The Life of Elizabeth Browning Barrett

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Elizabeth Browning Barrett
Some of Barrett's family had lived in Jamaica for several centuries. The main wealth of Barrett's household derived from Edward Barrett (1734–1798), landowner of 10,000 acres (40 km2) in Cinnamon Hill, Cornwall, Cambridge, and Oxford estates in northern Jamaica. Barrett Browning's maternal grandfather owned sugar plantations, mills, glassworks and ships that traded between Jamaica and Newcastle. Biographer Julia Markus states that the poet ‘believed that she had African blood through her grandfather Charles Moulton’. There is no evidence to suggest her line of the Barrett family had any African ancestry, although other branches did, through the children of plantation owners and slaves. What the family believed to be their genealogy over several hundred years in the West Indies, is unclear. The family wished to hand down their name as well as their wealth, stipulating that Barrett should be held as a surname. In some cases inheritance was given on the prerequisite that the name Barrett had to be used by the beneficiary. Given the strong tradition, Elizabeth used 'Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett' on legal documents and before she was married often signed herself as 'Elizabeth Barrett Barrett', or ‘EBB’ (initials she was able to keep after her wedding). Elizabeth's father chose to raise his family in England while his fortune grew in Jamaica. The Graham Clarke family wealth, also derived in part from slave labour, was also considerable. Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was born on 6 March 1806, in Coxhoe Hall, between the villages of Coxhoe and Kelloe in County Durham, England. Her parents were Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett and Mary Graham Clarke; Elizabeth was the eldest of their 12 children (eight boys and four girls). All the children lived to adulthood except for one girl, who died at the age of three when Elizabeth was eight. The children in her family all had nicknames: Elizabeth's was "Ba". Elizabeth was baptized in 1809 at Kelloe Parish Church, though she had already been baptized by a family friend in the first week after she was born. Later that year, after the fifth child, Henrietta, was born, their father bought Hope End, a 500-acre (2.0 km2) estate near the Malvern Hills in Ledbury, Herefordshire, where Elizabeth spent her childhood. Her time at Hope End would inspire her in later life to write Aurora Leigh. She was educated at home and attended lessons with her brothers' tutor. During the Hope End period, she was an intensely studious, precocious child. She writes that at six she was reading novels, at eight she was entranced by Pope's translations of Homer, studying Greek at ten and writing her own Homeric epic The Battle of Marathon. Her mother compiled early efforts of the child's poetry into collections of "Poems by Elizabeth B. Barrett". Her father called her the 'Poet Laureate of Hope End’ and encouraged her work. The result is one of the largest collections of juvenilia of any English writer. On her 14th birthday her father gave the gift of 50 printed copies of the epic. She went on to delight in reading Virgil in the original Latin, Shakespeare and Milton. By 1821 she had read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and she became a passionate supporter of Wollstonecraft's ideas. She watched her brothers go off to school knowing that there was no chance of that education for herself. The child's intellectual fascination with the classics and metaphysics was reflected in a religious intensity which she later described as "not the deep persuasion of the mild Christian but the wild visions of an enthusiast". The Barretts attended services at the nearest Dissenting chapel, and Edward was active in Bible and Missionary societies. Elizabeth was very close to her siblings and had great respect for her father: she claimed that life was no fun without him, and her mother agreed.

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Barrett Browning's first known poem was written at...
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