‘To Whom Does He Address Himself?’: Reading Wordsworth in Browning’s Pauline
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Twentieth-century criticism approaches questions of influence and intertextuality in Browning’s Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833) by focusing exclusively upon Browning’s relation to Shelley.2 Such an emphasis is hardly surprising, given the fact that Browning’s first published poem invokes and alludes to Shelley as poetic ideal and tutelary spirit in a manner which is as pervasive as it is overt. Yet it is precisely the conspicuousness with which Shelley figures in Browning’s text that allows an alternative reading of its intertextual relations to emerge. As Harold Bloom has shown, what poems consciously say about their intertextual provenance is often discrepant from what they do, the ways in which they behave or perform, as it were.3 An adoption of the kind of ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ undergirding Bloom’s work enables us, in the first instance, to read Pauline against the grain of its own reading of itself. Even as the ‘I’ of Browning’s text enters into poetic dialogue with Shelley, his poem’s language is simultaneously drawn, for reasons to be discussed, toward Wordsworth and, in particular, ‘Tintern Abbey’. Yet while the persona’s blindness toward Wordsworth’s complicating presence in Pauline is invariably shared by the poem’s critics, it is significantly not reproduced by the text itself, which recurrently signals and acknowledges its engagement with Wordsworth by means of a specific (inter)textual effect.
KeywordsPoetical Work Past Existence Visionary Company Intertextual Relation Dramatic Monologue
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