Elizabeth Barrett Browning (née Moulton-Barrett, /ˈbraʊnɪŋ/; 6 March 1806 – 29 June 1861) was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both Britain and the United States during her lifetime.
Born in County Durham, the eldest of 12 children, Elizabeth Barrett was educated at home. She wrote poetry from around the age of six and this was compiled by her mother, comprising what is now one of the largest collections extant of juvenilia by any English writer. At 15 she became ill, suffering from intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life, rendering her frail. She took laudanum for the pain, which may have led to a lifelong addiction and contributed to her weak health.
In the 1830s Elizabeth's cousin John Kenyon introduced her to prominent literary figures of the day such as William Wordsworth, Mary Russell Mitford, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Tennyson and Thomas Carlyle. Her first adult collection, The Seraphim and Other Poems, was published in 1838. During this time she contracted a disease, possibly tuberculosis, which weakened her further. Living at Wimpole Street, in London, she wrote prolifically between 1841 and 1844, producing poetry, translation and prose. She campaigned for the abolition of slavery and her work helped influence reform in the child labour legislation. Her prolific output made her a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for poet laureate on the death of Wordsworth.
Elizabeth's volume Poems (1844) brought her great success. During this time she met and corresponded with the writer Robert Browning, who admired her work. The courtship and marriage between the two were carried out in secret, for fear of her father's disapproval. Following the wedding she was disinherited by her father and rejected by her brothers. The couple moved to Italy in 1846, where she would live for the rest of her life. They had one son, Robert Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Towards the end of her life, her lung function worsened, and she died in Florence in 1861. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband shortly after her death.
Elizabeth was brought up in a strongly religious household, and much of her work carries a Christian theme. Her work had a major influence on prominent writers of the day, including the American poets Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. She is remembered for such poems as "How Do I Love Thee?" (Sonnet 43, 1845) and Aurora Leigh (1856).