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Just as Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the start of her third century has quite come of age, so have Barrett Browning studies come firmly into their majority, after a latency period and some feisty adolescence. If our honored poet was a rather lost saint a hundred years ago, by now we have found her again. (2) This is all to the good. Still, she seems a poet who remains at chronic risk of coterie re-sanctification if we fail--through a sin of omission not merely hypothetical--to hold her work to a less than high criterion of art. Strict poetic standards are the best critical offerings we can bring to an anniversary occasion like this special issue. The EBB whom I mean to praise is the EBB who meant to be above all, not a reformer or woman writer or evangelist or polemicist or lover but a poet, a maker of verbal art--in which capacity, to be sure, those other roles may be included and their several aims made good, nay better, in poetry's gift. It is in the critic's contrarian mood, then, of loyal opposition that I have thought to try EBB's work against a standard of aphoristic concision, a standard that seems the very reverse of what we tell ourselves we prize her for. The poet we know and warm to is after all a magnanimous figure of sweeping views, impulsive and heartfelt commitment to the persons she loved and the causes she embraced. She stands among us, on the whole, as a broad-minded liberal devoted to enlargement of the human prospect, implacable in resistance to those multiple oppressions whose recurrent nineteenth-century crime was to cramp by denial the authentic energies of all the human race. For these virtues of character we not only esteem but love her; and what makes it easy to do so is her lovable verses, which is to say, the very same accomplishment that led a certain stranger to blurt out to Miss Barrett, in the course of a certain indiscreet letter, that having read those verses he loved her too. (3) Mr. Robert Browning divined his correspondent's personality on the basis of her writerly manner. And in this question he, true poet that he was, divined truly. EBB wrote in accordance with the personality profile and sociocultural agenda I was just outlining: generously, sweepingly, impulsively, feelingly.

Professional & Technical
December 22
West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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