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Rajeswari Sunder Rajan

Edited by Ian Jack
Oxford India Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1976, 952, 2.95

VOLUME I NUMBER 4 October - December 1976

It has long been acknowledged that Browning is one of the poets best served by severe selection. The task of the editor who wishes to present the best of Browning is made easier by the fact that Browning’s work falls naturally into three periods, of which the middle one might be said to contain almost all his best work. Since Ian Jack’s aim is to stimulate fresh interest in Browning, a selection which left out the early work and included the later ‘Ring and the Book’, would have served that poet better. In other words, Poetical Works: 1833-1864 might have read Poetical Works: 1841-1869. This however is an attractive volume. Dr. Jack has followed the text of the 1888-1889 edition of the Collected Poems published under Browning’s supervision. But he has grouped them in the order in which they were first published, between 1841 and 1845, in the ‘Bells and Pomegranates’ series of pamphlets, and the ‘Men and Women’ collection of 1885. This results in some confusion, since the titles of the volumes, ‘Dramatic Lyrics’, ‘Dramatic Romances and Lyrics’, and ‘Men and Women’ are in both cases the same, but the poems are grouped differently. Thus, Dr. Jack, following the early edition, presents, for instance, ‘My Last Duchess’, ‘Count Gismond’, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ under Drama­tic Lyrics; these Browning later re-grouped (more appropriately) under Dramatic Romances. However, Browning seemed to have used ‘lyric’ and ‘romance’ indifferently, his emphasis being on the qualifying term ‘dramatic’. The 1863 edition carries a foot­note which explains: ‘Such poems as the majority in this volume might also come properly enough, I suppose, under the head of “Dramatic Pieces”; being though often lyric in expression, always romantic in principle, and so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine.’ The purpose of presenting Browning’s poems chronologically is obviously to make apparent to the reader his development as a poet. Browning’s own classification is given in a useful appendix for purposes of comparison. If Dr. Jack had provided a table of contents before each collection he presents, the curious reader's task of comparison could have been made more easy and pleasant. This volume makes us aware of the need for re­interpreting and revaluing Browning. The charge of typical Victorian complacence has been for too long and with too little justification levelled against him; and his position in ...

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