Elizabeth Barrett Browning broke many conventions for her time and traversed a path that had nothing to do with already recognized styles.
Elizabeth Barrett was valued for her experimental ways and was even considered for the title of Poet Laureate, which previously belonged to William Wordsworth. She debuted as a poet in 1820 with a narrative poem, A Battle of Marathon. The subject itself of the poem was a very bold choice and Barrett mentioned in its preface that a recital on this subject ought to infuse patriotism in readers.
“The heart, which cannot be fired by such a recital, must be cold as the icy waters of the pole, and must be devoid at once of manly feeling and of patriotic virtue”
Where The Battle of Marathon had already set the tone for her experimental voyage, she surprised readers with her use of ballad form, for which she found inspiration in the works of her predecessors Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Browning used the ballad form to highlight the subordination of women in her time. Not just that, published in 1844, ‘The Cry of the Children’ pinpoints the subject of child labor, another evil in the society for which she had the sensitivity.
For ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’, Browning chose a black woman as her narrator. The woman had fled to escape brutality and had to part from her peer slave whom she loved. This way, Browning emphasized the issue of African Slavery. On having written about these issues, her condemnation was inevitable. However, that did not prevent her from choosing political issues as her subjects of work.
In praise of The Cry of the Children and some other poems Edgar Allan Poe wrote:
“We doubt whether one exists, with more profound – with more enthusiastic reverence and admiration of her genius, than the writer of these words”
In her time, women writers were received with a misogynistic attitude because writing was considered an occupation only for men. Naturally, Elizabeth Barrett Browning had to attack this ideology and she did so through Aurora Leigh, an epic poem written in blank verse. It is a tale of the coming of age of the protagonist named Aurora Leigh. Browning infuses her feminist ideals into the central character as she rejects her love interest in order to become a poet. Although she ultimately gives in to the subjection of the conventional role of people, by then the poetess has already foregrounded the idea that she attempts to endorse through her work.
Before her marriage to Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett wrote Sonnets from the Portuguese. It eventually became her critically acclaimed work. She believed that imagination has to be worked wonderfully to conjure up great work and so she followed imagination to create impactful works of social and political significance.
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Written By: Ashmita Khandelwal
Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma
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