Elizabeth Barrett Browning

By Stone, Marjorie | Victorian Poetry, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Stone, Marjorie, Victorian Poetry


Work covered this year is notable for its interdisciplinary range, internationalization, and volume. Topics include not only the politics of gender and nations, prosody, religion, the classical tradition, and relationships with other writers (this year, George Sand, Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Browning), but also medievalism, Darwinism, dance, sculpture, domestic servants, animal/human boundaries, literary tourism, and psychology. New publications in the US, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Uraguay include Volume 18 of The Brownings' Correspondence, a monograph by Simon Avery, more than twenty book chapters and articles, and a popularizing biography; there are also new digital resources. Along with criticism on Aurora Leigh, Sonnets from the Portuguese, Casa Guidi Windows, and well-known shorter works like "The Cry of the Children" and the sonnets to Sand, critics discuss EBB's three poems on Queen Victoria, her ballads, her poems to Flush, her 1831-32 diary, religious works such as "The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus," and unpublished works such as the "The Princess Marie." With the exception of Avery, this scholarship does not yet draw upon new information and materials in the Pickering and Chatto Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (hereafter WEBB; see the 2010 "Year's Work"). Reviews of the edition have begun to appear, however, by Anthony Harrison and Stephen Prickett in the on-line journal Review 19 and by Joe Phelan in the TLS (July 14, 2010). There is also a review essay by Alison Chapman, "Revolutionizing Elizabeth Barrett Browning," in Victorian Literature and Culture (39, no. 2 (2011) addressing the "new EBB"--"embedded within her complex intellectual, literary, and cultural networks: provocative, politicized, experimental, and modern"--revealed by recent scholarship

Recovery of this "new EBB" would have been impossible without the The Brownings' Correspondence (Wedgestone Press, 1984- ), and other editions of letters steadily being incorporated into its comprehensively annotated pages. Edited by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan, Volume 18 covers the period from February 1852 to March 1853. Reflecting EBB's self-identification as a "citizenness of the world" and her love of "wild wandering gypsey habits" (pp. 126, 254), the volume conveys the Brownings' continental mobility. The first section finds them living an animated life in Paris on the Champs Elysees in the political ferment following the coup d'etat of Louis Napoleon, mingling with writers and intellectuals. Accounts of EBB's long desired meeting with George Sand feature frequently. The middle section covers the Brownings' stay in London from July to early October, 1852, where they saw or met many other English and American writers, among them Tennyson, Coventry Patmore, John Ruskin--whose collection of "Turners" EBB considered "divine" (p. 220), James Russell Lowell and his poet-wife Maria, Richmond Monckton Milnes, and the Christian socialist Charles Kingsley. Kingsley is one of the probable models for Romney in Aurora Leigh: EBB expresses admiration for his "originality & intenseness" despite his "wild & theoretical" ideas (pp. 208, 205). He had a less charitable opinion of the Brownings, however, as a letter cited in the volume's "Supporting Documents" indicates: "he [RB] is very clever, but low-bred, effeminate.., a man who fancies that a man can be a poet by profession--& do nothing else--a wild mistake. She is wonderful: but very obstinate in her bad taste, & considers Socialism as stuff" (p. 370). The final part of Volume 18 covers the Brownings' journey back to Italy with a stop in Paris to savor "the palpitating life" of the boulevards (p. 274). Most of the letters are by EBB. While many are previously published in whole or in part, numerous letters are here published for the first time, including two to the women's rights activist Bessie Rayner Parkes. …

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