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Mrs Browning

Alethea Hayter
Date Published
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Although Elizabeth Barrett Browning has been the subject of many biographies her worth as a poet tends to be given short shrift. Her dramatic life-story has obscured her more lasting importance as a forceful and imaginative writer, a bold experimenter in language and poetic technique, an advocate of social reform, an advanced and eccentric political thinker, a Byzantine scholar and something of a mystic. It is to these aspects of Mrs Browning, and above all to the quality of her poetry that the present book is dedicated. It places her in the literary and intellectual life of her time, as revealed by her correspondence with Ruskin, Thackeray and Benjamin Haydon, her discussions on prosody with Hugh Stuart Boyd and Uvedale Price and on aesthetics with R. H. Horne and Mary Russell Mitford; and, of course, with Robert Browning. Her great talent as a letter writer, and her influence on the prosody of poets of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are also considered.

Alethea Hayter’s reconsideration of Elizabeth Barrett Browning restores her to her proper place as a poet, writer and thinker, as well as providing a portrait of an original, captivating and much misunderstood personality.

Julian Barnes has celebrated Alethea Hayter as belonging to that rare breed, ‘the independent scholar, unaffected by the fashions and orthodoxies of academe.’ Equally important he says ‘is a sturdy independence of mind’. Alethea Hayter had that in abundance as all her Faber Finds reissues – Horatio’s Version, Opium and the Romantic Imagination, A Sultry Month, A Voyage in Vain and Mrs Browning – demonstrate.


Alethea Hayter (1911-2006) read modern history at Oxford, and after a period writing for Country Life she joined the British Council, retiring in 1971. Her many books include Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1962), The Wreck of the Abergavenny (2002) and the acclaimed Opium and the Romantic Imagination (1968). She was appointed Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962.

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