Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Tuesday, March 26, 1996
An early feminist, the first woman to be seriously considered for the post of Poet Laureate, a poet not afraid to tackle the difficult subjects of poverty, prostitution and rape in her work, and a passionate supporter of Italian unity, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a radical figure. Yet for too many she simply remains 'the invalid of Wimpole Street' and the victim of of a repressive Victorian father. Barbara Dennis's much-needed study provides a new and illuminating perspective on Barrett Browning, focusing on her crucial early years at Hope End, near Ledbury. Drawing on previously neglected material from Barrett Browning's diaries and her unpublished notebook of 1822-1824, Dennis reveals an active and inquisitive young woman, delighting in exploring the Herefordshire countryside and often critical of authority.
A precocious poet, Elizabeth published her first poem, The Battle of Marathon, at fourteen; her second poem, An Essay on Mind, brought her critical recognition, and friendships that were to remain important to her throughout the rest of her life, including that with Hugh Boyd, for whom she developed an intense infatuation. But Elizabeth's life at Hope End was not only one of books: we learn of her love for her family, especially her brother Bro, whose tragic early death made it too painful for her ever to return to Hope End after the family's move to London, and her early happy relationship with her father, who affectionately dubbed her 'the Poet Laureate of Hope End' and encouraged her ambition.
Offering new insights to scholars of Barrett Browning, this book is a very readable account of a young woman growing up in early nineteenth century society, who successfully challenged the strictures of the times to become a phenomenally popular poet as well as a wife and mother.