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Passions in PoetryElizabeth Barrett Browning
1806 - 1861

An English poet widely read by her contemporaries, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born the eldest of eleven children in Coxhoe Hall near Durham. The family moved to Hope End in Herefordshire in 1809 where Elizabeth spent her childhood. An avid reader, she was educated at home where her father gave her access to his classical library. Her first volume of poems was privately published when she was 14.

She suffered from ill health for most of her life. Her mother died in 1828 and her father was forced to sell Hope End in 1832 during the Abolition movement with the result that the family moved to London. Ten years later Elizabeth was more or less an invalid, but used her confinement to write Poems (1844) which was celebrated by all and which led to her introduction by letter to the poet Robert Browning. She also became a good friend of Miss Mitford at this time. On 12 September 1846 she clandestinely married Browning, and moved immediately to Italy. They settled in Florence, in Casa Guidi where in 1849 she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning.

Her health improved greatly during her years in Italy, allowing her to travel throughout Europe. By the time of the publication of Aurora Leigh, a poem dealing with the restrictions imposed on women by Victorian society, she was firmly established as a poet of distinction. In fact, most of her work expresses her concern for the liberal causes of her day, including the cause of Italian nationalism. The Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) altered the conventions of the love sonnet by the use of a tone of playful humour. In the last years of her life she was influenced by the popular interest in spiritualism. The Poems Before Congress (1860), although written in her final years when her health was deteriorating, are said to contain some of her most forceful and beautiful lyrics.

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