Elizabeth Barrett Browning Essay, Research Paper
The Life and Times of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
During the early nineteenth century, feminists were first coming out into the political forefront. Among them, Elizabeth Barrett Browning emerged as one the greatest woman writers of all time. She wrote of social reform, for the rights of lower classes and women, and for the cause of Italian freedom (Chew 1403). While many aspects and circumstances of life affected her work, she was also able to effect society in many ways.
Elizabeth Barrett was born on March 6, 1806 in Durham, England. Her first published work was The Battle of Marathon, which she wrote at the age of only 12. It was an epic of sorts consisting of 4 books (Untermeyer 798). When she was only 15 years old she injured her spine and was confined to her London house on Wimpole Street (Untermeyer 798). She remained confined in her room for six years and during that time she kept bust by writing poetry and letters. Between her fathers refusal to allow any of his children to marry and her beloved brother s tragic death from drowning she became a recluse.
She remained a recluse until she was almost 40. On May 20, 1845 she allowed Robert Browning to visit her after a protracted correspondence (Untermeyer 798). They then courted under the eyes of her jealous, tyrannical father until the eloped on September 12, 1846 (132). They than moved to Italy where they lived one of the most celebrated happy romances of all time.
Due to her poor health, she was weak physically. Hawthorne described her as being a pale, small person scarcely embodied at all (Benet s 132). Her ethereality of physical appearance is reflected by the palpitation fervor and the unworldly tenderness and purity of her work (Benet s 132).
She wrote of many themes, most of which were dictated by her broad humanitarian interests (Benet s 132). She showed this in her poems such as The Cry of the Children, which she wrote on the behalf of social reform. At this time the middle class in England were growing rapidly, and such issues appealed immensely to society. She also wrote for the rights of the lower classes and the rights of women in the poem Aurora Leigh. Through her poems she was able to become politically involved, if not in voice. She also wrote of art and religion. This was one of the many ways she was able to effect society.
During the time period, which Elizabeth wrote in, the feminist movement first began. She was caught up into the movement and through her poems she was able to speak out on the issue. Society affected her in that it provided her a issue to write about in a timely fashion.
Due to the way she was brought up by her overbearing father it is felt that it helped to shape her view on the issue of women s rights. Growing up with a father who controlled and completely dominated over her life, she wanted to speak out for women s rights. She felt that women deserved to have equal rights to men and have a say in both politics and society in general.
Though many of her poems were political, she is most known for Sonnets from the Portuguese. Made up of 44 sonnets, she declared her love for Robert Browning. They are the finest love poems in our language (Anderson and Hicks 299). She wrote them during their courtship, but did not show him until they were married. They were titled thus because Robert called her the little Portuguese because of her dark complexion.
The type of sonnet that Elizabeth wrote in was called the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet. The Italian form is distinguished by its bipartite division into the octave and sestet (The Sonnet). Charles Gayley notes: the octave bears the burden; a doubt, a problem, a reflection, a query a cry of indignation or desire, a vision of the ideal. The sestet eases the load, resolves the problem or doubt, answers the query, solaces the yearning, realizes the vision (The Sonnet). In Elizabeth s sonnet XLIII, the octave is a query: How do I love thee? In the sestet it answers the question with: I love thee with the passion put to use I love thee with a love I seemed to lose.
Of the 44 sonnets, this one has become the most known sonnet. It shows her obvious love, sincerity, passion and devotion to Robert. It is a beautiful sonnet that has been anthologized many times.
While many aspects and circumstances of life affected her work, she was also able to effect society in many ways. She spoke out for such topics as religion, art, social reform, and political events and women s rights. Though as important as they above topics were, the Sonnets from the Portuguese remains the most remembered.