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Epiphany and Browning: Character Made Manifest

Herbert F. Tucker
PMLA
Vol. 107, No. 5 (Oct., 1992), pp. 1208-1221
DOI: 10.2307/462875
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462875
Page Count: 14
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Epiphany and Browning: Character Made Manifest
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Abstract

The fortunes of epiphany indicate both recent historical disparities within literary criticism and current cultural disparities between academic and popular discourse. The contextualist practice of Wordsworth and Joyce, in contrast to the purist theory that arose with the New Criticism, suggests that epiphany is a narrative device underscoring the historical and cultural construction of character. This conception is borne out by the original Epiphany, in Matthew, which manifests divine personality to human eyes through an episode of cultural difference and accommodation. Robert Browning's historicist poetry uses comparable but secular means of manifesting personality. In his dramatic monologues "Karshish," "My Star," and " 'Transcendentalism,' " epiphanic themes serve as measures of their speakers' cultural construction. In discerning the relative differentiae that characterize such speakers, Browning's readers encounter their own relativity to interpretive conditions. As these examples imply, the modern literary epiphany ultimately effects the hermeneutic manifestation of the reader.

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