Elizabeth Barrett Browning in fiction: gendering novelistic afterlives
Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning has been mythologized as an ailing Victorian lady who, Rapunzel-like, was saved from the claws of an evil sorcerer-father by a poet-knight with whom she lived happily ever after. Featuring in the popular imagination, primarily as one half of a legendary couple who lived out one of the most spectacular romances of English literary history, her life has become the subject of countless biographies and has also been retold in several works of fiction. These fictional biographies deliberately blur the boundary between biographical fact and fiction as they add to, and sometimes contest, the image preserved of Barrett Browning in cultural memory.
Drawing on gender-sensitive approaches to biography, this lecture will explore the ways in which Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s private life and work are represented in fictional biographies, from Carola Oman’s Miss Barrett’s Elopement (1930) to Laura Fish’s Strange Music (2008). These novelistic re-imaginings of Barrett Browning participate in other fictional and non-fictional genres and, accordingly, vary considerably in the significance they attribute to the poet’s work. It will be argued that together, they testify to the versatility of a prominent female author figure as a cultural signifier that can be mobilized for a range of (gender-)political agendas.
Julia Lajta-Novak is a Hertha Firnberg Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Vienna and founder and artistic director of Vienna Lit, a literary society dedicated to the promotion of literature/s in English. She has written a book on reading groups, Gemeinsam Lesen: Die Buchgruppe als soziales Phänomen und ökonomische Triebkraft (Lit, 2007), and a book entitled Live Poetry: An Integrated Approach to Poetry in Performance (Rodopi, 2011). She is a published poet, editor of a collection of stories about Vienna, Vienna:Views (Luftschacht, 2006), and co-editor of Staging Interculturality (WVT, 2010), Ireland in/and Europe (WVT, 2012), and Ireland in Drama, Film, and Popular Culture (WVT, 2012).