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[Adapted from Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought, 1980. Full text]

Like Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and other Victorians, Robert Browning has his characters employ typological allusions to situate his characaters within a moral universe. Typology thus provides a means of authorial commentary even in the midst of forms modeled on dramatic monologue in which authors cannot speak in their own persons. Wayne C. Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) demonstrates the intrinsic difficulties that first-person narration has in identifying the author's point of view, and recent debates about the correct reading of dramatic monologues by Tennyson and Browning suggest that such problems are instrinsic to this poetic form. Typology, however, offers one solution to such interpretive problems. Even though no single character's application of a type may be entirely correct, the fact that several speakers employ the same type identifies for us the terms in which Browning wants defined the issues in question. (10) In some cases, such as that exemplified by the Pope, one character has sufficient moral, spiritual, and intellectual authority that his interpretation compels our assent. In others, the authority exists, as it were, in the correct usually the traditional, readings of the type. Of course, when Browning uses a typological image which traditionally possesses several antitypes or interpretations, then he puts the reader, like his characters, to the test.

Browning has his characters employ typological allusions to locate his villain for the reader, thus providing a means of authorial commentary even in the midst of forms modeled on dramatic monologue in which he cannot speak in his own person.


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