These dramatic monologues explore the character of both narrators. The intense issues of adultery and murder bare the real traits of the narrators and possibly the relationship between Mr and Mrs Browning. In “Porphyria’s Lover” it is clear to see that the anonymous narrator is a schizophrenic, self infatuated, jealous murderer, but still the reader is sympathetic to this man who granted “her darling one wish” to be with him forever.
In the dramatic monologue “Lord Walter’s wife”, the narration is shared by two people. Walter’s wife and Walter’s friend. This initially appears to be unbiased, and from the point of view of two people, but it subsequently becomes the rant of Lord Walter’s wife against all men, “that the eyes of such women as I are clean as the palm of a man”. The woman is not however all righteous which is cleverly hidden by her as the poem opens with her blatantly propositioning her husband’s friend in front of her young daughter.Order now
She claims after initially flirting, in spite of his best efforts to gently repel her to the point were she starts each of her phrases with “Oh that”, answering to his objections. After he tells her he “has promised another” she claims “Why that… Is no reason, Love’s always free I am told”. Even so the reader is convinced that she has been hard done by and forgets her initial actions similar to a “harlot”.
From the start, both poems show who is most significant in the poems and who will gain most reader sympathy. The title “Lord Walter’s wife” indicates that the wife is a possession, hence the apostrophe of possession, and not significant on her own but only as a part of her husband. Even though he is not mentioned in the poem she still is only significant through him.
In the dramatic monologue “Porphyria’s Lover” yet again the title is possessive, but in this case the male narrator is a part of his lover and not significant on his own. This suggests and supports the theme that Porphyria has love interest elsewhere, such as when she returns to the narrator from a “gay feast” she places her “soiled gloves” and then feels the need to be with the narrator, possibly making something up to him by making his “cheek lay there”.
Still, however, she is above him, as in the title, controlling his movements. The reader then feels sorry for the narrator as she patronisingly tells him she loves him, but the narrator reveals that she is not ready to commit to him as “vainer ties prevail”. This indicates that in society he is not worthy of her, or that she enjoys her other life more than being with him. Sympathy is evoked by her preference to her “vainer ties” than him. He is portrayed as an outsider as Porphyria “was come through wind and rain” to reach his house. He is desperate for her love and companionship, “a sudden thought of one so pale for love of her”. This enthusiasm is met by Porphyria’s lack of commitment to him.
The passion in the argument of Lord Walter’s wife evokes reader sympathy. She portrays herself as a gentle spirit crushed by men, “Oh these men overnice, who are shocked if a colour not virtuous is frankly put on vice”. The reader sympathises with the woman as it is perfectly acceptable for the man to flirt but when a woman flirts back she becomes “no longer too fair but too vile”. She claims that being beautiful is a curse on her because “when a man finds a woman to fair he means simply adapted too much to use unlawful and fatal”. This means whenever a man compliments a woman on her looks it is circuitously calling her a harlot. She questions acerbically “The praise! -shall I thank you for such”.
Analogous to Porphyria’s Lover, the reader sympathy is towards the only person narrating it is bias. The only insight into the thoughts of Porthyria is the narrator’s warped view on what she wanted. This went as far as him claiming “her one wish was heard” after he strangled her. Although Lord Walter’s Wife is not a dramatic monologue, the man’s part finishes towards the beginning and demonstrates no part of what he thought of her actions.
If he was in the poem towards the end the reader sympathy would not necessarily fall with the woman as he could remind the reader of her immorality concerning her child. “And Dora, the child, she observes nothing, although you should please me and stay”. But as his role in the poem is finished she is allowed to write line after line of hypocrisy, “You take us for harlots, I tell you and not the woman we are”. But was it not her intention to be a harlot from the start?
The morality of the narrator in “Porphyria’s lover” is not as questionable as his sanity. He repeats phrases over and over again trying to convince himself as well as the reader that he did the right thing, “no pain felt she, I am quite sure she felt no pain”. After he murders Porphyria with her own hair he sits with her corpse through the night and when he is writing the poem “And thus we sit together now, an all night long we have not stirred”. He looks for further reassurance that his actions were right as at the end of the poem he asserts that “God has not said a word”.
In “Lord Walter’s Wife”, there are obviously two parties where morality is an issue; Lord Walter’s wife and Lord Walter’s friend. Obviously the moral issue of adultery is met from the beginning. For two people committed in outside relationships to be flirting as Lord Walter’s Wife described “you smell a rose through a fence, if two should smell it what matter?” Lord Walter’s attempt to restore morality by reminding LLW of his wife “I have promised another” reveals him to be not certain of his marriage as later on in the poem LWW dryly states “Maude, though you faltered a week, for the sake of… what is it-an eyebrow? Or less still, a mole on the cheek” depicting LLF’s excuses to delay his marriage.
The issue of Dora LWW daughter that I have already addressed shows LWW to be flippant. When there is a chance of him “pleasing her and staying”, she completely dismisses her daughter “the child, observes nothing”. But when she is upset and needs her daughters help she showers her with compliments, “come, Dora, my darling, my angel, and help me ask him to dine”. When LWF was in the picture he was of importance above her daughter to the extent of her being reduced to the title of “the child”.
The narrator in “Porphyria’s Lover” is a schizophrenic. He fluctuates between moods of frustration, joy, and an intriguing anger, more sadistic than raging. His frustration, “for love in her but all in vain” suddenly changes to joy “happy and proud; at last I knew Porphyria worshipped me”. Whether this was ignorant bliss or the narrator convincing himself that this was true, demonstrates further mental instability.
The murder of Porphyria is described in the poem like it is an incidental detail. It is brushed over without changing the tone. It does not seem to be a violent act as strangling by definition is, but from the point of view of the sadistic narrator it is an ordinary decision of no extreme. As Porphyria holds the narrator lovingly on her shoulder he declares that “That moment she was mine, mine, fair, perfectly pure and good”. He continues “I found a thing to do, and all her hair in one long yellow string I wound three times her little throat around, and strangled her”. He elaborates no further on the murder.
The tone stays exactly the same and the narrator continues to be affectionate towards Porphyria even during the description of the strangulation “her little throat” as if he remembers it fondly. This demonstrates the narrator’s sadistic nature. He props the corpse’s head on his shoulder, “only this time my shoulder bore her head”, he was now physically above Porphyria, like she was above him. He now believed he possessed her.
He still describes the corpse like it is a living body, “so glad it has its utmost will, that all it scorn’d at once is fled”. The narrator’s clear insanity forces the reader to discount his actions as he does not understand what he has done, and is finally convinced that his actions were ordained by god, “god has not said a word.” The reader’s judgement of morality therefore is upon Porphyria, the woman who drove this poor outsider to insanity by toying with his emotions. She comes to him “through wind and rain” this metaphor of what Porphyria did before she came to the narrator is ambiguous. Could it depict an affair or another life that she could not involve the narrator in. By nature wind and rain is not a good thing. Whatever it represents it is objective correlative to what will come in the poem, foreshadowing the murder.
In the poem “Lord Walter’s Wife” as William Shakespeare once wrote, “me thinks thou doth protest too much”.
In conclusion, it is vital to comment that the evocation of moral judgement and sympathy is heavily influenced by both poets’ ability to not only convince the reader of the injustice upon the narrators but to make them forget about or overlook the narrators’ palpable transgressions. In Lord Walter’s Wife, Elizabeth Browning leaves the reader not shocked at the narrator’s licentious exploits, but in concurrence with the narrator’s opinion of men being hypocritical and sexist.
Similarly, in the poem “Porphyria’s Lover” the reader forgets about the murder and is sympathetic with the fact that the murderer was so desperate for love. This I believe is the key and the power of evocation that Elizabeth and Robert Browning demonstrate in these poems.