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Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Biography

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This biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, written with reference to Browning correspondence only recently available, argues that the poet was a strong and determined woman largely responsible for her own incarceration in Wimpole Street. The author traces her life from her early childhood and adolescence and explores her marriage. She draws a picture of early Victorian This biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, written with reference to Browning correspondence only recently available, argues that the poet was a strong and determined woman largely responsible for her own incarceration in Wimpole Street. The author traces her life from her early childhood and adolescence and explores her marriage. She draws a picture of early Victorian family life and aims to show that Elizabeth was a considerable and dedicated poet, self-willed, witty and courageous. Forster has also edited the companion volume "Selected Poems" of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and is author of several other biographies.


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This biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, written with reference to Browning correspondence only recently available, argues that the poet was a strong and determined woman largely responsible for her own incarceration in Wimpole Street. The author traces her life from her early childhood and adolescence and explores her marriage. She draws a picture of early Victorian This biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, written with reference to Browning correspondence only recently available, argues that the poet was a strong and determined woman largely responsible for her own incarceration in Wimpole Street. The author traces her life from her early childhood and adolescence and explores her marriage. She draws a picture of early Victorian family life and aims to show that Elizabeth was a considerable and dedicated poet, self-willed, witty and courageous. Forster has also edited the companion volume "Selected Poems" of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and is author of several other biographies.

30 review for Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    New information on the Barrett family (1989) in the Philip Kelley collection of Barrett/Browning letters. This biography presents a much fuller picture of Elizabeth Barrett Browning than was ever possible before, as it draws on hundreds of newly discovered letters and a diary written by the poet at age twenty-six. "Ba" was a remarkable women during the Victorian era. New information on the Barrett family (1989) in the Philip Kelley collection of Barrett/Browning letters. This biography presents a much fuller picture of Elizabeth Barrett Browning than was ever possible before, as it draws on hundreds of newly discovered letters and a diary written by the poet at age twenty-six. "Ba" was a remarkable women during the Victorian era.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Clarice Stasz

    This is a good model for any biographer. Forster reveals EBB in all her complexity. She debunks the story from the drama based upon EBB's father as an ogre stifling her life. She also reveals how EBB was complicit in her invalidism. The first section is based upon recently discovered letters and diaries. EBB was the eldest in a large family that isolated itself and as a result developed intense dependencies on one another. Family wealth came from Jamaican slave plantations. Her father was except This is a good model for any biographer. Forster reveals EBB in all her complexity. She debunks the story from the drama based upon EBB's father as an ogre stifling her life. She also reveals how EBB was complicit in her invalidism. The first section is based upon recently discovered letters and diaries. EBB was the eldest in a large family that isolated itself and as a result developed intense dependencies on one another. Family wealth came from Jamaican slave plantations. Her father was exceptional in his love and attendance upon his children and they reciprocated even more after their mother died. When loss of some income shifted them to London, all went and remained at home as adults. Even the sons were held enthralled by Mr B. She used her illnesses to gain special privileges and attention. She was not tubercular, as has often been said. It turns out Robert Browning was as naive, living with his parents into his 30s. Their meeting seems star struck. The second half explores their marriage, most of it lived in Europe. They had one child when she was in her mid forties. Forster examines EBBs stubborn, often irrational character. She accepted spiritualism, absurd political beliefs, and strange child rearing choices. Despite a steady thread of women's mistreatment in her writings, she was blind with regard to treatment of devoted servants. Forster does not attend much to the poetry itself. I wanted more with regard to her contributions--she was much admired by Dickinson, among others. But we don't learn why. This wasn't intended to be a literary biography, still it is too brief regarding poetic style and innovations. Robert is also not as fleshed out as I'd have liked. She seems to have dominated him, repeated her father's controlling manner, a mistaken expression of love. These quibbles aside, I highly recommend this enlightening and well written account. It deserves its best British biography honor.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    This was a very well-written and apparently well-researched biography. Unfortunately, as enjoyable as it was to read, I found myself less and less in sympathy with its subject. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was no doubt brilliant and talented, but she was also—judging by this biography at least—self-centered, hypocritical and wholly lacking in self-awareness. For instance, EBB "saw herself as a democrat, the supporter of the oppressed" but whenever she had a chance to demonstrate this commitment in This was a very well-written and apparently well-researched biography. Unfortunately, as enjoyable as it was to read, I found myself less and less in sympathy with its subject. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was no doubt brilliant and talented, but she was also—judging by this biography at least—self-centered, hypocritical and wholly lacking in self-awareness. For instance, EBB "saw herself as a democrat, the supporter of the oppressed" but whenever she had a chance to demonstrate this commitment in her own life, she failed to live up to her principles—refusing her maid a deserved increase in wages (after 10+ years of service at the same low wage) and forcing that same maid to choose between returning to Italy with the Brownings (and her husband) or stay in England with her newborn baby. Nowhere in Elizabeth's correspondence at the time did she express any compassion for [her maid's] agony. The mother who adored her own child and had been overwhelmed by the violence of maternal feeling, and the poet who was about to publish a poem full of the tenderness of women for children and a defence of the exploited working-class girl, both seemed untouched by her own maid's anguish.Equally unattractive was the way she insisted on raising her son—treating him as if he were a plaything, keeping him in velvet and curls long past the age it was acceptable, and refusing to discipline him (or let anyone else do so). He must have been an insufferable brat. No doubt hers and Robert's was a great love story, but it was hard sometimes not to think that his devotion deserved a more worthy object.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Barrett comes across as something of a neurotic. In her early life she had some reason to need protection, as a result of her health and such, but she seems to have got to the point of self-imposed exile within her own room, until Browning came along. Even after that she's a curious mix of intelligence and oddity, writing in her poems in one voice, while behaving in real life in another. Forster's biography, however, is a marvellous book covering immense detail (the Brownings wrote innumerable l Barrett comes across as something of a neurotic. In her early life she had some reason to need protection, as a result of her health and such, but she seems to have got to the point of self-imposed exile within her own room, until Browning came along. Even after that she's a curious mix of intelligence and oddity, writing in her poems in one voice, while behaving in real life in another. Forster's biography, however, is a marvellous book covering immense detail (the Brownings wrote innumerable letters that are still available, plus diaries and other notes) and gives as complete a picture of the woman as is possible. I can't say I came out of the book liking her very much; there were a number of things she didn't do well (hardly unusual for any person) and while her poetry obviously made a big impact at times, and some of it has continued to do so, it's not easy to separate it from its Victorian background. I can't say that the book has made me more desirous to read her poetry. I think perhaps it's the other 'characters' in the book who make it so interesting. Browning himself is a bit of a curiosity, and their son, 'Pen' though much indulged by his mother eventually as an adult redeemed any failings he might have had. Wilson, the longstanding personal maid, was a strong-minded young woman who managed to survive her years with the Brownings in spite of their poor treatment of her overall, and the various brothers and sisters are all well-drawn in the book. Certainly this is an exemplary biography.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I loved this book. Margaret Forster's stated purpose in writing this biography was to bring more attention to EBB, and her voice is so charming and empathetic, that she more than achieves her goal. I came to this book more out of curiosity, but I then fell in love with EBB and RB and their eternal love for each other and could not put the book down. EBB was a complex being: brilliant, flawed in some ways and pure in others, and her unusual life and the impact on her poetry is brought alive in th I loved this book. Margaret Forster's stated purpose in writing this biography was to bring more attention to EBB, and her voice is so charming and empathetic, that she more than achieves her goal. I came to this book more out of curiosity, but I then fell in love with EBB and RB and their eternal love for each other and could not put the book down. EBB was a complex being: brilliant, flawed in some ways and pure in others, and her unusual life and the impact on her poetry is brought alive in these pages. Forster was fortunate in having a treasure trove of primary sources in the form of copious letters that had come to light since previous biographies. The book reflects her research but never in a tiresome way. I am now beginning to read EBBs poetry, and will read her diary and some letters as well.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Inara

    A great read. Interesting how Barrett Browning went on and on about how unfair life was for women, and then treated her loyal servant, Wilson, like garbage, forcing her to choose between her husband and her child. What a hypocrite she was. But no one remembers that, only her great poetry.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karey Lucas-Hughes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I love the way Margaret Forster explores character and history and looks at previous accounts of people’s lives and reevaluates. This was a fascinating story from start to finish. However, the problem with biographies is that you always feel sad at the end. You have got to know the character of the subject so well, shared their triumphs and disappointments and then you have to witness their decline. I felt thrilled by EBB’s escape to Italy and the joy she found in married life and motherhood (th I love the way Margaret Forster explores character and history and looks at previous accounts of people’s lives and reevaluates. This was a fascinating story from start to finish. However, the problem with biographies is that you always feel sad at the end. You have got to know the character of the subject so well, shared their triumphs and disappointments and then you have to witness their decline. I felt thrilled by EBB’s escape to Italy and the joy she found in married life and motherhood (though she got a lot of help!). Yet she also paid a huge price separated from her family for many years and some good friends. Also terrible that she was never forgiven by her father.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    She was an interesting person and she and Robert Browning were a great love story. It was a long read, but not difficult. The history of what was happening in Italy and England at the time was fascinating.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    Margaret Forster writes a solid and engaging biography. If you are at all interested in the life of the Barrett-Brownings, I recommend it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    A true love story. Started late and ended sadly early, but a pleasure to read about the melding of these two hearts and minds. Probably the greatest love I’ve ever read about.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I read a biography of EBB some time ago that was quite good and I'm hoping this is the one, being that I have forgotten the author (a big no-no). I found it historically interesting in the sense that it showed how women writers were considered in Victorian times. What I dis covered though was that, in spite of her courage, in spite of her aim for the highest quality of writing, I found EBB cloying and spoiled. Perhaps she was a victim of her illness and how it was treated at the time, but she ju I read a biography of EBB some time ago that was quite good and I'm hoping this is the one, being that I have forgotten the author (a big no-no). I found it historically interesting in the sense that it showed how women writers were considered in Victorian times. What I dis covered though was that, in spite of her courage, in spite of her aim for the highest quality of writing, I found EBB cloying and spoiled. Perhaps she was a victim of her illness and how it was treated at the time, but she just simply annoyed me. There you have it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Vicki

    I really enjoyed this book. I loved the relationship between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. I learned much. This story was told from the view point of Wilson the maid who worked for Elizabeth over 16 years. Their relationship was very close and loving. If you want to travel with the Browning as the elope or to their home in Italy, this is the book for you.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tessa

    This was a very comprehensive biography of Elizabeth and she did not come out as a very nice person. She was very like her father autocratic, selfish and did not treat her servants very well. She may have been a great poet but she was extremely manipulative. This book explodes the myth of Barretts of Wimpole Street.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Fareeda

    Really a 2.5. I'm realizing that most biographies have waaaay to many details, that sometimes appear to be repetitive. I can say that Elizabeth Barrett browning appeared to be very hypocritical with her thoughts/works and her actions, particularly towards her maid, Wilson and her sister Arabel. Really a 2.5. I'm realizing that most biographies have waaaay to many details, that sometimes appear to be repetitive. I can say that Elizabeth Barrett browning appeared to be very hypocritical with her thoughts/works and her actions, particularly towards her maid, Wilson and her sister Arabel.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elli

    An extraordinary story about an extraordinary poet. Her birth family was rather bizarre. The way she later married and raised her child was definitely non-conventional. Interesting but you feel rather detached reading it - too difficult for the modern reader to relate to her circumstances.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adrian McNamara

    I really loved this. A sweet, fantastic, wild and true love story of real life! So good!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Judith Colson

    Good read for a biography. This is the book to read if you want to know about her amazing life and death as a poet mother and wife

  18. 4 out of 5

    93bcn

    My review here My review here

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    One of the first modern critical biographies of EBB to appear in the late 80s. Good stuff.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John MacMillan

    I love a true romance, and this one reads as love in the most companionable, devoted and spiritual sense. Her death is the stuff of legend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

    Wonderful ,she also wrote "Lady's Maid ",a great link to the Biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning even though it is fiction Wonderful ,she also wrote "Lady's Maid ",a great link to the Biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning even though it is fiction

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bianca

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mrs Olga A Danes-Volkov

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  25. 4 out of 5

    sue lawson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Yasmine

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  28. 5 out of 5

    sue Grifith

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dervla Cunningham

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