The fact that Browning called what is now his most famous collection Men and Women (1855) is an indication of how central issues of gender are to his poetry. The role of women is indeed key to many of his best-known poems. Moreover, the genre of the dramatic monologue, which allows male poets to adopt the voices of female speakers, gives Browning ample opportunity to explore his perception, as it were, of the woman’s perspective. It is therefore not surprising that Browning’s work has received a level of attention from feminist critics that is often only accorded to female authors. This chapter presents the most important evaluations of his portrayal of both women and men, of gender relations and his concept of love. The first section examines the intertextual relations between Browning and the most influential (female) poet for him, his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A brief insight into biographical readings of his love poetry by Betty Miller, William Clyde DeVane and Daniel Karlin is followed by Corinne Davies’ discussion of specific poems by Robert as influenced by or echoing Elizabeth’s poetics. Contrasting with these interpretations is Nina Auerbach’s thesis that a patriarchal Browning tried to dominate Elizabeth through his poetry. Criticism by Karlin and Isobel Armstrong in the next section offers explanations for the frequent representation of unhappy love relationships in Browning’s poetry. The chapter then turns to the most contentious aspect of gender relations in Browning, the critical disagreement over whether his representations of suffering females make him a defender or a critic of patriarchy.
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