Elizabeth Barett Browning and Robert Browning are two of England's
most noted romantic poets. Elizabeth grew up in a priviliged, wealthy
families and was an accomplished student. Her many brothers and sisters were
dressed just alike when they were younger. Elizabeth and Robert had one
child, Pen, who Elizabeth schooled
at home and dresses with the same flair as her romantic poetry. Like her
she dressed her son in pretty clothes, dresses, pantalettes, and tunics.
His hair was kept long and curled. Pen did
not object as a younger boy, enjoying the attention and compliments from
his mother's friends. As an older boy he began to object, but with little
success in the face of his strong opinioned mother who had very definite
ideas on the subject. Elizabeth is remembered for her hautingly beautiful
romantic poems and her interest in women's rights and social justice.
Elizabeth was immortalized by the 1930 play The Barrets of Wimpole
Street. Many remember
Elizabeth as the semi-tragic wife of poet Robert
Browning who wrote sentimental and romantic sonnets about their love. In
reality, Elizabeth was an accomplished and popular poet in
her own right. In her life, she was considered an important author, and
was even considered for the post of Poet Laureate after Wordsworth's
death in 1850.
In addition to her skill as a poet, she was also a student and
translator of Greek, an abolitionist, an early feminist, and active in
Italian politics. Far from the usual picture of a weak and sickly romantic
writer of verse, Barrett Browning wrote intensely political poems ("Runaway
Slave at Pilgrim's Point", "Napoleon III in Italy", and "A Curse for a
Nation" among them) in addition to her romantic lyrics.
It was in 1845 that she received a letter from a struggling young poet
named Robert Browning. In
the letter, Browning expressed his regard for her work as well as his love
for the poet. The two later eloped, and developed a deep emotional and
intellectual bond that influenced and nurtured both Browning and Barrett
Elizabeth's works include the books The Seraphim and
Other Poems (1838), Poems of 1844, Poems of 1850, Sonnets from the Portuguese
(1850), Casa Guidi Windows (1851), Aurora Leigh (1856), Poems Before Congress
(1860), the posthumously printed work Last Poems (1862), and many Greek
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 exacerbated it. Elizabeth's solicitous husband almost certainly
extended her life by taking her to Florence to enjoy the healthy warm
climate and by his loving attention. She died in his arms on June 29, 1861.
No female poet was held in higher esteem among cultured readers in both the United States and
England than Elizabeth Barrett Browning during the 19th century.
Barrett's poetry had an
immense impact on the works of Emily Dickinson who admired her as woman of achievement. She
was recommended as a possible successor to the poet laureateship that was left vacated by
Wordworth's death in 1850.
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