Thursday, September 12, 2013

Poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning eloped - 1846

On September 12, 1846, Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browning. By this time, Barrett was already a respected poet who had published literary criticism and Greek translations in addition to poetry. Her first volume of poetry, The Seraphim and Other Poems, appeared in 1838, followed by Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (1844). Born in 1806 near Durham, England, at her father's mansion, she enjoyed wealth and position, but suffered from numerous health problems and tended to be reclusive in her youth. She became even more withdrawn after the death of her beloved brother in 1840. However, her poetry was well received.
Meanwhile, Robert Browning, the son of a bank clerk, who had studied at the University of London was harshly criticized for his poetry. While trying his hand at drama, he discovered the dramatic monologue, which he adapted to his own poetry in Dramatic Lyrics (1842). While most critics rejected the work, Elizabeth Barrett defended it. Browning wrote to thank her for her praise and asked to meet her. She hesitated at first but finally relented, and the couple quickly fell in love. Barrett's father disliked Browning, whom he viewed as an unreliable fortune hunter, so most of their courtship was conducted in secret. On September 12, 1846, while her family was away, Barrett snuck out of the family home and met Browning at St. Marylebone Parish Church, where they were married. She returned home for a week, keeping the marriage a secret, then fled with Browning to Italy. She never saw her father again. The Browning’s lived happily in Italy for 15 years. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's weak health improved dramatically, and the couple had a son in 1849. She published her best-known work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, in 1850. The sonnets chronicled the couple's courtship and marriage. In 1857, her blank-verse novel Aurora Leigh became a bestseller, despite being rejected by critics. During her lifetime, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's reputation as a poet overshadowed that of her spouse, who was sometimes referred to as "Mrs. Browning's husband," but his work later gained recognition by critics. Elizabeth died in her husband's arms in 1861. He returned to England with their son, where he became an avid socialite. In 1868, he published The Ring and the Book, a 12-volume poem about a real 17th-century murder trial in Rome. Browning died in 1889.

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Literary Legends of the British Isles. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

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