Robert Browning (1812-1889) was one of the most outstanding poetic geniuses from the Victorian Era, the most prolific of all ages in the literary history of England. As a poet, his oeuvre primarily rests on his unique style of expression and mastery over the use of language to deal with an array of unusual subjects, and the immaculate ability to combine the elements of drama with poetry.
Though he accomplished himself as a writer, scholar and musician early in life, he developed a true passion for poetry when he was introduced to the work of P.B. Shelley. From Shelley, Browning developed the Romantic ideal, which sought to find transcendence through exploration of the individual’s sensibility. Browning’s early life and work was largely defined by this sensibility.
His first published work, Pauline, was a remarkable success in 1833. But his subsequent publication, a long and complex poem titled Sordello, was a failure. Critics of his time labelled him difficult and obscure. Between 1841 and 1846, in a series of pamphlets under the general title of Bells and Pomegranates, he published seven plays in verse, including Pippa Passes, A Blot in the ’Scutcheon, and Luria. His most famous works were written in this form, including Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess. These works helped cement his interest in psychological complexity and the human tendency to constantly shift perspectives and opinions.
In 1845, he fell in love with poet Elizabeth Barrett. Subsequently, they eloped in order to marry. They lived a happy life together, mostly in Italy. In 1855, Browning published a collection called Men and Women, containing most of his best known poems. After Elizabeth died in 1861, Browning moved back to London, where he would finally achieve the success that had long eluded him. He published other collections like Dramatis Personae, but it was his long work The Ring and the Book that finally made him famous. His subsequent poetry continued to expand his fame in later years. At the time Browning died in 1889, he was perhaps the most famous poet in England next to William Wordsworth.