Robert Browning on difficulty

“I can have little doubt that my writing has been in the main too hard for many I should have been pleased to communicate with; but I never designedly tried to puzzle people, as some of my critics have supposed. On the other hand, I never pretended to offer such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or a game at dominoes to an idle man. So, perhaps, on the whole I get my deserts, and something over — not a crowd, but a few I value more.”

Indeed. And yet, books are regularly denigrated – both on the internet and elsewhere – for being too difficult, for being “hard going”, for not being a substitute for a cigar or a game of dominoes.

I can’t help thinking there are times when responses such as “It went over my head” or “I need to work harder at it” are actually indicative of intelligence, rather than otherwise.

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