Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Anna Barton

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall in County Durham, the eldest of the twelve children of Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett, who was from a family of plantation owners, involved in the rum and the sugar trade, and Mary Graham Clarke. Elizabeth spent most of her childhood at Hope End, the family home in rural Herefordshire. She read widely and voraciously from an early age and, according to her own account, began writing poetry at the age of four. She was encouraged in her literary endeavors by both her parents and received private tuition in classical Greek alongside her favorite brother, “Bro.” In 1819 she published her first major poem, The Battle of Marathon, a four-book epic, and by 1821 her poetry was being published in the New Monthly Magazine. Her early adulthood was marked by the deaths of her mother and then her brother, and by the onset of the undiagnosed illness that stayed with her for most of her life. She moved with her family to Devon and then to Wimpole Street in London. Throughout this time, E. B. B. continued to compose and publish. The Seraphim and Other Poems, the first collection to be published under her own name, appeared in 1838. Following that, Poems, in two volumes, which included “A Drama of Exile” and “The Dead Pan,” was published in 1844. Her poetry increasingly engaged with contemporary British and European politics. “The Cry of the Children” (1842), for example, responded directly to the publication of a report concerning the working conditions of children in factories and mines. In 1845 she began the correspondence with Robert Browning that led to their elopement and move to Italy the following year, where they lived for the rest of her life. Living in British expat communities in Florence and Rome, she developed a deep interest in the politics of the Risorgimento; gave birth to her only son, Robert Wiedemann Browning; and wrote those poems for which she is best known: “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” (1848), Casa Guidi Windows (1851), Sonnets from the Portuguese, and Aurora Leigh (both in 1856). The final volume to be published during her lifetime was Poems before Congress (1860), which included “A Curse for a Nation.” She died in Florence in 1861, having gained a considerable reputation in both Britain and Italy, and she is now recognized as one of the most significant poets of the Victorian period.

Article.  9614 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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