Garage Lit: The Poems of Robert Browning

“Garage lit” isn’t a garage band.  It’s lit you keep in the garage.

We keep mostly genre stuff in the garage: Ngaio Marsh…Dashiell Hammett…Francis Iles… Simenon…Clifford D. Simak…Joanna Russ… Sheridan le Fanu…  Mary Braddon…

And then I found two copies of Poems of Robert Browning. My husband and I had the same text in college.

We read a LOT of Browning in Victorian lit.  I underlined almost the entire Table of Contents.  I  also inscribed “Oct. 19 midterm” on the flyleaf. I do hope the exam’s emphasis was on Browning, since the book doubled as my syllabus.  Where was my friggin’ notebook?

And so I have fallen in love with Browning…again!

Every garage should have a copy of Browning.

I sat in the garage (it was raining outside) and opened the book to the famous poem “My Last Duchess.” Written in iambic pentameter couplets, this elegant monologue has a Gothic twist. The persona of the poem,  a sixteenth-century Duke of Ferrara, begins by pointing out a painting of his late wife, his Last Duchess.  His auditor, ironically, is an envoy making the arrangements for his marriage to a  young bride.

The poem begins:

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

The Duke is a head case.  He implies that Fra Pandolf, an artist and monk, also “worked” his hands “busily” on the duchess.  In the Duke’s paranoia, every one of her smiles or blushes is the sign of infidelity.   By the end of the poem, we realize that the duke’s pathological jealousy ended in her death at his command.

If you like horror, do read My Last Duchess.

Browning was a master of the dramatic monologue. The persona, or speaker, of a dramatic monologue reveals  his thoughts, feelings, and psychological motives to an unheard auditor.

There is much to analyze in Browning’s poesy, but I am here only  to cheer you on!

8 thoughts on “Garage Lit: The Poems of Robert Browning”

  1. One of my favourite conversation-stoppers is to say that “The Ring and the Book” is the best novel in English.

    1. I do have a copy and had better find it while I’m in the Browning mood. I love a good novel in verse!

  2. Have you read Edith Wharton’s short story “The Duchess at Prayer”? it has so many echoes of “My Last Duchess” Wharton’s story could be a fan-fic pendant to the poem.

  3. Thank you for writing about Browning. He created so many crazy “men in black” (hat tip to Johnny Cash) but also some inspirational characters. I hope that you take the time to read the exceptional “The Bishop Orders His Tomb”. I also very fondly recall comparing “Fra Lippo Lippi” and “Andrea del Sarto” in my classes. His understanding of human psychology and his artistry are brilliant.

    1. I’ve done a lot of rereading of Browning lately. He’s stunning, perhaps less read these days? I’m not sure who’s in style and who’s not…

      On Mon, May 27, 2019 at 4:42 PM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


      1. I have absolutely no idea about who or what is in style. But I remember when there were Browning Societies in many cities. I have heard that they often played the part of a romantic introduction. I know of a novel, “The Good Soldier” where a couple meet at a Browning Society. There’s a bit about it in Wikipedia:

        He’s psychologically very perspicacious and the structure of his dramatic monologues can be brilliant.

        1. Oh, I’d love to join a Browning Society. 🙂 Oddly, i hear more about Elizabeth Barrett Browning than Robert these days. Secretly I prefer Robert.

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