Sunday, 1 May 2011
Novelising Morris's Poems
If a dramatic monologue is, in effect, a speech from a play or novel with the rest of the text cut away, and if as a reader you greatly enjoy the monologue, then why not extend your pleasure by writing the rest of that imaginary text? Which is exactly what Gabrielle Kimm has done in her novel His Last Duchess (2010), a title which gives the game away at once. For she builds on Robert Browning’s most famous dramatic monologue to tell the full story of the young Lucrezia de Medici’s marriage to the dangerous fifth Duke of Ferrara, in the context of a rich portrayal of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.
In my earlier meditations in this blog on generating more Morrisian text I focused on his prose works – unfinished romances, and so on. But why not, as Gabrielle Kimm’s book so brilliantly suggests to us, extend this approach to his poetry too? Why not write the novel of what may well be these days Morris’s most anthologised poem, ‘The Haystack in the Floods’? It is not a dramatic monologue, but it certainly has rich narrative potential: how did Robert and Jehane first come together, why do the people of Paris bay for her blood, how had Godmar come to be so obsessed with her, will she ultimately revenge herself for the murder of her lover? We could surely have a gripping Morrisian novel here, with a fourteenth-century Froissartian French background every bit as richly detailed as Gabrielle Kimm’s colourful Renaissance Italy.