Essay on Porphyria’s Lover : Browning’s Portrait of a Madman

Essay on Porphyria’s Lover : Browning’s Portrait of a Madman

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Porphyria’s Lover : Browning’s Portrait of a Madman


Robert Browning’s "Porphyria’s Lover" contains the methodical ramblings of a lunatic; it is a madman’s monologue that reveals the dark side of human nature. Power and passion coalesce to form the strangulation of the beautiful and innocent Porphyria, and at the same time strangle the reader’s ability to comprehend what is occurring and why it is occurring. The murder’s monologue depicts a heinous crime. The simple fact that the monologue is issued from the murderer himself creates a sense of distrust. There is no doubt that the man is disturbed, but the level of his lunacy remains uncertain. In one short poem, Browning provides an intense glimpse into the mind of a homicidal maniac, while single-handedly destroying the romantic notion of eternal love.

The first clue that something unusual or insane in going to occur in "Porphyria’s Lover" manifests itself in the title. Before her lover has a chance to speak he is suspect because "porphyria," as defined by Reader’s Digest Illustrated Encyclopedia Dictionary is:
A hereditary disease involving disturbance in the metabolism of porphyrins [organic compounds that provide the foundation structure for blood in animal tissues] and producing symptoms of mental confusion, neuritis, and abdominal pain. (1319)

The title suggests that Porphyria’s lover is not even revealing the name of the woman he strangles. He may in fact suffer from the condition porphyria, in which case he is deranged and completely unreliable as a narrator. If he is not an actual sufferer of the disease, the title would suggest that his love for the woman is the disease porphyria, and this passionate love produces the confusion and pain that motivates him ...


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...: A Study of the Complementary Poems of Robert Browning. Athens: Ohio UP, 1973.

Ingersol, Earl G. "Lacan, Browning, and the Murderous Voyeur:'Porphyria’s Lover' and 'My Last Duchess.'" Victorian Poetry 28.2 (Summer 1990) : 151—7.

Maxwell, Catherine. "Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover.’" Exolicator 52.1 (1993): 27—30.

Phelps, William L. Robert Browning. Indianapolis: Bob Merril Co, 1932.

Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Reader’s Digest Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary. Pleasantville: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987.

Slinn, E. Warwick. Browning and the Fictions of Identity. Totowa: Barnes and Noble, 1982.

Tucker, Herbert F. "From Monomania to Monologue: ‘St. Simeon Stylites’ and the Rise of the Victorian Dramatic Monologue." Victorian Poetry 22.2 (Summer 1984) : 121-37.

Tracy, Clarence, ed. Browning’s Mind and Art. London, Oliver and Boyd, 1968.

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