Could an argument be supported that the first four lines of this sonnet offer insight into the psychology of the stalker?
First, it is important to remember that there is a thin line separating stalking from obsessive love. And that thin line goes by the name requited feelings. Let’s face it, the only real difference between stalking someone and being in the grips of romantic obsessions lies in whether those feelings are return or not. If they are returned, it’s not stalking. And in this case, the answer would be no, because her feelings were requited.
On the other hand, once you parse all the symbolic clutter of the extended metaphor about a trees and vines, here is what Elizabeth is saying in plain, simple language: she thinks about Robert Browning 24/7 to the point that eventually she eventually starts obsessing over the nature of their relationship is all she is ever doing is thinking about him. This result in the paradox that she is no longer thinking about him at all because her thoughts about their relationship has obscured his significance as a thing to compulsive think about. This is evidence of the opposite of stalking in which the focus is always on the object of desire with no room left for interior contemplation which might lead the stalker to question the fundamental nature of that desire.
But surely the thoughts expressed in the lines which immediately follow are indicative of the psychology of the stalker, right?
The key phrase here appears in line 6. “I will not have my thoughts instead of thee” is certainly a more lofty, Victorian way of saying, “You will be mine, body and soul!” It has been established that the speaker (Elizabeth) is exceedingly self-aware. Conscious both of her obsessive thinking about Robert Browning and how that metastasizes into obsessively thinking about what her obsessive thoughts mean for the nature of the relationship, at this point it becomes clear she is also consciously aware of the impact her nature is having on her lover.
She recognizes that as a poet who traffics in language and thoughts himself, Robert Browning might possibly take from her multi-layered obsession that she is finding a warm place to crawl into that doesn’t even require his presence. Far from being a portrait of the psychologically simplest of all relationships—the one-side stalker—the poem is become with each line an ever-increasingly complex portrait of a genuinely mature romantic desire. As a great philosopher once observed—Spiderman, maybe—“the unexamined life is not worth living.” Elizabeth Barrett can certainly never be realistically accused of not intensely examining the drives and motivations of her own life.
Why would it be fair to identify this poem as a definitive example of anti-Victorian poetry?
The Victorian Era is so-named not just because the monarch who reigned over it was named Victoria. More so than the Elizabethan Age, the Victorian Era came to actually reflect the psychology of the person after whom it was named. Or, to be more precise, the public perception of that psychological state as carefully crafted by the Queen’s propagandists. Just how accurate that perception really was is beside the point: the perception was that Queen Victoria was in complete emotional control as the result of the combined forces of unconscious repression and very conscious suppression of unwanted drives and urges.
The perception that Victorian literature generally reflects this twofold aspect of maintaining propriety through denial of natural compulsions is almost also up for grabs. In reality, Victorian literature is chalk full of famous characters who doggedly pursued their desires. What is unique about Elizabeth’s sonnets—and particularly this one—is that is not fiction, but an expression of her actual interior mode of thinking. And what she is expressing is that she is a Victorian woman almost incapable of controlling her most extreme emotions.
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