What we can learn from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s years in lockdown

Fiona Sampson in The Guardian:

The expression of frustration could have been sent from any tier in travel-restricted Britain: “Where do you go in July? For me, I cant answer. I am longing to go to London, & hoping to the last. That is all. For the present, … certainly the window has been opened twice – an inch – but my physician shakes his head or changes the conversation (which is worse) whenever London is mentioned. But if it becomes possible, I shall go – will go! Putting it off to another summer is like a never.”

In fact, it was mailed from Torquay in June 1840, by someone who had already spent two years in virtual lockdown there. Its recipient was Richard Hengist Horne, a literary man about town. Horne has since fallen into obscurity, but the letter writer would go on to become world famous as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, author of many pioneering works, including one of the best-known poems ever written, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”.

For now, though, she was an emerging talent struggling to keep any sense of herself as a writer alive. The success of her The Seraphim and Other Poems two years earlier had been eclipsed by the onset of severe illness that prompted her medical evacuation from the polluted capital. As a result she was feeling isolated, and left behind.

More here.




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