Reader, I married you

Alethea Hayter

  • Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett: The Courtship Correspondence 1845-1846 edited by Daniel Karlin
    Oxford, 363 pp, £17.50, March 1989, ISBN 0 19 818547 2

‘Your letters began by being first to my intellect, before they were first to my heart,’ Elizabeth Barrett told Browning when they had been corresponding for over a year and had acknowledged their love. When she first got the fan letter from a fellow poet, six years younger and much less celebrated than she was, she took it for the opening of another correspondence such as she had had in the past with other men of letters – with Hugh Stuart Boyd on prosody, with Richard Hengist Horne on contemporary literature, with Benjamin Robert Haydon on the artist’s vocation. Browning in this first letter told her that he loved her poetry with its ‘fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought’. She saw this as another inauguration, with a fellow writer whose work she greatly admired, of a dialogue of professional ‘shop’, all by correspondence, just as she liked best in her invalid seclusion in which she could on paper be bold and honest ‘en bon camarade’ with male correspondents whom she was never to meet face to face. She sent Browning a gratified answer, asking him for critical comments on her poetry.

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