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Students of Browning have long been puzzled by the discrepancies between the dramatic framework of Fifine and its symbolic development, but these difficulties are resolved in Southwell’s explication by a biographical hypothesis. The powerful influence of the memory of his beloved wife, Elizabeth, involved Browning in a deep ambivalence, and Fifine at the Fair represents his effort to escape the effects of the profound inhibitions associated with her memory, while at the same time remaining loyal to it.
The poem is itself a flawed quest for Eros. Browning’s symbolic vision of sexuality as the central vitalizing force in human culture—a supreme achievement of the poem—is followed by a renunciation of the quest, but the validity of the vision is explicitly affirmed and its promise recognized.
In Fifine at the Fair Browning’s artistic powers are splendidly in evidence. Southwell’s fresh examination of the tensions within the poem offers new understanding of its power.
Samuel B. Southwell is professor of English at the University of Houston.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Robert Browning, Fifine at the Fair
Literature in English, British Isles
Southwell, Samuel B., "Quest for Eros: Browning and 'Fifine'" (1980). Literature in English, British Isles. 54.