Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), from Little Journeys to the Homes of Famous Women, 1916. Courtesy Wikimedida Commons.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Born March 6 1806(1806-Template:MONTHNUMBER-06)
Kelloe, Durham, England
Died June 29 1861(1861-Template:MONTHNUMBER-29) (aged 55)
Florence, Italy]]
Occupation Poet
Nationality English

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (6 March 1806 - 29 June 1861) was an English poet whose verse was widely popular during her lifetime.[1] "No female poet was held in higher esteem among cultured readers in both the United States and England than Elizabeth Barrett Browning during the nineteenth century."[2]

Life[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Barrett Browning was a woman of singular nobility and charm, and though not beautiful, was remarkably attractive. The daughter of Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett (who assumed the last name on succeeding to the estates of his grandfather in Jamaica), she was born at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, but spent her youth at Hope End, near Great Malvern. While still a child she showed her gift, and her father published 50 copies of a juvenile epic, on the Battle of Marathon. She was educated at home, but owed her profound knowledge of Greek and much mental stimulus to her early friendship with the blind scholar, Hugh Stuart Boyd, who was a neighbour. At 15 she met with a spinal injury which confined her to a recumbent position for several years, and from the effects of which she never fully recovered. In 1826 she published anonymously An Essay on Mind, and other poems. Shortly afterwards her father disposed of his estate and moved with his family first to Sidmouth and afterwards to London. At the former Miss Barrett wrote Prometheus Bound, 1835. After moving to London she fell into delicate health. She contributed to various periodicals "The Romaunt of Margaret," "The Romaunt of the Page," "The Poet's Vow," and other pieces. In 1838 appeared The Seraphim, and other poems (including "Cowper's Grave.") Shortly thereafter the death, by drowning, of her favourite brother gave a serious shock to her already fragile health, and for a time she hovered between life and death. Eventually, however, she regained strength, and meanwhile her fame was growing. The publication about 1841 of The Cry of the Children gave it a great impulse, and about the same time she contributed some critical papers in prose to R.H. Horne's New Spirit of the Age. In 1844 she published 2 volumes of Poems, containing "The Drama of Exile," "Vision of Poets," and "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." In 1845 she met Robert Browning. Their courtship and marriage, owing to her delicate health and the extraordinary objections entertained by Mr. Barrett to the marriage of any of his children, were carried out under somewhat peculiar and romantic circumstances. After a private marriage and a secret departure from her home, she accompanied her husband to Italy, which became her home almost continuously until her death. In her new circumstances her strength greatly increased. Her husband and she settled in Florence, and there she wrote Casa Guidi Windows (1851) – by many considered her strongest work – under the inspiration of the Tuscan struggle for liberty. Aurora Leigh, her largest, and perhaps the most popular of her longer poems, appeared in 1856. In 1850 the Sonnets from the Portuguese -- the history of her own love-story, thinly disguised by its title -- had appeared. In 1860 she issued a collected edition of her poems under the title, Poems before Congress. Soon thereafter her health underwent a change for the worse; she gradually lost strength, and died. on June 29, 1861.[3]

Youth[edit | edit source]

She was born Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett in Coxhoe Hall, between the villages of Coxhoe and Kelloe in county Durham, England. Her parents were Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett and Mary (Graham Clarke); Elizabeth was the eldest of their 12 children (8 boys and 4 girls). All the children lived to adulthood except for one girl, who died at the age of 4 when Elizabeth was 8. The children in her family all had nicknames: Elizabeth's was "Ba". The Barrett family, some of whom were part Creole, had lived for centuries in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labour. Elizabeth's father chose to raise his family in England while his fortune grew in Jamaica. The Graham Clarke family wealth, also derived in part from slave labour, was also considerable.

"Barrett in early youth," from The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barret Browning, Volume II, 1899. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Barrett was baptized in 1809 at Kelloe Parish Church, though she had already been baptized by a family friend in the first week after she was born. Later that year, after the 5th child, Henrietta, was born, their father bought Hope End, a a 500-acre (200 ha.) estate near the Malvern Hills in Ledbury, Herefordshire. Elizabeth had "a large room to herself, with stained glass in the window, and she loved the garden where she tended white roses in a special arbour by the south wall"[4] Her time at Hope End would inspire her in later life to write Aurora Leigh.

She was educated at home and attended lessons with her brother's tutor. This gave her a good education for a girl of that time; she read passages from Paradise Lost and Shakespearean plays, among other works, before the age of ten. During the Hope End period, she was an intensely studious, precocious child.[5] Her intellectual fascination with the classics and metaphysics was balanced by a religious intensity which she later described as "not the deep persuasion of the mild Christian but the wild visions of an enthusiast."[6][7] The Barretts attended services at the nearest Dissenting chapel, and Edward was active in Bible and Missionary societies. Elizabeth was very close to her siblings and had great respect for her father: she claimed that life was no fun without him, and her mother agreed, probably because they did not fully understand what the business really was that kept him when his trips got longer and longer.

Publication[edit | edit source]

Barrett Browning's first known poem was written at the age of 6 or 8, "On the Cruelty of Forcement to Man." The manuscript is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library; the exact date is controversial because the "2" in the date 1812 is written over something else that is scratched out. As a present for her 14th birthday her father underwrote the publication of her long Homeric poem, The Battle of Marathon (1820).

Her first independent publication was "Stanzas Excited by Reflections on the Present State of Greece" in The New Monthly Magazine of May 1821; this was followed in the same publication 2 months later by "Thoughts Awakened by Contemplating a Piece of the Palm which Grows on the Summit of the Acropolis at Athens."[8]

Her first collection of poems, An Essay on Mind, with other poems, was published in 1826.[9] Its publication drew the attention of a blind scholar of the Greek language, Hugh Stuart Boyd, and that of another Greek scholar, Uvedale Price, with whom she maintained a sustained scholarly correspondence. Among other neighbours was Mrs. James Martin from Colwall, with whom she also corresponded throughout her life. Later, at Boyd's suggestion, she translated Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound (published in 1833; retranslated in 1850). During their friendship Barrett studied Greek literature, including Homer, Pindar and Aristophanes.

In 1824, a lawsuit about the estate in Jamaica had been decided in favour of their cousin, precipitating the family's financial decline. At about age 20 Barrett Browning began to battle with a lifelong illness, which the medical science of the time was unable to diagnose. She began to take morphine for the pain and eventually became addicted to the drug. This illness caused her to be frail and weak.[8] Mary Russell Mitford described the young Barrett Browning at this time, as having "a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on each side of a most expressive face; large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes, and a smile like a sunbeam." Anne Thackeray Ritchie described her as being "very small and brown" with big, exotic eyes and an overgenerous mouth.

Hope End, Sidmouth, and London[edit | edit source]

File:Elizabeth Barrett Browning.jpg

Elizabeth Browning

In 1828, Barrett Browning’s mother died. She is buried at the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels in Ledbury, next to her daughter Mary. In 1831 Barrett Browning's grandmother, Elizabeth Moulton, died. The family moved three times between 1832 and 1837, first to a white Georgian building in Sidmouth, Devonshire, where they remained for three years. Later they moved on to Gloucester Place in London.[10]

Barrett Browning opposed slavery and published two poems highlighting the barbarity of slavers and her support for the abolitionist cause: "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" and "A Curse for a Nation". The date of publication of these poems is in dispute but her position on slavery in the poems is clear and may have led to a rift between Elizabeth and her father. (Citation needed) Following the loss of the lawsuit concerning the Jamaican properties, the abolition of slavery in the 1830's reduced Mr. Barrett's income. He was forced to sell Hope End, and although the family were never poor, the place was seized and put up for sale to satisfy creditors. The investment that had given them revenue in Jamaica also ended with the abolition of slavery. Some years after the sale of Hope End the family settled at 50 Wimpole Street.

In London John Kenyon, a distant cousin, introduced her to literary figures including William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Thomas Carlyle. Barrett Browning continued to write, contributing "The Romaunt of Margaret", "The Romaunt of the Page", "The Poet's Vow", and other pieces to various periodicals. She corresponded with other writers, including Mary Russell Mitford. She and Mitford became close friends, Mary helping her to further her literary ambition. In 1838 The Seraphim, and other poems appeared, the 1st volume of Elizabeth's mature poetry to appear under her own name.

Torquay[edit | edit source]

The beginning of her trials came next year, when she broke a blood-vessel upon the lungs, which refused to heal. On the approach of winter the family doctor ordered her to a warmer climate, and her elder brother, who seems by all accounts to have been worthy of his sister, accompanied her to Torquay, on the Devonshire coast. His death by drowning — the sailing boat in which he was sank in sight of the house, and the body was not recovered — nearly killed his sister. When they found his body after a couple of days, she had no strength for tears or words. She conceived a horror of Torquay, and had to be brought back to London in an invalid carriage.[11]

Return to Wimpole Street[edit | edit source]

"Returned to London," says Miss Milford, ‘she began the life which she continued for so many years, confined to one large and commodiously darkened chamber, admitting only her own affectionate family and a few devoted friends … reading almost every book worth reading in almost every language, and giving herself heart and soul to that poetry of which she seemed born to be the priestess."[11] She lived like that, an invalid in her room, for 5 years.

One of the few friends she did see was Kenyon, a wealthy relation of the family and patron of the arts. She felt responsible for her brother's death because it was she who wanted him to be there with her. She got comfort from her spaniel named “Flush”, which had been a gift from Mary Mitford.[12] (Virginia Woolf later fictionalised the life of the dog, making him the protagonist of her 1933 novel Flush: A biography).

Barrett Browning continued to write poetry, including The Cry of the Children, published in 1842. This poem condemned child labour and helped bring about child labour reforms. At about the same time, she contributed some critical prose pieces to Richard Henry Horne's A New Spirit of the Age. In 1844 she published 2 volumes of Poems, which included "A Drama of Exile," "A Vision of Poets," and "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." “Since she was not burdened with any domestic duties expected of her sisters, Elizabeth could now devote herself entirely to the life of the mind, cultivating an enormous correspondence, reading widely."[13]

Meeting Robert Browning[edit | edit source]

Barrett's 1844 Poems made her one of the most popular writers in the land at the time and inspired Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her poems. Kenyon arranged for Browning to meet her in May 1845, and so began one of the most famous courtships in literature. Elizabeth had produced a large amount of work and had been writing long before Robert Browning had. However, he had a great influence on her writing, as did she on his: 2 of Barrett’s most famous pieces were produced after she met Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese and Aurora Leigh. Robert's Men and Women is a product of that time.

Some critics, however, point to him as an undermining influence: "Until her relationship with Robert Browning began in 1845, Barrett’s willingness to engage in public discourse about social issues and about aesthetic issues in poetry, which had been so strong in her youth, gradually diminished, as did her physical health. As an intellectual presence and a physical being, she was becoming a shadow of herself".[13]

"Portuguese" was a pet name her husband used for her (due to her dark complexion). Sonnets from the Portuguese also refers to the series of sonnets of the 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões; in all these poems she used rhyme schemes typical of the Portuguese sonnets. The verse-novel Aurora Leigh, her most ambitious and perhaps the most popular of her longer poems, appeared in 1856. It is the story of a woman writer making her way in life, balancing work and love. The writings depicted in this novel are based on similar, personal experiences that Elizabeth suffered through herself. The North American Review praised Elizabeth’s poem in these words: “Mrs. Browning’s poems are, in all respects, the utterance of a woman—of a woman of great learning, rich experience, and powerful genius, uniting to her woman’s nature the strength which is sometimes thought peculiar to a man.”[14]

Courtship and marriage[edit | edit source]

The courtship and marriage between Robert Browning and Elizabeth were carried out secretly. Six years his elder and an invalid, she could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Robert Browning really loved her as much as he professed to. After a private marriage at St. Marylebone Parish Church, Browning imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his beloved off to Italy in September 1846, which became her home almost continuously until her death. Elizabeth's loyal nurse, Wilson, who witnessed the marriage, accompanied the couple to Italy.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Portraits by Thomas Buchanan Read (1822-1872), 1853. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Mr. Barrett disinherited Elizabeth, as he did each of his children who married. As Elizabeth had some money of her own, the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy, and their relationship together was harmonious. The Brownings were well respected in Italy, and even famous. Elizabeth grew stronger and in 1849, at the age of 43, she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Their son later married but had no legitimate children.

Several Browning critics have suggested that the poet decided that he was an "objective poet" and then sought out a “subjective poet” in the hope that dialogue with her would enable him to be more successful.[13]

At her husband's insistence, the 2nd edition of Elizabeth’s Poems included her love sonnets; as a result, her popularity increased (as did critical regard), and her position was confirmed. In 1850, upon the occasion of the death of William Wordsworth, her name was proposed for Poet Laureate, but the position went to Tennyson.

Decline[edit | edit source]

File:Elizabeth Barrett Browning tomb.jpg

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb from Harper's Magazine, 1896

At the death of an old friend, G.B. Hunter, and then of her father, her health faded again, centering around deteriorating lung function. She was moved from Florence to Siena, residing at the Villa Alberti. In 1860 she issued a small volume of political poems titled Poems before Congress. These poems related to political issues for the Italians, “most of which were written to express her sympathy with the Italian cause after the outbreak of fighting in 1859”.[9] She dedicated this book to her husband. Her last work was A Musical Instrument, published posthumously.

In 1860 they returned to Rome, only to find that Elizabeth’s sister Henrietta had died, news which made Elizabeth weak and depressed. She became gradually weaker and died on 29 June 1861. She was buried in the English Cemetery of Florence. “On Monday July 1 the shops in the section of the city around Casa Guidi were closed, while Elizabeth was mourned with unusual demonstrations.”[15] The nature of her illness is still unclear, although medical and literary scholars have speculated that longstanding pulmonary problems, combined with palliative opiates, contributed to her decline.

Writing[edit | edit source]

She is generally considered the greatest of English poetesses. Her works are full of tender and delicate, but also of strong and deep, thought. Her own sufferings, combined with her moral and intellectual strength, made her the champion of the suffering and oppressed wherever she found them. Her gift was essentially lyrical, though much of her work was not so in form. Her weak points are the lack of compression, an occasional somewhat obtrusive mannerism, and frequent failure both in metre and rhyme. Though not nearly the equal of her husband in force of intellect and the higher qualities of the poet, her works had, as might be expected on a comparison of their respective subjects and styles, a much earlier and wider acceptance with the general public.[3]

Much of Barrett Browning’s work carries a religious theme. She had read and studied such famous literary works as Milton's Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno. She says in her writing, "We want the sense of the saturation of Christ's blood upon the souls of our poets, that it may cry through them in answer to the ceaseless wail of the Sphinx of our humanity, expounding agony into renovation. Something of this has been perceived in art when its glory was at the fullest. Something of a yearning after this may be seen among the Greek Christian poets, something which would have been much with a stronger faculty".[16] She believed that "Christ's religion is essentially poetry – poetry glorified.” She explored the religious aspect in many of her poems, especially in her early work, such as the sonnets. She was interested in theological debate, had learned Hebrew and read the Hebrew Bible.[17] The poem Aurora Leigh, for example, features religious imagery and allusion to the apocalypse.

Lilian Whiting's 1899 biography of Elizabeth describes her as "the most philosophical poet" and depicts her life as "a Gospel of applied Christianity". To Whiting, the term "art for art's sake" did not apply to Barrett Browning's work for the reason that each poem, distinctively purposeful, was borne of a more "honest vision". In this critical analysis, Whiting portrays Barrett Browning as a poet who uses knowledge of Classical literature with an "intuitive gift of spiritual divination".[18]

Critical introduction[edit | edit source]

by William Thomas Arnold

Elizabeth Barrett began verse-making at a very early age. Besides the unacknowledged Essay on Mind, an attempt in the style of Pope, which was written when she was a mere girl, she translated Prometheus Bound before she was twenty. Writing to her friend Mr. Horne, under the date of Oct. 5, 1843, she says:—

‘Most of my events and nearly all my intense pleasures have passed in my thoughts. I wrote verses — as I daresay many have done who never wrote any poems — very early; at eight years old and earlier. But, what is less common, the early fancy turned into a will, and remained with me, and from that day to this poetry has been a distinct object with me — an object to read, think, and live for. And I could make you laugh, although you could not make the public laugh, by the narrative of nascent odes, epics, and didactics crying aloud on obsolete Muses from childish lips.’

Her life seems to have been a happy one till she was growing into womanhood. Then two things happened, at no great distance of time from one another, which altered and saddened it. Of the impression she made upon all who saw her before her great trial and sorrow came upon her let her old and tried friend Miss Mitford speak:—

‘My first acquaintance with Elizabeth Barrett commenced about fifteen years ago. She was certainly one of the most interesting persons that I had ever seen. Everybody who then saw her said the same; so that it is not merely the impression of my partiality or my enthusiasm. Of a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on either side of a most expressive face, large tender eyes richly fringed by dark eyelashes, a smile like a sunbeam, and such a look of youthfulness, that I had some difficulty in persuading a friend in whose carriage we went together to Chiswick that the translatress of the Prometheus of Aeschylus, the authoress of the Essay on Mind, was old enough to be introduced into company, in technical language, was out. Through the kindness of another invaluable friend, to whom I owe many obligations, but none so great as this, I saw much of her during my stay in town. We met so constantly and so familiarly, that in spite of the difference of age, intimacy ripened into friendship, and after my return into the country we corresponded freely and frequently, her letters being just what letters ought to be — her own talk put upon paper."

This way of life lasted for many years. It was dignified by high thinking and strenuous endeavour, and sweetened by the intercourse of a few congenial minds; but it was wholly outside the main current of the world, and it threw the poetess to an excessive extent upon her own inner consciousness for the materials of her poetry.

This fact explains some of the defects of which we are conscious in a sustained reading of her poetical works. If her muse seems to dwell in a somewhat transcendental atmosphere, a little remote from the realities of the work-a-day world, if her portrayal of human nature is a little wanting in complexity and variety, and hardly seems born of contact with men and women as they are, that is not to be wondered at.

Her happy marriage lifted her out of the bookish seclusion in which she had lived for many years; and the immediate strength and activity which happiness brought with it makes us suspect that hitherto her friends and relations had encouraged her into thinking herself more of an invalid than she really was. The new and stirring world of political and intellectual activity into which her residence in Italy now transported her, soon made its way into her poetry, and left its mark. But the effects of her long seclusion never wore out, though here and there we may find them obliterated for a moment; and in the most ambitious of her later poems, Aurora Leigh (a noble and admirable effort, though we should hardly agree with Mr. Ruskin in calling it "the greatest poem which the century has produced in any language"), we feel the lack of that sure and sane knowledge of human nature which, as Miss Mitford truly said,— though the remark was not intended to apply to her friend,— is "the salt of literature."

One thing at all events Elizabeth Barrett gained from her years of studious seclusion — an accurate knowledge of most of the great poetry of the world. Her knowledge of Greek was wide if not profound, and she was familiar with the chief modern literatures. She had read English poetry with a thoroughness and a discrimination which is testified as much by her "Vision of Poets" as by her "Essay on English Poetry."

The English poets of her own day were intimately known to her. Her first volume shows traces of study of Byron, Shelley, and Coleridge, and the study has been deep enough to result rather in assimilation than imitation. Later on she became a great admirer of Tennyson, whom she called "a divine poet," though she warmly disclaimed the charge of imitating him. She may be described essentially as a learned poetess, and her wide knowledge of poetical forms explains her readiness to invent or reproduce difficult and elaborate metres.

With these difficulties she has not always contended successfully. Her rhymes are often illegitimate, her words often far-fetched, and occasionally even ungrammatical. The splendid dash and energy with which she throws herself at a difficult piece of work should not blind us to the fact that after all its difficulties are sometimes evaded rather than met. She will not have it that this is for any want of due care or industry on her part. Writing to Mr. Horne, she says in terms very similar to those employed by Wordsworth in rebutting a similar charge:—

‘If I fail ultimately before the public — that is before the people, for an ephemeral popularity does not appear to me worth trying for — it will not be because I have shrunk from the amount of labour, where labour could do anything. I have worked at poetry; it has not been with me reverie, bat art. As the physician and lawyer work at their several professions, so have I, and so do I, apply to mine. And this I say, only to put by any charge of carelessness which may rise up to the verge of your lips or thoughts.’

Nevertheless in that correspondence between herself and Mr. Horne on her system of rhyming, which forms perhaps the most valuable part of the work that Mr. Horne has dedicated to her memory, there can be no doubt that Mr. Horne gets the best of the argument. He maintained that the fact was, "whether the poetess intended it or not, that she was introducing a system of rhyming the first syllables and leaving the rest to a question of euphonious quantity." His criticism was particularly directed against the rhymes in the Dead Pan, which the authoress as energetically defended. Miss Mitford, who was always candid in her judgment of her friend, supported Mr. Horne’s view.

It will of course be understood that we are not complaining of that occasional violation of exact rhyme which only adds to the general harmony. No one with an ear would think of complaining of such a stanza as this from the Vision of Poets—

‘Cleaving the incense clouds that rise
With winking unaccustomed eyes,
And lovelocks smelling sweet of spice.’

But what of this from "The Lost Bower"?—

‘Face to face with the true mountains
I stood silently and still,
Drawing strength from fancy’s dauntings,
From the air about the hill,
And from Nature’s open mercies a most debonair good will.’

or this from The Dead Pan?—

‘Christ hath sent us down the angels;
And the whole earth and the skies

Are illumed by altar-candles

Lit for blessed mysteries.’

Take, again, the sonnet called "Patience taught by Nature." There are only two rhymes in the octave, and one set of four is thus made up — birds, herds, girds, swards. "Birds" is an almost impracticable rhyme for the octave of a Petrarchan sonnet, and obviously the poetess has not solved the difficulty implied in starting upon it.

But licence in rhyming is not the only licence she permits herself. Her use of words is often capricious and extravagant. She turns substantives into adjectives, she adds an adverbial termination to an adverb, she invents outright dozens of words, as she is hard pressed for a rhyme. Here for instance she secures an admirable effect by a wrong use of a Chaucerian adjective:—

‘And Keats the real
Adonis with the hymeneal
Fresh vernal buds half sunk between

His youthful curls, kissed straight and sheen

In his Rome-grave by Venus queen.’
(Vision of Poets.)

In an exquisite stanza she finds a rhyme for "morning" in "many a mist’s inurning." In another place we have —

‘When beneath the palace-lattice
You ride slow as you have done,
And you see a face there, that is
Not the old familiar one,—
Will you oftly
Murmur softly,
Here ye watched me morn and e’en,
Sweetest eyes, were ever seen!’

That "oftly" is terrible. This kind of catalogue could be extended indefinitely. Such words as "fantasque," "percipiency," "humiliant" "vatic," "sentiency," "aspectable," "horrent" are current coin in her language, and often give it a fantastic air. She is a little spoilt by that "over-effluence of music,’ which she herself blamed in Barry Cornwall.

The delight in beautifully sounding words is as great with her as it was with Keats; but Keats, though he allowed himself considerable latitude in his blank verse (Hyperion is full of coined and curious words), was most rigorous with himself in his rhymed verse. A poet who is enamoured of perfection will allow himself liberties anywhere and everywhere except for the sake of evading a difficulty. Now enamoured of perfection Mrs. Browning was not. The poems which, from what may be called a technical point of view, may be counted irreproachable, may, if we except the Sonnets, almost be reckoned on the fingers.

Her Sonnets are among the very best work she has produced. Perhaps indeed her greatest poetic success is to be found in the Sonnets from the Portuguese,— sonnets, it need hardly be said, which are not "from the Portuguese" at all, but are the faintly disguised presentment of the writer’s most intimate experience. Into the "sonnet’s narrow room" she has poured the full flood of her profoundest thought, and yet the minuteness and exquisiteness of the mould has at the same time compelled a rigorous pruning alike of superabundant imagery and of harmonious verbosity, which has had the happiest results. She is one of the greatest sonnet writers in our language, worthy for this at all events to be ranked side by side with John Milton and with Wordsworth.

Our own generation is probably inclined to give the poetess less than her due, and for obvious reasons. The art of verse-making has been carried to a point of technical perfection that she hardly dreamt of, and her laxity offends. Moreover, her innocent and heartfelt enthusiasms fall a little dully on the ear of a perverse and critical generation. We should call her naive, almost silly, where she has merely been artless and confiding. Her enthusiasm for Bulwer Lytton’s weaker work and the traces of his influence on her earlier poems we cannot easily away with. There are passages in Aurora Leigh, particularly the passages describing the bad people, which might make an unkindly critic describe the authoress as a hysterical school-girl; and indeed it would not be easy to confute the critic, except by putting passage against passage, and showing how, with her, a lapse is always followed by a rise.

What valuable and original elements her thought possesses have for the most part been absorbed long ago, have become common property, and are no longer recognisable as hers. The great struggle for Italian unity has inspired some of her best verses, and that struggle has already become very much a matter of ancient history.

Yet in spite of all deductions that can be made — deductions, be it remembered, which are sometimes to be counted against the reader, and only sometimes against the poetess — she remains an attractive and delightful personage, and she has stamped enough of herself upon her poetry to give it an enduring charm. Her deep tenderness and genuineness of feeling, showing themselves in such poems as the "Cry of the Children" or "Cowper’s Grave," will never fail of their rightful power.

She has touched all the chief human relationships, that of friend and friend, that of husband and wife, that of mother and child, with an exquisite insight and sensitiveness and delicacy, and her style, when she touches them, attains almost always that noble and severe simplicity which is so greatly to be preferred to her most luscious and copious versification. She has added a charm to motherhood only less than that added by Raffaelle himself, and the pleasant fate will be hers of being faithfully read by many a generation of youthful lovers.[11]

Critical reputation[edit | edit source]

Throughout the 20th century, literary criticism of Barrett Browning's poetry remained sparse until her poems were discovered by the women's movement. She once described herself as being inclined to reject several women's rights principles, suggesting in letters to Mary Russell Mitford and her husband that she believed that there was an inferiority of intellect in women.[19] In Aurora Leigh, however, she created a strong and independent woman who embraces both work and love. Leighton writes that because she participates in the literary world, where voice and diction are dominated by perceived masculine superiority, she "is defined only in mysterious opposition to everything that distinguishes the male subject who writes..."[19]

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Angela Leighton suggests that the portrayal of Barrett Browning as the "pious iconography of womanhood" has distracted us from her poetic achievements. Leighton cites the play, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, as evidence that 20th century literary criticism of Barrett Browning's work has suffered more as a result of her popularity than poetic ineptitude.[19]

Recognition[edit | edit source]

American poet Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by Barrett Browning's poem Lady Geraldine's Courtship and specifically borrowed the poem's meter for his poem The Raven.[20] Poe had reviewed Barrett's work in the January 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal and said that "her poetic inspiration is the highest—we can conceive of nothing more august. Her sense of Art is pure in itself."[21] In return, she praised "The Raven," and Poe dedicated his 1845 collection, The Raven, and other poems, to her, referring to her as "the noblest of her sex".[22]

"Barrett's poetry had an immense impact on the works of Emily Dickinson who admired her as woman of achievement."[2] Her popularity in the United States and Britain was further advanced by her stands against social injustice, including slavery in the United States, injustice toward Italian citizens by foreign rulers, and child labour.

10 of her poems ("Rosalind's Scroll", "The Deserted Garden", "Consolation", "Grief", "A Musical Instrument, and Sonnets from the Portuguese i-v) were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[23]

Browning was buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, on 31 December 1889. In 1906, an inscription was added to his tomb to commemorate Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is buried in Florence.[24]

A 5-volume scholarly edition of her works has recently been published, the 1st in over a century.[8]

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

The 1931 play by Rudolph Besier, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, was popularized by actress Katharine Cornell, for whom it became a signature role. It was an enormous success, both artistically and commercially, and was revived several times and adapted twice into movies.

Publications[edit | edit source]

Poetry[edit | edit source]

Plays[edit | edit source]

  • Psyche Apocalyptè: A lyrical drama (by Browning and Richard Hengist Horne). London & Aylesbury, UK: privately printed, 1876.

Non-fiction[edit | edit source]

Collected editions[edit | edit source]

  • Poetical Works. (6 volumes), London: Smith, Elder.[29] Volume I (with introductory essay by Henry T. Tuckerman), 1889; Volume II, 1889; Volume III, 1890; Volume IV, 1890; Volume V, 1890; Volume VI, 1890.
  • Poetical Works (edited by Frederic G. Kenyon). London: Smith, Elder, 1897.
  • Complete Poetical Works (Cambridge Edition, edited by Harriet Waters Preston). Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1900.
  • Complete Works (edited by Charlotte Porter & Helen A. Clarke). (6 volumes), New York: Crowell, 1900.
  • Hitherto Unpublished Poems and Stories; with an unedited autobiography (edited by H. Buxton Forman). (2 volumes), Boston: Bibliophile Society, 1914. Volume I, Volume II.

Etc.[edit | edit source]

  • "Queen Annelida and False Arcite" and "The Complaint of Annelida to False Arcite," in The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer, Modernized. London: Whittaker, 1841, pp. 237-257.
  • A New Spirit of the Age (edited by Richard Hengist Horne; many anonymous contributions by Browning). (2 volumes), London: Smith, Elder, 1844.
  • Two versions of "The Daughters of Pandarus," translated from The Odyssey by Browning, in Mrs. Anna Jameson, Memoirs and Essays Illustrative of Art, Literature, and Social Morals. London: Bentley, 1846, pp. 137-138.

Letters and journals[edit | edit source]

  • Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Addressed to Richard Hengist Horne (edited by S.R. Townshend Mayer). (2 volumes), London: Bentley, 1877. Volume I, Volume II.
  • Kind Words from a Sick Room. Greenock, UK: privately printed by W. Hutchinson, 1891.[30]
  • The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (edited by Frederic G Kenyon). (2 volumes), London: Smith, Elder, 1897. Volume I, Volume II.
  • Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1845-1846 (edited by Robert W. Barrett Browning). (2 volumes), London: Smith, Elder, 1899.[31] Volume I, Volume II.
  • Letters to Robert Browning and Other Correspondents by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (edited by Thomas J. Wise). London: privately printed, 1916.
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to her sister, 1846-1859 (edited by Leonard Huxley). London: John Murray, 1929.
  • Letters from Elizabeth Barrett to B.R. Haydon (edited by Martha Hale Shackford). New York: Oxford University Press, 1939.
  • "Twenty Unpublished Letters of Elizabeth Barrett to Hugh Stuart Boyd" (edited by Bennett Weaver), PMLA 65 (June 1950): 397-418.
  • "New Letters from Mrs. Browning to Isa Blagden" (edited by Edward C. McAleer), PMLA 66 (September 1951): 594-612.
  • Elizabeth Barrett to Miss Mitford: The unpublished letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Mary Russell Mitford (edited by Betty Miller). London: John Murray, 1954.
  • Elizabeth Barrett to Mr. Boyd: Unpublished letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Hugh Stuart Boyd (edited by Barbara P. McCarthy). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1955.
  • Letters of the Brownings to George Barrett (edited by Paul Landis with the assistance of Ronald E. Freeman). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1958.
  • The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1845-1846 (edited by Elvan Kintner). (2 volumes), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.
  • Diary by E.B.B.: The Unpublished Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1831-1832 (edited by Philip Kelley and Ronald Hudson). Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1969.
  • Invisible Friends: The correspondence of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1842-1845 (edited by Willard Bissell Pope). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Letters to Mrs. David Ogilvy, 1849-1861 (edited by Peter N. Heydon and Philip Kelley). New York: Quadrangle / New York Times Book Co. and the Browning Institute, 1973).
  • Women of Letters: Selected letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Russell Mitford (edited by Meredith B Raymond & Mary Rose Sullivan). Boston: Twayne, 1987.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[32]


Elizabeth Barrett Browning ~ How Do I Love Thee? poem with text


Poem ~ If Thou Must Love Me... by Elizabeth Barrett Browning '


Elizabeth Barrett Browning Poem ~ My Heart and I


'Go from Me' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning - - poem


A Man's Requirements poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning Short Poetry Collection 14 Free Audio Poem

Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Barrett, R.A., The Barretts of Jamaica. Wedgestone Press, 2000.
  • Donaldson, Sandra, et al., ed. The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 5 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2010.
  • Everett, Glenn. Life of Elizabeth Browning, 2002
  • Markus, Julia. Dared and Done: Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Ohio University Press, 1995.
  • Kaplan, Cora. Aurora Leigh, and other poems London: The Women’s Press Limited, 1978.
  • Lewis,Linda. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Spiritual Progress. Missouri: Missouri University Press. 1997
  • Mander,Rosalie. Mrs Browning: The Story of Elizabeth Barrett. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980
  • Markus, Julia. Dared and Done: Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Ohio University Press, 1995
  • Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York City: Cooper Square Press, 1992: 160.
  • Peterson, William S. Sonnets From The Portuguese. Massachusetts: Barre Publishing, 1977
  • Pollock, Mary Sanders. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: A Creative Partnership. England: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003
  • Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York City: Checkmark Books, 2001
  • Taplin, Gardner B. The Life of Elizabeth Browning. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957
  • Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987: 591.

Fonds[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Burr, David Stanford. "Introduction".Sonnets from the Portuguese: a celebration of loveMacmillan (1986)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Glen Everett, "The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning," The Victorian Web, Web, Sep. 19, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 John William Cousin, "Browning, Elizabeth Barrett," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 50. Web, Dec. 21, 2017.
  4. Mander,Rosalie.Mrs Browning: The Story of Elizabeth Barrett.London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1980
  5. Taplin, Gardner B. The Life of Elizabeth BrowningNew Haven: Yale University Press, 1957
  6. Everett, Glenn,Life of Elizabeth Browning(2002)
  7. "Biography". Victorianweb.org. 2002-04-06. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ebb/ebbio.html. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Donaldson, Sandra, et al., ed., The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.London: Pickering and Chatto,2010
  9. 9.0 9.1 Donaldson, Sandra, ed., The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.London: Pickering and Chatto,2010
  10. Taplin, Gardner, The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 from William Thomas Arnold, "Critical Introduction: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, May 23, 2016.
  12. The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford, Winfield, KS, 1983
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Pollock, Mary Sanders. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: A Creative Partnership. England: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003.
  14. Kaplan, Cora. Aurora Leigh And Other Poems. London: The Women’s Press Lmited, 1978
  15. Taplin, Gardner B. The Life of Elizabeth Browning New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957
  16. "Biog". Victorianweb.org. 2005-07-18. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ebb/cornhill.html. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  17. Lewis,Linda.Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Spiritual Progress. Missouri: Missouri University Press. 1997
  18. Whiting, Lilian. A study of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Little, Brown and Company (1899)
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Leighton, Angela, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Indiana University Press (1986) pp.8-18
  20. Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York City: Checkmark Books, 2001: 208. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X
  21. Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York City: Cooper Square Press, 1992: 160. ISBN 0-8154-1038-7
  22. Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1987: 591. ISBN 0-7838-1401-1
  23. "Alphabetical list of authors: Brontë, Emily to Cutts, Lord, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919). Bartleby.com, Web, May 16, 2012.
  24. Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, People, History, Westminster Abbey. Web, July 11, 2016.
  25. The Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1860), Internet Archive. Web, July 1, 2013.
  26. The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from 1826 to 1844 (1887), Internet Archive. Web, July 1, 2013.
  27. Sonnets from the Portuguese (1910), Internet Archive. Web, July 1, 2013.
  28. The Book of the Poets (1877), Internet Archive. Web, July 1, 2013.
  29. The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1890), Internet Archive. Web, July 1, 2013.
  30. Kind Words from a Sick Room (1891), Internet Archive. Web, July 1, 2013.
  31. Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1845-1846, Project Gutenberg. Web, July 1, 2013.
  32. Bibliography, Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861, Poetry Foundation. Web, July 1, 2013.

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