The Love Letters Of Elizabeth Barrett And Robert Browning, by Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning
Reading this book made me feel a bit sad, and I’m not sure that this was the response to the material that the editors were expecting. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were two Victorian poets who had an epic romance that was sparked by their writing letters. An epistolary romance seems like something that is characteristically Victorian, and what we find in this particular book are the letters that the two wrote to each other over the first six months of their acquaintance. As someone who has written more than my fair share of letters, I can confidently say that while something like this is what I have had in mind with my own exchanges of letters, the results in my own life of my writing letters to ladies has not gone off nearly as well as was the case here, and perhaps that has something to do with the sadness that I met upon reading these fascinating letters in which two people who begin as perfect strangers to each other who know each other only as fellow writers with a high degree of respect for each other’s poetry, within the course of six months of passionate letter writing, manage to fall deeply in love with each other out of a real regard for each other’s feelings and thinking and a mutual respect that is impressive to see and impossible not to want for oneself.
This book is about 200 pages long and it consists of the letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett between January 10, 1845 and June 27, 1845. At the beginning the two are strangers. Browning has just read some praise of one of his poems about pomegranates in a lengthy poem of Barrett’s that has just been published and he uses this as an opportunity to say that he loves Barrett’s poems and her too. This rather daring beginning when dealing with a perfect stranger continues as the two go back and forth about their education, their thoughts about a wide variety of matters–which are filled with words and thoughts about the Greek language and the classics and that demonstrate both to be very well educated people with definite opinions as well as a graciousness in dealing with the thoughts and views of the other. The two of them talk about the poor health that the east wind brings, and encourage each other as writers regarding their works, and have several abortive efforts of meeting each other before they finally do, referring as well to mutual friends and fellow writers of the time as the letters show them more and more emotionally attached to each other as the correspondence goes on.
What is most striking about this work is that it began with a message by Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett about a poem she had written and published that contained a positive reference to a poetic work of his own. And part of what makes this book so intriguing is that while it is easy to tell the growing intellectual and emotional intimacy between the two over the course of the letters, the level of awkwardness between the two is quite striking as well. A great deal of the drama of this particular relationship is in the way that both of the parties were rather shy about meeting each other for the first time, and this timidity in interpersonal relationships combined with a great deal of thoughtful and emotional writing is a striking realization that the awkwardness that many of us feel in interpersonal relationships when combined with whatever facility we possess as writers is something that is not merely quirky and personal but a somewhat frequent phenomenon. In fact, it may even be true that those who are the most awkward and timid and shy in their personal relations have a strong encouragement to develop their skill at writing given the way that writing is a less immediate and less overwhelming way of describing oneself and displaying oneself in a way that does not require the uncomfortable interactions with others that tend to make us feel somewhat reclusive.