Elizabeth Barrett Browning Biography

(English poet of the Victorian era, best known for her 'Sonnets From the Portuguese' and 'Aurora Leigh.)

Birthday: March 6, 1806 (Pisces)

Born In: Kelloe, Durham, England

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet of the Victorian era who was a key figure in the Romantic Movement. She is best remembered for her love poems and feminist works. Born into a wealthy family, she had a privileged childhood and access to good education. Developing an interest in literary pursuits early on, she began composing verses as a child. After suffering from a serious injury when she was a teenager, she sought comfort in writing poems while confined to her bed. She became a prolific writer while recuperating from her health issues and was slowly beginning to gain fame for her poignant pieces of poetry and prose. Intrigued by her poems, a young poet named Robert Browning began a correspondence with her, and the two began a relationship that culminated in marriage. Her health improved considerably after her marriage and so did her career. Both Elizabeth and Robert went on to build successful writing careers and earned much respect in literary circles. She was deeply spiritual and interested in theological debate. In her later years, she developed a fascination for Italian politics and wrote numerous political poems. She was famous in both England and the United States at the time of her death.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In March

Died At Age: 55


Spouse/Ex-: Robert Browning (m. 1846–1861)

father: Edward Barrett Moulton

mother: Mary Graham-Clarke

siblings: Alfred Barrett, Arabella Barrett, Charles John Barrett, Edward Barrett, George Barrett, Henrietta Barrett, Henry Barrett, Mary Barrett, Octavius Barrett, Samuel Barrett, Septimus Barrett

children: Robert Wiedermann Barrett Browning

Born Country: England

Quotes By Elizabeth Barrett Browning Poets

Died on: June 29, 1861

place of death: Florence, Italy

More Facts

education: At Home

Childhood & Early Life

Elizabeth Barrett was born on 6 March 1806, in County Durham, England, to Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett and Mary Graham Clarke. She was the couple’s eldest daughter. She had three sisters and eight brothers, one of who died as a child.

Her father had extensive sugar plantations in Jamaica while her mother owned several plantations in the British West Indies. The family was a wealthy one and young Elizabeth received a privileged upbringing.

As a little girl, she and her siblings had an idyllic life. She rode her pony, went on picnics, socialized with others her age, and participated in home theatrical productions. Her childhood was a very happy one, by all accounts.

She was tutored by teacher Daniel McSwiney at home. She was a studious child with an innate love for literature. She was already reading novels by the time she was six, according to her own accounts. She began writing her own poems as well. Her parents gathered her poems and got them published to encourage their daughter.

As a teenager, she had an accident while riding her pony and suffered serious injuries. She had frail health and experienced numerous medical complications. She began to take opiates and morphine to manage her pain and became dependent on these substances for much of her adult life.

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Literary Career

Elizabeth Barrett Browning anonymously published a poetry collection called An Essay on Mind and Other Poems in 1826. The ensuing years were tumultuous for the Barrett family, and she could not devote much time to writing.

In 1833, while living in a rented cottage in a coastal town after her family suffered business losses, Elizabeth published her translated version of Prometheus Bound by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus.

She began receiving attention for her poems in the 1830s and contributed several pieces to numerous periodicals. In 1838, she published her poetry collection The Seraphim and Other Poems under her own name.

She was extremely prolific as a poet in the early 1840s. She also wrote prose and undertook translation works. Her poem The Cry of the Children (1842) shed light on the brutal practice of child labor and helped to bring about some much-needed reforms.

In 1844, she published what would become one of her best-known works: the two-volume collection Poems. The volumes included the poems A Vision of Poets, A Drama of Exile, and Lady Geraldine's Courtship. The publication of this collection made her famous across England and the United States.

She published a collection of 44 love sonnets in the form of a volume titled Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1850. The poems were personal in nature and became very popular.

In 1856, her most ambitious work, the verse-novel Aurora Leigh was published. It tells the story of a woman writer and how she balances her work and personal life. 

Thoughts On Slavery

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was vehemently opposed to slavery even though her own father was a slave owner. She called for the abolition of slavery and wrote two poems to support the cause: The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point and A Curse for a Nation.

Her anti-slavery stance created a rift between her and her father but she was unperturbed. She expressed her relief when the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in the British Parliament.

Major Works

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s best-known work is the poetry collection Poems, first published in 1844. Besides bringing her great success, the collection also brought her into contact with her future husband.

Her poem collection Sonnets from the Portuguese, published in 1850, is another one of her most acclaimed works. She published this collection of 44 love sonnets at the urging of her husband.

Family & Personal Life

Elizabeth Barrett received a letter from a fellow poet called Robert Browning shortly after the publication of Poems. The two started corresponding and soon fell in love. They conducted their courtship in secrecy as they knew Elizabeth’s father wouldn’t approve of the relationship.

The couple had a secret wedding in 1846, and as expected, Elizabeth’s father disowned her. Their marriage was one based on mutual love and respect. Both Elizabeth and Robert supported each other’s careers. They had one son.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's health started deteriorating in 1860. She grew increasingly weaker in the ensuing months and died on 29 June 1861, with her husband by her side.

Her last work, A Musical Instrument, was published posthumously.

See the events in life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Chronological Order

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