“The book is gracefully written, clearly organized, and coherently argued…. This is a worthwhile and interesting book, which convincingly establishes the centrality of the dramatic monologue in late nineteenth-century poetry and the importance of the varying concept of the self evolved in it.”
Michele Hannoosh, Comparative Literature
The dramatic monologue has attracted considerable critical attention in English but is rarely considered relevant to French poetry and has generally been ignored in studies of comparative literature. In Stages of Self, various poems by Jules Laforgue, Stephane Mallarmé, and Paul Ambroise Valery are analyzed to show that they conform to the norms of the genre even though they bear little surface resemblance to the dramatic monologues by Browning, Pound, or Eliot.
Traditionally, a dramatic monologue is a poem spoken by an identified persona placed in a dramatic situation. This description fits poems such as L’Après-midi d’un faune and La Jeune Parque, though the persona and the drama are quite unlike those of English and American dramatic monologues. The latter two tend to characterize the speaker fully, and to place him/her in a well-defined spatial and temporal context, while the French poems ignore characterization and give very little contextual detail. The figures of the Parque and the Faun are engaged in purely internal dramas, which again distinguishes these poems from the Browning-esque dramatic monologue; they belong to the dramatic tradition of Racine rather than Shakespeare. LaForugue’s oetry constitutes an interesting half-way point between the representational dramatic monologue typical of Browning, which Laforgue ironically undermines, and the more impersonal and universal, though still dramatic, monologues of Mallarmé and Valery.
Howe seeks to redefine the scope of the term “dramatic monologue,” which she feels is often unduly limited. She notes that the term is frequently confined to the use of spoken, colloquial language – so foreign to Mallarmé, Valery, or indeed, Tennyson – or the presence of a silent interlocutor. However, Howe contends that such narrow interpretations restrict the genre to Browning’s monologues, and not all of those. Admitting that far more examples of the genre exist in English, Howe attributes the scarcity to the differing assumptions on the part of French poets about poetic voice and about the nature of spoken – as opposed to written – language.
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Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi says that we may pass things a hundred times and never see them. One thing that Browning’s readers have passed without seeing, or at least without remarking upon, is the circular conclusion in so many of his poems. Some sixty poems (almost a third of them) have such conclusions. These sixty span his entire career and include both well-known and neglected poems.The
In seventeen volumes, copublished with Baylor University, this acclaimed series features annotated texts of all of Robert Browning’s known writing. The series encompasses autobiography as well as influences bearing on Browning’s life and career and aspects of Victorian thought and culture.The
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