‘It does not mean me, but a supposed person’: Browning, Dickinson, and the dramatic lyric

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Although scholars have explored the importance of the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Emily Dickinson, very little research exists on the implications of her admiration for Robert Browning. Within the context of Browning’s nineteenth-century US reception, this essay considers the profound and seminal effect this writer had on Dickinson’s vocation as a poet and her understanding of poetry. Focusing in particular on Dickinson’s reading and response to Browning’s Men and Women (1855), it explores connections between Browning’s dramatic lyrics and Dickinson’s creation of dramatic speakers and situations. Developing earlier scholarship on Dickinson’s use of personae and the influence of drama and performance on her works, this essay argues that Dickinson found in Browning’s poetry distancing strategies that complicated the notion of the lyric as a form of personal address and/or biographical revelation. Rather than granting the reader access to the poet’s interiority or corporeal presence, Dickinson, like Browning, creates ‘supposed persons’ who speak in a confidential, intimate manner about particular events and incidents. Following Browning, Dickinson constructs speakers whose identities are divided, contradictory, and fragmented, and, in so doing, she further impersonalizes the personal lyric by creating the possibility of a difference between what her speakers say and what her poems mean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264–281
Number of pages18
JournalComparative American Studies
Issue number4
Early online date29 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • Emily Dickinson
  • Robert Browning
  • dramatic lyric
  • American reception
  • Victorian poetry


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