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Shortlisted for the 2022 Plutarch Award
A Washington Post 2021 Non-Fiction Book of the Year
New York Times Review of Books Editors' Choice Non-Fiction Title
Longlisted for the 2022 PEN / Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
A Sunday Times Best Paperback of 2022
'Brilliant, heart-stopping ... reads like a thriller, a memoir and a provocative piece of literary fiction all at the same time ... magical and compelling' Washington Post
'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,' Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously wrote, shortly before defying her family by running away to Italy with Robert Browning. But behind the romance of her extraordinary life stands a thoroughly modern figure, who remains an electrifying study in self-invention.
Elizabeth was born in 1806, a time when women could neither attend university nor vote, and yet she achieved lasting literary fame. She remains Britain's greatest woman poet, whose work has inspired writers from Emily Dickinson to George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.
This vividly written biography, the first full study for over thirty years, incorporates recent archival discoveries to reveal the woman herself: a literary giant and a high-profile activist for the abolition of slavery who believed herself to be of mixed heritage; and a writer who defied chronic illness and long-term disability to change the course of cultural history. It holds up a mirror to the woman, her art - and the art of biography itself.
Poet Sampson (In Search of Mary Shelley) takes an unconventional and intriguing look at the life of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 1861). The volume is structured in nine "books" to mimic Elizabeth's masterwork Aurora Leigh, and takes as its central conceit a focus on mirrors and framing. "Elizabeth dramatizes the two-way creation of every writing self, from without and from within," Sampson writes, and aims to shatter the clich s that "frame" Barrett Browning's life. Far from being the feeble, dominated invalid she's often portrayed as, Barrett Browning was a well-regarded poet and financially independent. Sampson makes the case for Barrett Browning being "radical and exciting," as she set the stage for such poets as Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, and as "someone who becomes herself through becoming a poet." Barrett Browning's family history they made their fortune in the sugar trade, profiting from slavery is examined, as well, and puts her involvement in the abolitionist movement in context. This account shines when breaking the mythologies that surround Barrett Browning's reputation, but the frequent reflections on framing and mirrors distracts rather than enhances. Still, fans of Barrett Browning will appreciate this refreshing portrait of the poet as an empowered woman.