February 16th, 2006



The Beginning of the End ~ Much has turned out well recently, so much so that it's difficult to write about without feeling some kind of awkwardness taking over. After much hard work, Justin has passed his lifeguard exam, psymun has performed fantastically well in his degree and wonderful news on his sister's place at drama school, and recently hearing that James, tehpsy, has been accepted for his placement of choice for the next academic year. Answered prayer, perhaps? All the same, is good luck ever going to run out? As Robert Browning expresses in special tones, (Andrea Del Sarto / Two in the Campagna / A Lover's Quarrel / Particularly Porphyria's Lover) where life reaches perfection, everything goes wrong - perhaps one step behind is the best aim. Even through the ever greater admiration of Andrew Marvell and various poets in transit, Porphyria's Lover has ever been my favourite poem, and Robert Browning the first poet I ever really got to grips with back in 2000. GCSE brought an miniature anthology, with memorable poetry from Marvell, Browning, Keats and Bryon, and lesser so from George Barker and John Clare, which developed the initital strong interest in poetry and helped towards decent grades for English. In an interesting twist of fate/connectivity, the kind which regularly tempts me into morology, yesterday I caught a rare glimpse of alastaire ~ one thing and another, it led to him becoming a valuable addition to the new Creative Writing group for its first meeting. Back in GCSE days, I paired with Al for an oral assessment comparing John Clare's First Love with Porphyria's Lover, and Al's sophistication brought the best from me to excellent marks for us both. Today, a wonderful lecture on Browning by Dr. S.C. and then making a presentation on Robert Browning's poetry to the tutorial group, focusing on themes upon which Porphyria's Lover was mentioned several times. It was a wonderful learning curve: Stephen Cheeke making a specific point about Browning's reaction to 'New' or 'Higher Criticism', epitomising the faith and doubt debate fronting the Victorian era (thankfully so, as it didn't wipe out the material I'd prepared). In the later tutorial, I brought out some biography and then delivered a number of key themes in my reading of Browning's poetry:

Writing and Art ~ Browning was likely the most learned writer since Milton. He knew multiple languages, classical and contemporary literature, was a talented artist, musician and self-explorer. The artistry (and structure) of and within Browning's poems, brought closely to the reader's attention, especially in My Last Duchess and Transcendentalism. Writer of the first dramatic monologues in English, and speaking from very intricate angles: as the voyeur, from inside paintings, as other people who exist and don't exist. Subjectivity combined with Objectivity. Experimental lyrical quality, with language and poetic technique rarely bettered, especially in the early poems of the Men & Women collection.

England Vs. Italy ~ Fra Lippo Lippi highlights the industrial, heavy, polluted 'grey beginning' of England, which made E.B.B. so ill, and Up at a Villa, Down in the City has an incredible joi de vivre, highlights a new lease of life. Andrea del Sarto, Fra L.L., Two in the Campagna, A Tocatta del Galuppi, Old Pictures in Florence ~ many poems self-referencing their debt of inspiration to Italy. Like Blake, associates production with pleasure and individuality, away from the conventional Englishness. After E.B.B.'s death, he dissociated himself and his son quickly back home, but there is little doubt that he owed great debt to Italy for the escape from her father, her renewed health and a new independence.

Elevation of the Moment ~ the Key. Browning interested in transcendence and elevating the moment and the structure. His poems are monuments of time, and contain, or are the subjects of, monuments: the house in Andrea Del Sarto (all the painter has to show for mastering art), the ominous Dark Tower of Childe Roland (all there is to show for the squire's journey). The Epistle and The Last Ride Together both offer momentary glimpses of 'what if' beyond the scepticism. Browning's poems pivot around a certain moment, present or past; often they fall away, sometimes they become distorted or violent. The fatal 'That moment' of Porphyria's Lover: 'she was mine, mine, fair / Perfectly pure and good'...

Perfection Gone Wrong ~ I believe Browning moves away from the 'carpe diem' of the Early Modern era to a more unique 'Then and Now' re-examination comparative. Browning believed 'Man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for', in early adulthood working away from the dreamy idealism of the influential Shelley to something more of a reasoned Samuel Johnson ideology. He seemed to develop his own unique Higher Criticism in the wake of the building scepticism, where perfection could not be found, and if it was, it wouldn't be desirable (see point above, + Porphyria's Lover - the threat of perfection causes an instability beyond repression. This, in itself, ties into the heart of the Faith and Doubt debate.

So, that leaves the space open for the opening essay of Literature 4, due in a month's time, to write on Browning, which I've been looking forward to for a fair while. Clenched fists came with a second First out of two for this year, with the return of our Literature 3 essays worried about and a mark that high unexpected. That particular essay (The Visions of Blake and Byron) due in with the dissertation in late January had been cut short by efforts on the longer piece, but I'd thought about the topic area for a while in the background, and it still made for an intense week's work. It somehow keeps the average for this year above 70, unthinkable really, and life without Wills Hall Bar is really paying dividends academically. Myself and psymun are inspiring the absolute best from one another in a healthy competition, and while it lasts, we can jest competitively over who will get the highest First for the year. I just wish last year had been better. Where I didn't understand that while I wanted to earn to make Postgraduate work a feasible possibility, getting much stronger marks would have made funding a possibility, and the funding is worth a damn site more. Through various correspondance in the meantime, Royal Holloway have made it clear that I stand little chance of anything with a 2:1 by my name. *Nods* Recently, I've started pulling strings for Postgraduate applications, although hopefully keep that separate to make writing manageable, and all digestable. If ever this journal was dense fodder, I wouldn't want it to have a system quite like mine. The near future will be reading Dickens and trying to tuck into a theory essay for Ekphrasis for next Friday, of only 2,000 words. With the change over this summer and then the Dissertation replacing the 'Special Subject' in the first semester, I've never written an essay that short before; nor, given the avoidance of 'Critical Issues' in First Year due to joint honours, never written a theory essay before either. Ekphrasis is proving very difficult and far more scientific than I thought, but rewarding all the same. It deals with dimensions, layers and shapes, which suits my kind of thinking just right. What confuses is that there is no absolute definition, just about 30 attempts, which will make a theory question a delight. Still, there's confidence at the moment: and I'm praying that with all the good fortune floating, it doesn't become over-confidence.