“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


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


High Criticism Paradise Lost Ancient Regime Human Love Church Father 
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  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
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  3. 6.
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  4. 7.
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  6. 11.
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    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
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  16. 27.
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  28. 39.
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    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
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  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

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terence Allan Hoagwood
  • Kathryn Ledbetter

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