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Analysis:             Poet's Biography

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era, known for her scholarly education and her rich, intellectual poetry that tackled a range of themes from love and feminism to politics and social injustice.

Literary Background

Elizabeth was born on March 6, 1806, in Durham, England, into a wealthy family that owned sugar plantations in Jamaica. She was educated at home, but had access to her family’s extensive library, and her early literary endeavors were encouraged. Her father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, amassed a large library of books, and Elizabeth was immersed in classic and modern texts from a young age, which profoundly shaped her literary sensibilities.

Early Influences

Browning's early works were largely influenced by the Romantic poets she avidly read, including John Milton, William Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her first collection of poems, "An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems," was published in 1826 and showcased her knowledge of Greek and Roman classics, as well as her interest in contemporary political and philosophical questions.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's work is associated with the Romantic movement, although she predates the Victorian poets. She carried forward the Romantic legacy of exploring the individual's experiences and emotions while being on the cusp of the Victorian era, characterized by strict moral codes and social expectations.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes

Over time, Browning's poetic oeuvre showed a transition from the classicism and didacticism of her early works to the intense personalism and spiritualism of her later poetry. One of her most famous works, "Sonnets from the Portuguese," published in 1850, is a sequence of 44 love sonnets written during her courtship with her future husband, poet Robert Browning. These poems are widely considered some of the greatest love poems in the English language, notable for their emotional intensity and technical mastery.

In contrast, another significant work, "Aurora Leigh" (1856), is a novel in verse form that examines the role of women in society and the conflict between art and social reality, a testament to her ever-present concern with the social issues of her time.

Influence and Honors

Browning's influence extended far beyond her lifetime, with her work impacting the suffrage movement and inspiring other women poets and writers. Her exploration of her identity as a woman and a poet has made her a feminist icon in literary history. She received widespread acclaim during her life and was one of the candidates considered for the position of Poet Laureate after William Wordsworth's death.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning's legacy is that of a poet who could combine deep personal feeling with broader social and political themes. Her poetry moved the heart with its exploration of love and loss, but also engaged the mind with its treatment of issues such as the abolition of slavery, the oppression of the Italians by the Austrians, and the role of women in the 19th century. Browning's passionate and intellectual approach to poetry, her advocacy for the underprivileged, and her pioneering role as a female voice in a male-dominated society make her a pivotal figure in the canon of English literature.

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