Sexual Violence and the Victorian Era: Oppressive Social Forces in Robert Browning’s "Porphyria's Lover"

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Sexual Violence and the Victorian Era: Oppressive Social Forces in Robert Browning’s Printable Version By Christine Utz Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” is a social representation of the Victorian era, which supported the creation of dominant and sexually abusive men. During the nineteenth century, Victorian ideals determined the guidelines for social etiquette. A traditional regime of patriarchy flourished under the strict gender stratifications of the time period. However, tensions grew between the sexes in both the political and domestic realms and gender violence surfaced in response to the heightened conflicts. Robert Browning was born into this conservative time period, but was able to employ expressive freedom through literature. His dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover,” delves into the psychology of a patriarchal mind, illustrating the power struggle of a woman and her lover. Through the manifestation of the speaker’s mentality and motivation, Browning reveals the gross injustice of patriarchal society and male supremacy. In the latter half of the 19th century, Victorian ideals dominated the domestic sphere. To the Victorian, the home and family were sanctuaries where the impurity and vice of the outer world could not invade. The impossibility of violence and sensuality within the safe-haven of the Victorian home supported the ignorance of sexuality and sexual conflict (Gregory 493). For the purpose of conforming to the strict Victorian ideals, “sexuality was carefully confined; it moved into the home” (Foucault 3). Society forced citizens to repress their sexuality and sensual feelings. If one were to refuse this repression, the act was seen as a conscious transgression of the social laws; society coupled sex with sin. The ideals propagated by the Victorian regime that supported patriarchy, along with the development of feminism,
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