Robert and Elizabeth Browning: The Sid and Nancy of the Victorians?

There are stark differences between Robert and Elizabeth Barrett’s poetry. Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth is sweet- sickly sweet- when compared to Robert’s Porphyria’s Lover. She counts the ways she loves and goes beyond the realm of possibility with that emotion and it has the feeling of passion mixed with the notion of an impossible love. Robert’s poem on the other hand is very dark and stands in contrast to Elizabeth’s sweetness. His talks of strangling Porphyria can either mean he had a strange way of guaranteeing  that they’d be together forever or perhaps he felt Elizabeth to be too clingy and used this poem to vent his feeling of wanting to choke her to death. Neither represent the reality of love or relationships. Nothing is as perfect as Elizabeth may write and killing one’s lover is not a proper display of affection. Am I surprised they married? No, they were both obviously lunatics and I can only imagine their private life as more punk rock than Victorian.

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