Elizabeth Barret Browning (1792-1822)
Elizabeth Barret Browning was born into
a wealthy family and lived a privileged childhood. In 1809,
the family relocated to Hope End, a country estate in Herefordshire.
There, at a young age Elizabeth began writing poems. She
was interested in various literary works such as Shakespearian
plays, Popes Homeric translations, passages from Paradise
Lost, and histories of England, Greece, and Rome. Elizabeth's
education was overall self-taught. She even learned Hebrew
to read the Old Testament from beginning to end. By the
age of twelve she had written an "epic" poem consisting
of four books of rhyming couplets. In her early twenties
Barrett befriended Hugh Stuart Boyd, a blind, middle-aged
scholar, who rekindled Barrett's interest in Greek studies.
During their friendship Barrett absorbed an astonishing
amount of Greek literature -- Homer, Pindar, Aristophanes,
etc... But after a few years Barrett's fondness for Boyd
diminished and she began to view him as naive limited and
pathetic. Her intellectual fascination with the classics
and metaphysics was balanced by a religious obsession, which
she later described as "not the deep persuasion of
the mild Christian but the wild visions of an enthusiast."
From 1822 on, Elizabeth Barrett's interests tended more
and more to the scholarly and literary. Mr. Barrett's financial
losses in the early 30's forced him to sell Hope End, and
although never poor, the family moved three times between
1832 and 1837, settling at 50 Wimpole Street in London.
In 1838, The Seraphim and Other Poems appeared, the first
volume of Elizabeth's mature poetry to appear under her
own name. Her 1844 Poems made her one of the most
popular writers in the land, and inspired Robert Browning
to write her, telling her how much he loved her poems. Kenyon
arranged for Browning to come see her in May 1845, and so
began one of the most famous courtships in literature. At
her husband's insistence, the second edition of her Poems
included her love sonnets, and this helped increase her
popularity and the high critical regard in which the Victorians
held their favorite poetess. 1857 saw the publication of
the verse-novel Aurora Leigh, which today attracts
more attention than the rest of her poetry. It is still
unclear what sort of affliction Elizabeth Barrett Browning
had, although medical and literary scholars have enjoyed
speculating. Whatever it was, the opium, which was repeatedly
prescribed probably made it worse; and Browning almost certainly
lengthened her life by taking her south and by his solicitous
attention. She died in his arms on June 29, 1861.
Elizabeth was the most esteemed female
poet among audiences in the United States and England in
the 1800s. Her works also heavily influenced later female
poets such as Emily Dickinson. In her poems, there are critiques
of social injustice such as the slave system in America.
For example, in Poems Before Congress, she discussed the
Italian independence issue and the English Parliament for
lack of aid. Aurora Leigh dealt with gender inequality.
Her popularity waned after her death, yet now she is recognized
for her bold words as a lady.
1850 Sonnets from the Portuguese
1851 Casa Guidi Windows
1857 Aurora Leigh
Brown University's Information site:
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