"'Porphyria's Lover--Vastly Misunderstood Poetry" has an ironic title, because here again is someone who does not fully understand the poem. J.T. Best writes that Porphyria suffers from the blood disease porphyria, and her lover kills her out of mercy, not psychopathy. To the modern reader, the connection between the name and the disease sounds plausible. However, Browning published this poem in 1836. While the group of blood disorders known as "porphyria" have been around for centuries, the term was not coined until 1889, when Dr Barend Stovkis coined the term for the blood disorder after the Greek "porphyrus" (purple) after noting the reddish-purple urine of his patients with the disease. Robert Browning would not — could not — have called the disease "porphyria" unless he could see 53 years into the future.

Porphyria's name more likely suggests she is a member of the nobility, since purple is commonly associated with royalty. With the correct historical perspective, Best's article falls apart at the seams. I came across this article while doing research for a paper about the poem, and wanted to point this out so that other scholars would not believe the entirety of the content of this article and be misinformed of the author's meaning. Although Best presents solid enough logic, without the correct medical/historical facts that provide his premise, the argument does not make any sense. A reworking of the article might still support the theory that the narrator killed Porphyria for what he believed to be good reasons, or because she wanted to; but not because she was sick with a blood disease.

Related Materials

Last modified 18 September 2011