Browning’s Return to London

  • Henry James


[The Storys] were constantly present in spirit at that work of building up a new life from the very foundation to which their friend was now committed. Browning’s existence had sharply broken and had, in conditions completely changed, to be, as it were, repaired and made practicable. There would be perhaps no more interesting chapter in his biography than that of his return from his long Italian absence, stricken and lonely (save for the place henceforth taken in his thoughts by his young son), to address himself to a future indefinite and obscure.1 It was almost a fresh beginning; he had quitted London, fourteen years before, sufficiently young and sufficiently unknown to have left his possibilities in general, his maturer contacts and relations, still to establish, themselves, his impressions, mainly, still to condense. … The writer’s London period was in fact to be rich and ample, was to be attended with felicities and prosperities, of every sort, that cast the comparatively idyllic Italian time into the background and seemed, superficially, to build it out.2 But thus, really, was generated, in the personal, social, intellectual way, the wonderful Browning we so largely were afterwards to know — the accomplished, saturated, sane, sound man of the London world and the world of ‘culture’, of whom it is impossible not to believe that he had arrived somehow, for his own deep purposes, at the enjoyment of a double identity.


  1. 3.
    James develops this idea further in his short story ‘The Private Life’. Earlier he had suggested that there were ‘two Brownings — an esoteric and an exoteric’ (Leon Edel, Henry James: the Conquest of London 1870–83 (London, 1962), p. 330).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Henry James

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