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Love and the Brownings: Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning


As we study literature, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning appear as one of most romantic literary couple from the Victorian period. After reading her poems for the first time, Robert wrote to her: "I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett--I do, as I say, love these verses with all my heart."

With that first meeting of hearts and minds, a love affair would blossom between the two. Elizabeth told Mrs. Martin that she was "getting deeper and deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet and mystic; and we are growing to be the truest of friends." During the 20 months of their courtship, the couple exchanged nearly 600 letters. But what is love without obstacles and hardships? As Frederic Kenyon writes, "Mr. Browning knew that he was asking to be allowed to take charge of an invalid's life—believed indeed that she was even worse than was really the case, and that she was hopelessly incapacitated from ever standing on her feet—-but was sure enough of his love to regard that as no obstacle."

The Bonds of Marriage

Their subsequent marriage was a secret matter, taking place on September 12, 1846, at Marylebone Church. Most of her family members eventually accepted the match, but her father disowned her, would not open her letters, and refused to see her. Elizabeth stood by her husband, and she credited him for saving her life. She wrote to Mrs. Martin: "I admire such qualities as he has—-fortitude, integrity. I loved him for his courage in adverse circumstances which were yet felt by him more literally than I could feel them. Always he has had the greatest power over my heart, because I am of those weak women who reverence strong men."

Out of their courtship and those early days of marriage came an outpouring of poetic expression. Elizabeth finally gave her little packet of sonnets to her husband, who could not keep them to himself. "I dared not," he said, "reserve to myself the finest sonnets written in any language since Shakespeare's." The collection finally appeared in 1850 as "Sonnets from the Portuguese." Kenyon writes, "With the single exception of Rossetti, no modern English poet has written of love with such genius, such beauty, and such sincerity, as the two who gave the most beautiful example of it in their own lives."

The Brownings lived in Italy for the next 15 years of their lives, until Elizabeth died in Robert's arms on June 29, 1861. It was while they were living there in Italy that they both wrote some of their most memorable poems.

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