Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

Coombs, David

Committee Member

Manganelli , Kimberly

Committee Member

Hunter , Walt

Abstract

Browning's fascination with the senses and the mind as determiners of reality floods his work. 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,' in particular, offers a more complicated, sincere exploration of this topic that had become central to Victorian debate. As Browning acknowledges repeatedly through his poetry, the debate between sensory data (empiricism) and supersensory belief (idealism) could not be understood in clear-cut categories. In much of his poetry, however, he grounds these questions in deceptively simple discussions of mesmerism or the Victorian philosophy of the mind. Although those two topics may seem disparate to twenty-first century readers, Victorian belief on thought and consciousness was directly connected to spiritualist and religious conversation. Despite its position as one of Browning's best-known poems, scholarly discussion of 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came' neglects to acknowledge the tension of these debates in the poem. 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came' is fundamentally concerned with Roland's inability to trust empirical data (his senses) to determine reality for himself or the reader. The conclusion of 'Childe Roland' is famously inconclusive. Browning does not provide us with his own answer to this question, but Roland ultimately raises his trumpet to empirical data as his basis for reality. Although his relationship with these questions is not necessarily a comfortable one, Browning is content to sit with these specters in discomfort rather than give up the search for truth.

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