The Ring and The Book is generally considered Robert Browning’s masterpiece. It’s 21,116 lines of blank verse were written in 1864 and 1867. It is the most ambitious and most successful attempt in English literature, except Paradise Lost to justify the ways of God to man. The narrators fall into two broad camps the way of the world, and the opponents of social conventions in favour of a spiritual ideal. Society, as represented in books II, II, IV and part of XII is too much dominated by its selfish interests ever to judge honestly the conduct of individuals. Books VIII and IX demonstrate that the machinery of social justice is as horribly biased as the popular vice and equally incapable of discriminating right from wrong. The ultimate social institutions, church and state, are not operating for justice but for the maintenance of selfish superficialities – property, subjugation of women, and conventional appearances ot morality Guido, who appeals to these selfish social motives is the horribly logical product of such a society. The good people (Pompilia, Caponsacchi, and the Pope) have all risen above society by following intuitive good instead of selfish conventions. Pompilia defies society by fleeing with Caponsacchi from Guido’s bondage. Caponsacchi dashes his chances for a pleasant, profitable career in the church by becoming a St. George (familiar in Renaissance art but an inconceivable anonialy in Renaissance society). The Pope repudiates the world’s judgement to seek the spiritual reality. (Taken from History of English Literature, Vol. II, Martin’s. Day.)
|The Ring and The Book
The book was hailed as the supreme poetic achievement of the age. Fompilla, Guido, Caponsacchi and the Pope were drawn in vivid outlines. The title of Browning’s poem is founded on a number of allusions. The ‘Book’ is the ‘Old Yellow Book, the collection of documents about the case he had found on a bookstall in Florence in 1860. The ‘Ring’ represents the ‘pure gold’ of fact found in the book, shaped and given form by the ‘alloy’ of the poet’s imagination. The poem begins with Browning’s account of the sources and his well-known invocation to the Muse, a tribute to his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning who had died in 1861. Succeeding books narrate the story from different points of view. The result is the monument of masterly discursiveness. Written in 12 books and running to 21,000 lines of blank verse, it is Browning’s most complex and ambitious work.