Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
1806 - 1861
During her lifetime, Mrs. Browning was considered a better poet than
her husband, Robert Browning. Today, her life and personality excite
more interest than her work.
She is widely known for her treatment of social injustice in her poetry.
Her political and personal sympathies touch on such issues as slave and
child labour as well as the repression of women, earning her status as
an early feminist.
She is also well known for her highly individual gift for lyric poetry and
evidence of classical training in her works of poetry.
Although she lived most of her life as a reclusive invalid, she
established and maintained a popularity among critics and the public
that made it clear that “no female poet was held in higher esteem
among cultured readers in both the United States and England than
Elizabeth Barrett Browning during the nineteenth century.” (“Elizabeth
Barrett Browning”)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Brief History . . .
The oldest of twelve children, she is born into a wealthy family and
begins writing poetry as early as 8 years old. (“E. B. Browning – A
By the time she was ten, she had read the complete works of
Shakespeare, Pope and Milton and had studied the works of prominent
classical writers in their original languages. She had also read the
entire Old Testament in Hebrew.
In 1821, she injures her spine attempting to saddle her horse and
begins taking opium by prescription. She develops a lifelong habit.
Her mother dies in 1828 and not long after, due to financial loss, the
Barretts are forced to move to a more modest home, one of three
moves until the family finally settles at 50 Wimpole Street in London.
Elizabeth bursts a blood vessel in 1837, affecting her lungs. From this,
she develops a chronic cough and coupled with the injury to her spine,
Elizabeth suffers a long period of invalidism.
Corner – Elizabeth Barrett Browning”)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Brief History . . .
Although a prolific writer, her works draw no critical attention to speak
of until the publishing of The Seraphim and Other Poems. This marks
the beginning of her successful literary career as critics name her one
of England’s most gifted and original poets. (“Poet’s Corner”)
She begins corresponding with such prominent literary figures as
Wordsworth, Carlyle and Edgar Allan Poe.
In 1838, Browning moves to Torquay to improve her health. Here, she
is accompanied by family members, most often by her favorite brother
(“Bro”). During this time in Torquay, Elizabeth’s uncle dies and brings
her financial security.
“Bro” drowns in Babbacombe Bay off Torquay in 1840. This deeply
impacts Elizabeth and her grief and guilt is the subject of “De
Profundis”, published after her death.
(“Elizabeth Barrett Browning – A Chronology”)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Brief History . . .
Barrett Browning demonstrates a passion about such issues as slave
and child labour and the repression of women. These sentiments are
the driving force behind such poems as “The Cry of the Children”
(written in 1840) , which is favorably reviewed and very popular. This
poem helps to bring about the regulation of child labour.
Robert Browning begins writing to Elizabeth in praise of her poetry in
1845. He then visits her and writes a letter declaring his love the
following day.
Robert Browning begins writing to Elizabeth in praise of her poetry in
1845. He then visits her and writes a letter declaring his love the
following day.
Elizabeth begins work on a book of poetry called Sonnets from the
Portuguese titled after Robert Browning’s pet name for her, “my little
(“Elizabeth Barrett Browning – A Chronology”)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Brief History . . .
Despite her father having strictly forbidden marriage for any of his
children, Elizabeth and Robert elope in 1846 in London and then move
to Italy where she becomes involved with the cause of political unity.
Her father disinherits her.
Elizabeth’s health improves greatly and she has a son in 1849 – Robert
Weideman Barrett-Browning (“Pen”).
In 1850, she is mentioned in a literary journal as the leading candidate
to succeed Wordsworth as poet laureate.
In 1857, Elizabeth’s father dies and Aurora Leigh is published – “a novel
in verse.” It is met with much praise but also draws attacks for “its
sympathetic treatment of a woman as independent, an artist, and an
unmarried mother.” (“E. B. B. – A Chronology”)
Her health declines in 1860 and she dies the following year in Florence
where she is buried.
(“Elizabeth Barrett Browning – A Chronology”)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Brief History . . .
“De Profundis” is published posthumously in Last Poems in 1862.
Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf credit Elizabeth Barrett
Browning with giving a voice to female poets. Dickinson says
that her work is deeply affected and informed by Barrett
Browning’s sensibilities. (Everett & Isaacs).
“One thing is certain, however, her
immortality is assured – she stands
already crowned. As long as one human
heart throbs for another she will be held
in high esteem.” (Smith).
What’s LOVE got to do with it??
With a partner consider these questions and jot down some answers
for discussion:
We all know that people fall in love and out of love, but how does it
work while you're in it?
What kinds of love are there, and how and when do they happen?
What if you love someone in many different, conflicting ways? Talk
about some examples with your partner.
These are eternal human questions, and they're the questions
Barrett Browning asks – and tries to answer – in her sonnet – “How
do I Love Thee? Let me Count the Ways.”
“How do I Love Thee? Let me Count the Ways”
Sonnet XLIII from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Read “How do I Love Thee?” and write a three-sentence summary
of the sentiment it conveys.
How would the poem be different if the opening line was "Why do
I love thee?"
How many ways of loving does the speaker identify? Do these
ways of loving overlap, conflict, or complement one another?
Why do you think "How do I love thee?" is such a popular love
poem? What features of the sonnet might make it more accessible
or universal than other love poetry?
How would the poem affect readers differently if the beloved was
referred to as "you" instead of as "thee"? What if the beloved was
given a first name – Romeo, Robert, etc.?
Sonnet 43
a) Make a list of at least four poetic devices Barrett Browning
employs in this poem.
b) For each, provide a brief explanation of what the device
contributes to the poem as a whole. It could, for example, inform
the poem’s structure, theme, or imagery.
Identify three features of this poem that give it a place in the
Victorian age. Explain your ideas.
What theme is communicated in this poem? In what tone is this
theme conveyed? Support your answers with evidence from the
Sonnet 43:
Consider This . . .
E. B. Browning is probably best known for this sincere and unabashed
delineation of her love for Robert Browning, for whom the entire book
of poetry was penned.
In this poem, Browning uses imagery that portrays love as ethereal, a
spiritual experience.
Conversely, she describes her subject (love) as three dimensional,
making her experience of love concrete, rather than abstract.
In her marriage of the concrete and abstract in this poem, Browning
effectively conveys love as something that transcends tangible
experience (a decidedly Romantic expression of sentiment) but that can
also be “known” (certainly palatable for the Victorian leaning toward
rationalism). In this, she demonstrates a blending of Romantic and
Victorian sensibilities, placing herself on the cusp of the two eras.
How Do I Love Thee?
This is a wonderfully written poem
describing with great passion her love for
her significant other.
01. How do I love thee? Let me count the
The number of ways she loves are
numerous. She would need to count them.
02 I love thee to the depth and
breath and height
Her love is three dimensional and
therefore real, in the sense that all real
physical things in the universe are three
dimensional. Breadth is width, a
measurement of how far across her love
is. Height and depth represent how far
down (deep) and how far up (high) her
love is, in relation to her position in the
03. My soul can reach, when feeling out of
These measurements, though physical are
also spiritual, as they pertain to her soul,
which is body and spirit infused.
04. For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
This physical and spiritual measurement is
of her soul and the very essence of her
being to the ends of her existence.. Ideal
Grace is capitalized and probably refers to
God, and His most perfect gift–Salvation,
and the opportunity to experience eternal
love and bliss in His presence. She likens
her love for her husband to that love of
05. I love thee to the level of every day’s
06. Most quiet need, by sun and
Her love is on the same level as our most
basic needs–air, water, food, shelter,
kinship and love–that need our attention
day and night.
07. I love thee freely, as men strive for
She loves him of her own free will, and
not out of obligation. This is the kind of
love that is freely given without any
coercion by guilt or force or the threat of
force. Men strive for Right freely, for it is
necessary to their happiness.
08. I love thee purely, as they
turn from Praise.
Modesty turns from praise because it
needs it not. She loves him for the sake of
love itself, and not to receive any praise.
09. I love with a passion put to use
10. In my old griefs, and with my
childhood’s faith.
Passion put to use in her old griefs, is
passion that hurts, that reminds one
through pain that she is still alive. The
same passion exists in the faith of a child,
who believes without doubt because of a
lack of life experience that would go
contrary to it.
11. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
12. With my lost saints,
She loves him with the intensity one feels
love during their innocence of youth,
which she lost with her innocence, and
feels it again for him.
13. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!
She loves him with the breath of her life,
with the happiness and sadness of her life.
 – and, if God choose,
14. I shall but love thee better after
Her love for him will not end at the grave,
but, God willing, will continue on eternally
“A Man’s Requirements”
Read “A Man’s Requirements” and, with a partner, chart the
similarities and differences between this and the previous poem,
“How do I Love Thee?”
Do YOU see the Difference??
Now, take another look at your chart and be specific about these
comparisons and contrasts between the two poems. To do so,
consider the following elements:
Which poem sends a stronger message? Defend your answer.
E. B. Browning was criticized for writing against the ”subjugation of
women to the dominating male” (Everett & Isaacs) in an era that held
unwavering views of the role of women in society. With reference to
this social climate and to the poem, demonstrate how “A Man’s
Requirements” is a reaction to Victorian sensibilities.
Works Cited
“Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
2008. 21 Jul 2009.
“Elizabeth Barrett Browning – A Chronology.” The Victorian Web. 21 Jul
Everett, Glenn and Isaacs, Jason. “The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”
The Victorian Web. 2002. 22 Jul 2009.
“Poet’s Corner – Elizabeth Barrett Browning” 22 Jul 2009
Smith, George Barnett. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning.” The Victorian Web.
2005. 22 Jul 2009.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning