Though in the early stages of his career Browning's poetic reputation was far less than that of his wife, by 1870 he had achieved equal status with the famous poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). The energy and roughness of Browning's poetry, however, contrasts sharply with the melancholy and polish of Tennyson's. Today, through his influence on Ezra Pound (1885–1972) and T. S. Eliot (1885–1965), Browning seems the most modern and enduring of all the mid-Victorian poets.
The standard biography of Browning is W. Hall Griffin and Harry C. Minchin, The Life of Robert Browning (1910; 3d rev. ed. 1938). Mrs. Sutherland Orr, Life and Letters of Robert Browning (1891; revised by Frederic G. Kenyon, 1908), contains important additional information. An interesting modern psychological study is Betty B. Miller, Robert Browning: A Portrait (1952). William DeVane, A Browning Handbook (1935; 2d ed. 1955), is a useful source of information about Browning's poetry. Three of the best critical studies of his work are Roma A. King, The Bow and the Lyre: The Art of Robert Browning (1957); Robert W. Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition (1957); and Park Honan, Browning's Characters: A Study in Poetic Techniques (1961). Recommended for general historical background are George M. Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century and After, 1782-1919 (1922; new ed. 1962); G. M. Young, Victorian England: Portrait of an Age (1936; 2d ed. 1953); and David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914 (1950).
The overarching message of the poem is thus that humans are full of contradictions. We are drawn to both the things we love and the things we hate, and we are eminently capable of rationalizing either choice. Through such measured and considered language, we are invited to approve of the murder even as it disgusts us, and in the murder itself we are to forgive the woman for what we (at least if we were Victorian) might have otherwise judged her. Humans are creatures of transience and chaos, even as we belabor the attempt to convince ourselves that we are rational and that our choices are sound.