- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Material under review for 2008 includes Volume 16 of The Brownings' Correspondence; Laura Fish's Strange Music, a novel treating the Barrett family's slave-holding history from a postcolonial perspective; six essays in a special issue of the Victorian Review on "Elizabeth Barrett Browning: History, Politics and Culture"; plus twenty additional book chapters and articles. Tww readings of Aurora Leigh as epic join studies of it in relation to literary fandom, Romantic influences, women's work, Roman Catholicism, and its American reception. Two articles publish and discuss ms poems by EBB relating to Italy, Casa Guidi Windows, and Aurora Leigh. Analyses of EBB's sonnets, especially though not only Sonnets from the Portuguese, underscore her contributions to a genre now receiving considerable attention. "The Cry of the Children" figures here as the pivot of an important exchange on critical approaches in the journal Victorian Studies; "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" (the catalyst for Fish's novel) and "Mother and Poet" also continue to attract attention. Additional topics include EBB's engagement with nineteenth-century historiography; the 1851 Great Exhibition; her representations of blindness and disability; her proto-modernist treatment of elegy and the American modernist poet Amy Lowell's (mis)construction of her as a fore-sister; her disappearance from early twentieth-century teaching anthologies; and, once again, that most literary of dogs, Flush.
The Brownings' Correspondence: Volume 16
Since The Brownings' Correspondence is the single most important resource for those working on EBB, I begin with the latest volume from Wedgestone Press (2007), impeccably edited by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan. Covering the eventful period from September 1849 to January 1851, the letters here concern, among much else, EBB's work on her collected Poems (1850), as she rewrote "pages upon pages" of earlier poems (p. 200), especially those in The Seraphim, and Other Poems (1838). Appendix III to Volume 16 includes the many English and American reviews that greeted her 1850 collection. This volume also reflects the discussion following Wordsworth's [End Page 310] death in April 1850, concerning EBB as a potential nominee to replace him as Poet Laureate; her relationship with the American transcendentalist author Margaret Fuller; and her response to the questions greeting Sonnets from the Portuguese—especially the "'blind'" of its title (p. 263). Threaded through the volume are the references to her contemporaries that make EBB's correspondence such an index of the times; in this case, the authors discussed include Tennyson, Arnold, Clough, Carlyle, Charlotte Brontë, Dickens, Gaskell, and Poe. Other topics include the Great Exhibition, dismissed by some in England as "Prince Albert's 'folly'" (p. 226); the "Puseyite movement" and consequent "Tractarian & Roman hierarchies" or "'Papal aggression'" in England in 1850 (pp. 213, 236, 268); prostitution in England and on the continent (p. 212); and the pirated American edition of EBB's poems published in 1850 by C.S. Francis, which left her very "provoked" for its damage both in terms of "money & reputation" (p. 263).
Many letters in Volume 16 are previously unpublished either in whole or in part, among them a number to Isa Blagden, who was to become one of the Brownings' most intimate friends. There are "198 extant letters from EBB to Isa, mostly unpublished" (p. 276) we learn in Appendix I (pp. 273-284), an extended "Biographical Sketch" incorporating a good deal of original scholarship about the intriguing Isa with her colonial background and her multiple Victorian literary connections. There are also previously unpublished letters to Margaret Fuller, to the critic Henry Fothergill Chorley (letters written both by EBB and by RB), and to the minor poet Thomas Westwood, among others. A newly published letter to Mary Louisa Boyle, written in December 1850, is of special interest in describing the Brownings' experience of "revolution and counter-revolution" in Tuscany and their response to Tennyson's In Memoriam ("how beautiful!—how full of pathos, and subtle feeling & thought! Worth two 'Princesses,'" EBB exclaimed), to Carlyle's Latter-Day Pamphlets ("powerful and characteristic"), and to "seventeen numbers of David Copperfield," which the Brownings "both set down or rather set up as Dickens's masterpiece" (p. 38...