Taking an original approach to Robert Browning's poetics, Britta Martens focuses on a corpus of relatively neglected poems in Browning's own voice in which he reflects on his poetry, his self-conceptualization and his place in the poetic tradition. She analyzes his work in relation to Romanticism, Victorian reactions to the Romantic legacy, and wider nineteenth-century changes in poetic taste, to argue that in these poems, as in his more frequently studied dramatic monologues, Browning deploys varied dramatic methods of self-representation, often critically and ironically exposing the biases and limitations of the seemingly authoritative speaker 'Browning'. The poems thus become devices for Browning's detached evaluation of his own and of others' poetics, an evaluation never fully explicit but presented with elusive economy for the astute reader to interpret. The confrontation between the personal authorial voice and the dramatic voice in these poems provides revealing insights into the poet's highly self-conscious, conflicted and sustained engagement with the Romantic tradition and the diversely challenging reader expectations that he faces in a post-Romantic age. As the Victorian most rigorous in his rejection of Romantic self-expression, Browning is a key transitional figure between the sharply antagonistic periods of Romanticism and Modernism. He is also, as Martens persuasively demonstrates, a poet of complex contradictions and an illuminating case study for addressing the perennial issues of voice, authorial authority and self-reference.
Britta Martens is a senior lecturer in English at the University of the West of England, UK
'A subtle, nuanced and original new reading of Browning’s authorial identity and poetics in the wake of Romanticism, Victorian reactions to it, and nineteenth-century changes in the reading public. The author explores the complex contradictions that pervaded the poet’s responses not only to Romantic poetic modes but also to key figures of Romanticism and Victorian poets whom he associated with Romantic self-expression. In the second half of the study especially, a fascinating analysis of Browning’s negotiation of the private/public divide emerges as a significant theme.' Marjorie Stone, Dalhousie University, Canada ’Martens [...] built this compelling study on a half century of poetic theory and critical work on the Brownings... Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.’ Choice ’Martens offers a lively and timely discussion of a tension in [Browning’s] poetry that previously has not been recognised, and she suggests an exciting revisionist consideration of the poet's struggle to reconcile his principled rejection of Romantic egotism with his tendency to adopt precisely this stance in his poetry.’ Times Higher Education ’... take[s] a clear textual focus from Browning’s work, and describe[s] the qualities of voice heard in each text first hand.’ Times Literary Supplement 'Browning, Victorian Poetics and the Romantic Legacy is a closely argued and certainly thorough account of the range of Browning’s work and will, as such, be welcomed by readers interested in Browning’s work, the fate of Romanticism, and questions in the history and theory of poetry.' Review of English Studies '... Martens’s book [successfully] gets us to ask how the complexity of Romanticism should be balanced against its elaborate reductions by the Victorians - and, by extension, to wonder whether every alleged advance in literature or criticism requires delicate simplification, alongside partial and uneasy preservation, of the traditions it leav