Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806 – June 29, 1861) was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.
At age 20 Elizabeth began to battle with a lifelong illness, which the medical science of the time was unable to diagnose. She began to take morphine for the pain and eventually became addicted to the drug. This illness caused her to be frail and weak. Her illness meant that Browning composed her poems primarily in her home.
Her 1844 Poems made her one of the most popular writers in the land at the time and inspired Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her poems. Kenyon arranged for Browning to meet Elizabeth in May 1845, and so began one of the most famous courtships in literature.
The courtship and marriage between Robert Browning and Elizabeth were carried out secretly. Six years his elder and an invalid, she could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Browning really loved her as much as he professed to, and her doubts are expressed in the Sonnets from the Portuguese, which she wrote over the next two years. Love conquered all, however, and after a private marriage at St. Marylebone Parish Church, Browning imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his beloved off to Italy in August 1846, which became her home almost continuously until her death. She was buried in the English Cemetery of Florence.
Elizabeth had produced a large amount of work and had been writing long before Robert Browning had ever published a word. However, he had a great influence on her writing, as did she on his.
American poet Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by Barrett Browning's poem Lady Geraldine's Courtship and specifically borrowed the poem's meter for his poem The Raven. Poe had reviewed Barrett's work in the January 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal and said that "her poetic inspiration is the highest—we can conceive of nothing more august. Her sense of Art is pure in itself." In return, she praised The Raven and Poe dedicated his 1845 collection The Raven and Other Poems to her, referring to her as "the noblest of her sex."
Her poetry greatly influenced Emily Dickinson, who admired her as a woman of achievement. Her popularity in the United States and Britain was further advanced by her stands against social injustice, including slavery in the United States, anti-government subversive movements in Italy, and child labour.
Throughout the majority of the 20th Century, literary criticism of Barrett Browning's poetry remained sparse until her poems were discovered by the Feminist movement. She described herself as being inclined to reject several women's rights principles, suggesting in letters to Mary Russell Mitford and her husband that she believed that there was an inferiority of intellect in women. However, feminist critics have used Deconstructionist theories of Jaques Derrida and others to explain the importance of Barrett Browning's voice to the feminist movement. Angela Leighton writes that because she participates in the literary world, where voice and diction are dominated by popular accession to perceived masculine superiority, she "is defined only in mysterious opposition to everything that distinguishes the male subject who writes..."