King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences

The poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Extract from Casa Guidi windowsExtract from Casa Guidi windowsElizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-61) was one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian period. Throughout her career she was not afraid to express her views on contemporary political and social issues, including child labour, industrialisation, slavery and women’s rights.

This kind of poetry was in stark contrast to the work of more conservative women poets of the period, who wrote on topics deemed more acceptable for a woman’s consideration, such as nature and religion. Barrett Browning’s work received a mixed critical response, with some critics admiring her willingness to tackle social issues, while others condemned her for writing on issues considered outside a woman’s sphere. Barrett Browning refused to let critical condemnation affect her, continuing to write politically engaged work throughout her career.

The poem reproduced here is Casa Guidi windows, first published in 1851. Casa Guidi in Florence was the home of Barrett Browning and her husband Robert Browning from 1847. In this poem, Barrett Browning addresses the contemporary political issue of Italy’s struggle for unification. She criticises Austria’s domination of much of the country, as well as Britain’s policy of non-intervention. In the poem, Barrett Browning observes history taking place from the windows of her home in central Florence.

As one critic notes, from the beginning of the poem Barrett Browning insists that ‘her domestic perspective as a wife, mother, and woman poet enables her to make an important contribution to the public discourse about political events’. Her work on the ‘Italian Question’ received support and praise from artists, intellectuals and revolutionaries, including Giuseppe Mazzini and George Henry Lewes.

In this exhibition

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