English poet

Early Life

Elizabeth was born in England to a wealthy family that had obtained their wealth through plantations owned in Jamaica.

She was the eldest of 12 children.

Elizabeth struggled with undiagnosed illness throughout her life, with intense head and spinal pain and lung issues.

It could have been from a riding accident, tuberculosis, or a genetic disorder.

From an early age she took opiates for the pain, which may have contributed to her frail health,

but also to her vivid imagination which inspired her poetry.

Because of her frailty, she was excused from many domestic duties at home

and she had the time to become self-educated and very well-read.

She spent most of her life in her room, secluded from the rest of the world,

although she did have visitors.


Elizabeth began writing verses at age 4.

As she got older, her family and their acquaintances published her poems

and she became well-known in both England and the United States. 

Inspired by her 1844 volume of “Poems” the poet Robert Browning wrote to her:  

“I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,”

praising their “fresh strange music, the affluent language,

the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought.”

Courtship and Marriage

A family friend arranged for them to meet in her rooms.

They began a secret courtship, as she knew her tyrannical and fanatically religious father would disapprove.

In May 1845, with her faithful maid, Elizabeth Wilson, and her golden cocker spaniel, Flush,

she slipped out of the London home on Wimpole street

and married Robert Browning in a private ceremony at St. Marylebone Parish Church.  

She was 40; he was 6 years younger.

They spent time in Paris and then moved to Italy,

where she lived most of the rest of her life.

Mr. Barrett disinherited Elizabeth, as he did each of his children who married.

had some money from her grandmother, so the Brownings, well respected and somewhat famous,

lived a good life in Italy.

Sarah talks about this in her discussion with Bayard Taylor

Casa Guidi

They lived in an apartment in Florence near the Pitti Palace, called Casa Guidi.

Their only child, Robert Barrett Browning (known as Pen) was born there in 1849.

Here Elizabeth, an adoring wife and doting mother, wrote her letters and poetry.

Sonnets from the Portuguese

“Sonnets from the Portuguese”, a collection of 44 love sonnets

written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning,  was first published in 1850.  

Because they are so personal, Elizabeth was hesitant to publish the poems,

but her husband Robert Browning thought they were

“the best sequence of English-language sonnets since Shakespeare’s time”.  

Since Robert Browning called Elizabeth his little “Portuguese” due to her dark complexion

and her admiration for the famous Portuguese poet Camoes,

they thought the title “Sonnets from the Portuguese” might make them less personal.

No one seemed to be fooled by the title.

The most famous of these are Numbers 33 and 43.

Number 33
Sarah refers to the personal nature of Elizabeth Barrett Brownings work
Number 43

Casa Guidi Windows

Elizabeth felt strongly about Italy’s struggle for political autonomy from Austria

and quest for unification, known as the Risorgimento.

She published the first part of “Casa Guidi Windows” in 1851 about the hopeful early events.

This refers to her eye-witness view of history from the windows of her Casa Guidi apartment.

The Unification was to be a long and painful process, however,

and she wrote the second part three years later.

Unification did not finally occur until 1861.

This is the work Sarah is reading while on the Sea Serpent

Later Years

Elizabeth Barrett Browning also felt strongly about other causes,

such as women’s rights and anti-slavery.

Her Aurora Leigh, (1856) was extremely popular.

Based on her own experiences,

it tells the story of a female writer making her way in life, balancing work and love.

She was an inspiration to many social activists, such as Susan B. Anthony,

as well as other poets and writers, such as Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe.

Elizabeth died in Robert’s arms in June 1861.


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