LIT 400: Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Beyond the Love Story

Fall 2001, MWF 11-11:50, Main 212

Dr. Robert Fletcher (Office: Main 524; Phone: x2626; Email:

Office Hours: M 10-11, 7-8, WF 9:30-11


Course Description: This seminar will study the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, two of the most prominent and interesting of Victorian poets. First, as an introduction to their subjects and style, as well as the joys of reading Victorian poetry, we'll read a selection of their shorter works, and then we'll focus our attention on their major narrative poems, EBB's Aurora Leigh and RB's The Ring and the Book, both exciting stories and extraordinary poetic achievements. Pairing these two poets in a seminar makes sense for a number of reasons besides their marriage and the famous love story that led to it.

As one can infer from the list of topics above, a number of critical perspectives will be useful in reading the Brownings' poetry. We will consider and most likely practice ourselves versions of feminist, postcolonial, new historicist/cultural materialist, formal, and interdisciplinary interpretive strategies.

At the semester's end, as a fun way to consider the significance of the Brownings in popular culture, we may read Margaret Forster's Lady's Maid, a novel that tells the love story from the perspective of EBB's servant, Wilson.


Other Policies

In accordance with ADA guidelines, I am happy to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Please contact me during the first week of class if you would like such consideration.

Late Assignments: Papers or other assignments submitted late will have 1/3 of a grade deducted for each day (not class period) that passes after the due date. I will not accept any assignment more than 1 week late.

Plagiarism: "Plagiarism is using another's words or ideas without appropriate acknowledgement" (MLA Style Manual 4). In formal essays, "acknowledgement" means using conventions of citation such as the quotation marks and parenthetical note in the previous sentence. Even if you paraphrase someone's words, you must provide a note showing your debt. NOTE: If you plagiarize or use commercial study aids (e.g. Cliff's Notes), in your formal essays, you will receive an irrevocable "F" grade.

Attendance: You are permitted three absences during the semester, excluding those for major medical problems, which will be handled on an individual basis. If you miss too much of the semester--even with a legitimate medical excuse--I may have to ask you to withdraw. After the three cuts, your final grade in the course will be lowered a third of a grade (e.g. from C to C-) for each cut.


Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Margaret Reynolds. Norton Critical Editions, 1995.

---. Selected Poems. Ed. Margaret Foster. Johns Hopkins UP, 1988. (EBB in reading schedule)

Browning, Robert. The Oxford Authors: Robert Browning. Ed. Adam Roberts. Oxford, 1997. (RB in reading schedule)

---. The Ring and the Book. Eds. Richard D. Altick and Thomas J. Collins. Broadview Press, 2001.

Forster, Margaret, Lady's Maid: A Novel of the Nineteenth Century. Fawcett Books, 1990.

Schedule of Readings

[Note: This schedule is subject to change; whenever that is necessary, I will notify you in class asap.]

Week 1: Reading the Brownings

M 8/27 Introduction (After class, read the biographical introductions to the poets.)

W 8/29 EBB: "The Tempest," "The Romaunt of Margret," "Past and Future," "Grief"

F 8/31 RB: "Porphyria's Lover," Pippa Passes

Week 2: Religious Themes

M 9/3 Labor Day

W 9/5 EBB: "De Profundis," "A Sabbath Morning at Sea," "Human Life's Mystery"

F 9/7 RB: "Johannes Agricola in Meditation," "An Epistle . . . of Karshish, the Arab Physician"

Week 3: Literature and the Arts

M 9/10 EBB: "The Poet and the Bird," "Hiram Powers' Greek Slave"

W 9/12 EBB: "A Musical Instrument"; RB: "Fra Lippo Lippi"

F 9/14 RB: "A Toccata of Galuppi's," "Andrea del Sarto"

Week 4: Social Concerns

M 9/76 EBB: "The Cry of the Children," "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"

W 9/19 EBB: "A Curse for a Nation," "The Forced Recruit"; RB: "The Lost Leader"

F 9/21 RB: "Clive," "Why I am a Liberal"

Week 5: Men and Women

M 9/24 Both poets: Courtship Correspondence (in RB 591-674); EBB: "Lady Geraldine's Courtship"

W 9/26 EBB: "Sonnets from the Portuguese"

F 9/28 RB: "Love Among the Ruins," "By the Fireside," "Women and Roses," "One Word More"

Weeks 6-8

Aurora Leigh (Dates for specific books of the poem and ancillary materials will be announced.)

Weeks 8 and 9: No classes 10/19 through 10/26 to allow you to read The Ring and the Book

Weeks 10-13

The Ring and the Book (Dates for specific books of the poem and ancillary materials will be announced.)

Weeks 14 and 15

Forster, Lady's Maid