Elizabeth Barrett Browning

By Stone, Marjorie | Victorian Poetry, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Stone, Marjorie, Victorian Poetry


With the appearance of The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in five volumes from Picketing and Chatto Press in its "Pickering Masters" series, 2010 brings the first comprehensive scholarly edition of EBB's poetry, prefaces, and essays in over a century. Prepared by a team of US, Canadian, and UK scholars, with Sandra Donaldson as General Editor, The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning runs to 2700 pages of relatively fine print. The apparatus includes critical and textual introductions, complete lists of variants in EBB's published poems (many revised substantially after their initial appearance in print), annotations, and headnotes to individual works summarizing their compositional and publication history, contexts, reception, and modern criticism. The edition incorporates archival research in numerous US and UK libraries and special collections, as well as information from the more than twenty-five volumes of letters by EBB now in print. This year adds to these, with Volume 17 of the The Brownings' Correspondence (from Wedgestone Press, 2010), impeccably edited by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan. New critical studies include innovative treatments of many of EBB's works by Linda Hughes in The Cambridge Introduction to Victorian Poetry (2010), several analyses of Aurora Leigh and of Casa Guidi Windows, discussion of the transatlantic contexts of "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point," a subtle new reading of silence in Sonnets from the Portuguese, and another on silence in EBB's representation of the sublime landscape of Vallombrosa, and two articles on religion and devotional poetry in her 1838 volume The Seraphim, and Other Poems. Other subjects this year include recent developments in EBB criticism, the classical and mythic contexts of "Hector in the Garden," EBB's engagement with Milton as well as with Byron and Shelley, and connections between EBB and Augusta Webster treated in Patricia Rigg's groundbreaking new study, Julia Augusta Webster: Victorian Aestheticism and the Woman Writer.

The Pickering and Chatto Edition, and New Possibilities for Research

The first of three articles on EBB in the newly launched The Journal of Browning Studies (formerly Browning Society Notes), Simon Avery's succinct "Re-reading EBB: Trends in Elizabeth Barrett Browning Criticism," (1 [2010]: 5-13) provides a useful overview of the history leading up to the publication of The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (hereafter abbreviated as WEBB). Analyzing various "'tipping points'" in EBB studies, Avery traces publications and cultural transformations from the 1970s into the twentieth century that have brought the poet out of "a critical wasteland" to a position where she "once more" takes her place among "major nineteenth-century poets" (p. 5). He notes the debates among critics (including among feminist critics), as well as the transition from locating EBB primarily within a recovered female tradition to less segregated considerations of her works in relation to a broad array of topics. These include not only gender, politics, religion, genre, and form, but also "urban literature, cosmopolitanism, ekphrasis writing, medical science, and sexual violence," as well as literary collaboration and the postcolonial contexts brought to the fore by Laura Fish's "beautiful novel, Strange Music (2008), inspired by the history of the Barretts' Jamaican plantations" (p. 11). While the historical record speaks to EBB's impact as the most internationally influential English woman poet of the nineteenth century--read in France, Italy, North America, and even Russia--scholars and students have been hampered by the absence of a comprehensive modern edition. By comparison, four scholarly editions of Robert Browning's complete poetry have been produced or undertaken in recent decades (see Britta Martens' "A Survey of Work on Robert Browning 1996-2009," a companion essay to Avery's in Volume 1 of The Journal of Browning Studies). …

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