Jenny is having a readalong of the letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (later Browning). Mr. Browning wrote to Miss Barrett in January of 1845, expressing his admiration for her poetry. Browning was pretty eminent at this point, so she was very happy about this, and they promptly struck up a very friendly correspondence. Very friendly!
I read from January to May of 1845, as the two are just getting to know each other. At first, Elizabeth is quite worried that she is taking up too much of Robert's time, and politely sprinkles her letters with apologies for writing so much and tiring him out with her letters. It doesn't take him long to tell her to cut it out; he would rather read her letters than any others. Soon they're promising perfect honesty in the spirit of friendship and poetry, and indulging in flights of Victorian fancy about literature. And they haven't even met in person yet!
It was quite difficult to meet Elizabeth, actually. Her father was a tyrant who didn't want any of his many children to marry, and he bullied them around. Elizabeth had TB from the time she was 14 and had given up all hope of a normal life; at this point she hardly ever leaves her bedroom, and certainly not in winter. Robert has to try several times to get in to meet her in person, and once he does, he writes a Letter--this is in May. This letter evidently upset Elizabeth so much that she sent it back and asked him to burn it, which he did. We don't know what was in it, but it sounds to me like he was declaring some Feelings, and she was by no means ready to hear it. Some guys make up their minds fast!
I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes. Well, I know where it ends up--elopement and Italy. But seeing how it gets there will be very fun.
Jenny came up with some questions for us. I did the first part of my reading a little while ago and can't answer some of these, but I'll try to in future. I did answer one or two below, though.
1. I'd love in each section of the readalong -- since
Robert and Elizabeth are perpetually doing both of these two things --
to know what your favorite compliment and your favorite apology was.
2. What do you think they each imagined the correspondence would
be or lead to when they wrote? Do you think Robert read her poems and
was like, "Yeah, I'm going to definitely need to marry this woman" or do
you think he decided that later?
It sounds to me like he was interested, but actually figuring on marrying her before he even wrote to her seems unlikely. He says himself that a poet cannot be known only by reading the poetry. (EBB says that she feels she knows him already, and he says no, there is so much that I want to say and can't yet! Which sounds like a Hint when I put it like that, but in theory he was talking about poetry.)
3. A thing that is interesting about the Brownings is how long
they knew each other by correspondence before they knew each other in
real life. How do you think they present themselves to each other in
their letters and do you think that changes noticeably over the first
five months (like after they meet in real life)?
They drop the formality and get pretty personal surprisingly quickly. I feel like there's a little bit extra formality at this particular point, where she's freezing him off a bit.
4. Do either of them say anything that makes you cross?
Ever? Particularly, do you mind anything they say to each other after
That One Letter?