Who Is Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Early life

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806 in Durham, England. She was a remarkable writer and poet and her work was widely read and respected. From an early age, Elizabeth had a love of literature and expressed herself in writing. At the age of 15, she had already started writing poems and her first book was published when she was 20. Her father was keen to control and monitor Elizabeth’s reading, and he tried to limit her access to books that he thought were too dangerous. As a result, she looked to her surroundings, including nature, for inspiration. From the age of 15, Elizabeth developed a mysterious illness that was to affect her for the rest of her life and was thought to be associated with her poor physical health.

Influence and Inspiration

The influence of her mother, Mary Moulton Barrett, was particularly strong on Elizabeth’s writing. Mary was a strong independent woman, who refused to be dictated to by her husband, and was a model of female emancipation to her daughter. This was further evident in the poetry she wrote, where she touched on themes such as freedom, love, feminism and societal injustice. In addition, Elise’s travels to Greece and Italy had a profound effect on her work, in particular her poem “The Seraphim”, which was set in Greece. Her love of Italy was well known, and she wrote Sonnets from the Portuguese inspired by romantic penitential sonnets of her beloved husband.

Writing Style

Elizabeth’s writing style has been described as comfortable, humorous, and always fresh and lucid. Her language is often allegorical and her command of metre is strong. She employs many traditional forms of verse such as sonnets, odes and letters. Her most celebrated works were the series of 43 sonnets about love, collectively known as ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’. The collection of her work, which was published in 1850, was called Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and in this collection of writings she articulates themes of love, relationships and its performance in the conventional social setting. Her handling of themes such as femininity, the patriarchal system, and female emancipation make her a strong feminist poet.

Relationship and Marriage

In 1845, Elizabeth Barrett began to correspond with the celebrated poet Robert Browning. Despite the disapproval of both their families, they married in 1846, much to the delight of their friends and admirers. After their marriage they moved to Italy, where Elizabeth continued to write and isolated herself from most of the public. In 1849, the couple’s son, Robert Barrett Browning, was born and, a year later, their daughter, Penelope. Spending their lives together in Italy increased Elizabeth’s admiration for Italy and its culture.


The influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning on British poetry is immense. She was acclaimed for her work in her lifetime and her popularity has only grown since her death in 1861. Her poem Aurora Leigh, published in 1856, is particularly significant as it helped transform the discourse of the period concerning female rights, sex, and the moral responsibility of women. Her sonnets, especially ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ are some of the most famous works of the nineteenth century. Her works have been translated into many languages and her poetry is still read and analysed today, an enduring testament to her literary genius and passion for social justice.

Poetry and Political Engagement

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had an increasingly strong political orientation and social conscience that was typical of the period, particularly with regard to the cause of Italian independence and progressive views on rights for women. Her poem Casa Guidi Windows is particularly explicit in its critique of the political and social conditions in Italy at the time. In her work she seeks to challenge conventions, plead for social improvement and empower women. Her contribution to the liberation of women and her advocacy for women’s rights was remarkable and powerful.

Spirituality and Faith

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a deeply spiritual person and her faith in Christianity was one of the main aspects of her life. Her dedication to prayer and faith is demonstrated in Sonnets from the Portuguese, where she voices her belief in a higher purpose. She was known to be a comforter to her friends, leading prayer meetings and consulting her bible for guidance. Her views about the relationship between men and God were more progressive than some of her contemporaries and she spoke out against war and political injustice.

Philosophy and Innovation

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a pioneer in the use of language in her work and was willing to break away from the conventions of English poetry and which had been established for centuries. Her use of metaphors and comparisons helped make her verse more vivid and colourful. For example, in her poem “The Cry of the Children” she used the metaphor of a mother bird to represent both the vulnerability and strength of women in oppressive societies. This innovative approach to language is part of what makes her writing so powerful and compelling.

Awards and Recognition

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was highly regarded in her time and was widely praised for her work. She was one of the first women to achieve literary success and was honoured with many awards and distinctions. In 1842, she was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Newdigate Prize and in 1844, her translation of Iphigenia in Tauris won the Chancellor’s Medal at the University of Oxford. She was also awarded honorary degrees from several universities, making her one of the first women to receive such honours.

Contribution to Literature

Elizabeth Barrett Browning made a huge contribution to the English literary canon. Her work has been influential for many future generations of female poets. She was an example of a woman who was unashamed of her own femininity and embraced her creativity as an opportunity to explore complex questions of faith, love, feminism, power and freedom. By combining her own political engagement with her poetic skill, Elizabeth Barrett Browning created a truly unique and lasting literary legacy that continues to inspire and captivate readers today.

Artistic Imagination

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work is testament to her extraordinary imagination. Many of her works express the joys and sorrows of the human experience and her understanding of the complexities of our emotions. To fully appreciate her work, it’s important to consider how she relates to other forms of storytelling, such as romance and visionary poetry. Her poem “The Cry of the Children” is considered a masterpiece, demonstrating her ability to draw from multiple sources of inspiration to create a unique and engaging story.

Fame and Legacy

Elizabeth is regarded as one of the greatest female writers of the 19th century and her work remains highly influential to this day. Her poem Aurora Leigh is often considered to be an early feminist work and her poetry often touched on themes such as love and relationships. She is remembered as one of the greatest writers of her time and her legacy continues to shape the literary world, allowing contemporary writers to explore the complexities of human emotions, faith, love and feminism.

Critical Reception

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was widely respected by her readers and her work was published to huge acclaim. Contemporary critics praised her work for its lyrical prose, its passion and its powerful themes, with many of her admirers pointing to the modernity of her writing. For many years, she was the most significant female writer in England and her reputation has only grown since her death in 1861.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most significant female poets of the 19th century and her work continues to inspire and enthral readers. Her work was distinguished by its lyrical and highly emotive language, its innovative approach to storytelling and its

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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