Browning, Elizabeth Barrett

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806–61, English poet, b. Durham. A delicate and precocious child, she spent a great part of her early life in a state of semi-invalidism. She read voraciously—philosophy, history, literature—and she wrote verse. In 1838 the Barrett family moved to 50 Wimpole St., London. Six years later Elizabeth published Poems, which brought her immediate fame. The volume was a favorite of the poet Robert Browning, and he began to correspond with her. The two fell in love, but their courtship was secret because of the opposition of Elizabeth's tyrannical father. They married in 1846 and traveled to Italy, where most of their married life was spent and where their one son was born. Mrs. Browning threw herself into the cause of Italian liberation from Austria. "Casa Guidi," their home in Florence, is preserved as a memorial. Happy in her marriage, Mrs. Browning recovered her health in Italy, and her work as a poet gained in strength and significance. Her greatest poetry, Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), was inspired by her own love story. Casa Guidi Windows (1851), on Italian liberty, and Aurora Leigh (1857), a novel in verse, followed. During her lifetime Mrs. Browning was considered a better poet than her husband. Today her life and personality excite more interest than her work. Although as a poet she has been criticized for diffuseness, pedantry, and sentimentality, she reveals in such poems as "The Cry of the Children" and some of the Sonnets from the Portuguese a highly individual gift for lyric poetry.

Bibliography

See The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1845–46 (1899, new ed. 1930); R. Besier, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1930), the most popular dramatization of the Brownings' love story; biographies by G. B. Taplin (1957), I. C. Clarke (1929, repr. 1970), and M. Forster (1989); The Courtship of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning (1985) by D. Karlin; studies by H. Cooper (1988) and G. Stephenson (1989); bibliography by W. Barnes (1967).

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