In Jane Urquhart’s “The Death of Robert Browning,” being ordinary is presented as an inescapable disease. Robert Browning is a poet who one day realizes he is going to die. He accepts the inevitable without fear but dreams of a grandiose death that is poetic in itself. In the time leading up to his passing, the poet loses his ability to see the beauty of his beloved Italian city and is haunted by the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had a death worthy of a master. Despite Browning’s hatred of Shelley’s work, he idolizes the idea of Shelley’s body being found in the water, nearly unidentifiable, with a book of poetry tucked safely beside his heart. Unfortunately, when Browning passes there is nothing exceptional about it and he dies just as underwhelmingly as he lived.
In an attempt to elevate himself above the common person, Browning attempts to leave monuments to himself by renovating a beloved building of his but never achieves this, leaving it as an “unobtainable and unconstructed” (Urquhart 674) hope. His poetry, as well, never develops beyond the musings of dukes and princes griping about their affairs. Since he cannot “conjure a Gothic terror” (Urquhart 670) he hopes for nightmares as inspiration but it is all for not, leaving him an ordinary man.
While this story is enjoyable it may dampen the spirits of readers, particularly aspiring poets, with its pessimistic tone toward the arts and the idea of individuality.
Urquhart, Jane. “The Death of Robert Browning”. Short Fiction An Anthology. 2nd ed., edited by Levene, Mark, & Sullivan, Rosemary. Oxford UP Canada, 2015, pp. 666-674. ON, Canada.