|UND english professor on team that publishes new letters by Elizabeth Barrett Browning|
A collection of largely never-before-published letters by famed 19th-century poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning is documented in a new volume by a team of Browning scholars, including UND’s Dr. Sandra Donaldson.
The work, titled "Florentine Friends," presents 232 letters the Brownings wrote to aspiring writer Isa Blagden, a Eurasian daughter of an English banker, between 1850 and 1861. As co-editor, Donaldson, a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of English, helped complete the volume with a team led by Philip Kelley and comprising Scott Lewis, Edward Hagan and Rita S. Patteson.
Donaldson said her work on the letters that make up the new volume began as early as the 1980s.
Separately, in 2006, Donaldson was awarded a Scholarly Editions grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a project to produce a new edition of poems and prose of Barrett Browning.
A major figure of nineteenth-century literature, Barrett Browning is known for the series of poems titled "Sonnets from the Portuguese," which includes "'How do I love thee?" But she was better known during her time as a powerful political poet, addressing such issues as child labor in factories and mines, the abolition of slavery, the growth of democracies and women's rights. As a young woman, she was a scholar of classical and contemporary languages and literatures and throughout her life engaged in a voluminous correspondence with other writers and thinkers.
She and husband Robert Browning lived the 13 years of their married life together in Italy at the time of its struggle to become an independent nation, a period known in Italian as the "Risorgimento."
The Brownings had been settled in Florence, Italy for nearly three years when they met Blagden, who would come to occupy a unique place in the Brownings’ circle by virtue of her intimacy with both poets. According to one contemporary, only Isa was "admitted into the mysteries of their inner thoughts.”
In this new volume, Elizabeth’s letters chart her growing affection for Blagden. They also shed new light on Elizabeth’s intellectual and emotional commitment to the Risorgimento. Of particular interest are her thoughts on the French Emperor, Napoleon III, who is admired by both friends. Other subjects discussed in Elizabeth’s letters include spiritualism, women’s issues, her son and her poet husband, as well as the Brownings’ poetry.
"They really are lovely letters -- and very informative about current events at the time," Donaldson says.
During these years, the Brownings published what are arguably their greatest works: "Aurora Leigh" (Elizabeth) and "Men and Women" (Robert). Meanwhile, Isa contributed articles and poems to periodicals, and in March 1861, published her first novel, "Agnes Tremorne."
Robert’s letters to Isa, though few in this volume, reveal a warmth and spontaneity, that, in his correspondence, he reserved for her alone.
The editors have included: an introduction, a provenance of the manuscripts from which the letters were transcribed; a chronology; comprehensive annotations; a family tree of Isa and her relatives the Brackens; a bibliography of her works, manuscripts, and letters; and a reproduction of the contents of Elizabeth’s carte-de-visite album: 51 photographs of people associated in some way with the Risorgimento.
The Volume, published by Wedgestone Press of Winfield, Kan., and Armstrong Browning Library in Waco, Texas, is available now.
-- David L. Dodds, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-5529