Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman & Artist

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman & Artist

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman & Artist

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman & Artist

Synopsis

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

Excerpt

Virginia Woolf observed that "the only place in the mansion of literature that is assigned [Barrett Browning] is downstairs in the servants' quarters, where ... she bangs the crockery about and eats vast handfuls of peas on the point of her knife." This portrait of an energetic, uncouth scullery maid is a surprising description of "Mrs. Browning," that pale invalid who recorded her devotion to the hero who rescued her from her tyrannical father in "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Equally surprising is the fact that initial critical disquiet over Barrett Browning's work was not on account of her legendary sentimentality but for its "falsetto muscularity," its "very habit and trick of violence," and its "assertion of strength." However, as recent feminist criticism proves, neither the uncouth scullery maid nor the insipid invalid accurately represent the poet whose work records her evolving sense of woman as having a distinct and responsible poetic voice. While my study as a whole traces the evolution of that poetic voice through Barrett Browning's career, this introduction draws attention to two ideas that inform my approach to her work. First, I outline the issues confronting Barrett Browning as a woman poet working within a male tradition. Second, I show how an understanding of Barrett Browning's contribution reshapes our conception of Victorian poetics.

In placing these issues in the foreground, I follow the tradition of feminist critical theory that Elaine Showalter has identified as "gynocritics." I thereby accompany those feminist critics of Barrett Browning's writing, Gilbert, Gubar, Mermin, and Rosen-

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