Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Guide to the Year's Work).
As Lewis points out, 239 letters were written to Arabella by the Brownings after they left England in September 1846; most of these are from EBB (17 were solely by Browning) and were written, on average, every three weeks, with some interruptions, up to her death on June 29, 1861 (1:xxxviii). While EBB wrote more letters to Mary Mitford--"around 500 in all, of which 497 are extant" (p. 12)--they are less intimate in many respects, if more exclusively literary in their subject matter. And while EBB also wrote frequently to her other sister, Henrietta, after the latter's marriage on April 6, 1850 she told Arabella, "I shall henceforth write rather the oftener to you, Arabel, because she has more to amuse her now" (1:325). As Lewis notes, "After Henrietta's marriage there are 90 extant letters from EBB to her compared with 174 to Arabella" (1:327). The Brownings did not "entirely agree" on the issue of whether letters should be published or not, and Browning was "especially anxious that the letters to Arabella b e suppressed" (1:xxxv). "At this distance in time," however, as Lewis suggests, "there is no question of the benefit to be derived from printing the text in full" (1:xxxix). Scholars will surely agree.
What makes the correspondence with Arabella especially valuable is that it simultaneously reflects both the private and public facets of EBB's life--both the woman and the writer--given the close familial bond between the two sisters, and Arabella's evident cultivation, intelligence, and interest in both literary and public affairs. It was to Arabella that EBB most frankly confessed her hopes, pain, and increasing bitterness concerning her father's response to her marriage. Not until 1856, ten years after the event, did she state that she had "come to have no hope" of a reconciliation with him (2:204), although even then the news of his death in April of 1857 "without a word, without a sign" struck her hard: "Its like slamming a door on me as he went out" (2:298). It was also to Arabella that EBB turned in relation to literary matters such as attending to the proofs of her 1850 Poems. References to such matters run through the correspondence. Among much else, it includes allusions to the Brownings' plans to p roduce a collaborative work on Italy; detailed accounts of the experiences that led to Casa Guidi Windows; playful raillery concerning the confusion engendered by the Sonnets from the Portuguese and an explanation of the circumstances surrounding their composition (1:368); and many references to the composition, intent, and reception of Aurora Leigh and of Poems Before Congress.
Lewis cites one of EBB's reflections on her own letters--"never surely were such rambling letters as mine,..treating of Heaven, earth, & the kitchen, in paragraphs mixed together!" --and aptly observes that it "identifies the three main topics" in the correspondence with Arabella: "religious and spiritual issues ('heaven'); political and social issues ('earth'); and personal and family issues ('kitchen')" (1:xxix). To EBB's "kitchen," one might want to add "bedroom," "bank," and "nursery" in order to convey the range of personal details in these letters. Descriptions of Pen as a baby, toddler, and precocious child are of course recurrent. It is clear that after his birth Pen rapidly eclipsed poor Flush, who receives fewer and fewer mentions in the later letters--in contrast to earlier letters regularly detailing the spaniel's exploits and propensities, like his habit of "walking straight up to the High Altar" in Italian churches and "performing his devotions thereat, which is scarcely orthodox" (1:124).
There are also many references to EBB's health, including accounts of her pregnancies and successive miscarriages sometimes censored by Arabella, either through the deletion of passages (which Lewis generally is able to reconstruct), or the cutting away of entire pages. The fourth and last miscarriage was clearly very perilous. "Dr. Harding means to set to with all force of his will to prevent its happening again," EBB wrote to Arabella in August 1850, "because four times in less than four years, to say nothing of Wiedeman, is exhausting to the constitution. And then, they are not common accidents" (1:337). The implications of Dr. Harding's decree remain unknown, since as Lewis' note indicates, "Two or more pages are missing at this point."
There is no equivalent censoring of EBB's detailed discussions of finances, including the Brownings' fluctuating income (dipping perilously low when dividends from EBB'S investments in the ship David Lyon fell dramatically), comparative analyses of prices and costs for food and accommodation in England versus Italy, discussion of wages for servants, and costs for clothing. EBB frequently emphasized the fact that she and Robert could "live perfectly" in Florence on "some hundred & sixty or seventy" pounds a year or thereabouts (1:319). Quite apart from their biographical interest, the specificity of her financial details makes the correspondence an important resource for material historians. It was not just the "cheapness," however, but also the "continental liberty of life" that EBB loved in Italy and France (1:329), together with the immersion in dramatic public events. "We are living the most vivid life possible," she said of their time in Paris amidst the controversies and violence associated with Louis Na poleon's coup d'etat in December 1851 (1:434).
As previously published correspondence from this period in her life indicates, the political upheavals generated quarrels between the Brownings over Louis Napoleon, as did the controversies over the spiritualist movement. These quarrels are frankly described in the letters to Arabella. Nevertheless, as repeated passages over many years make clear, EBB continued to find great happiness in her marriage. "After all, Arabel, Robert & I get on very well together, considering, don't you think?" she comments on April 12, 1853. "We are actually in the seventh year of marriage, and he pretends to love me better than at first-and, what is extraordinary, I believe it, Arabel" (1:566).
Like EBB's letters to other correspondents, those to Arabella teem with references to writers, artists, and public figures of many kinds. The various descriptions of her meetings with George Sand in these letters are of particular interest, indicating how much she was trespassing against respectability in calling upon the famous novelist, and also her disgust at the double standard that led to condemnation of Sand for her dubious private life, while everyone talked of "Lamartine's virtue," despite rumors of his relations with a young opera dancer (1:480).
Throughout Lewis provides invaluable documentation, drawing on the expertise acquired through his work as co-editor with Philip Kelley of Volumes 9 to 14 of The Brownings' Correspondence. Relatively few persons and events referred to in the correspondence go unidentified, no matter how obscure. Frequently, as well, his notes include alternative accounts of particular events or gatherings, underscoring the variations in human perception that inevitably occur. For example, in the often-cited description of the Brownings' visit to Vaucluse, EBB writes to Arabella of how she alarmed Robert because "without a word I made my way over the boiling water to a still rock in the middle of it." As Anna Jameson's niece, Geraldine Macpherson, recalled this event thirty years later, however, "Mr. Browning took his wife up in his arms, and, carrying her across the shallow curling waters, seated her on a rock" (1:16, 21).
Among its useful appendices, Lewis' edition includes a full reproduction of the "carte-de-visite" album in which EBB kept her collection of "portraits of all the public men mixed up with the Italian question," now at Wellesley College Library (2:567). Reflecting the passionate interest that she took in the struggle for Italian liberty towards the end of her life, the album contains 51 likenesses--a number of them of patriots and politicians whom EBB knew personally, including Carlo Matteucci, a member of the Tuscan delegation to Louis Napoleon; the poet and patriot Francesco Dall'Ongaro, and Niccolo Tommaseo, the Italian lawyer and poet who composed the lines placed on Casa Guidi in her memory.
Among other studies of biographical interest, Piergiacomo Petrioli's "The Brownings and Their Sienese Circle" (SBHC 24 : 78-109) supplements the deeper knowledge of EBB's continental years provided by Lewis' edition of the letters to Arabella. Petrioli's well-documented article (with one hundred and twenty-one footnotes) treats the "community of Italian, English and American artists and intellectuals" that gathered in the countryside of Siena, where the Brownings spent the hottest period of the year in 1850, 1859, and 1860. In particular, it provides detailed accounts of the Sienese art appreciated by the Brownings, and their gatherings in 1859-60 with the American sculptor, William Wetmore Story, Isa Blagden, Walter Savage Landor, visitors such as Edward BurneJones, Enrico Nencioni (the first to review the Brownings in Italy's most important literary magazine), the politician Matteucci, and the poet-patriot, Dall'Ongaro--whose works, according to Petriolo, "deeply influenced" Poems Before Congress (p. 93).
While it would be very interesting to know the impressions that prominent Italian figures such as Matteucci or Dall'Ongaro formed of EBB, Martin Garrett's anthology of excerpts from letters, diaries, and essays, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning: Interviews and Recollections (2002), covers more familiar ground in gathering together descriptions and recollections of the two poets by American and English contemporaries, interspersing these with brief excerpts from the Brownings' own writings. Here we find a number of frequently cited accounts of EBB (Nathaniel Hawthorne's, Anne Thackeray Ritchie's, the gushing words of Kate Field) as well as some less well known (Frances Power Cobbe's). Read in conjunction, they suggest how much even the poet's physical appearance changed according to the beholder. According to William Wetmore Story, her eyes were "small" (p. 59); for Eliza Ogilvy they were the "large, soft, pleading eyes" of "a King Charles spaniel" (p. 63); for the child Henriette Corkran Mrs. Br owning's "large, dark eyes" were "like seas of light, and full of soul" (p. 67).
In critical studies of EBB's works, Casa Guidi Windows continues to attract stimulating new readings. Helen Groth's "A Different Look--Visual Technologies and the Making of History in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Casa Guidi Windows (Textual Practice, 14 : 31-52) argues that EBB fully participated in the "'Daguoerrotypomania'" of her age, associating the new medium as many of her contemporaries did with the mystical powers of mesmerism, as well as with the power of poetry to arrest time. Analysing the "dioramic sequence of impressions" and the camera obscura metaphors of Casa Guidi Windows, Groth finds a "fascination with the phenomenology of sensory mediation" (p. 34) and a sustained "destabilization of the authority of the eye" (p. 36). These effects reflect EBB's "self-conscious use of optical tropes to dramatize the psychological and political crisis she was experiencing" and the "increasingly democratized conception of vision as fractured, embodied and contingent" typical of the period (p. 36). Grot h contends that Casa Guidi Windows thus shows how the "new ways of understanding vision" in the nineteenth century tracked by Jonathan Crary were more "cross-grained than his compelling cultural analysis allows" (p. 39). Part of a larger project exploring the "fascination and the fear" that "new visual technologies" elicited from Victorian poets (p. 35), this article presents an illuminating new interpretation of Casa Guidi Windows as a work that "assimilates the visual" in order to privilege the "poetic text above all cultural forms" (p. 49). In the "Introduction" to his edition of EBB's letters to Arabella, Lewis argues that "the poetic language" in EBB's epistolary accounts of Tuscany is "in many ways more evocative" than that in Casa Guidi Windows itself, since "many of the limitations resulting from her high-minded calling as a poet are not imposed on the prose of her letters" (I:xxx-xxxi). Groth's analysis suggests to the contrary that transformations effected between the letters and the poem may reflec t artistic manipulations that are more than "high-minded."
In arguing that Casa Guidi Windows is a "highly visual rendering" of the division between "an abstract public self--the Italian citizen of the future--and the inchoate private desires of a self struggling to realize this civic ideal" (p. 36), Groth touches on issues of central concern to Richard Cronin in Chapter 5, "Civilizing Romanticism," of Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840 (2002). Exploring changing concepts of citizenship and civic society in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, Cronin argues that "it was Barrett Browning, a woman, who, more vigorously than any of the major Victorian poets," most effectively addressed a "sense of civic responsibility" (p. 180). In Casa Guidi Windows, she resolves the conflict between the individual and the body politic by redefining "citizenship not as a state but as a process" (p. 184). Male Victorian poets "use irony to dramatize their alienation from the social group, but Barrett Browning is interested in working out her relationship with the group. Hence th e oddity that she, a disenfranchised woman, unlike her male contemporaries, finds an idiom that makes possible the writing of directly political poetry" (p. 185). Exploring textual affiliations linking Casa Guidi Windows to Madame de Stael's Corinne, ou l'Italie, Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and Browning's Sordello, Cronin concludes that, "unlike Aurora Leigh, it remains a civic poem, because it acknowledges the importance of . . . political as well as moral reformation" (p. 192). Given Cronin's welcome focus on the interface between the Romantic and Victorian periods, one might have expected his wide-ranging study to include some mention of EBB as well in its chapter on "Feminizing Romanticism," treating Felicia Hemans, Letitia Landon, and other writers between 1826 and 1840. Certainly she was an important figure in this period which has too often been treated as "a lacuna," to use Cronin's apt terms, between the "lumbering reifications" of "Romanticism" and "Victorianism" (pp. 2-4). However, he passe s over EBB'S earlier works, with the exception of a passing treatment of "The Dead Pan" in his chapter on "Christening Romanticism" (p. 214).
Fortunately, this omission is counteracted to some degree by John Woolford's "The Romantic Brownings" (SBHC 24 : 7-30), which opens with a focus on 1833 and the volumes published in that year, EBB's Prometheus Bound . . . and Miscellaneous Poems among them. Although Browning receives the lion's share of Woolford's attention in this subtle exploration of the logic, psychic economy, and rhetoric of the sublime, he includes consideration of works written at three different phases in EBB's career--the 1833 poem "A Sea-Side Meditation," the 1845-46 sonnet, "Mountaineer and Poet," and Aurora Leigh. Woolford's claim that Elizabeth Barrett did not overtly challenge the Romantic sublime before her critique of Wordsworth in "Mountaineer and Poet" is called in question by earlier criticism suggesting that she developed strategies for domesticating the masculine tropes of the Burkean sublime in her works of the 1830s. His argument that in Aurora Leigh EBB made the beautiful "a mode of power equivalent to, and somet imes merged with, the male sublime" (p. 22) is more compelling, despite conjunctions of biology and textuality that some might see as essentialist. She modifies the sublime, he suggests, "by investing her aesthetic in the values of the organic," an achievement that Woolford relates to her "status as a woman, and a mother" - that is, as an "organic being" whose experience of "social objectification" enables her to "enter the textual condition without self-loss" (pp. 22-24). The argument is provocative because it runs counter in some respects to the theories of feminist critics such as Margaret Homans in her classic study of Women Writers and Poetic Identity (1980). Woolford turns to EBB's much discussed metaphors of breasts and suckling in Aurora Leigh to support this argument, although without engaging with previous readings that see these metaphors as rhetorically rather than biologically generated.
The third recent study that takes up EBB's relations with Romanticism, Amy Billone's "'In Silence Like to Death': Elizabeth Barrett's Sonnet Turn" (VP 39 : 533-550), is also concerned with Victorian modifications of the sublime. Focusing on the poet's turn to the sonnet form after the devastating grief caused by the death of her brother Edward in 1840, Billone adeptly argues that rather than "adopting Wordsworth's revisionary sonnet poetics," EBB developed "a competing model that reevaluated the Wordsworthian sublime" (p. 534). Billone's analysis of the "brave self-inscriptive gesture" whereby EBB incorporated her own initials in the second line of "On a Portrait of Wordsworth by B. R. Haydon" ("Wordsworth upon Helvellyn! Let the cloud / Ebb audibly along the mountain-wind") is less original than she assumes, given that an earlier essay by Woolford makes exactly this point, although her analysis of the sonnet is insightful nevertheless. She does break new ground in her persuasive reading of the powerful "Grief' as a sonnet that "clearly reworks Wordsworth's "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" (p. 541). Whereas "Wordsworth's sonnets incarnate the mind in contemplation of its own absence," Barrett's "incarnate pure absence itself," Billone concludes (p. 543). The argument applies well to "Grief," and perhaps also to "Irreparableness"--which Billone reads, less convincingly, as a "counter-part" to Wordsworth's "September, 1815." However, her broader claim that in EBB's "1844 sonnets, there is no turn outward and upward, no nature at all, no mind, no divine," only the "folding and re-folding of poetry over itselP' (p. 543) begs many questions, given the numerous avowedly religious sonnets in the 1844 Poems and their reception by Victorian readers.
Christine Kenyon Jones' "'Some World's-Wonder in Chapel or Crypt': Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Disability" (NCS 16 : 21-35) is in part concerned with the poet's engagement with her Romantic precursors Wordsworth and Byron as types of the "healthy" and "diseased" writer (p. 28). However, her article includes a great deal more. This is the first study to bring the theoretical contexts of contemporary disability studies to a consideration of EBB's life, works, and poetic identity. In her multifaceted analysis Kenyon Jones considers the courtship correspondence, showing how it can be "read as deconstructing Barrett's identity as a disabled person and as developing a new, practically nondisabled, persona." She also explores "how the conjunction of woman and poet" was inflected for Victorian readers "by the addition of invalid," and considers EBB's "extensive use of illness and disability--especially blindness--as themes and metaphors in her writing" (p. 22), giving particular attention to "A Vision of Poe ts" and Aurora Leigh. Kenyon Jones' analysis of biographical constructions of the poet's illness shows how difficult it is "to distinguish between physical, psychological, cultural, and metaphoric factors in the evidence of her condition" (p. 24). In the rapidly expanding interdisciplinary fields of "Literature and Medicine" and medical humanities, EBB still does not feature among the authors treated. One hopes that Kenyon Jones' article will help to change this state of affairs.
Like Kenyon Jones, Linda Shires reframes issues of poetic identity in conceptually stimulating ways in "Elizabeth Barrett Browning: CrossDwelling and the Reworking of Female Poetic Authority" (VLC 30 : 326-343). Exploring EBB's negotiation of female poetic identity "through a wide set of public discourses," including those associated with genre, professionalism, gender, and marketing (p. 326), Shires argues that she reworked female poetic authority through her "ability to live in incommensurate identities": an ability described as "cross-dwelling" in the theory of Charles Spinosa and Hubert Dreyfus (p. 331). As Shires observes, "The theoretical model of cross-dwelling works well with the semiotic model of authorship as a signifying system in culture which can be read like a language." "Barrettt Browning, who carefully studied fame, literary celebrity, and types of success, as if they were another language, like Greek or Hebrew, monitored and managed her career," but her reception history demonstrates th e difficulties of accommodating "cross-dwelling in contradictory social positions." In addition, "the intersection in one-person ... of competing models of intelligibility" helps to account "not only for a particular kind of fame and the decline of a reputation, but also for a reaccenting and reworking of a cultural position that could then be embodied differently by later women poets" (pp. 332-333). Shires opens with an incisive analysis of EBB's barbed exchange with Thackeray concerning his censoring of "Lord Walter's Wife," showing how the exchange and the poem reveal her capacity to "cross-dwell in a world of poetry as a social critic of traditional forms of domesticity" (p. 331) and in the private sphere as "Browning's wife and Peniny's mother," to use Thackeray's loaded terms (p. 329). She also considers the Victorian reception of "The Cry of the Children" and the "collisions of discourses and intertexts" contributing to the layered ironies of "The Romaunt of the Page" (p. 340). One of the most original aspects of Shires' work is her challenging of the linear, diachronic narratives so prevalent in recent feminist studies of EBB (Helen Cooper's, Dorothy Mermin's, Angela Leighton's, Deirdre David's, and my own). Noting that these narratives tend to turn on the extent to which EBB did or did not develop a female-centered poetics and that they remain "unintegrated" (p. 337), Shires emphasizes instead EBB's "co-dwelling in femininity and masculinity" and the "'many-sidedness"' that Christina Rossetti saluted in her (p. 341).
While Shires focuses on EBB's reworking of her poetic identity during her life, two other new articles address posthumous transformations in it, and the factors contributing to these. Samantha Matthews' "En-combing the Woman Poet: Tributes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning," in the same issue of SBHC (24 : 3 1-53) as the articles by Woolford and Petrioli cited above, addresses textual and monumental memorials to EBB. Arguing that the grave is an "anxious and troubled site for women poets" because of the ways in which it draws attention to the "concealed and concealing body" (p. 32), Matthews compares the deaths and burials of Hemans, Landon, and EBB--all of whom died and were buried in exile from their native land--and argues that tribute poems to EBB by "the succeeding generation of women poets" are surprisingly rare (perhaps a questionable conclusion in light of the poems saluting EBB included or noted in Angela Leighton's and Margaret Reynold's anthology, Victorian Women Poets). More persuasively, she ar gues that the otherwise very different tribute poems to EBB written by the "young male aspiring poets," James Thomson and Alfred Austin, are alike in focusing on her grave (p. 37). Matthews also offers a fascinating analysis of the monument to EBB in the Protestant Cemetery at Florence commissioned by Browning, and designed by Frederic Leighton, arguing that it may have alienated women who "sought to identify her as a significant precursor" by "continuing the conflation of text and body associated with the poetess" and assimilating her with a masculine tradition (pp. 33, 46). Despite Browning's well-meaning intent, the monument's raised sarcophagus contributed to the fetishizing of the body that he, like EBB, deplored, according to Matthews. Moreover, it may have encouraged the vandalism that led visitors to chip away bits of the tomb, literally seeking "a piece of the Barrett Browning legend" (p. 47). As Charles LaPorte suggests in "Sacred and Legendary Artists: Anna Jameson and Barrett Browning in the Hagio graphy of Pompilia" (VP 39 : 551-572), such fetishizing of EBB as, in Tricia Looten's words, a "lost saint," was also promoted by Browning's own use of "virgin-martyr" iconography and conventions drawn from Jameson's Sacred and Legendary Art in representing Pompilia and his dead wife in The Ring and the Book.
Shire's interest in female poetic identity and authority resonates as well with E. Warwick Slinn's "Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Problem of Female Agency," one of three essays on EBB in Tradition and the Poetics of Self in Nineteenth-Century Women's Poetry (2002), edited by Barbara Garlick (pp. 43-55). With his characteristic theoretical sophistication, Slinn critiques the somewhat simplistic ways in which "female agency" has been approached in EBB's works, taking particular issue with Sarah Brophy's analysis of "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" and "A Curse for a Nation" in the 1998 volume of VP. Brophy's arguments about the surrendering of agency to patriarchal authority figures in these two poems "presuppose the possibility of acting as 'an independent subject,'" whereas "post-humanist theories of subjectivity explain how it is not possible to be an independent subject free from the structuring matrices of cultural contexts." As Slinn astutely observes, "to claim that Barrett Browning's essentia lism produces speakers who are denied independence as female subjects simply reproduces a desire for a different kind of essentialism--the essentialism of an independent, separately constituted, female subject" (pp. 44-45). Contending that, within "the discursive practices of patriarchal constructions," EBB "produces a potent cultural critique," he shifts the focus from agency as "cultural theme" to agency embodied in "poetic enactment" (p. 45), then offers an analysis of the culturally performative dimensions of "A Curse for a Nation" and "Lord Walter's Wife." "Both of these poems . . . combine the act which they represent with the act of their utterance," through a "double action" characteristic of Victorian poetic forms such as the dramatic monologue. Slinn's analysis demonstrates how both works intertwine "personal subjectivity with political contexts," thereby dramatizing "the complexities and exigencies of political agency" (p. 46).
The other two essays on EBB in Barbara Garlick's collection both concern Aurora Leigh. In "'Be these his daughters?' Caroline Bowles Southey, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Disruption in a Patriarchal Poetics of Women's Autobiography" (pp. 1-22), Virginia Blain fruitfully questions EBB's often cited comment that she could find no literary "grandmothers." Suggesting that this involved acts of suppression as well as the ignorance created by culturally produced discontinuities in female literary traditions, Blain explores the relations between Caroline Bowles Southey's 3,000-line autobiographical poem, The Birth-day (1836) and Aurora Leigh. "Although the later poet had read the earlier one's work and indeed had urged its merits on her friend [Mary] Mitford, no connection between the poetic project of The Birth-day and her own Aurora Leigh was allowed by Barrett Browning, for reasons," Blain argues, that "were not wholly disinterested" (p. 5). These turn in part on EBB'S view of Caroline Bowles after her marriage to the Poet Laureate Robert Southey as a woman who had "usurped" his daughter's rightful place in his heart (p. 10), and on Bowles's own daughterly idolization of Southey, thirteen years her senior, in The Birth-day. Like some other feminist critics, Blain contends that Aurora Leigh is very much an autobiographical work engaged with the daughter's "seduction" of the father, in Jane Gallop's terms. Hence she concludes that Bowles's "glorification of the pleasures of perpetual daughterhood stirred the two-edged sword that was buried deep in [EBB's] own heart" (p. 21). As for Bowles, it seems that The Birth-day may not have proceeded beyond daughterhood, because she did not pen another line after Southey's limp praise of it as "very sweet" (p. 15)--a not surprising judgment from the man who notoriously rebuked Charlotte Bronte for believing that literature could possibly be the business of a woman's life.
The second essay on Aurora Leigh in Garlick's collection, Meg Tasker's "Aurora Leigh: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Novel Approach to the Woman Poet" (pp. 23-41), approaches the generic innovation of the poem through the lens of Bakhtin's theory of novelization. This essay would have benefited from a fuller consideration of existing criticism on Aurora Leigh. Tasker is not the first to apply Bakhtin's theory to the work's deliberate mixing of genres, and her essay does not allude to Margaret Reynold's sophisticated analysis of EBB's narrative experimentation in the critical introduction to her definitive Ohio edition of Aurora Leigh. (Tasker uses Kerry McSweeney's Oxford edition of the poem, not the Reynold's Ohio edition, or the Norton Critical Edition adapted from it.) However, this essay does include some interesting observations on differences between EBB's and Clough's generic experimentation, as well as one more reading of the controversial ending of EBB's novel-epic.
SueAnn Schatz's "Aurora Leigh as a Paradigm of Domestic-Professional Fiction" (PQ 5, no. 79 : 91-117) analyzes EBB's work in the context of fiction, not poetry, identifying it as "the most prominent, if not the first, example of nineteenth-century domestic-professional fiction" (p. 110). Schatz defines this subgenre as "possessing several distinctive attributes," including a protagonist or important character who is "a professional woman writer" with a domestic identity; emphasis on the "right to confront immediate political and moral issues"; and the promotion or "social change" (p. 91). One of the most interesting aspects of this essay is its analysis of the relations between Aurora Leigh and the 1854 version of Coventry Patmore's The Angel of the House, which, as Linda Hughes has shown, significantly differs from the 1886 revised edition most often reprinted and cited by scholars. Schatz's emphasis on EBB's presentation of a "'real-life' role model, a woman who can successfully combine the profession al and domestic spheres" (p. 94), also chimes with Shires' emphasis on her "cross-dwelling" negotiation of poetic identity. Her essay is part of a larger project that "examines the influence of Aurora Leigh on British women's domestic-professional fiction of the 1890s" (p. 116), an intriguing subject, and one that certainly invites more exploration than it has received.
This year's work includes my own essay, "Between Ethics and Anguish: Feminist Ethics, Feminist Aesthetics, and Representations of Infanticide in 'The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point' and Beloved," in Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries (2002), edited by Dorota Glowacka and Stephen Boos (pp. 131-158). The essay first illustrates the interlocking aesthetic and ethical regimes that writers have had to negotiate in portraying slave infanticide by considering the conflict between "ideal beauty" and a slave woman's "house of anguish" in EBB's sonnet, "Hiram Powers' Greek Slave," together with the controversies generated by the exhibition of Powers' statue in the nineteenth century. It then explores parallels between the representations of slave infanticide in "The Runaway Slave" and in Beloved, drawing on the converging paradigms of feminist aesthetics and feminist ethics, bodies of theory largely unrepresented in the 1999 PMLA special issue on "Ethics and Literary Study." Acknowledging the diff erences between the two works created by racial heritage, historical period, and generic traditions, the essay emphasizes the relative transgressiveness of "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" within the contexts of Victorian literary, medical, and sociological treatments of infanticide. I would like to point out one serious scholarly slip in this essay. It refers to an earlier title of "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" in manuscript as "Mad and Black at Pilgrim's Point" (p. 145). In fact, the title is "Black and Mad at Pilgrim's Point."
I have reserved for final mention Sandra M. Donaldson's "Versions of a Text: 'A Drama of Exile' as a Test Case for a New Edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Collected Poems" (PBSA 96 : 49-58) because this article looks forward to an important scholarly task facing EBB scholars. Donaldson notes the many inadequacies of two widely used editions of EBB's works: the annotated six-volume edition by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke, and the Cambridge edition in one volume edited by Harriet Waters Preston, "with only brief headnotes and no annotations other than those few by Barrett Browning herself" (p. 46). Other editions include one edited in 1897 by Frederic O. Kenyon, now out of print and available only in research libraries, and numerous Oxford editions, mainly issued as reprintings. Not only are works published by EBB omitted from these editions; the choice of copy text (when identified) is also problematic, Donaldson points out. She draws on a collation of editions of "A Drama of Exile" publish ed in EBB's lifetime and an analysis of popular reprintings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to illustrate some of the textual variants that need to be taken into account in scholarship on the poem: some introduced by the poet herself, like the new 28-line opening soliloquy by Lucifer that she added in preparing the 1853 edition of her Poems, others the result of editorial or printers' errors.
Donaldson begins her article by observing that "planning for a new edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems at last is underway" (p. 49). In fact, although the article does not mention it, Donaldson herself has initiated work on this task by assembling an international team of scholars. One can expect, therefore, in coming years to see much more attention to textual studies in EBB criticism. "How do you like the getting up of the book? and, do you observe the alterations?" EBB asked her "beloved Arabel" in 1850, referring to the new edition of her Poems. "The end of the Seraphim is all but new-written, observe" (1:361). Since the surviving printer's copy for her 1850 Poems clearly demonstrates how extensively EBB revised the texts of many of her poems at this time, and subsequent references in her correspondence with Arabella attest to the continuing interest she took in altering and correcting her poems for the 1853 and 1856 editions--including matters of punctuation--surely it is time for critics to "o bserve" what has gone largely unnoticed for a century and a half.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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