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AS English Literature: Easter revision pack

17 Mar


Click the link below to read our Easter revision booklet, complete with advice, example essays, mark schemes and a revision checklist.



‘My Last Duchess’

11 Mar

The speaker in Browning’s “My Last Duchess” increases his art collection by adding a painting of his deceased wife. In describing the portrait to a visitor he relates the tale of her demise. His language suggests that his wife’s presence in the house has been relegated to a trophy or another object of art in his collection:

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frˆ Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said [lines 1-5]

In detailing the portrait, he objectifies his wife asking his visitor to “sit and look at her.” Instead of a lively and vivacious bride the speaker has transformed her into an object intended for silent beauty and nothing else. In this way, she serves a very similar function to another art piece in the speaker’s collection:

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me! [lines 52-56]

The speaker’s use of “my object” references his goal of obtaining another bride, however it also transforms his new bride into an object of his. His reference to the bronze statue immediately after this connects his process of obtaining brides to the process of art collecting. The subject matter also reinforces his perceived superiority and desire for power. Neptune’s “taming [of] a sea-horse” relates very much to the speaker’s desire to tame his wife. His failure to make his last wife into the docile and passive object he desired presumably made him order her death.

The Victorian Web


Browning: an excellent research resource

11 Mar


Realistic dialogue in ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’

11 Mar

Taken from Mia Iwama’s essay available on The Victorian Web.


In “Fra Lippo Lippi,” Robert Browning characterizes the Prior through the use of dialogue, specifically by recording the Prior’s disapproving reaction to the realism of Fra Lippo Lippi’s art.

The Prior and the learned pulled a face
And stopped all that in no time. “How? what’s here?
Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all!
Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true
As much as pea and pea! it’s devil’s-game!
Your business is not to catch men with show,
With homage to the perishable clay,
But lift them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men —
Man’s soul, and it’s a fire, smoke . . . no, it’s not . . .
It’s vapor done up like a new-born babe —
(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)
It’s . . . well, what matters talking, it’s the soul!
Give us no more of body than shows soul!
Here’s Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God,
That sets us praising — why not stop with him?
Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head
With wonder at lines, colors, and what not?
Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!
Rub all out, try at it a second time.
Oh, that white smallish female with the breasts,
She’s just my niece . . . Herodias, I would say, —
Who went and danced and got men’s heads cut off!
Have it all out!” [ll. 174-198]

Similarly, Trollope characterizes Dr. Grantly through the use of dialogue. In the following passage, Dr. Grantly responds to Mr. Harding’s doubts about his lawful right to his income as warden and his concerns about the article in the Jupiter, with forceful and commanding rhetoric:

The poor warden groaned as he sat perfectly still, looking up at the hard-hearted orator who thus tormented him, and the bishop echoed the sound faintly from behind his hands. But the archdeacon cared little for such signs of weakness, and completed his exhortation.

‘But let us suppose the office to be left vacant, and that your own troubles concerning it were over; would that satisfy you? Are you only aspirations in the matter confined to yourself and your family? I know they are not. I know you are as anxious as any of us for the church to which we belong. And what a grievous blow would such an act of apostasy give her! You owe it to the church of which you are a member and a minister, to bear with this affliction, however severe it may be: you owe it to my father, who instituted you, to support his rights: you owe it to those who preceded you to assert the legality of their position: you owe it to those who are to come after you, to maintain uninjured for them that which you received uninjured from others; and you owe to us all the unflinching assistance of perfect brotherhood in this matter, so that upholding one another we may support our great cause without blushing and without disgrace.’ [The Warden, p. 122-123]

Both Browning and Trollope utilize dialogue to characterize the Prior and the archdeacon respectively and to elucidate their shared theme that defenders of the traditional Church, especially high-ranking Church officials, resist change and feel bound as servants to uphold the moral reputation of the Church. In the case of the Prior, he is appalled by Fra Lippo Lippi’s highly detailed and realistic depictions of the human form, which he regards as essentially wicked. “Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true / As much as pea and pea! it’s devil’s-game!” he declares. He instructs Fra Lippo Lippi that a painter’s task is to help others “forget there’s such a thing as flesh” and instead “to paint the souls of men . . . .paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!” Browning cleverly presents the Prior’s speech using several effective devices, including ellipsis, repetition, exclamations, rhetorical questions, and direct commands. The Prior’s speech includes several comic instances of ellipsis, especially in the sections where he discusses man’s soul and seems to be at a loss for words in precisely explaining how a painter would go about depicting the soul rather than the earthly body. Throughout, the Prior repeats several phrases, which emphasizes the authoritative tone of his speech, including “Your business is . . . ” and “Paint the soul.” His frequent exclamations aptly express his shock and disapproval of Fra Lippo Lippi’s style of art, and his use of rhetorical questions and direct commands reinforce his status as a powerful member of the Church who, as Prior, is much more elevated than Fra Lippo Lippi in the religious hierarchy and therefore wields much more influence. The Prior contrasts Fra Lippo Lippi’s art with that of Giotto, “with his Saint a-praising God” and asks him, “Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head / With wonder at lines, colors, and what not?” The dogmatic Prior, whose traditional moral sensibilities are offended by the realism of Fra Lippo Lippi’s art, ultimately commands him to, “Rub all out . . . Have it all out!”

In a manner comparable to Browning, Trollope reaffirms that the archdeacon is an authoritarian and dogmatic defender of the traditional Church — in this case in England. The archdeacon’s grandiloquent “exhortation” also includes some of the same devices featured in the Prior’s speech, such as repetition, exclamations, rhetorical questions, and direct commands. These devices are all extremely characteristic of Dr. Grantly’s overbearing speech patterns and style of rhetoric. In the selected passage, he begins with two rhetorical questions, and he then answers them himself, persuasively repeating the phrase, “I know,” twice. Finally, using parallel construction, he commands Mr. Harding that he must uphold the legitimacy of his position as warden for the sake of the Church, the Bishop, those who will come after him, and to everyone else that is close to him and the interests of the Church. In this construction, Trollope emphatically repeats the phrase, “you owe,” three times. Thus, Trollope expresses the rigid, dictatorial, formal, and condescending tone of Dr. Grantly’s speech and illuminates his nature. Dr. Grantly’s speech also reflects his significant and elevated status in the local Church hierarchy of Barchester and his authority over Mr. Harding, who as precentor of the Cathedral at Barchester and the warden answers to him and his father, the bishop. As Trollope notes earlier in the novel, “Mr. Harding . . . is not above Archdeacon Theophilus Grantly, for he is always more or less in debt to his son-in-low, who has, to a certain extent, assumed the arrangement of the precentor’s pecuniary affairs” (9). The paragraph preceding Dr. Grantly’s exhortation informs the reader that both the warden and the bishop feel “tormented” by their intimidating and “hard-hearted orator.” It is apparent that Dr. Grantly, despite his inferior age in comparison to the warden and his father, possesses the most commanding and authoritative personality and presence of the three.

The Prior’s speech and Dr. Grantly’s speech similarly reflect the style of realism. Both carefully employ deliberate devices of rhetoric to characterize their respective speakers. The speech patterns are realistic and therefore believable, especially as they correspond to each speaker’s status in the Church hierarchy. They manifest the disparity of personality and position that exists between the speaker and his listener (or listeners as is the case of Dr. Grantly’s oration before his father and Mr. Harding). Furthermore, the Prior’s criticism of Fra Lippo Lippi’s art is essentially a criticism of the style of realism found in his painting. Fra Lippo Lippi is an advocate of realism who declares, “If you get simple beauty and nought else, / You get about the best thing God invents” (ll. 217-218). He defies his critics and continues to paint in the style he loves, for he is overwhelmed by the beauty of the world, which he views as creations of God, and feels compelled to represent it authentically in his art:

The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises, — and God made it all! [ll. 283-285]

Fra Lippo Lippi strives to communicate these marvels of the physical world through his painting, which itself is in the style of realism, so that others may appreciate the surrounding world and its glory arising from God, its Creator, as well. Thus, Browning and Trollope employ realism in their depiction of speech, which characterizes the Prior and Dr. Grantly respectively. Additionally, Browning explores realism in art, which Fra Lippo Lippi champions and which the Prior criticizes by condemning Fra Lippo Lippi’s artwork as focusing too much on “lines, colors, and what not” and “faces, arms, legs, and bodies.”

Self versus Other in Browning’s ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’

11 Mar

Text taken from Michael Rahman’s essay, available on The Victorian Web.


Robert Browning’s ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ provides one example of the historical mode which explores the general theme of the self versus the other. In this case, the poet explores the application of this theme to the realm of art. The story in the poem revolves around the famous Italian Renaissance painter who produced many works depicting religious scenes. He has been caught by the town guard in the streets of Florence in the middle of the night. On his way back from debauching, he must then explain who he is; that he works for the most important family in Florence, if not Italy; and the reason why he has been caught thusly.

After finding that he has control of the situation, because of the power he wields as a member of the Medici family staff, he proceeds to explain why he has been out doing something that monks definitively stay away from. However, instead of providing bluster or simply stating that man is weak and gives in to his urges, he links this behaviour to his own particular lack of freedom. He explains that he became a monk out of convenience when he still knew little of what he renounced as part of his vows. As a result, he never fit the standard of the monastery. Only when he showed an interest and aptitude in art did the clergy begin to appreciate their ward. He became a monk and painted. Now he has grown to become a painter of considerable fame and some controversy among the clergy. The problem lies in the conflict between the artist and his religious superiors as to the function of art. He feels that art serves to show man the world in a focused way, to enlighten him as to the power and beauty of God the Creator. As a result, he paints the world as it truly is. His superiors in the Church insist that the function of art, most understandably in the arena of religious art, lies in its ability to show an idealized world, thus inspiring the common man to strive for that ideal. As a result, they support a depiction of the world that corrects mistakes and shows what man should be.

He argues that God made the world in a specific way and that it should be met on those terms. This provides the means by which he connects his difficulties with art with his debauchery that night. In describing the conflict between himself as the artist and the authorities as the other, he shows the difficulty in maintaining a balance:

[They say] You’re not of the true painters, great and old;
Fag on at flesh, you’ll never make the third’…
I’m not the third, then: bless us, they must know!
Don’t you thing they’re likeliest to know,
They with their Latin? So I swallow my rage,
Clench my teeth, suck my lips in tight, and paint
To please them-sometimes do and sometimes don’t. (lines 237-244)

He then explains that this feeling of constraint so overwhelms him, so keeps him from his true art, that he cannot help but rebel occasionally. On that night in particular, he had painted for weeks and needed release. As a result, when he found adequate incentive among a group of women, he escaped. He goes further with his argument against his superiors by saying that the vows that he took to become a monk appear contradictory with God’s intention to make men and women so that they would forever need and want one another. This seeming confusion permits him to choose to follow the urges common to all men.

In his depiction of Fra Lippo Lippi as an artist and a person, Browning links art to life and shows that within the two there lies a common contradiction between the needs of the self and the demands of society. He appears to answer the moral question of the morality of providing for the needs of the self, sometimes to the dissatisfaction of society. However, this justification seems limited or at least dependent on the philosophical line of reasoning proposed by the protagonist. He attempts to justify and explain the importance of enjoying the world and living in it as it is rather than trying to conform to artificial societal codes of morality. As a means of understanding and living in society, the poet stresses that one must observe reality, rather than constantly trying to build a false and superimposed existence. Such a wholly prescriptive approach remains doomed to failure because man cannot and should not attempt to create a world better than what God has made. As a result, the poet uses the historical mode of writing to make a claim about the importance of remaining true to the self.


Browning’s attacks on idealised art in ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’

11 Mar

Text taken from The Victorian Web –


In “Fra Lippo Lippi”, Robert Browning satirizes the essentially corrupt relationship between the Italian Renaissance tradition of art patronage, the Medici family, and the Roman Catholic church. The poem takes a dialectic structure enabling Lippi to describe and debunk the tradition of art patronage and then pose his own theory about the role of art and artist in society. He describes the censorious limitations which occur when representatives of the Church tell the artist:

Your business is not to catch men with show,
With homage to the perishable clay,
But life them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men. [ ll.183-87]

Browning suggests here that church doctrine transforms art into propaganda rather than creative expression. These devotional works do not promote a critical awareness of life because the friars compel Lippo Lippi to create idealized representations of life, claiming that art should depict God’s desires rather than human folly.

God’s works-paint any one, and count it crime
To let a truth slip. Don’t object, “His works
Are here already; nature is complete:
Suppose you reproduce here-(which you can’t)
There’s no advantage! You must beat her, then.” [ll. 295-99]

Lippi tells the reader that the friars object to realistic art because it does not inspire obedience to church doctrine but the Fra clearly believes that devotional art does not foster the spiritual and intellectual development of the individual. By placing more faith in the masses, Lippi acts far more discriminatingly than his patrons and superiors. He further attacks idealized devotional art by relentlessly emphasizing the moral hypocrisy of the men of the church. It is important to note that Browning does not debunk belief in God; he castigates those religious authorities who dictate moral imperatives to the common people which they themselves do not follow. Browning uses this hypocrisy to persuade his readers that idealized, artistic representations of life do not inspire people to uncritical devotion. He argues for a less exclusionary vision of art which permits the exploration of life’s “plain meaning”. For the Fra, the night watchman represents a kind of new ideal because he engages all of life, not the censored version sanctioned by the church. Lippi asks,

What’s it all about?
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,
Wondered at? oh, this last of course! — you say.
But why not do as well as say, — paint these
Just as they are, careless what comes of it?
God’s works-paint any one, and count it crime
To let a truth slip. [ll.290-6]

Browning satirizes the hypocrisy of the monks and condemns a theory of art which denies the potential of ordinary people to cultivate a conscious awareness of life and art. As with the other friars, Fra Lippo Lippi believes art should capture moments of experience and transform them into focal points of beauty. Yet, Browning suggests that the traditional, idyllic definition of beauty espoused by the church turns art into propaganda. Instead, he proposes that honest, realistic portrayals of life should be channeled into these aesthetic moments.

Browning increases the drama of “Fra Lippo Lippi” by portraying the monk as an artist still caught in this traditional system of art patronage. Lippo Lippi emphasizes the hypocrisy of his position because the inspiration for his exalted, religious paintings comes from abased sources. For example, he finds the inspiration for patron saints in the face of the Prior’s so-called niece and informs the night watchman in the final stanza that the evening’s incident – being caught leaving a brothel – will inspire his next painting. The monk makes clear the depths of his frustration regarding the powerful force of censorship in which he is caught.

So I swallow my rage,
Clench my teeth, suck my lips in tight, and paint
To please them-sometimes do and sometimes don’t. [ll. 242-4]

Appropriately, in this interlude the Fra invokes the Medici name, relying upon the entrenched social hierarchy to protect himself. Above all others, the Medici family propagated the system of art patronage which Fra Lippo Lippi condemns. They represent the Roman Catholic church at its most abased level. Thus, in “Fra Lippo Lippi” Browning relentlessly indicts religious hypocrisy and elitist conceptions of art with his realistic, satirical portrait of one monk. In this, the poet reflects the increasingly democratic mores of nineteenth-century British society.

Browning: ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’

6 Mar