You Drive Me Crazy!

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First I'll tell you a kind of pointless little story about my dorkiness. I wanted to present on Robert Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" because the title reminded me of the name of one of my pens from high school.  You see, I tend to name inanimate objects if they're special to me.  The pen was only special because it was given to me by one of my best friends and it had a beak and sunglasses (obviously that makes it super ~kewel~). With my overwhelming creativity, I went to to look up names that meant "purple" because my pen was purple.  The result: Porfirio, my pen.

I don't know why I felt I should share that.  Moving on.

Prior to beginning my presentation, I was unsure about what I wanted to say.  I chose not to read chapter 13 of the Writing About Literature textbook until after I finished preparing my presentation because I didn't want it to influence my thinking.  It would make me feel as if I were cheating.  I did, however, choose to find articles first because then it would be almost like doing a research paper.  There weren't many articles available online on EBSCOhost and the Literature Resource Center, but I did find one entitled "Porphyria is Madness" by Barry L. Popowich.  It wasn't very in-depth, but that was okay to me because it let me do my own thinking by suggesting basic ideas that needed expansion.  One such idea was about the point of view and the way the speaker provides a tainted account of the murder of his lover.  This is the angle on which I focused in my explication.

The only really difficult part of the process was finding time to really focus on it.  Obviously I did, but it resulted in lack of sleep and an overload of caffeinated beverages when in combination with my other classes.  I just had to choose one of the presentation days during the busiest time of the semester. It's okay, though :) It's part of the college experience, right?

Below is my outline for my presentation.  It's a rather in-depth outline, if I do say so myself.

             I.      Reason why I chose this reading

          II.      Article - Porphyria is Madness by Barry L. Popowich

       III.      Name Porphyria

a.       Comes from the Greek porphyroes for "purple" and causes purple urine

b.      Originally porphyuria - purple urine

c.       It is the name of a disease that brings delusional madness to its sufferers

       IV.      Way to read Porphyria's lover

a.       As delusions from a Porphyria sufferer

b.      Dramatic monologue, which was Browning's specialty.  He liked to write about the pathological or people with whom it is hard to sympathize

          V.      Point of View / Voice

a.       The issue of voice in the poem is a complex one of the self and language, of the poet speaking for another, if fictional, self, and of literary history and context.

       VI.      Possible Themes

a.       Michael Burdock says it has an underlying theme for vampirism because porphyria is a "rare blood disease" in which sun-sensitive skin is the main symptom, and was treated in medieval times by drinking blood.

b.      Madness. 

                                                              i.      Originally titled "Porphyria" in1836, then "Madhouse Cells, No. II" in 1842, then Porphyria's Lover in 1849.

                                                            ii.      However, because of the title as it is now, people take the poem more literally than from the perspective that he's delusional.

                                                          iii.      It's likely that Browning had seen it since he visited asylums


    VII.      My interpretation

a.       This is the account of an insane man.  Here we have a conflict of point of view because the only perspective we're getting is from the crazy man, the perpetrator in the crime that was committed.

b.      What can we do to determine which moments reflect literal happenings or delusional interpretations of the speaker?  Close reading of language and structure

c.       Language

                                                              i.      Words are clear-cut and descriptive in the first third of the poem.

1.      "Rain set early in to-night" (1).  Very simple, nothing complex or emotional.

2.      Descriptions are of external things

a.       Porphyria comes in and "laid her soiled gloves by" (12). He describes her actions and the way she looks as she enters, but does not say what either of them are feeling.

3.      The speaker hints to his depressed state by saying he has a "heart fit to break," but he doesn't focus on himself yet (5).

                                                            ii.      There is an abrupt change after line 21.  Porphyria admits her love and then the speaker starts talking about internal things.

1.      Nothing is straightforward any more.  He judges everything about her.  His judgments are no longer about physical things but her emotional state, which he couldn't possibly know at such a level.

a.       "Weak, pride, vain twice"

2.      Porphyria seemed to be decisive and strong when she first arrived.  She didn't let the rain stop her and she seemed in control, but now the speaker describes her as weak.  This shift doesn't seem likely, which makes me think it was all a delusional interpretation of her actions.  He became paranoid after she said she loves him, which was likely because he was the one suffering from the disease that causes mania.

3.      He's turning inward instead of focusing on external observations which is apparent by the way he begins to say "made my heart swell" and "that moment she was mine, mine."

4.      The only time he goes back to being objective in this section is when he describes the way he strangles her, which to me seems like a way to distance himself from what he did.  He doesn't want to make it personal even though it is.  This is common in psychiatric problems.

                                                          iii.      The last third of the poem is where his perceptions are at the height of insanity.

1.      He tries to be objective but he keeps including bizarre understandings of those objective observations.

2.      He repeats how she felt no pain, but how does he know?  Seems like he's trying to convince himself.

3.      He describes his dead lover's eyes as laughing and her cheeks as blushing, like they were happy, but it seems to me that her eyes would be bulging from asphyxiation and her face would be red from him touching her.

4.      The language gets more metaphorical, much unlike the first third of the poem.

5.      The reader says God has not said a word, implying he was either waiting for God's approval/disapproval of what he did or that he thinks God must be okay with it since he hasn't said anything.

6.      We still know what's happening, despite the fact that we're getting the story from an insane and biased speaker.  The reader has to read between the lines, but it's possible.

 VIII.      Questions for the Class

a.       What were your first reactions to the poem?  For me, I was like OMG I can't believe that.  Why did he do that?? It wasn't until I did a close reading that I understood why, to an extent.

b.      Do you have any other interpretations of the poem?

c.       Do you think I missed anything in my interpretation?

d.      Vampirism?  Any possibility?  I feel like that's going a bit too far in analysis.

e.       The last three lines, "And thus we sit together now, / And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!" How do these lines fit in with the rest of the poem for you?  He changes to the present tense.  I think he's suggesting that he's in a madhouse and there's a physical illusion of Porphyria with him.

f.       Why is her name Porphyria if he seems to be the one who is insane?  Maybe because she is the one that suffers from his illness.  He seems okay with it, like he's not in any pain, he's just insane.  However, she is the one who has to physically suffer.

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