Essay about Porphyrias Lover and My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

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Compare the two poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning. What do they reveal about attitudes to women and relationships in the nineteenth century?

Robert Browning was one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century. In 1842, he published ‘Dramatic Lyrics’ which included the two poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ Browning gives the reader a dramatic insight into the twisted mind of an abnormally possessive lover, who wishes the moment of love to last forever. In this essay, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ will be compared to Robert Browning’s other dramatic monologue, ‘My Last Duchess’, where an Italian aristocrat reveals his cruelty to his late wife whilst showing off a portrait of
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“She had
A heart - how shall I say? - too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere”

In both poems, there are similarities in the narrator’s attitudes towards their women. Both narrators show an unnatural possessiveness towards them, presenting an unattractive, all-encompassing jealousy that wanted to eclipse all other interests that their women may have. It means that in each poem, the narrators end up killing their wives. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the narrator justifies his actions by saying he wanted to preserve the perfect moment in time.

“That moment she was mine, mine, fair
Perfectly pure and good:”

At that point of pure passion, the narrator’s lover belonged to him totally - the repeated words “mine, mine” emphasise this. To stop the struggles and conflicts that would prevent them from seeing each other, he decided to kill her. His act of strangulation was a crime of passion - it was not pre-meditated.

By contrast, the death of the Duchess was a cold, calculated move by the Duke to remove the source of his jealousy. She gave her favours to others too willingly, and did not value his nobility and all that it stood for.

“She thanked men, - good! But thanked
Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift.”

The Duke
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