Sunday, 28 February 2010

Anne Boleyn as My Last Duchess

Not the sort of thing I could gather enough evidence to make a proper academic-journal argument; but I still think Browning had Landor's 1824 Imaginary Conversation ‘Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’ at least partly in mind when he wrote 'My Last Duchess'. Landor portrays Henry as peevishly and irrationally insistent on the subject on Anne’s supposed adultery, where his Boleyn, weakened by a recent miscarriage, is rendered with genuine pathos.
ANNE: The withered leaf catches the sun sometimes, little as it can profit by it; and I have heard stories of the breeze in other climates that sets in when daylight is about to close, and how constant it is, and how refreshing. My heart, indeed, is now sustained strangely; it became the more sensibly so from that time forward, when power and grandeur and all things terrestrial were sunk from sight. Every act of kindness in those about me gives me satisfaction and pleasure, such as I did not feel formerly. I was worse before God chastened me; yet I was never an ingrate. What pains I have taken to find out the village-girls who placed their posies in my chamber ere I arose in the morning! How gladly would I have recompensed the forester who lit up a brake on my birthnight, which else had warmed him half the winter!
There's something of this (from the insane-jealous husband's p.o.v., of course) in Browning:
...................................................Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess's cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of you. 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.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace--all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least.

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