Both ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ are poems which were written by the poet Robert Browning who was one of the great poets of the Victorian age. Both of these poems were written during the years 1812 – 1889. I feel that the era in which they were created in is extremely important, as I have frequently noticed the similarities between the attitudes towards human relationships and women which are illustrated in both of these poems and the attitudes towards human relationships and women which we know about during the Victorian age.
I have therefore come to realise that in fact, the attitudes towards human relationships and women illustrated within these poems may be symbolic and may also be a reflection of the beliefs and attitudes during this certain period of time. This may also justify some of the rather strange actions taken by the personas Browning has created in the poems. I do believe that one of Browning’s main intentions when composing these poems was to create a strong sense of era which was easily recognisable to the reader.
He was then able to in a sense ‘mock’ these views towards human relationships in different ways throughout the poems and portray to the reader just how very wrong they were and how very wrong he believed them to be. It is easy to see the attitudes, views and opinions towards human relationships at that time coming through clearly throughout these poems. One obvious example from ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is when the persona states the line “From pride and vainer ties dissever”.
This particular line certainly implies that the ‘lover’ of the persona may be of a different class than he is. The particular word “pride” gives the impression that she is of a higher class. We know that during the Victorian times, men and women only married if they were of the same class and that two people from different classes were not allowed to marry due to societies expectations and so called ‘rules’. The way in which the persona has expressed this line definitely shows just how important societies rules were and how much of a difference they made to people’s lives.
This simple fact meant that they were not strictly allowed to see eachother or have any kind of relationship which may be what drove the persona to murder his lover, as he does during the climax of this poem – as she then would be his forever. During ‘My Last Duchess’, the persona talks about “[his] gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” which his Duchess was supposedly meant to be thankful for. The “nine-hundred-year-old name’ of the personas’ most definitely tells us that he is of very high class and status and we know that this would certainly not be such a large issue today.
The persona in this poem is therefore used to getting power and indeed attention, which he does not receive from his ‘Duchess’ and he subsequently, kills her. The examples I have given above demonstrate how the relationships portrayed in these poems are products of the Victorian views and attitudes of this time period. These two lines are perfect examples of how Browning begins to create a sense of era for the readers. We as readers are instantly able to estimate roughly the time and era these poems are written in and certainly the era they are set in.
I believe that the poet wants the reader to feel that these attitudes and ‘rules’ of society and of the personas in these poems are improper and unjust. Another similarity I have noticed between these two poems is that Browning has created the attitudes of the personas towards human relationships as being extremely possessive and obsessive about their lovers both while they are alive and while they are dead. The language used in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ illustrates the extreme possessiveness very well. Line 36 states, “that moment she was mine, mine, fair”.
By looking at the possessive pronouns used twice within this line we are able to see how this persona actually wants to ‘own’ his lover which is not the sort of quality usually associated with true love. This is the first place where we as readers are able to see the persona’s very first strange and somewhat queer attitude and feelings towards his lover: he wants to own her. The example I have just given is a clear one, which shows the persona’s possessiveness while his lover is alive, however we can also see this quality in the persona while his lover is dead.
I propped her head up as before”; this line shows how the persona wants to control his lover and is able to do so when she is dead. The fact that the persona also states at the very end of the poem that “[they] sit together now, and all night long [they] have not stirred” shows the persona’s great possessiveness yet again and how at last she was his permanently, regardless of class, status or societies ‘rules’. The poem ‘My Last Duchess’ illustrates the possessiveness after death very clearly indeed.
The persona refers to his ‘Last Duchess’ as a “piece” or a painting on the wall, admired by his visitors rather than a once living person. The great admiration for this beautiful painting is later shown when he says, “Will’t please you sit and look at her? ” as though she really was just a piece of fine artwork hung up clearly for decoration purposes. The persona at this point shows no real emotions or feelings towards her and this seems rather peculiar and strange to the reader. I believe that Browning’s views towards the attitudes he has illustrated here are quite negative ones.
Browning wants us to see the absurd way in which these persona’s treat the women in these poems: as items which belong to them rather than human beings with feelings and also how the personas want to control the women in every way. I do not think that Browning wants us to agree with these attitudes but in fact wants us to realise how wrong they are and to learn from them. I have noticed that one of the main attitudes towards the relationships with the women in both of these poems is that both of the personas have great desires to be able to control their Lover’s.
In ‘My Last Duchess’, we are told that the persona had actually “drawn” back the “curtain” to enable his guest to look at and admire the painting hanging on the wall. The “curtain” implies complete control by the persona to look at or not look at his Duchess whenever he pleases. It seems that by killing his Duchess has given him this complete control which he may not have otherwise had. This complete domination and control can also be seen by the persona in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. During the time his lover is alive, we can see that the persona has absolutely no control over her, however when she is dead, “[he] propped her head up as before”.
We can see how the persona is trying to recreate this scene using his new gained power and total authority to do so. I believe that Browning wants us to feel shocked at these selfish views and mentalities of the male personas and to see how wrong these attitudes are. Browning wants the readers to see these views as being immoral and sinful attitudes towards love. I feel that two major qualities associated and certainly mixed up with the way in which these personas supposedly ‘love’ the women in the poems are jealousy and insecurity and can be seen in both poems but predominantly so in ‘My Last Duchess’.
There are countless examples of jealousy within this particular poem, some examples are, “she liked whate’er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere”, another example is “she thanked men, – good! but thanked Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked” and also, “she smiled no doubt, whene’er I passed her, but who passed without much the same smile? “. As we find out later on in the poem, this great jealousy is actually what causes him to in the end kill her. A line that could be considered as one example of jealousy from the persona in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is on line 27, “Nor could to-nights gay feast restrain”.
This line implies that the persona may be envious about the fact that his lover went to a feast maybe instead of coming to see him straight away. Jealousy is an obvious quality shown by both of these persona’s, however is also a quality in humans which lives on even today which still leads people to do terrible and things like the things these persona’s do. I feel that these sorts of attitudes are also ones which Browning wants us to recognise as being wrong and unhealthy and ones which should positively not be associated or mixed up with love in any way at all.
The particular way in which the personas refer to the women in both of these poems, I feel tells the reader a substantial amount about the relationship and attitudes between the persona and his ‘lover’ or ‘Duchess’. The women in both of these poems are not referred to in the titles in the typical conventional way which we know. The readers are introduced to these slightly odd references in the titles of both the poems allowing them to recognise the types of relationships and attitudes which are going to be portrayed during the poem very early on.
The title ‘My Last Duchess’ instantly tells the reader that the woman in this poem is the widow or wife of the Duke. In this particular title however, I feel that it is more the word “Last” which brings a sense of curiosity, strangeness and wonder to the title of this poem. “Last” suggests she is coming after some others and may also be the most recent. This brings the reader to wonder what exactly happened to the others, where they are, what they did and why they are gone. ‘ Porphyria’s Lover’ is the title of the second poem.
In this case, the word “lover” in the title suggests many things to the reader. “Lover” suggests that this is someone who the persona may be having some kind of a sexual relationship with but that they are both unmarried. I do believe that one of Browning’s main intentions here was to provoke this sort of wonder and curiosity in the reader but also at the same time giving them a large hint as to the type of relationships and attitudes present between the personas and the women in both of these poems.