In "Fra Lippo Lippi," Robert Browning characterizes the Prior through the use of dialogue, specifically by recording the Prior's disapproving reaction to the realism of Fra Lippo Lippi's art.
The Prior and the learned pulled a face
And stopped all that in no time. "How? what's here?
Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all!
Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true
As much as pea and pea! it's devil's-game!
Your business is not to catch men with show,
With homage to the perishable clay,
But lift them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there's such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men —
Man's soul, and it's a fire, smoke . . . no, it's not . . .
It's vapor done up like a new-born babe —
(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)
It's . . . well, what matters talking, it's the soul!
Give us no more of body than shows soul!
Here's Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God,
That sets us praising — why not stop with him?
Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head
With wonder at lines, colors, and what not?
Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!
Rub all out, try at it a second time.
Oh, that white smallish female with the breasts,
She's just my niece . . . Herodias, I would say, —
Who went and danced and got men's heads cut off!
Have it all out!" [ll. 174-198]
Similarly, Trollope characterizes Dr. Grantly through the use of dialogue. In the following passage, Dr. Grantly responds to Mr. Harding's doubts about his lawful right to his income as warden and his concerns about the article in the Jupiter, with forceful and commanding rhetoric:
The poor warden groaned as he sat perfectly still, looking up at the hard-hearted orator who thus tormented him, and the bishop echoed the sound faintly from behind his hands. But the archdeacon cared little for such signs of weakness, and completed his exhortation.
'But let us suppose the office to be left vacant, and that your own troubles concerning it were over; would that satisfy you? Are you only aspirations in the matter confined to yourself and your family? I know they are not. I know you are as anxious as any of us for the church to which we belong. And what a grievous blow would such an act of apostasy give her! You owe it to the church of which you are a member and a minister, to bear with this affliction, however severe it may be: you owe it to my father, who instituted you, to support his rights: you owe it to those who preceded you to assert the legality of their position: you owe it to those who are to come after you, to maintain uninjured for them that which you received uninjured from others; and you owe to us all the unflinching assistance of perfect brotherhood in this matter, so that upholding one another we may support our great cause without blushing and without disgrace.' [The Warden, p. 122-123]
Both Browning and Trollope utilize dialogue to characterize the Prior and the archdeacon respectively and to elucidate their shared theme that defenders of the traditional Church, especially high-ranking Church officials, resist change and feel bound as servants to uphold the moral reputation of the Church. In the case of the Prior, he is appalled by Fra Lippo Lippi's highly detailed and realistic depictions of the human form, which he regards as essentially wicked. "Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true / As much as pea and pea! it's devil's-game!" he declares. He instructs Fra Lippo Lippi that a painter's task is to help others "forget there's such a thing as flesh" and instead "to paint the souls of men . . . .paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!" Browning cleverly presents the Prior's speech using several effective devices, including ellipsis, repetition, exclamations, rhetorical questions, and direct commands. The Prior's speech includes several comic instances of ellipsis, especially in the sections where he discusses man's soul and seems to be at a loss for words in precisely explaining how a painter would go about depicting the soul rather than the earthly body. Throughout, the Prior repeats several phrases, which emphasizes the authoritative tone of his speech, including "Your business is . . . " and "Paint the soul." His frequent exclamations aptly express his shock and disapproval of Fra Lippo Lippi's style of art, and his use of rhetorical questions and direct commands reinforce his status as a powerful member of the Church who, as Prior, is much more elevated than Fra Lippo Lippi in the religious hierarchy and therefore wields much more influence. The Prior contrasts Fra Lippo Lippi's art with that of Giotto, "with his Saint a-praising God" and asks him, "Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head / With wonder at lines, colors, and what not?" The dogmatic Prior, whose traditional moral sensibilities are offended by the realism of Fra Lippo Lippi's art, ultimately commands him to, "Rub all out . . . Have it all out!"
In a manner comparable to Browning, Trollope reaffirms that the archdeacon is an authoritarian and dogmatic defender of the traditional Church — in this case in England. The archdeacon's grandiloquent "exhortation" also includes some of the same devices featured in the Prior's speech, such as repetition, exclamations, rhetorical questions, and direct commands. These devices are all extremely characteristic of Dr. Grantly's overbearing speech patterns and style of rhetoric. In the selected passage, he begins with two rhetorical questions, and he then answers them himself, persuasively repeating the phrase, "I know," twice. Finally, using parallel construction, he commands Mr. Harding that he must uphold the legitimacy of his position as warden for the sake of the Church, the Bishop, those who will come after him, and to everyone else that is close to him and the interests of the Church. In this construction, Trollope emphatically repeats the phrase, "you owe," three times. Thus, Trollope expresses the rigid, dictatorial, formal, and condescending tone of Dr. Grantly's speech and illuminates his nature. Dr. Grantly's speech also reflects his significant and elevated status in the local Church hierarchy of Barchester and his authority over Mr. Harding, who as precentor of the Cathedral at Barchester and the warden answers to him and his father, the bishop. As Trollope notes earlier in the novel, "Mr. Harding . . . is not above Archdeacon Theophilus Grantly, for he is always more or less in debt to his son-in-low, who has, to a certain extent, assumed the arrangement of the precentor's pecuniary affairs" (9). The paragraph preceding Dr. Grantly's exhortation informs the reader that both the warden and the bishop feel "tormented" by their intimidating and "hard-hearted orator." It is apparent that Dr. Grantly, despite his inferior age in comparison to the warden and his father, possesses the most commanding and authoritative personality and presence of the three.
The Prior's speech and Dr. Grantly's speech similarly reflect the style of realism. Both carefully employ deliberate devices of rhetoric to characterize their respective speakers. The speech patterns are realistic and therefore believable, especially as they correspond to each speaker's status in the Church hierarchy. They manifest the disparity of personality and position that exists between the speaker and his listener (or listeners as is the case of Dr. Grantly's oration before his father and Mr. Harding). Furthermore, the Prior's criticism of Fra Lippo Lippi's art is essentially a criticism of the style of realism found in his painting. Fra Lippo Lippi is an advocate of realism who declares, "If you get simple beauty and nought else, / You get about the best thing God invents" (ll. 217-218). He defies his critics and continues to paint in the style he loves, for he is overwhelmed by the beauty of the world, which he views as creations of God, and feels compelled to represent it authentically in his art:
The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises, — and God made it all! [ll. 283-285]
Fra Lippo Lippi strives to communicate these marvels of the physical world through his painting, which itself is in the style of realism, so that others may appreciate the surrounding world and its glory arising from God, its Creator, as well. Thus, Browning and Trollope employ realism in their depiction of speech, which characterizes the Prior and Dr. Grantly respectively. Additionally, Browning explores realism in art, which Fra Lippo Lippi champions and which the Prior criticizes by condemning Fra Lippo Lippi's artwork as focusing too much on "lines, colors, and what not" and "faces, arms, legs, and bodies."
Last modified 10 May 2003