This chapter and the one that follows discuss criticism on Browning’s poetry in relation to the Romantic poetry which dominated the literary scene during his youth and fashioned literary taste well into his maturity. The chapter opens with a consideration of Browning’s own critical writings in which he seems to define his poetics in opposition to Romanticism and proposes a narrative about the historical development from one literary period to the next. Opposing critical views by Philip Drew and Thomas J. Collins are presented on whether Browning is, in his own terminology, an impersonal ‘objective’ poet or whether he strives for an ideal that incorporates elements of Romantic poetics. The chapter then examines Browning’s statements about the need to move beyond an imitation of literary predecessors and explores how critics have applied these to Browning’s early work, especially in relation to the hero of his youth, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Interpretations by John Maynard and William Clyde DeVane (1898–1965) of Browning’s first publication, Pauline (1833), as an autobiographical record of his early emulation of Shelley, are juxtaposed with a reading by Herbert F. Tucker, who sees the poem as already signalling Browning’s overcoming of Romanticism. This is followed by Michael G. Yetman’s analysis of Sordello (1840) as the text in which Browning frees himself of Shelley’s influence. The next section considers Harold Bloom’s scrutiny of Browning’s attitude towards Shelley to illustrate his famous ‘psychopoetic’ theory of the ‘anxiety of influence’. Logical starting points for the study of any author are their early reading, their first literary endeavours and the literary influences which they either adopt or reject.
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