JOHN MACNEILL MILLER lizabeth Barrett Browning arrived late to the party. By the time her sonnet "Hiram Powers' Greek Slave" appeared in Household Words in 1850, a slurry of similar poetic tributes to Powers's sculpture had been published on both sides of the Atlantic. Her decision to compose poetry on the Greek Slave, then, was conventional in the strictest sense of the word: it shared both subject matter and conceptual preoccupations with a far larger body of work that is now more or less forgotten. On an even broader level, however, her sonnet is built upon conventions, as it purposefully examines the political potential of convention itself. Barrett Browning uses her verses to ruminate on Powers's controversial manipulation of classical ideals of femininity to ignite cultural controversy--in particular, his canny deployment of a traditional female nude to arouse indignation about slavery and sexual double-standards. In its meditations on the artistic means to political ends, "Hiram Powers' Greek Slave" constitutes an aesthetic treatise in miniature, one that plays a central but mostly overlooked role in the development of Barrett Browning's antislavery poetry. The second of three poems on American slavery that she published during her lifetime, "Hiram Powers' Greek
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: May 13, 2014
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