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In his preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798), Wordsworth famously defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. His words lurched English poetry to the subjective. By 1850, when both Wordsworth’s Prelude and Dickens’s David Copperfield were published, the novel had replaced poetry as the dominant form in the generic hierarchy. Poets now found themselves fighting back, and writing back, on two fronts: against subjectivism, and against the novel. Browning sidestepped subjectivism by adapting his voice to dramatic personae; in turning to the drama he also fended off the novel, for dramatic monologue as pioneered by Browning is modelled on…

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