“In his superior status[2]. The use of the adjectives

“In psychological science” Dacher Keltner, author of The Power Paradox remarks, “power is defined as one’s capacity to alter another person’s condition or state of mind by providing or withholding resources”1.  Intrinsically, the theme of power has played a pivotal role in literature for decades, often symbolic of the societal constructs of the time in which they were written.  In his modernist novel The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald centres his story around the economic boom of the 1920s in which traditional power roles were diminishing and wealth was much more attainable. As such, Fitzgerald conveys how the exploitation or the desire to retain economic and social power can damage or corrupt authentic relationships, whether that be platonic or romantic. In the specific selection of Robert Browning poems, the purpose of relationships is to show how hierarchies are reinforced and further represent how power can be used to manipulate and control.In order to understand how power affects personal relationships in the texts, it is first important to understand how much impact power has individually and how it is utilised, as Keltner emphasises; “when people resort to trying to control others, it’s often a sign that their power is slipping”.  The flourishing economy of the 1920s meant that intelligent, working class individuals now had access to the only factor limiting their success, money . Simultaneously, Fitzgerald implies in his novel The Great Gatsby that this introduced a new social fear for those born into money- that their status would ultimately diminish. This fear is first introduced through the character of Tom Buchanan in his first appearance, where literature blogger Rachel Macklin implies that his obsession with Nordic superiority in this scene was a “thinly veiled metaphor” his true fear of losing his superior status2. The use of the adjectives “violently”, “impatiently” in addition to the verbs “insisted” and “shifting heavily” between his attempts to justify his theory create tension in this scene, thus implying that Tom’s ‘concern’ for his status is underpinned by paranoia. The same type of reaction is similarly translated in My Last Duchess. Browning creates a convincing, respectable character through the role of the Duke at the beginning of the poem as he emphasises his upper class values by setting this particular poem in a gallery style setting, where he is surrounded by his ‘collection’ of artefacts and therefore proceeds to present them, asking a servant to “please you sit and look at her?” . The form of the poem further adds to his believability, as the calculated and the careful rhyming of the polysyllabic words “countenance” and “earnest glance” create regularity in the first lines. However, whilst the poem is essentially a dramatic monologue, elements of a soliloquy appear as Browning reveals parts of the Duke’s subverted, arguably real, personality.  Around line 21, he introduces fractured, broken sentences, such as “She had/a heart – ” which are much more monosyllabic to emphasise his intensifying anger, which is stronger than his ability to maintain a flawless, fake persona. The source of this being his wife who seemed to rank his “nine-hundred year old” title to “anybody’s” by flirting with “officious” fools he deemed below her status and subsequently threatened his position. Fundamentally, both writers communicate the importance of power to the upper classes when it is jeopardised.However, the hunger for power is only dangerous when acted upon. Indeed, the blinding search for power by one, more often than not, leads to corruption and destruction for another. At first, Tom Buchanan attempts to keep his fading lifestyle alive by making his entitlement obvious to others, for example, explaining to Nick that he has “got a nice place here” when he comes to visit, the blatant use of language here clearly depicting his underlying insecurity for his status. However, Fitzgerald suggests that the corruption ultimately begins when Tom reverts to physical imposition to show his dominance. In her essay “Tom Buchanan: The Ruthless Protector” Christine Ramos observes that the most “vigorous” way he essays to keep his power is by exercising his “moral carelessness”3. Essentially, the character of Tom believes his status allows him to do as he pleases while those he deems socially beneath him suffer the repercussions. The most obvious example of this being Tom’s infidelity to Daisy with Myrtle Wilson. By taking Myrtle, someone with lower socio-economic status, it makes him feel powerful and fulfills some of the entitlement he believes he deserves. This idea also manifests itself in Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover. As the structure is made up of iambic tetrameter with a regular rhyme scheme, a constant rhythm is maintained throughout as the events unfold. In addition to Browning’s choice of dramatic dialogue to encompass the poem, at first glance, the impression created by this suggests that the mindset of the speaker does not change from the start of the poem to the end- unlike Browning’s My Last Duchess, in which the speaker’s resentment is clearer to see. As such, Catherine Maxwell states that it is within this form that “domination and appropriation… pass unnoticed under the cover of rational male behavior” as the speaker wraps Porphyria’s hair around her “little throat” and strangles her without the poem losing pace. This however, can be seen as a direct reflection of the Victorian patriarchy, emphasised in J.A Richard’s essay Manliness and Morality: Middle-Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940. Richards theorizes that the influence of Thomas Hughes’ novels (for example, Tom Brown’s School Days) in schools meant that boys were taught from a young age “Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect”, which can be directly associated with what it means to have power and control over oneself5.  Quoting Hughes, men must use these teachings to help the “advancement of all righteous causes”, or in other words, to help those who were socially ‘untrained’, (like the character of Arthur in Tom Brown’s School Days) and who, when applied to the wider context of society Richard’s states, were namely constituted of females who were socially “regarded as inferior” in every way. With this in mind, when Porphyria physically poses a threat to the speaker’s power, when she is killed it is shocking as it epitomizes the disconcerting Victorian gender mentality that entitled men to omit violence as a commonplace occurrence under the guise of the moral duty of “discipline”. By definition, both characters are portrayed to use their prerogative as a justification to exert their power over others without consequence, with the other person in the relationship being essentially powerless and thus easier to control. Tom Burnham argues that Jay Gatsby “survives sound and whole to the end, uncorrupted by the corruption which surrounds him” supporting the ideology that Gatsby cannot be compared to the other powerful characters as he has some form of moral superiority6. However, it is important to consider how he manipulates others in order to obtain and retain his power, first reeling them in with his generosity and then abusing their trust to get what he wants. One particular example being the source of his wealth, which was attained by fraudulent means. A direct influence to Fitzgerald at this time would have been the prohibition era in the 1920s in  which the desire for alcohol would be high, echoed by Gatsby’s “bootlegging” business in the novel. On metaphorical terms, he uses alcohol as ‘bait’ to lure people to his parties subsequently boosting his self image and reputation. Additionally, the most notable form of his exploitation however, is the facade he uses to create connections. Although it can be argued that Gatsby and Nick’s relationship is “uncorrupted” ,Gatsby lies to Nick, by saying “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear.”  Despite Fitzgerald painting Gatsby as a sincere figure in this sense, he lies by way of omission from the truth by acknowledging the rumours but not confirming or denying them. Arguably, Gatsby only creates this relationship with Nick knowing he provides him with easy access to Daisy- the prize for his hard work and thus the pinnacle of his power. Gatsby knows his self-made power is only sustainable as long as he can carry on deceiving people, continuously building relationships on lies in order to attract a single person. Thus, by the end of the novel, his funeral is impactful, serving to represent the loveless life he lived… “Nobody Came”. As such, it is easy to see how Fitzgerald criticises how the relationships formed by the elite are “corrupted” from the start, as it is clear that they are formed with egocentric intent and so they are essentially meaningless to the other person.Furthermore, a Marxist interpretation could suggest that the character of Nick is employed to create contrast between elitist relationships to exemplify the theory of ‘cash nexus’. Fitzgerald establishes Nick even in the opening of the novel as a character of moral integrity, illustrated by the placement of Nick’s father’s advice at the forefront of his “judgements” of the upper classes- despite his middle class “advantages”, he places value on the traditional familial relationships instated by his Midwestern upbringing. As a result, he recognizes that he has become a character “full of interior rules that act as brakes”. Complementary of this idea, Karl Marx once coined that “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations”, intrinsically, a Marxist critic would recognise the insatiable nature of Capitalism in The Great Gatsby, which removes the untainted pastoral idyll of the Midwest as the “warm centre of the world” expressed in Nick’s ‘adamic’ statements about his past7. This ideology is apparent through Fitzgerald’s portrayal of his consumerist characters, one example being how Daisy and Tom’s family connections remain unexplored by the author unless only to describe their “enormous wealth”. Similarly, Daisy describes Jordan Baker’s family as “one aunt about a thousand years old” her off-hand hyperbolic statement not only highlights the emotional and physical separation between the elite and their blood relatives, but her inability to pinpoint the aunt’s exact age also stresses the lack of importance they place on their family. Primarily, Fitzgerald contrasts Nick’s rooted connection to his family with relationships between the high-born classes to criticize the fact that they are based solely on monetary exchanges. Ultimately, both writers explore how power is a destructive force and as a result, how it can have a dangerous effect on those around it. Furthermore, it is difficult to find a relationship in the texts where both power roles are equal and mutual appreciation or love of one another exists at the same time. Which leads me to question, did individually ambitious characters impact the existence of love because of their dynamic characteristics? The Renaissance period could be considered a period of romantic exploration in the arts. This theme is emphasised in Browning’s Andrea Del Sarto, as Browning creates a romantic lexis by using similes and metaphors such as “my moon, my everybody’s moon” , which can be likened to the simile stated by Romeo when he compares Juliet “to a summer’s day” in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which creates a strong influence of heightened romantic perception8. Andrea and his wife Lucrezia complement one another as she subsequently provides the inspiration for his work, and in return puts he “the money into this small hand”. In the same way, in The Great Gatsby Daisy chooses Tom as he can provide her with economic security and vice versa. However, despite the strong indications, it is clear that neither couple really loves one another. Andrea loves what Lucrezia can do for his work, ignoring her infidelity to him with her “lover” so she can continue to provide the “soul” he searches for. In the scene where Tom and Daisy reconcile, Nick observes the “natural intimacy” between them, as if they were “conspiring together”, the unusual choice of “conspiring” suggesting that their similarities reside in their desire to remain powerful. As such, these relationships did not necessarily provide happiness, but provided some mutual power in the form of security and safety which was only possible when two people’s assets came together.In a different way, relationships between men and women are fundamental in both texts, with both highlighting the imbalance of power in heterosexual relationships. In Porphyria’s Lover, Andrea Del Sarto and My Last Duchess the female voice is non- existent essentially because none of the female character’s perspectives are involved in the poems. The use of a first person narrator in all three poems directs the attention to the males’ thoughts and feelings and so the result is a biased interpretation in which the male voice is paramount. When the character of Porphyria in Porphyria’s Lover speaks, it is lessened to descriptive verbs of “Murmuring” and “Called” without any further context, thus, reducing her to a transient figure in the speaker’s narrative and further disconnecting her character from the reader. However, in her critical essay, Melissa E Buron theorised that a lack of feminine representation is actually a common feature of Victorian poetry (commonly seen in works by Lord Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning) thus denoting that it reflected the “contemporary constraints women faced rather than from blatant misogyny” in Robert Browning’s work 9. This idea in particular evokes the image of Victorian wives who were ostracised by society for leaving their husbands, their only hope at status and success relied on their dependency to men as their own independent power was not believed. Even in her death, Porphyria’s counterpart interprets her emotions for her; “no pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain”, her feelings are communicated through her another’s filter which is not necessarily credible. The first person narrative marginalises her, disallowing her a voice to discredit the speaker and to express her pain.                                                                          Moreover, it can be said that the female characters are trapped inside a ‘shell’ controlled by their physical assets, and as a result, easier to control by their partners as their objections are repressed.  Joshua Adler writes that the objectification in My Last Duchess addresses the “the superiority of the dynamic, spontaneous mode of life over the static and self-imprisoned”, the latter of which Victorian women resided 10.  This is first illustrated at the beginning of the poem; “my last duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. I call / That piece a wonder, now”. Although she is objectified as his “piece”, she is concurrently described as a “wonder” in her painted form. Compared with the anger expressed when talking about her later in the poem, Adler’s theory is proved, as the Duke’s obsession to achieve full control over his wife is evident as he places more value on her depersonalised state. As such, Browning’s objectification of the Duchess serves to represent a patriarchal society where women were appreciated more as an ornamental entity than a human. Pioneering Feminist critic Lucy  Irigaray refers to the role of women in her essay Women on the Market as essentially “commodities” which are “objects of transaction among men”, an obvious example, when referred to in the traditional sense, is a man purchasing another man’s daughter for marriage as a reflection of their status (referenced in the Duke marrying his next “object” for her “dowry”)11. Though written somewhat 70 years after Browning, these standards are still echoed in The Great Gatsby, an illustration of this being when Daisy is described by Nick as “gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor”. By juxtaposing the imagery of the poor and the affluent in this way from a masculine perspective, Fitzgerald emphasises the desirability and value of wealthy women to men.  Using adjectives such as “gleaming”, “silver” in addition to other words such as “shining” to physically describe Daisy throughout the book, further objectifies her by emphasising her high-commodity value. As such, it is easier to see why Gatsby built his fortune thinking that she could be bought. As a result of this, it seems she has difficulty choosing between Gatsby and Tom not necessarily because she loves them both equally, but because they both have the same thing to offer- a life as a possession. Although the word “silver” could imply that Daisy does have some power of her own, but as further evidence of the world she has come to live, it is harnessed by the men in her life to show off their own status and power.Ultimately, in both The Great Gatsby and the selection of Robert Browning poetry, it is clear that men held all the power in their respective societies, as a reflection of unquestioned social standards- with elite men being at the top of the social food chain. Contrary to this, as quoted by the character of Daisy in The Great Gatsby, it seems in this society the best thing a woman can be is a “beautiful little fool”, as it’s safer give in to the expectations of men and become an extension of their power than become independent and vulnerable and have no power at all.  To conclude, in response to Dacher Keltner’s statement in the Power Paradox, in relationships power is selfish, with one person controlling the other’s life by “withholding” their happiness and chances of self-empowerment.