Love stories are often filled with joy and triumph, but some tales transcend the ordinary and become legends of resilience, sacrifice, and passion. Check out the other stories in our “Hidden Stories” series to find romantic inspiration.
This story may be a little more known than the ones we’ve talked about before but has largely been lost to time. It is the story of the relationship between renowned and revered poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and is a beautiful and extraordinary tale. Most of us, even those not steeped in poetry, are familiar with perhaps Barrett’s most famous line, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
Their story intertwines themes of creativity, personal struggles, and unwavering devotion, leading to a profound lesson that can inspire us even today. The story inspired the 1930 play “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” which 4 years later was made into a critically acclaimed film.
Elizabeth Barrett’s Rise to Success
Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (later known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning) was a gifted poet who found tremendous success in her writing during her lifetime. This was despite her early life being plagued by poor health and familial restrictions.
Her poetic collection, “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” remains to this day a celebrated work, a testament to her deep emotions and lyrical prowess. Her success as a poet was a testament to her determination and unyielding spirit.
Robert Browning’s Struggles
While Elizabeth soared to great heights as a poet, Robert Browning faced a different trajectory. He had to endure years of obscurity and critical neglect. While his successful wife was alive, he remained in poetic obscurity, failing to achieve recognition as a poet. It wasn’t until after Elizabeth’s tragic demise that Browning’s work began to receive the recognition it deserved. This stark contrast in their careers adds another layer of complexity to their tale.
Elizabeth Barrett’s Health Issues
Despite finding success as a poet, Elizabeth’s life was not without deep challenges. She battled severe health issues from the age of 15, including intense head and spinal pain and, later in life, lung problems, possibly tuberculosis. Despite her physical limitations, she found solace and strength in her writing, pouring her heart and soul onto the pages of her poetry.
The Father-Daughter Relationship
Elizabeth’s relationship with her father, Edward Moulton Barrett, was a central aspect of her life. Her father, overprotective and controlling, disapproved of her romantic pursuits and discouraged her writing endeavours. Despite these challenges, Elizabeth remained fiercely dedicated to her craft, using poetry as an outlet for her emotions and a means to assert her independence. Her unwavering commitment to her artistic expression demonstrates the power of self-belief and the ability to rise above societal constraints.
Tragedy found Elizabeth again when two of her brothers died in quick succession, one with the fever and soon after, her favourite brother Edward (nicknamed “Bro”) drowned in a sailing accident. These events, coupled with her already deteriorating health, plunged Elizabeth into profound grief.
Love is a Medicine
It was during this intensely dark period that Elizabeth began to find solace in her correspondence with fellow poet Robert Browning. Their letters blossomed into a deep emotional connection and they fell in love. Elizabeth’s father was vehemently opposed to the union and was adamant that they stop the courtship.
Elizabeth and Robert had only one option and they eventually eloped against Elizabeth’s father’s wishes. Their union became a sanctuary of love, creativity, and shared intellectual pursuits that lasted until Elizabeth’s death at the age of 55. Though Elizabeth never got to see her husband’s eventual recognition and celebration as a notable poet in his own right, that imbalance of fame never affected their commitment to each other.
Perseverance is a Symptom of True Love
The relationship between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning is an embodiment of love, passion, and resilience. Elizabeth’s meteoric rise as a poet, juxtaposed against Browning’s delayed recognition, as well as the personal struggles, societal constraints, and painful circumstances, paint a picture of an enchanting tale of how love can bring light into the darkest of worlds.
The Takeaway for the Rest of Us
True success lies not just in external recognition or validation. Success can come from an unwavering pursuit of our passions and the cultivation of deep connections with those who appreciate and support us.
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