Robert Browning had a powerful following in the United States among readers who came of age during and after the Civil War, but caricatures of the Browning Society have obscured the terms on which he was admired. For many of those readers, a taste for Browning marked a generational divide. The difficulty and startling effects of Browning’s poetry distinguished him from poets whose reputations had been made before the war—poets admired by the parents and teachers of these readers. Although he was valued specifically for being his readers’ contemporary, interpreting the difficulties of modern life to modern readers, admiration for Browning was modeled on admiration for Shakespeare, which combined philological caretaking with idealizing investments. Browning’s poetry, because of its syntactical difficulty and dense allusions, in similar fashion merited patient study, and it attracted readers who believed that it offered fuel for social transformation.

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