Publication of the week: Professor Stefan Hawlin10 November 2015
Hawlin, S., “Reading Browning Intertextually: ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s’ and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn'”, Victorian Poetry 53.3 (Fall 2015), 263-279.
John Keats’s poetry was hardly known in the first two decades after his death in 1821, the period when the teenage Browning started to read his work. Gradually Keats became a more and more significant influence on Browning. This article is a study of ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s’, one of the subtlest explorations in the nineteenth century of the complex relation between sensibility, perception, cult, and ideology. In Matthew Arnold’s terms, it stages a battle in one man’s consciousness between ‘hebrew’ and ‘hellene’. The poem’s speaker is a nineteenth-century Englishman, an amateur of science, with a pragmatic, progress-orientated mindset. Browning looks at an odd moment in his life when, hearing music by the Italian composer Baldassare Galuppi, he finds himself caught up in an erotic reverie of Venice in its eighteenth-century heyday. So, earnestness, moral sense, drive, all with a strong Protestant inflection, are suddenly disconcerted by a wider, more humanistic, more aesthetically-orientated quality of perception. In this reading of ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s’ it emerges as a complex response to Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and a poem about interesting tensions of temperament and aesthetic feeling in the mid-Victorian period.
Victorian Poetry was founded in 1962 to further the aesthetic study of the poetry of the Victorian Period in Britain (1830-1914). It publishes articles from a broad range of theoretical and critical angles, including but not confined to new historicism, feminism, and social and cultural issues. Victorian Poetry is edited from the Department of English, West Virginia University.
Stefan Hawlin is Professor of English at Buckingham.