Robert Browning, both by the nature of his work and the extent of his oevure, is one of the most difficult of all English writers to summarize and/or criticize briefly. This book, however, does a magnificent job in a very brief space--in 128 pages, it covers many of his greatest works: summarizes, elucidates and compares them, and brings the reader to a deeper appreciation of this poet, his life, and his work than one would think possible in so short a space.
There is, at the beginning, a brief biography integrating the outlines of his life with the tapestry of his work/s. He wrote primarily poetry, although he completed seven verse dramas. The form for which he is justly most famed, however, is the dramatic monologue. While this form has been used by others, before and since, none have brought the form to the peak of perfection Browning has, and did. There are a number of his letters preserved and published, also, although they are not often mentioned in the critical literature.
This section is followed by one wherein Browning''s central ideas are discussed. Some of the themes he elucidates in his work include the superiority of feeling to reason (a common Romantic theme); the primacy of life over art; a deeply intuitive belief in, and feeling for, Christianity; that love is the summum bonum of all of life; the doctrine that truth is elusive, and that honest skepticism is to be preferred to doctrinaire disbelief or false beliefs and illusions, which close the mind to new or even possible truths. There are several more developed in some detail.
The next section consists of several fairly deep and detailed analyses of Browning''s most important poems--often by comparison and contrast with each other. (Each subsection is followed by selected questions and answers to these covering that particular topic or work).
At the end of the book, once his major works have been covered, there is a section summarizing the major criticism of Browning and his reputation, in his own time, and in ours. This book is one of the series of Monarch Critiques of Literature. It follows their standard outline and format, but is a much richer and deeper series or set of analyses than I am accustomed to, even in these handy books.