Two things are clear about this book. 1. Mrs. Ward wants to rescue Browning from his relative obscurity and make him once again a compelling literary figure. 2. She has not succeeded. Being a bubbly scholar, Mrs. Ward is not without charm. ""I have been writing this book for more than four years and in this period have flown round the world twice and had a major operation in Sydney, Australia."" But the charm wears thin. Exhaustive and chatty, Mrs. Ward touches upon everything in sight, from pin-wheeling snapshots of Carlyle, Mill, Ruskin, Thackeray, and Dickens, to excerpts from diaries and letters, as well as the fundamental issues, Browning's poetry, his romance and marriage, and his heady life-style, a little too heady for the Victorian temperament. Elizabeth called Robert a ""true, soul-piercing poet,"" quite the opposite of his usual designation as back-slapping bard. And Mrs. Ward extends the wifely appellation with airy tributes to his heroic Christian conception of things, adding that he was also somewhat, somehow existentialist: a really implausible fancy since even the way-out Binnswanger only claimed Elizabeth's sonnets as representative of existence strivings. No, despite the detailed critical commentary, the drama of Italy, and the poignant commemoration of Elizabeth's death, this biography has a flighty, inconclusive aura, however devotedly wrought.