Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Article excerpt

In contrast to last year's work on EBB, in which religion formed a dominant theme, 2006 has brought a return to a strong emphasis on politics--both the politics of nation and gender politics. Works on which attention seems to have converged include the explicitly political Casa Guidi Windows and Poems before Congress, along with Aurora Leigh and "Mother and Poet," one of the most discussed works in Last Poems (1862). Among major new primary resources on EBB, Volume 15 of The Brownings' Correspondence has appeared from Wedgestone Press, as carefully edited and beautifully produced as its precursors in this indispensable comprehensive collection of the Brownings' letters, edited by Philip Kelley with Ronald Hudson (Volumes 1-8), and with Scott Lewis (Volumes 9-14). Other topics discussed this year include EBB's treatment of the city, her representation of melancholy, her collaborative engagement with Robert Browning's works (and his with hers in works such as "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"), echoes of Shakespeare, and her treatment of social problems. As the bicentenary of EBB's birth, 2006 has also brought conferences such as the Armstrong Browning Library's "This is Living Art" (held March 3-6), and exhibits in libraries and archives, such as the one mounted by the British Library in February and March.

Volume 15 of The Brownings' Correspondence is a reminder, should any be needed, of how rich a resource this annotated collection of letters, reviews, and other materials related to the Brownings can be. Although numerous letters in this particular volume (covering the period from January 1848, to August 1849) have appeared in whole or in part in earlier collections, there are also many previously unpublished letters--including letters to correspondents as close to EBB as the Brownings' friend, the writer and art critic Anna Jameson, and RB's sister, Sarianna Browning, as well as letters by both the Brownings to the American writer William Ware, and occasional letters from readers of EBB's poetry.

Important subjects that recur in Volume 15 include the movements of "revolution and counter-revolution" in Italy and elsewhere in Europe (p. 271), EBB's second miscarriage in March 1848, her pregnancy, and the birth of the Brownings' son on March 9, 1849. The most intimate and detailed of the letters, not surprisingly, are those to her two sisters, Arabella and Henrietta. The full texts of the Arabella letters have earlier appeared in Scott Lewis' annotated two-volume The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Her Sister Arabella (containing letters from the time of EBB's marriage and move to Italy in 1846 up to her death in 1861--see the "Year's Work," 2002). The 1848-49 letters to Henrietta, however, have previously appeared only in part (and without the ample annotation that The Brownings' Correspondence provides) in Leonard Huxley's edition, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to Her Sister, 1846-1859 (1929). In some cases as well, previously published letters appear in Volume 15 with dates corrected by Kelley and Lewis.

Like some of the letters in this new volume of the Correspondence that have previously appeared in Frederic G. Kenyon's The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1897), the full texts of the letters to Henrietta show how much was suppressed by earlier editorial deletions-particularly in relation to medical details such as EBB's use of morphine and matters of the body. (On this point, an extended analysis of Kenyon's typescript of his edition of the letters, now in the British Library, with cancelled passages clearly marked, would be of some interest.) In Volume 15's letters to Henrietta, EBB details the bodily sensations associated with the "quickening" during her pregnancy with Pen, for example (p. 149); she subsequently frankly and fully expresses her views on the mistake of treating pregnancy as a disease and not one of "the things of pure nature" (p. 221). These letters also make clear the important role that Robert played in reducing her reliance on opium during her pregnancy with Pen, which she willingly did despite her views, consonant with much of the medical opinion of the time, concerning its appropriate therapeutic uses. …

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