Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Real Victorian Romance: The Brownings

It occurs to me that, with all my grading and drafting of Book 2 (tentatively entitled Always a Stranger) and preparing for the release of Never Too Late, it's been a while since I actually talked about anything Victorian.  And I seem to recall promising in some previous post to discuss a few couples from the Victorian era who I find fascinating...and specifically the relationship between renowned Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.

They are perhaps my favorite literary couple, so much so that they make an appearance in NTL. Here are just a few reasons why...
  1. Before their relationship began, Elizabeth Barrett was already a talented and well-respected poet.  Some early 20th century revisionist history emphasized her role as the wife who inspired the brilliance of poet Robert Browning, but she was always a literary power in her own right. And that is, in fact, one of the reasons their correspondence began--his admiration of her work.
  2. It might seem quaint now (or perhaps not, considering the rise of online dating and matchmaking), but their relationship began through the exchange of letters. (Volume 1 of their letters is available FREE for Kindle.) They corresponded for years before their relationship turned to marriage. And it's sort of wonderful to read their published letters, to see the admiration and respect and care they extend to each other as fellow writers and to see their acquaintance blossom and deepen through their writing. It's fairly clear that Robert Browning was enamored of Elizabeth Barrett to some degree from the beginning of their correspondence, and that's really just flat-out adorable, as is his clear desire to meet her and to be of assistance to her.
  3. Their eventual elopement is the heart of dramatic romance. Throughout her life, she suffered from poor health that kept her at home. This explains her reliance on letter-writing. In addition, her father forebade the Barrett children from marrying.  And so, the couple eloped to Italy in 1846. (See "Elizabeth Barrett Browning" at Poets.org for more information.)
  4. Elizabeth's Sonnets from the Portuguese, published in 1850, was written before their marriage and was functionally a tremendous declaration of love--in all its complexity and self-doubt and revelation--from Elizabeth to Robert (and "Portuguese" was his pet name for her). How swoon-worthy is that, especially when you read the actual poems?
  5. Even after their marriage, both of them continued to write poetry--and write well! I think it's fair to say that neither seemed to sacrifice their talents for the relationship. In fact, some critics think that Robert's poetry was all the better for Elizabeth's influence.
  6. Elizabeth was six years older than Robert.  (So, yes, older woman/younger man relationships did, in fact, exist in the Victorian era. *cough*) 

For more information on the Brownings, I highly recommend (in addition to the links above) the sections about them at The Victorian Web.  (This link takes you to the author directory.  Clicking on each of their names takes you to a plethora of information, including brief biographies, literary criticism, themes, bibliographies, literary relationships, etc.)

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