Still unequal after all this time
Sally Minogue reflects on Elizabeth Gaskell and Elizabeth Barrett Browning ...
"An ignorance of means may minister to greatness, but an ignorance of aims make it impossible to be great at all."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, born 6 March 1806, was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both Britain and the United States during her lifetime.
Born in County Durham, the eldest of 12 children, Browning was educated at home. At 15 Browning became ill, suffering from intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life, rendering her frail. She took laudanum for the pain, which may have led to a lifelong addiction and contributed to her weak health.
In the 1830s Barrett's cousin John Kenyon introduced her to prominent literary figures of the day such as William Wordsworth, Mary Russell Mitford, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Thomas Carlyle, which influenced her greatly.
A few years later, she contracted a disease, possibly tuberculosis, which continued to weaken her further. However, she still continued with her writing as well as other aspects of her life that she felt passionately about, such as her role in the campaign to abolish slavery. Her commitment to the cause eventually helped to bring about reform to child labour legislation in the UK.
Interestingly, her prolific output made her a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for poet laureate upon the death of Wordsworth.
Browning's volume Poems (1844) brought her great success. During this time she met and corresponded with the writer Robert Browning, who admired her work. The courtship and marriage between the two were carried out in secret, for fear of her father's disapproval. Following the wedding she was disinherited by her father and rejected by her brothers. The couple moved to Italy in 1846, where she would live for the rest of her life. They had one son, Robert Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Towards the end of her life, her lung function worsened, and she died in Florence in 1861. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband shortly after her death.
TITLES BY ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING