York Browning Society, Inc. Newsletter
Founded in 1907

Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Time 1pm. – Via ZOOM

Tom d’Egidio: The Poet And His Double: Split Personalities, Alternate Identities, and THE PESSOA-BROWNING CONNECTION
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Pessoa Lecture Text 
REGISTER and JOIN the Forum Discussion


Welcome one and all to the 114th Season of the New York Browning Society. 2020 has been
an interesting time indeed, as we have seen changes that no doubt have faced our Society
in the past. I hope that this newsletter is being received in good health by all of our
members, and look forward to seeing your bright and smiling faces for our first meeting of
the new season.

As we have undergone new social norms,  we will not be meeting in person as we have in the past for our monthly meetings at the National Arts Club. This is unfortunate, but it offers a grand opportunity to expand our membership, and seek to build a larger audience for all of the illuminating programs that we put together each year. We have designed an entirely new user friendly website, I wish for everyone to peruse and see some of the highlights our Society has offered over the past few seasons. We want to thank Laura Clarke and her husband, Emanuel Bierman for all of their help in continuing to update and upgrade all of our content onto the new website at,


This website will be the new home for the Browning’s and our Society for the near future.
We have linked instructions on how to use Zoom on the front page of the website. In
addition you will find attached the link to the meeting itself.

Hopefully our members who have access to a smart phone, or a computer with internet
access, will be able to download the Zoom client and participate with us for our first virtual
meeting on October 14th. I will be personally reaching out to members who will need
assistance in this regard. I hope we can make this new online meeting as warm and
welcome as we have had in person for 114 years. We will try to make it as painless as
possible! We look forward to our future, with your help and participation!

We have a treat for our opening meeting, let’s get this new season started!
Tom d’Egidio will present: “THE PESSOA-BROWNING CONNECTION.” 

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa died in obscurity in his native Lisbon in 1935. Yet today he is considered one of the major literary modernists of the 20th century, recently becoming a hot property with a growing list of translators and publishers eager to get their versions of Pessoa into the bookshops.

One reason for Pessoa’s notable appeal is that while living an apparently uneventful bachelor life of shabby respectability, he spawned, in the privacy of his furnished room, an entire crew of alternate poetic personalities, assigning them names, biographies and widely divergent personalities, as well as penning substantial bodies of remarkable work for each one.

Pessoa’s imagining of these personas is so intensely comprehensive, that they even write about and to each other and judge each other’s poetry and character.  Is there any possible explanation for such literary ‘schizophrenia’?

A big chunk of Pessoa’s early life, from 7 to 17 years of age, was spent living in the South African city of Durban where his stepfather served as the Portuguese consul. There the young Pessoa learned English, read the English poets; and his first attempts at poetry were in English.

Poet Tom d’Egidio, acting on a hint from the late great critic Harold Bloom, and with the encouragement and advice of Browning Society member, poet and translator Albert Rosenblatt, explores the intriguing possibility that Pessoa was not only inspired by Robert Browning, but that Andrea del Sarto, Fra Lippo Lippi, and other characters limned by Browning in his dramatic monologues served as specific templates for Pessoa’s alter egos.

Tom has graced us as our opening speaker for the past few seasons, come and enjoy the spooks and chills he brings to this lovely fall with his latest presentation. We look forward
to seeing and hearing you virtually! If you have any additional questions feel free to reach
out to myself at: Cheers!

But what if I fail of my purpose here? It
is but to keep the nerves at strain, to dry
one’s eyes and laugh at a fall, and
baffled, get up and begin again.

                                       -Robert Browning

 James Browning Kepple, President
Robert Kramer, Vice President
Laura Clarke, Corresponding Secretary
Nancy McGraw, Recording Secretary
Gene Bierhorst, Director-at-Large
KT Sullivan, Director-at-Large
Tom D’Egidio, Director-at-Large
H. Robert Griffiths, President Emeritus
Stephen Downey, President Emeritus


The New York Browning Society Presents – TOGETHER THROUGH TIME The Brownings in Word & Song


The Brownings in Word & Song – Composed by Elizabeth Fowler Sullivan 

Featuring: KT SullivanTammy Grimes,  Stephen Downey,
Matthew CowlesTovah FeldshuhSteve RossBrian Murray,
Craig RubanoKeith Merrill, and Nicole Mitchell 

Xavier High School and Clinton High School Poetry Reading – Wednesday, February 12, 2020

PDF: Browning Society Feb Newsletter 2020

The New York Browning Society, Inc. Newsletter
Founded in 1907
The National Arts Club
15 Gramercy Park South
New York NY 10003

Date Wednesday, February 12, 2020.
Time 1:00– 2:00PM
Xavier High School and Clinton High
School Poetry Reading

by Laura Clarke


We hope that you will be able to join us in February for a poetry reading with Xavier and Clinton High Schools as they continue the poetic legacy of the Brownings. Not only does the poetry of the Brownings continue to influence later generations but their relationship continues to have a
pervasive hold on the literary imagination. Every Christmas I spend the holidays in England with my family in East Sussex, and this year I had the opportunity to visit Virginia Woolf’s summer retreat, Monks House. When I was perusing the gift shop, I happened upon her novel, Flush, an
experimental biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beloved cocker spaniel. This extremely funny and charming biography charts Flush’s early life with Mrs. Mitford: how he sacrifices the joys of nature to become Elizabeth’s companion, his jealousy over Elizabeth’s burgeoning romance with Robert Browning, his horrific kidnap and daring rescue, and the excitement and fear of leaving Wimpole Street for Italy where he finally finds love, freedom, and happiness.  Although Woolf’s novel is ostensibly about Elizabeth’s dog, through the vivid immediacy of Flush’s senses—his tastes, smells, and perceptions—Woolf beautifully evokes the intense emotion and drama of the Brownings’ love story.

Through Flush’s impressions of the external world, Woolf paints a picture of the complete
transformation that takes place in Elizabeth after meeting Browning. Before Browning’s
first visit, Flush and Elizabeth live a life of seclusion in a room with dark, heavy drapes and furniture. Elizabeth rarely eats; she is weak and apathetic: “Flush felt that he and Miss Barrett lived alone together in a cushioned and fire-lit cave.” But after receiving mysterious letters, Flush perceives Elizabeth’s agitation and notices her increasing appetite. Flush’s world is turned
upside down once Browning enters their insulated sphere: “that dark, taut, abrupt, vigorous man, with his black hair, his red cheeks and his yellow gloves, was everywhere.” Through Flush, we are able to viscerally experience Elizabeth’s new vitality: “Flush had never heard that sound in Miss Barrett’s voice before—that vigour, that excitement. Her cheeks were bright as he had never seen them bright; her great eyes blazed as he had never seen him blaze.”

At first, Flush resents Browning’s intrusion into their isolated and withdrawn lives, but escaping to Italy saves them both from their listless existence. Flush and Elizabeth leave behind the dark, heavy, and oppressive Victorian bedroom at Wimpole Street for the spacious and airy rooms of Casa Guidi, graciously bathed in light. Flush’s freedom is mirrored in the joy of Elizabeth’s new life with Robert. Together they explore lakes and mountains, delight in both the sun and the cold, and Flush roams the countryside, fulfilling his natural urges, and reveling in the sensory landscape of Italy. Flush’s physical pleasure clearly reflects Elizabeth’s serenity and self-actualization.

The Brownings’ love story deeply affected Woolf. She wrote in her essay on Aurora Leigh that “nobody can deny the power of the Brownings to excite our sympathy and rouse our interest.” When I read Woolf’s description of Casa Guidi and her depiction of Flush’s exhilaration in Italy, I could not help but think that Woolf must have felt the same sense of liberation when she rejected the shackles of the previous Victorian generation. Woolf enjoyed spending time at
Charleston House, the summer home of her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell who, along
with the painter Duncan Grant, painted directly onto the walls and furniture of the
house in a bright vivacious colors and experimented with new post-impressionistic
styles. Vanessa Bell’s simple and beautiful sketch of Elizabeth at Casa Guidi depicts
her sitting in front of large open windows, looking out at the city of Florence. Woolf’s
novel Flush and Bell’s illustration reveal the sympathy the sisters felt with Elizabeth and
how her story enriched their imaginations, especially the communion they felt having
made a daring escape from the oppressive Victorian world.

Our Student Readers


“From Brown Girls to Elizabeth Barrett Browning” – Tusiata Avia – Wednesday, January 15 2020

PDF: Browning Society January Newsletter 2020

The New York Browning Society, Inc. Newsletter
Founded in 1907
The National Arts Club
15 Gramercy Park South
New York NY 10003

Date Wednesday, January 15
Time 1:00– 2:00PM
“From Brown Girls to Elizabeth
Barrett Browning” by Tusiata Avia

by Laura Clarke

Tusiata Avia, “I go to My Sister-Artists and We Talk,” 2017

From a young age, I became an expert at trying to fit. Imagine me as one of those full-figured Victorian ladies trying to stuff herself into a whalebone corset. I’ve spent a good deal of my life lacing myself into impossible shapes, pulling myself in so tight that my eyes nearly popped out of my head. So tight, I could only take the shallowest of breaths.

It wasn’t until my mid-30s, when I entered a life in the arts, that I discovered what a gift my life had given me. Many gifts in life start off as painful ones. Not fitting was great training. Not fitting was a gift. It was a spiritual gift.

It allowed me to walk between worlds, to become a boundary walker, a shape shifter. It enabled me to inhabit a number of different worlds and write from inside those worlds in a voice that
rang true.

Poet and playwright Tusiata Avia is in New York City for her groundbreaking show
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, the first Samoan female ensemble to perform at the Soho. She is
an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s book writer. Avia’s poetry collections are Wild
Under My Skirt, which she staged as a one-woman show around the world from 2002
2008, Bloodclot, and Fale Aitu—Spirit House. She has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s
Fellowship at the University of Hawai’i (2005), was the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at
Canterbury University in 2010, and the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust
Award. We are delighted that Avia will be our speaker on January 15th.

In her essay “I go to My Sister-Artists and We Talk,” Avia speaks about the importance of having a supportive network of sister-artists, from past to present. She writes that “it is easy to believe that we are not sisters and allies and midwives to each other’s beautiful things, but that we are fighting each other tooth and nail to survive, that the failure of your beautiful thing’s funding or award or good review means the greater possibility that my beautiful thing might have a chance at life.” Avia asserts that “we have all given birth to someone or something. This is our nature. It is also our nature to help midwife for each other. It is only fear that stops us.” She explains that in  finding a spiritual connection with sister-artists, “we confess to each other and realise how much the same we are. We ignite courage in each other. We act as mother-confessors and absolve each other.”

Please join us in listening to Avia converse with Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who also conceived of herself as a sister-artist. In her presentation, From Brown Girls to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Avia will focus on Barrett Browning as a warrior poet.

Our Meeting and Wild Dogs Under My Skirt:

Tusiata Avia – “From Brown Girls to Elizabeth Barrett Browning” – National Arts Club 1/15/2020 NYC