Though I attended Baylor University and nearly daily walked past the beautiful library on campus dedicated to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I knew little or nothing of either poet nor of their romance. Oh, I visited the Armstrong Browning library a few times—and it is gorgeous by the way, or it was way back when—and certainly I studied a sampling of their poetry at some point in my educational career, but as for Elizabeth and Robert themselves, I must admit to being ignorant.
So I was excited to discover that Nancy Moser continued her series of novels based on historical women with this next installment, How Do I Love Thee? A Novel of Elizabeth Barrett browning Poetic Romance. I read Just Jane (about, who else, Jane Austen) and loved it. I read Washington’s Lady and liked it (though, admittedly, not quite as well as Jane).
Knowing nothing of Elizabeth, I’m not sure my ignorance helped or hindered my enjoyment of the novel. It turns out Elizabeth Barrett is more or less an invalid and a recluse, partly due to her own frail health and partly due to her father’s tyrannical rule that keeps her and her siblings sequestered and forbids them to marry. Most of the first half of the novel is dedicated to Elizabeth’s confinement to her room, to her weak health and to her blind loyalty to her father’s oppressive demands. Though she did indeed suffer great loss, I have to say I found her to be an unsympathetic character. Her sickness seemed unreasonable; her weakness and lack of assertion was frustrating.
The emerging relationship with Robert Browning made the second half certainly the most interesting and intriguing portion of the novel—who doesn’t love a clandestine, secret romance? As her love for Robert grew, so did Elizabeth’s determination to be well, whole, and alive. In fact, the Elizabeth that falls in love with Robert is in great contrast to the Elizabeth who so frustrated me in the beginning of the book. She finally realizes her father’s unreasonable tyranny for what it was and even went so far to defy him in ways she would never even attempt before.
Though Moser readily admits to this being a work of fiction, her careful research is clear throughout How Do I Love Thee? and at the end of the book she notes what is true and where she employed dramatic license. Included in the novel are actual quotes from portions of Robert and Elizabeth’s many letters, making their true love story all the more compelling.
Wife and mother, Bible teacher and blogger, Lisa loves Jesus, coffee, dark chocolate and, of course, books. Read more of her reflections at Lisa writes….
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