Men and Women (Paperback)
|Author: Robert Browning|
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Robert Browning's father lost his inheritance when he was sent abroad to manage his family's West Indian plantation, but returned in protest with a vocal disdain for the institution of slavery. However, he gave his own son, and the world, a fortune. An antiquarian by hobby, Browning's father had a library of some 6,000 volumes which young Robert read voraciously; his youthful reading was a major influence on his subsequent work--some of the most accomplished and influential verse of the Victorian era. His father's book collection, together with the instruction of his family, formed Browning's primary education. When he was given a volume of Shelley's poetry by a cousin in 1825, shortly before his 13th birthday, he was so moved that he requested the rest of Shelley's work as a birthday gift. Inspired and impressionable, Browning emulated Shelley by becoming a vegetarian and declaring his atheism. Though these passions passed, his engagement with English poetry remained constant. Because his mother was a declared Nonconformist, Browning was unable to enter the church-affiliated Oxford or Cambridge Universities; however, his father was a benefactor of the new, nonsectarian University College of London, and Browning enrolled in Greek, Latin, and German classes in 1828. But self-education suited him best: he withdrew from the University shortly thereafter to continue his education at his own pace and whim. It has been surmised that Browning's self-reliance accounts for much of the obscurity in his work: with little understanding of what a popular education entailed, he held his audience accountable for specialized knowledge and shrouded allusions. (This was the case of his critically panned SORDELLO, which, making difficult demands on the average reader's knowledge of history, crippled his reputation for many years.) Italy was the favorite site of Browning's imagination, and he was able to travel there briefly in 1838 and 1844. The sojourns there in his work are more frequent; much of it is set there, particularly during the Renaissance period. His family financed his publications, which were for the most part dismissed by his intended readership. However, the well-known poet Elizabeth Barrett complimented him in verse in 1844, and writing to thank her, he initiated a correspondence that precipitated their eventual marriage. Because Barrett's father was vehemently against the union, the two eloped to Italy, where, because of Barrett's ill health and Browning's penchant for the region, they remained until her death. Barrett's reputation considerably outshone Browning's, and it was not until after her death that he earned fame for being more than her husband. His later volumes, published after he was 50, established him as one of the most beloved poets of his time. Though he wished to be buried in Italy, he was honored by burial at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.