Reflections on Elizabeth Barrett Browning: English Boys' Clothes during the 1850s

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 mother, 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.

Reflections on Elizabeth

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 Browning's work.

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 translations.

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.


Forster, Margaret. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Biography.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 8, 1998
Last updated: September 8, 1998