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Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Researcher: Rachel Sahlman


"How do I love thee, let me count the ways." These words, penned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, are some of the most widely-known love lyrics in Victorian English poetry.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England on March 6, 1806. She was the first of eleven children born to Edward and Mary Barrett. Browning was privately educated and spent much of her childhood in the country. It was a very happy childhood until Browning became seriously ill at age 15. She was virtually incapacitated as the result of a spinal injury and lung ailment.

In 1832, Browning moved with her family to Sidmouth, Devon and then several years later to London. In 1833, Browning's translation of Prometheus Bound received high praise. After moving to London, Browning began publishing her own writings. Her first collection entitled The Seraphim and Other Poems was published in 1838, and her second volume Poems, by E. Barrett Barrett was published in 1844. The second volume was also published in the United States and included an introduction by Edgar Allan Poe.

After the drowning death of her brother in the early 1840s, Browning became a virtual recluse. She did not want to meet anyone who did not belong to her close circle of friends, and she conducted most of her friendships through letters. However, in 1845, Browning received a telegram from the poet Robert Browning. The telegram read "I love your verses with all my hear, dear Miss Barrett. I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart - and I love you too." The two met several months later and fell in love. They wrote to each other daily and the letters from their courtship are a wonderful record of its progress. During this period, Browning composed her famous Sonnets from the Portuguese, which were published in 1850.

Elizabeth and Robert kept their love a secret because Browning's father was vehemently opposed to the relationship. The couple eloped on September 12, 1846 and for the next week, Browning continued to live at home so the secret would not be revealed. When Browning's father died ten years later, she had never been forgiven.

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Shortly after their marriage, Elizabeth and Robert departed for Pisa, Italy and ultimately settled in Florence. In Italy, Browning regained her health and in 1849, gave birth to the couple's only child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett. The Brownings lived in Florence for the next 15 years, with occasional visits to London. Browning published several works based on Italian politics entitled Casa Guidi Windows (1851) and Poems Before Congress (1860). During this period, she also produced her most ambitious work entitled Aurora Leigh (1856). The poem is a love story that defends a woman's right to intellectual freedom.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died on June 29, 1861 in Florence. She is chiefly remembered for her love poems, although Aurora Leigh has recently received new appreciation.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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