Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry has been the subject of much criticism. Her elusive style prompted many critics to question Barrett's method of writing. In fact, some critics, like Alethea Hayter, go so far as to propose that an "honest critique of her work must admit that she often wrote very bad poetry indeed" (15). Accusations against Barrett's work were often targeted at her tendency for anonymity, her excessive development of thoughts, unsuccessful forced rhymes, and more often than any other of her familiarities, her tendency to create her own words. Despite being relatively shunned by the world of poetry, Barrett persisted in writing poetry, even though the majority of her writing time just might have been spent on defending her work rather than writing it.
John Forster has remarked, "She uses all her thoughts and feelings for whatever she does. The art of knowing what to leave out she has not attained"(19). In defense of her work Barrett writes in a letter to her husband, Robert Browning, "I do not say everything I think (as has been said of me by master-critics) but I take every means to say what I think"(19). Hayter recognizes that Barrett's work was surely not lacking revision, but was the product of constant reconsideration. She was said to have revised after every printing. For Barrett, the main focus of revising was to iron out metre, find perfectly fitting words for her lines, and to produce literature that read with the movement of natural speech. However, Hayter admits that this consistent going over of her work to find "just the right word" was what weakened Barrett's work and formed it into rather exhaustive explanations of what she purposed to convey to her re...
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...of women's talk Arose and fell and tossed about a spray Of English S's, soft as a silent hush, And, not withstanding, quite as audible As louder phrases thrown out by men"(26).
Saintsbury, who earlier criticized Barrett's rhyming technique, confessed that her ear for metre was, in fact, wonderful (24).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the braver literary pioneers. Choosing to utilize the vocabulary she favored rather than submit to the harsh criticisms of those who held the power to make or break her is an applaudable novelty about her. Many writers, having been successful in their literary exploits, are susceptible to accusations that their work was catered to critics. Surely, this cannot and should not be said of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Donaldson, Sandra, Critical Essays on Elizabeth Barrett Browning;
G.K. Hall & Co., New York, NY.
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