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Elizabeth Barrett Browning (born 6 March 1806, near Durham, County Durham, England – died 29 June 1861, Florence, Italy) was an English poet whose name is based largely on her love poems.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Pioneering Writer’s Life
Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of Edward Barrett Moulton (later Edward Moulton Barrett). Most of her girlhood was spent in a country house near Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, where she was incredibly happy. However, when he was 15 years old, he became very ill, probably due to a spinal cord injury, and this affected his life forever.
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In 1832 the family moved to Sidmouth, Devon and in 1836 to London, where they lived at 50 Wimpole Street in 1838. In London he collaborated with several magazines and his first collection,
Which appeared in 1838. For health reasons, he spent the next three years in Torquay, Devon. After her brother Edward drowned, she developed an almost morbid fear of meeting anyone other than her inner circle. However, his name was well known in literary circles, and in 1844
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In January 1845, she received a letter from the poet Robert Browning beginning “I love your poems with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett” and ending with “I also love these books with all my heart, as I said.” I love you too”. They met at the beginning of summer. Their courtship (recorded in their daily progress logs) was kept secret by Elizabeth’s villainous father, whom she feared.
(1850) notes her reluctance to marry, but their marriage took place on September 12, 1846. Her father did not know anything about this, and Elizabeth remained at home for another week.
The Brownings then left for Pisa. (When Barrett died in 1857, Elizabeth had not yet been forgiven.) While in Pisa, he wrote.
(Boston, 1848; London, 1849), anti-slavery protest in the USA. The couple then settled in Florence, where their only child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett, was born in 1849.
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In 1851 and 1855 the couple visited London. On her second visit, Elizabeth Barrett Browning ended her most ambitious career ever,
(1857), a long blank verse poem that tells the complex and sweet love story of a young girl and a misguided philanthropist. The work did not impress many critics, although it was a huge success with the public.
In the last years of his life, Browning became fascinated with the occult and the occult, but his energy and attention were consumed by his fascination with Italian politics to the point that it alarmed his closest friends.
(1851) was a deliberate attempt to win the sympathy of the Florentines and continued to believe in the honesty of Napoleon III. AT
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(1860) poem “The Curse of the Nation” was mistaken for being critical of England when it was intended for slavery in the US. In the summer of 1861, Browning caught a cold and died. The portrait of the poet and “prophet of society” emphasizes his involvement with the state and race, but ignores the more hacky pleasures of biographical speculation.
It was Barrett, not Tennyson, who was often named the next Poet Laureate. Image: De Agostini Image Library/Getty Images
“I love you so much? Let me count the ways,” asked Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1850, unwittingly turning British poets into a valentine. It’s not just the words that are still beautiful, but how they are often read alongside the story of her secret courtship of fellow poet Robert Browning. In 1846, after a year and a half of romantic and secret meetings, young Browning became famous and at the age of 40 ended up in a London infirmary and took him to Italy, to a new life full of sun, sex and lyric poetry.
Of course, such a biographical reading would have alarmed Browning, who had been trying all his life to destroy the automatic identification between the poem’s self and the poet’s nomination. It is likely that such a reductionist approach will also have the inflexibility of Barrett Browning. He considered himself a public prophet, not an “honest writer”. His first book at the age of 14 was an account of the Battle of Marathon, and he continued to cover big, bad topics, including the evils of laissez-faire capitalism (“The Cry of the Children”) and Italy’s struggle for political independence. (“Casa Guidi Okna”). Today we forget that when Wordsworth died in 1850, it was Barrett, not Tennyson, who was often named the next poet.
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This is the publicly committed Elizabeth that Fiona Sampson brings us in this beautiful biography, the first since Margaret Forster over 30 years ago. In his structure and orientation, Sampson uses
, a verse novel written by Barrett Browning in 1856, tells the story of a young writer’s career, especially her development as an artist. At first glance, this may seem like a sign of personal and biographical retreat, but Sampson’s point is this.
This gives us a map and model of how Barrett Browning created a new relationship between female subjectivity and public speaking. Less interesting, perhaps, is Sampson’s decision to title chapters along the lines of “How to Be Independent” and “How to Manage Change,” implying that Barrett was an incorrigible consumer of self-help books.
However, the content is clear. Sampson is particularly interested in Barrett Browning’s personal conflicts with politics, the state, and race. “Ba”, as he was commonly known, was born in 1806 to a British Jamaican family. His father, named Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett, made his fortune in sugar through slavery, and yet, as a staunch Protestant and political liberal, he was on the side of reform. Ba was even more specific on this point, writing The Fugitive Slave at Pilgrim’s Point in 1846 as a donation to the American abolitionist fundraising campaign.
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Sampson thinks that guilt over his origins should explain Ba Browning’s famous and interesting statement that he himself has “the blood of slaves.” A few decades ago, critics were happy, believing that he not only admitted that he was a mestizo, but was also ashamed of it. Sampson, on the other hand, is of the opinion that she is referring to her case of being the daughter and granddaughter of slaves. First of all, he knew that his personal income, which allowed him to talk to Browning without money and set up a series of comfortable apartments in Italy, where he would sing songs about political freedom, was in serious danger.
Apartment on the first floor of the ancient Palazzo Guidi in Florence, rented by a couple. Photo: Cultural Club/Getty Images
Another old biographical knot that Sampson intends to unravel is the question of whether or not Moulton-Barrett was really a gothic monster. He went down in literary history as a cruel grandfather who put his children under house arrest and refused to check who they married, even boys. In fact, this idea has a lot to do with Charles Laughton’s turn as Mr. B in the 1934 Hollywood movie.
Based on the popular play by Rudolf Bezier. Sampson helps us to see Moulton-Barrett with great generosity, as an insecure upstart who could not match the Herefordshire glamor in which he had lived since the 1820s. He may have been county sheriff twice, but the genius of Hope End, the Moorish castle-castle he built in the Malvern hills, is undeniable. Sampson calls the whole place “foreign art,” which is probably kind.
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However, Sampson is not too quick to deny himself—or us—the more hacky pleasures of biographical speculation. In 1989, Anthony Burgess played on the idea that when Balai was dying in June 1861, Browning gave him a large dose of morphine to calm him down. After all, he messed up his body with drugs so no one gets wiser. And lately they had been arguing – her spirit possession was driving him crazy, and he hated the way she dressed their little son in women’s clothes. Sampson is too smart to say he thinks Browning fired him, but he understands enough of the fun of missing out to give him a chance to play.
Two Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning published by Profile (£18.99). To order a copy, visit guardianbookshop.com.