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”

ZOOM LINK: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86416985787

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
(Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81988421007)

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,

NYBROWNING.ORG

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: JamesBKepple@gmail.com. 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

TOGETHER THROUGH TIME

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
Dogs
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

 

Annual Holiday Poetry Reading – Wednesday, December 11 2019

PDF: Browning Society December Newsletter 2019

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

Annual Holiday Poetry Reading
Wednesday, December 11 2019
Time 1:00– 2:00PM

by Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join The Browning Society of New York and students from Clinton and Xavier High Schools for our annual poetry reading where members and guests will read poems by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Our annual poetry reading is an apt way to celebrate the holiday season since poetry held an important place in the Victorian celebration of Christmas. Illustrated poetry books were given as gifts at Christmas and were a focal point of domestic life. These beautifully designed books with ornamental gold and green covers became a popular commodity as a result of developments in
the nineteenth-century printing press. As wood engraved blocks could be printed on letterpress at the same time as text, printers were now able to produce thousands of pages of illustrations without any deterioration of the image. This quick and easy printing process fueled a massive
increase in illustrations in the nineteenth century and the illustrated Christmas book audience, who had more money to spend on luxury times, increased leisure time, and valued family and domesticity.

Illustrated Christmas poetry books fused high art with mass production to celebrate national
greatness in art and literature. We can see this combination in David Bogue’s Christmas with the Poets: A Collection of Songs, Carols, and Descriptive Verses, Relating to the Festival of Christmas, from the Anglo-Norman Period to the Present Time, which was published in 1850 and included fifty-three illustrations by Birket Foster. Along with Charles Dickens’ illustrated Christmas books, Bogue’s work sough to align the festival of Christmas with the values and
character of the British nation. That these books had national importance can be seen in the preface to Christmas with the Poets which states that, although not all the songs, carols, and descriptive pieces in the collection “merit the higher appellation of poem,” they “will be found to illustrate in some way or another an interesting by-gone custom, or to describe was one of the biggest markets. These books  were intended for a growing middle-class some feature worth preserving, connected with the Christmas celebrations of our ancestors.”

The poems in Bogue’s Christmas with the Poets are arranged chronologically and divided into six sections: poems from the Anglo-Norman period to the reformation; poems of the Elizabethan period; poems by Herrick about Christmas; Christmas songs and carols from the Civil wars, Commonwealth and Restoration; Christmas poems from the eighteenth century; and
Christmas poems from the nineteenth century. Selected poets from the nineteenth century include Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Hemans, Keble, and Tennyson, among others. The collection grandly closes with Tennyson’s poem “The Death of the Old Year.” While Christmas with the Poets celebrates poems and songs, it also provides explanations for historical Christmas traditions such as the decking of houses with holly and ivy and wassailing
the apple trees.

The sheer amount of ornate Christmas books that were published in the nineteenth century as well as the popularity of these books as gifts and revered objects in the home demonstrates the importance that Victorians placed on recording traditions and customs. The burgeoning Christmas book market also reveals the ways in which Christmas was reframed by the popular
printing press to define developing Victorian definitions of national identity.

We look forward to seeing you on December 11th for our annual holiday poetry!

Our Readers

KT Sullivan performs “Now” for the New York Browning Society’s Annual Holiday Reading at the National Arts Club 12/11/19

Stephen Downey reads Robert Browning’s “Two in the Campagna” @ The National Arts Club for The New York Browning Society’s Annual Holiday Reading 12/11/19

Hannah Jane Peterson spreading some holiday joy with an original song “Milk and Cookies” at The New York Browning Society at the National Arts Club! www.nybrowning.org
12/11/2019

“The Drama of Music, The Music of Drama: Echoes of Browning in T. S. Eliot.” – Michael Polesny – Wednesday, November 13, 2019

PDF: Browning Society November Newsletter 2019

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

Monthly Meeting 1:00– 2:00PM
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Michael Polesny: “The Drama of Music, The Music
of Drama: Echoes of Browning in T. S. Eliot.”

by Laura Clarke

We hope that you will be able to join us for Michael Polesny’s talk, which questions the purposes behind T.S. Eliot’s readiness to single out Browning to later generations of poets as “the one poet” worth studying.

T.S. Eliot in 1920 remarked that among all the Victorian poets there exists only “one Victorian poet whom our contemporary can study with much profit.” Eliot — who was always also something of an evangelist of Elizabeth Barrett Browning — was speaking of EB Browning’s husband, Robert Browning, and he knew well that, in his exclusion of about a dozen other monumental Victorian poets, he was singling out Browning as “the one” poet who could give to early-twentieth-century poets something without which their poetry would remain facile and socially insignificant. More specifically, Eliot’s Browning is a poet who gave to poets of later centuries the sound of authentic dramatic conflict, the sound of epektasis (Greek for “outstretching”), which for Eliot was the sound of that rare human who, to use Browning’s own words for epektasis, dares to let his “reach exceed his grasp.” Specifically, Eliot identifies that sound as “the music of a word…[that] can be made to insinuate the whole history of a
language and of a civilization.”

The declaration that “man’s reach should exceed his grasp” is spoken by Browning’s perfect painter, Andrea del Sarto, when he compares the technical virtuosity of his paintings to those of Raphael:

That arm is wrongly put—and there
again—
A fault to pardon in the drawing’s lines,
Its body, so to speak: its soul is right,
He means right—that, a child may
understand.
Still, what an arm! and I could alter it:
But all the play, the insight and the
stretch—

Browning’s del Sarto sees that the arm in Raphael’s painting is not empirically correct— “That arm is wrongly put”—unlike his own flawless technique, but he admits that Raphael’s painting is superior to his own since it is the soul that makes a true work of art— “its soul is right.”

For Browning, the imperfections of Raphael’s painting point toward the ineffable source of inspiration— “all the play, the insight and the stretch.” Art for Browning is not just about the perfection of form but the transcendent idea that is embodied in it. This is why he felt that
Christian art was superior to classical art: while spirit is perfectly embodied in the grace and beauty of form in classical art, the Christian soul always longs for the perfection of the next world, and thus its transcendent longings can never be fully embodied.

Browning’s idea that “man’s reach should exceed his grasp” is also illustrated in one of his early lyrical dramas, Pippa Passes. When Jules, a neoclassical artist studying in Rome, hears Pippa’s song, he experiences a spiritual awakening that transforms his view of art. Jules realizes that he has erred by focusing on the external form—the classical ideal—at the expense of soul, which is the essence of the Christian perspective: “This body had no soul before, but slept / Or stirred, was beauteous or ungainly, free / From taint or foul with stain, as outward things / Fastened their image on its passiveness.”

Upon hearing Pippa’s song, Jules is awakened to a higher order of things that enables him to perceive the spirit in the body. Embarking on a new kind of art to express this epiphany, Jules knows that he will either be successful at embodying soul in form, or he will fail and the result will be as lifeless as before: “Now, it will wake, feel, live—or die again!” However, art for Browning is about taking this risk and stretching outside the bounds of the finite.

Please hold the date, December 11th, for our annual poetry reading with students from
Clinton and Xavier High Schools. Join us in choosing your favorite Robert and/or
Elizabeth Browning poems.

 

“D. G. Rossetti, Browning, A Pair of Harlots, and the Fleshly School of Poetry” – Tom d’Egidio – Wednesday, October 16, 2019

PDF: Browning Society October Newsletter 2019

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

Monthly Meeting 1:00– 2:00PM
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Tom d’Egidio: “D. G. Rossetti, Browning, A Pair
of Harlots, and the Fleshly School of Poetry”

by Laura Clarke

The Browning Society of New York welcomes you back for a new season of talks and events centering on the lives, works, and influence of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Our Society has run for an incredible one hundred and ten years, and this year we hope to expand the reach of our exciting programs. The New York Browning Society’s High School Poetry Competition now includes over one hundred and twenty public, private, and parochial schools in the NYC Area. We look forward to developing further relationships with NYC schools,
nurturing poetic talent, and to ensuring the legacy of the Brownings. This year, we will be launching our new website for the Society, which will display newsletters, videos, memos, and photographs. Our Society is also in talks to potentially include evening dates for some of our meetings.

We will kick off the new season’s schedule with a presentation by the noted poet Tom d’Egidio. All members and their guests are welcome.
“D. G. Rossetti, R. Browning, A Pair of Harlots, and the Fleshly School of Poetry”

It was on an evening in 1855 London that Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Robert Browning
first met on one of Browning’s visits from Florence where he resided with his far more
famous poet wife Elizabeth.

For most of those present Tennyson’s reading of his “Maude” was undoubtedly the
highlight of the evening, but the young Rossetti was in awe of the then far less celebrated Browning who read his “Fra Lippo Lippi” to the gathering.

Although this was the occasion of their first encounter in the flesh, they had been in communication with each other ever since the teenage Rossetti came across Browning’s
anonymous early poem “Pauline” in 1847, deduced its authorship and wrote a fan letter
to Browning in Florence asking for corroboration.

Rossetti’s astute detective work was possible because he was already one of Browning’s few early fans, and his own adolescent poetic production was very much in imitation of Browning. Nor was it just poetry that Browning inspired in the young Rossetti whose very first watercolor was inspired by Browning’s 1844 poem “The Laboratory” when Rossetti was only sixteen.

At a time when Browning’s “Sordello” was routinely denounced and ridiculed for its supposed incomprehensibility by Tennyson, Ruskin and other not exactly minor members of the English literary establishment, Rossetti regularly drove his fellow members of the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood, the artistic movement he had largely launched, to the point of abstraction by subjecting them to fifty pages at a time of his passionate recitations of “Sordello.”

On the surface there might seem to be much in common to bind Rossetti and Browning
together. Both were fascinated by Italy, Italian art, literature and culture, but while Browning lived much of his life in Florence and then Venice, Rossetti, product of a cultured Italian speaking household in London, never set foot in Italy even once.

Both men were young widowers, their wives, both of them Elizabeths, dying within a few months of one another, but while Browning increasingly became a social butterfly following his Elizabeth’s demise, Rossetti became a virtual hermit, holed up in the London house he rarely left after the death of his Lizzie from an overdose of laudanum.

Rossetti’s poem “Jenny”, about a prostitute, appeared as part of his book “Poems” in 1870. In 1872 his good friend Browning sent Rossetti a presentation copy of his new poem “Fifine at the Fair”, also about a prostitute. Rossetti began reading Browning’s poem in the presence of his
brother William who said he suddenly threw the book across the room, declaring Browning the leader of a huge conspiracy against him, and that the poem was a compendium of insinuations aimed entirely at him.

For the remaining ten years of his life Rossetti never saw or communicated with Browning again, thus bringing one of the Victorian age’s great literary friendships to a precipitous end.

Is there in fact a connection between Rossetti’s “Jenny” and Browning’s “Fifine”? And is there something in “Fifine” that could have legitimately upset Rossetti? While presenting a colorful scenario (illustrated with projections) of the Victorian literary and artistic world, Tom d’Egidio will seek to solve this longstanding literary mystery.

Please also hold the date, November 13th, for our next exciting talk by Michael Polesny,
PhD candidate at CUNY Graduate Center, on Robert Browning and T.S Eliot.

The New York Browning Society Presented Tom d’Egidio: “D. G. Rossetti, Browning, A Pair of Harlots, & the Fleshly School of Poetry” at the National Arts Club Wednesday, October 16, 2019

“Thirty-Four Observations on ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’” – Timothy Donnelly – Annual Luncheon Wednesday, May 15 2019

PDF: Browning Society May Newsletter 2019

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

Annual Luncheon Wednesday, May 15

Time 12:00– 1:00PM
Timothy Donnelly, “Thirty-Four
Observations on ‘Childe Roland to the
Dark Tower Came’”

by Laura Clarke

May was an important month for Browning, since it was during this month in 1837 that his first play Strafford was performed at Covent Garden Theatre. This performance would mark the beginning of Browning’s difficult and disappointing experience with the Victorian theater. Indeed, Browning is famous for being a failed playwright, and his plays were criticized for being too intellectual and philosophical, especially at a time when sensational melodramas were
more popular on the stage.

Browning’s Strafford was an ambitious play. It was not simply a historical tragedy but rather an exploration of Carlyle’s concept of symbols—the material forms in the world that embody spiritual ideas. For Carlyle, these symbols must continually evolve so that they do not become fixed in tradition and stymie the spiritual vitality that ever embodies itself anew. The historical
context for Strafford is seventeenth-century England leading up to the Civil War. Strafford believes in the undisputed power of the king, whereas Pym champions the increasing power of the people as it is embodied in parliament. This for Browning represents the progress of symbols in history and the manifestation of spirit in new political forms.

Strafford is clearly influenced by Carlyle’s Lectures on Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, especially Carlyle’s argument that Puritanism, as it was embodied in the actions of John Pym and Henry Vane, was a symbolic transition from political forms that had become merely tradition, outworn semblances, to a new organic embodiment of spiritual truth. Carlyle contends that English Puritanism was a continuation of the progress of the Protestant
Reformation and that it looked forward to the French Revolution; together these were three
successive stages in the return from “Falsehood and Semblance” to “Truth and Reality.”

Browning’s play presents Pym as one of Carlyle’s heroes, the individual who bodies forth the new spirit of the age, but his focus of the play is more on Strafford and the tragedy of a soul which is tethered to a defunct symbol that no longer embodies the truth of the age. Browning depicts Strafford’s dedication to the king as an inversion of teleological development, and the Biblical imagery that suffuses the play points to the fact that Strafford continues to worship what in the modern age can only be a false idol.

Strafford recognizes that he is being subsumed by the force of history. Thus when Strafford is betrayed by the king and sentenced to death, he expresses a willingness to die. Yet at the very moment of his death Strafford has a sudden vision of the pain and destruction that will bring
about the new symbols that embody the ideas of spirit. Foreseeing the horrors of the Civil War, he cries: “I, that am to die, / What must I see! ’tis here—all here! My God, / Let me but gasp out, in one word of fire, / How Thou wilt plague him, satiating Hell! / What? England that you help,
become through you / A green and putrefying charnel.” This is for Browning the tragic aspect of the dialectical progress of history: progress is only rendered through conflict, and in its self-destruction and self-renewal, spirit sacrifices individuals to the greater purpose of history.

We see this in Pym’s response to his old friend’s prophetic vison. He declares coldly, “England,— I am thine own! Dost thou exact / That service? I obey thee to the end.” It is Pym’s conviction that the will of England is made manifest in his being and therefore he is compelled to subordinate personal connections. This highlights in the drama the tragic space between the
individual and the collective good. Clearly Pym is one of Browning’s great heroes, as we see in “Charles Avison,” but his position as a hero renders him far less human than Strafford, and when Stafford cries in the last line of the play: “O God, I shall die first—I shall die first” (l. 360), we feel the tragedy of one whose life is sacrificed for the future. May must have been a disappointing month for Browning; Strafford only ran for four nights and many critics declared it to be a disastrous debut. Sadly, Browning never found a receptive audience for his intellectual
dramas, but his experience writing these dramas inevitably shaped the dramatic poetry
for which he is remembered today.

We hope you will be able to join us for the annual luncheon and for Timothy Donnelly’s
exciting talk to close out the season.

Timothy Donnelly Presented “Thirty-Four Observations on ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’” for the New York Browning Society at The National Arts Club Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at our Annual May Luncheon.

“Words of Love” – Bob McNeil, Poet -Wednesday, April 10 2019

PDF: Browning Society April Newsletter 2019

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

Meeting Wednesday, April 10 2019
Time 1:00– 2:00PM
Bob McNeil, “Words of Love”

by Laura Clarke

In anticipation of Bob McNeil’s talk “Words of Love,” I want in this month’s newsletter to take a closer look at Browning’s first letter to Elizabeth Barrett. It is the letter that began one of the most renowned literary love stories of all time, and it also provides an interesting insight into the Romantic poetic persona that Browning wanted to present to his future wife. The letter also
foregrounds some of the key themes that Browning explores in his poetry:

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,—and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,—whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me—for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration—perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter!— but nothing comes of it all—so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew .. oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at top and bottom, and shut up and put away .. and the book called a “Flora,” besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give a reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought—but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart—and I love you too.

Robert Browning begins his first letter to Elizabeth Barrett by declaring a love so deep and sincere that it goes quite beyond the ordinary. Browning concedes that it is not a typical letter of praise because he cannot offer Elizabeth constructive feedback about her poetry as a fellow poet or as a critic, since he has perceived the totality of her poetry through feeling that ‘rises altogether.’ Since to break that feeling down into its constituent parts through analysis would be
to lose its organic or natural power, he can only do justice to her ‘great living poetry’ by
asserting the totality of his love, rather than by giving reasons for his appreciation.

Browning constructs a metaphor to convey the difference between knowing and feeling,
comparing a flower desiccated and trapped between the pages of a book to a flower
flourishing in nature, blooming from the growth of its plant and falling to the ground to contribute to the plant’s grown with its own decay. For Browning, to know something is to give ‘a proper account’ of it, and this knowledge is thus only as deep as its details; whereas to feel something is to be overcome with the inherent truth or genius of that thing, only expressible ‘with all my heart.’

This comparison between feeling and knowledge or analysis is indeed an enduring theme throughout Browning’s poetry. When the force of a person’s feelings triumphs over their analytical faculties, they can bypass an analysis of its parts and open themselves to a perception of the organic whole of a work of art in all its intended vitality.

Browning ends the letter by disclosing to her that he had once before had the chance to
meet her in person:

Mr Kenyon said to me one morning “would you like to see Miss Barrett?”—then he went
were too unwell—and now it is years ago—and I feel as at some untoward passage
in my travels—as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel or
crypt, .. only a screen to push and I might have entered—but there was some slight .. so
it now seems .. slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut,
and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be.

With this image of the crypt or chapel, Browning depicts Elizabeth as the object of
his reverence and worship, and hints at an almost spiritual calling to see her, just as in
the trope of the heroic quest. Although his journey was thwarted, he declares that
reading Elizabeth’s poetry allowed him to experience this mystical union with her. He
ends the letter with an affirmation of the force of her poetry and his commitment to
her and to her art:

Well, these Poems were to be—and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel
myself
           Yours ever faithfully,
           Robert Browning.

We hope you can join us to learn more about Robert and Elizabeth’s famous love story.

Bob McNeil recites “Annabel Lee”

A Window View to Who We are by Bob McNeil

Bob McNeil Presents “Words of Love” for the New York Browning Society @ The National Arts Club 15 Gramercy Park South Wednesday, April 10, 2019