David Loth's book The Brownings: A Victorian Idyll (1929) is a fast-reading, lightweight biographic history with occasional sparks of fire. Katharine Cornell (an actress who played the role of EBB in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street") says in her preface:

... In their lives the Brownings gave evidence that the romance of which they and the other poets of their generation wrote, was actual and substantial.

Given the opportunity, lives forced from their natural courses, and warped for a time by stronger wills and unhappy accident, inevitably spring back to fulfill themselves. So it was with Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, both of whom were living persons predestined to understand the fulness and warmth of life. Confronted with the most improbable and difficult circumstances, they met, fell in love, and were married. It is good to be reassured once again that life has a pattern to which it will return to complete itself, even after years of irrelevancies.

A sampler of Loth's prose:

from Chapter 2:

Bob Browning [RB's father], whose friends envied him the serenity of his disposition, the quiet excellence of his taste, the unassuming virtuosity of his talents and the happiness of his home, had never been able to get rid of his memories.

from Chapter 4:

Meanwhile Robert returned to the discarded Italian poem. All through the winter he piled obscurity upon obscurity, burrowing deeper and deeper into another poet's soul and closing the tunnel behind him. The style was growing on him. He wrote long letters to his publishers which they could not understand; his most casual correspondence became a maze of intricate phraseology that frequently defied analysis and which his unique ideas on punctuation did nothing to untangle.

from Chapter 9, commenting on the final letters exchanged between EBB and RB before their elopement:

So to the end the spirit of their courtship was maintained. The ardor of a lover, expressed by poets terrifyingly articulate on paper, the confiding trust in the future, the regrets for their impropriety, their abandonment of everything for each other, and at the very end the tag of philosophy! Even in love they never quite lost the ability to think, and to express their thoughts.

from Chapter 10, on the Brownings' initial encounters with Italian life:

Ba [Elizabeth] did not even see the shadows of the coming events. The apathy of the people, the resigned cheerfulness with which they bore their poverty, the absence of such an assertive band of artists and scholars as almost deafened London, the indifference to politics, the circulating libraries that did not lend books, the "refined and cultured Italian society" that never read books, the existence of modern literature only in translations --- these were her first impressions of Italy.

(from Chapter 12, on actress Fanny Kemble's observations of the Brownings:

... She also admired greatly the atmosphere of domestic bliss that pervaded the house so perpetually that some guests thought it a little too impeccable to be real. But not the accomplished Fanny.

"He is," she said of her host, "the only man I ever knew who behaved like a Christian to his wife."

After the first few years of marriage, he and Ba had both become articulate enough with either tongue or pen to give expression to their love on the slightest provocation. Both were sentimental romanticists, never tired of speaking endearments or listening to them. ...

from Chapter 13, quoting Thomas Carlyle's letter to RB concerning his collection Men and Women:

"My friend," he told Robert, "it is what they call 'unintelligibility!' That is a fact; you are dreadfully difficult to understand; and that is really a sin. Admit the accusation; I testify to it. God knows I too understand very well what it is to be 'unintelligible' so called. It is the effort of a man with very much to say endeavoring to get it said in a not sordid or unworthy way to men who are at home chiefly in the sordid, the prosaic, inane and unworthy."

(more snippets to follow in TheBrownings2 and TheBrownings3; see also BarrettAndBrowning and JudyReSonnetsfromthePortuguese)

TopicPoetry - TopicLiterature - 2001-12-07

(correlates: SherlockHolmes, NumisAphorism, TheBrownings2, ...)