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“The Fate of Woman At Its Root”: Elizabeth Barrett’s A Drama of Exile and Jean Ingelow’s A Story of Doom

  • Terence Allan Hoagwood
  • Kathryn Ledbetter
Chapter

Abstract

From the moment she began writing A Drama of Exile, Elizabeth Barrett planned for her two-volume Poems to begin with that long dramatic poem. With the poem barely completed, she wrote to R. H. Horne on 20 December 1843: “it must take a first place in the book. … The object is the development of the peculiar anguish of Eve—the fate of woman at its root.” Eight months later, the book was in print and winning her praise in letters from Thomas Carlyle and Harriet Martineau. Clear evidence shows, however, that she knew the poem would not be liked widely, and its daunting presence as the first poem in the two-volume Poems—a placement on which she insisted—had nothing to do with calculations of popular success. On 1 October 1844, three months after the book appeared, she writes to Cornelius Matthews: “I am glad that I gave the name of ‘Poems’ to the work instead of admitting the ‘Drama of Exile’ into the title-page and increasing its responsibility; for one person who likes the Drama, ten like the other poems.”1

Keywords

High Criticism Paradise Lost Ancient Regime Human Love Church Father 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Thomas J. Wise, A Bibliography of the Writings in Prose and Verse of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London: Printed for Private Circulation only, 1918), 51, 60–61.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Christina Rossetti, The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1892).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Alice Meynell, “Christ in the Universe” [1901], in Collected Poems (London: Burns and Oates, 1913).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Jean Ingelow, A Story of Doom and Other Poems (London: Longmans, Green, 1867; Boston: Roberts, 1867).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    “Some Account of the Greek Christian Poets,” The Athenaeum (February–August 1842); rpt. in The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Harriet Waters Preston (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900), 513–42. In this essay, Barrett writes of Apolinarius (father and son), Amphilochius, Synesius, Eduocia [wife of Theodosius, and empress of the world, whose poems “perished with her beauty as being of one seed with it” (524)], Paul Silentatius, George Pisida, John Damascenus, Simeon Metaphrastes, John of Euchaita, Theodore Prodromus, John Tzetza, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Manuel Phile.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    On Barrett’s essay on the Church Fathers, see Dorothy Hewlett, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Life (New York: Knopf, 1952), 85–87.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    For Lanyer’s poem, see Renaissance Women: The Plays of Elizabeth Cary and the Poems of Aemilia Lanyer, ed. Diane Purkiss (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1994).Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    A Drama of Exile, first published in Poems by Elizabeth Barrett, In Two Volumes (London: Edward Moxon,1844), reprinted in Poems By Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 2 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1850), where Sonnets from the Portuguese appears for the first time. For the sake of convenient usage, my quotations from A Drama of Exile will provide line numbers in the most readily available edition, The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Ruth M. Adams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), which reprints the text from Harriet Waters Preston’s edition of 1900.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    For an extended commentary on Byron’s Cain, see Terence Allan Hoagwood, Byron’s Dialectic: Skepticism and the Critique of Culture (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1993), 100–51.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    On the theme and language of motherhood in Barrett Browning’s work, and on the relationship of that topic with the theme of artistic creation, see Nancy Huston, “A Tongue Called Mother,” Raritan 9, no. 3 (1990): 99–108.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    An anonymous reviewer in New Quarterly Review objected to the appearance of Christ as a speaking character in the poem [New Quarterly Review 5 (1845): 84–97; see also Gardner B. Taplin, The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 126]; but the poem represents the transfiguration of Christ precisely as a matter of Christ’s becoming entirely human (l. 1922).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    “As a mere girl, Miss Barrett had read the Greek Fathers in the original, under the guidance of the blind scholar, Hugh Stuart Boyd” (Harriet Waters Preston, in The Poetical Works, 513). See Elizabeth Barrett to Mr. Boyd: Unpublished Letters of Elizabeth Barrett to Hugh Stuart Boyd, ed. Barbara McCarthy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955).Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    See Leighton, Victorian Women Poets, 82. Alice Falk has written cogently of Barrett’s translations of Prometheus Bound in terms of her meta-textual revisionism, and specifically in the context of her learned and critical preoccupation with Greek texts [“Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Her Prometheuses: Self-Will and a Woman Poet,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 7 (1988): 69–85]. Published six years later than A Drama of Exile, Sonnets from the Portuguese is clearly another textual case-in-point, the sequence’s meanings being primarily critical and hermeneutic with regard to the mediated status of all textuality: see Angela Leighton, “Stirring a Dust of Figures: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Love,” Browning Society Notes 17 (1988): 11–24. The fact that these sonnets about textuality and its traditions have been misunderstood for a century-and-a-half as expressions of supposedly personal love is one of the bitter ironies of literary history: Mermin’s influential book shows how Sonnets from the Portuguese is a knowing engagement and commentary on a historically male-dominated literary tradition (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 103–05, 128–46).Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    There is a clear documentary record of at least a part of Barrett’s personal history among these issues, including her emergence from an immersion in fatherly exegesis to a repudiation of it, founded on her rejection of Pauline doctrines (reaffirmed by the Church Fathers) asserting the evil of sexual love. Her diary of 1831–32 records her habit in June 1831 of reading seven chapters of Scripture each day. See The Unpublished Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1831–1832, ed. Philip Kelley and Ronald Hudson (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1969), 19. She mentions critical works that she was reading as she thought over interpretative issues, including Thomas Hartwell Horne’s An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, 3 vols. (London, 1818–21) and Adam Clarke’s The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 8 vols. (London, 1810–25). However, on 17 September she writes against a hierarchical or class-stratified notion of salvation for an elect: “I cannot make up my mind from Scripture, to do otherwise than embrace the doctrine of general redemption” (130). Between 5 October and 6 November 1831 there is no reference to the Bible at all; then, she does not mention it again, after 6 November, until 18 March 1832, when she reads the Greek Testament as an alternative to attending church. She does so again on 1 April, recording her decision in terms of disputation: “Reading St. John’s Gospel––&Nonnus’s paraphrase upon it. I do not like Nonnus” (230). She often mentions her mentor, Boyd, in connection with her study of the Greek Bible and Greek poetry (e.g., 125, 238), and her correspondence with Boyd is often specific about her readings (“seven hundred and thirty-one lines of Gregory Nazianzen’s poem In laudem virginitatis”) and sometimes her thoughts about her readings (of Heterodorus, e.g., she writes to Boyd of “his secret of pure lies”): see Elizabeth Barrett to Mr. Boyd, 70, 69n.Google Scholar
  15. On Barrett’s diary of 1831–32, see Judy Simons, “Behind the Scenes: The Early Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning”, in Diaries and Journals of Literary Women from Fanny Burney to Virginia Woolf (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990), 83–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 27.
    Widely in studies of Barrett Browning’s works, de-personalizing the poetry has been a necessary critical preliminary for the direct treatment of its social and cultural polemics. See Anne Perry, “Sexual Exploitation and Freedom: Religion, Race, and Gender in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,’” Studies in Browning and His Circle 16 (1988): 14–27fg;Google Scholar
  17. Glennis Stephenson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Poetry of Love (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989);Google Scholar
  18. Phyllis Elmore, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Argumentative Discourse in Sonnets from the Portuguese” Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Women’s University, 1989, DAI 51 (1990): 861; and, perhaps most influentially, Mermin’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry.Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    Benjamin Jowett et al., Essays and Reviews [containing essays by Frederick Temple, Roland Williams, Baden Powell, Henry Bristow Wilson, C.W. Goodwin, Mark Pattison, and Benjamin Jowett] (London: Parker and Son, 1860). Here, Pattison observes that in France in the later eighteenth century it was “well understood, by all enlightened men, that the whole sacerdotal brood were but a set of impostors, who lived by deceiving the people, and who had invented religion for their own benefit” (318). Pattison writes at some length of the rationalizing of theology in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mentioning John Locke (The Reasonableness of Christianity, 1695), John Toland (Christianity Not Mysterious, 1696), David Hume [Treatise of Human Nature (1739), but the posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) are also germane], Kantian philosophy, deists, and an opposition to all revealed religion that was imported to England from Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though he does not name names, he is probably referring obliquely to J.G. Eichhorn 1781 [Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, Einleitung in das Alte Testament (1781; Leipzig: Weidmann, 1803)] and Johann Gottfried von Herder’s The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, which appeared in an English translation in 1833 [The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, tr. James Marsh (Burlington: E. Smith, 1833)].Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, 4th ed. [tr. George Eliot] (London: Chapman, 1846.Google Scholar
  21. 31.
    On the German school of hermeneutics including Eichhorn and Schleiermacher, see two important studies by E.S. Shaffer: “Kubla Khan” and “The Fall of Jerusalem”: The Mythological School in Biblical Criticism and Secular Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); and “The Hermeneutic Community: Coleridge and Schleiermacher,” in The Coleridge Connection: Essays for Thomas McFarland, ed. Richard Gravil and Molly Lefebure (New York: St. Martin’s, 1990).Google Scholar
  22. On Herder, Eichhorn, and their effect on English poetry of the nineteenth century, see Anthony John Harding, Coleridge and the Inspired Word (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature; or, Laws of the Moral and Physical World, tr. H.D. Robinson (Boston: Mendum, 1853). The first English translation (anon.) was published in London in 1795.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    Janice L. Haney, “‘Shadow-Hunting’: Romantic Irony, Sartor Resartus, and Victorian Romanticism,” Studies in Romanticism 17 (1978): 313. See also Harding, Coleridge and the Inspired Word, 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 35.
    Herder, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, tr. James Marsh (1833; rpt. Naperville, IL: Aleph Press, 1971), 2:51.Google Scholar
  26. 36.
    William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, pl. 11, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, rev. ed., ed. David V. Erdman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982).Google Scholar
  27. 38.
    An anonymous reviewer in Spectator writes that Barrett’s poem is based on Byron’s Cain: Spectator 17, no. 843 (24 August 1844): 809–10.Google Scholar
  28. 39.
    Emily Pfeiffer, Women and Work. An Essay (London: Trübner & Co., 1888).Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck (London: Ernest Benn, 1926–30), 7: 125. Barrett’s interest in Shelley’s writing is everywhere evident: as I have suggested elsewhere [see my Prophecy and the Philosophy of Mind: Traditions of Blake and Shelley (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 131–86], Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry is closely related to his verse drama, Prometheus Unbound (1820), and, in turn, Barrett’s earlier verse drama, Prometheus Bound, is deeply influenced by Shelley, and so is A Drama of Exile.Google Scholar
  30. 41.
    Studies of Ingelow’s A Story of Doom are few, but one scholarly treatment of the poem’s gender politics is Heidi Johnson, “‘Matters That a Woman Rules’: Marginalized Maternity in Jean Ingelow’s A Story of Doom,” Victorian Poetry 33, no. 1 (Spring 1995):75–88.Google Scholar
  31. There are likewise few book-length studies of Ingelow: one is Maureen Peters, Jean Ingelow, Victorian Poetess (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972).Google Scholar
  32. 42.
    On Galton and eugenics, see Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (New York: Knopf, 1985); H.G. Wells, “Comment on Francis Galton’s Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims,” American Journal of Sociology 10, no. 1. (July, 1904):Google Scholar
  33. and Geoffrey Russell Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain (Leyden: Noordhoff, 1976).Google Scholar

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© Terence Allan Hoagwood and Kathryn Ledbetter 2005

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  • Terence Allan Hoagwood
  • Kathryn Ledbetter

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