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Power Struggle in the Victorian Era as Reflected in My Last Duchess - Essay Example

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Name Professor Date Power Struggle in the Victorian Era as Reflected in My Last Duchess Power, individuality, cleverness and deceit—these are only some of the words that are often associated with Victorian women. As Spencer (375) claims, women in this period realized the powerlessness of their gender in the past society, thus developed a tendency to outwit the male personality…
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Power Struggle in the Victorian Era as Reflected in My Last Duchess
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Power Struggle in the Victorian Era as Reflected in My Last Duchess

Browning was born in England in 1812, to an average Christian family. His father owned a rare book collection from which Robert acquired the love of books and inspiration to write. As a little boy, he was said to have learned to read at the age of five. He received education in the arts mainly at home, and learned greatly from his father. His mother endowed him with belief in God which he carried on for life. Moreover, Browning is known to be the loving husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is also a well-known poet. These considerations guide readers to the thought that Browning’s theme in My Last Duchess is mainly inspired by the poet’s observation of his society. My Last Duchess illustrates the battle of the sexes in the Victorian Period. It presents the monologue of a duke who can be considered psychologically ill as he recalls the memory of his dead wife, who he kills himself. As Friedrich (656) claims, the duke in the poem is the duke of Ferrara of Italy whose wife was rumored to be poisoned. In the poem, although the death itself of the duchess draws much interest from the audience, the seeming calmness of the duke presents a deeper controversy. The speaker discusses about his wife’s qualities as he shows his visitors a painting of the duchess. Although he speaks calmly, his speech is marked with hesitations and contradictions (Mannle (3). He asks his guests to sit down yet seems to be ordering them, saying, “Will 't please you sit and look at her?” He asks the guests to sit down not to relax while looking at the portrait of the duchess but instead to allow him to justify his thoughts and actions, to convince his guests to affirm him of his decision to kill his wife. The duke attempts to convince his audience by telling them the negative qualities of his wife. He claims, …She had A heart . . . how shall I say? . . . too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. (21-24) The duke claims that his wife was too friendly and easily impressed, “too soon made glad, too easily impressed”(22-23). From these lines, readers can sense the jealousy of the duke. He implies that his wife was never satisfied with him, with the things he gave, and still looked at other men. Thus, he says, “Sir, 'twas not/Her husband's presence only, called that spot/Of joy into the Duchess' cheek…” (14-15). In saying these, the duke reveals his struggle to please the duchess, which is a sign of power struggle. Power struggle is further reflected as the duke recalls his wife’s unethical behavior. He narrates, …--and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, E'en then would be some stooping; and I chuse Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. (39-46) The duke considers the smile of the duchess as a form of sarcasm, thus he orders his servants to stop smiling. This line confirms the view of Mannle regarding the duke’s tendency to order the guests around as he tours them. When spoken to the visitors, the lines above could be treated as a warning to never smile at what he is saying. Such behavior illustrates the serious and strict attitude of the duke, his incapability for humor, and his strict compliance to the rules of ... Read More
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