There’s been much critical debate concerning Browning’s “Bishop Blougram’s Apology.” See, for example, permissions from the bibliography below. Some readers extol the Bishop, crediting him with astute realism. Others deprecate or despise him because of his crass pragmatism and worldliness. This introduction — prelude to a longer paper — will support these latter critics: if we closely observe Blougram’s arguments and rhetoric, we see the Bishop ironically condemns himself. Bishop Blougram has merely expedient faith.
His arguments may recall Pascal’s Wager — it’s better to live and act as if there were a God, because if such is the case, and we’ve lived contrary to religious norms, we’re condemned men and women. Because there’s a very good chance God does exist — goes the argument — why risk damnation? But Blougram’s reasoning is specious in at least two ways. First, one can’t regard divinity as a wise investment. Secondly, Pascal’s Wager, if it must be considered at all, shouldn’t come from a high-ranking clergyman’s mouth…unless as Tennyson writes in In Memoriam, “there lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” Why doesn’t he excommunicate himself, like a dentist somehow performing root canal on his own mouth, if he can’t believe wholeheartedly? We’d expect to find these doubts in a layman, such as Gigadibs.
We may also question why the Bishop deigns to justify himself to a literary dilettante. Is it guilt? Probably. His clever mind need to confess, in vino veritas. His rhetoric’s meant more for himself than for Gigadibs, the poem’s conclusion notwithstanding.
How are we to interpret the poem’s conclusion? Evidently, Gigadibs has been converted and is on his way to Australia to study the Gospel. Is he truly proselytized, or merely fleeing this ecceslestical monster? Or, is Gigadibs persuaded expedient faith is also his draught of tea? It would seem this explanation is the best one — Blougram willy-nilly has made Gigadibs a pragmatic believer. For according to the Speech-Act theory, we can conclude Blougram has convinced Gigadibs, but Browning persuades the reader to the contrary; this dramatic monologue convinces Gigadibs the auditor, but not the reader. And yet, Gigadibs’ seeming conversion is ultimately unimportant to the Bishop. The Bishops proselytizes by accident and irony, somewhat like a thug inadvertently saving a cop by shielding him from a bullet. Bishop Blougram’s primary concern is his materialism’s self-justification, as if trying to justify, dubiously, what Carlyle points out in Sartor Resartus : “better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”
Collins, R.G. “Browning’s Practical Prelate: The Lesson of ‘Bishop Blougram’s Apology.” Victorian Poetry 13. (Spring 1975): 1-20. Print.
Ewbank, David R. "Bishop Blougram's Argument." Victorian Poetry 10 (1972): 257-63. Print.
Garratt, Robert F. "Browning's Dramatic Monologue: The Strategy of the Double Mask." Victorian Poetry 11 (1973): 115-25. Print.
Langbaum, Robert. The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue In Modern Literary Tradition. New York: Random House, 1957. Print.
Mermin, Dorothy M. “Speaker and Auditor in Browning’s Dramatic Monologues." University of Toronto Quarterly 45 (1976): 139-57. Print.
Raymond, W.O. The Infinite moment and Other Essays in Robert Browning . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950. Print.
Shaprio, Arnold. "A New(Old) Reading of Bishop Blougram’s Apology; The Problem of Dramatic Monologue." Victorian Poetry 10 (Autumn, 1972): 243-56. Print.
Smalley, Donald, ed. Poems of Robert Browning . Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1956. Print.
Steinmann, Martin. “Perlocutuionary Acts and the Interpretation of Literature.” Centrum 3.2 (1975). Print.
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. In Memoriam. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982. Print.
Modified 29 December 2014