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Lecture 8

English 2307E Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Narrative Poetry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, My Last Duchess

Course Code
English 2307E
Krista Lysack

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English 2307E
Tuesday February 11
Lecture 8
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese
Compiled of 44 sonnets
A series of sonnets can tell a story – they tend to relate the ups and downs of a
love affair
She used a fictional device when writing her sonnets
She might have entitled it ‘Portuguese’ because she is pretending that sonnets
are found objects, which she then has translated (as if they were a discovery
from an earlier Portuguese source)
oSource material lends a certain amount of credibility, history, and nostalgia
o‘Portuguese’ may have also been a pet name (she had an olive
The sonnet usually involves an active male speaker talking about unrequited love
oHis female lover is not very interested in him
Barrett Browning positions the female as the writer, not the passive love object
oThe male love object isn’t cold, removed, or passive – he is active in the
process of these sonnets and ultimately will reciprocate her feelings
Sonnet #22
Her persona articulates worries and anxieties
She is a gifted poet, but middle-aged, an invalid, and worried that she will be
used by the younger male beloved that comes along (it has heavy biographical
elements of Barrett Browning’s life)
Love symbolically grabs her by the hair (it comes out of nowhere and awakens
There is a negotiation between the two lovers – who has the power
This is a Petrarchan sonnet
oBarrett Browning develops the problem in the first 8 lines, and uses the
sestet to try to resolve the issue or pose a counterpoint
The two individuals are seen as soul mates, compared to angels wings
oThe wings of the lovers touch and then explode into an ecstatic fire
oThis is the image of a divine union, heavenly or spiritual love
oThere is something erotic or physical about this (spiritual bliss)
Though they have this heavenly love, the speaker says that they should stay on
earth (remain grounded in the everyday)
oThere is an impermanence to physical life, it is a more realistic option
oThis is a contrast to what we usually see in a sonnet (it isn’t usually
sensible and practical)
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