How Do I Love Thee? Essay - Critical Context

Helen E. Waite

Critical Context

How Do I Love Thee?, more a romance than a factual account, nevertheless offers a very positive story to tell young readers. It is the account of how great lovers over-came many obstacles to be together. Through the personages of the Brownings, the book demonstrates fine role models for young men and women because the passion of these two poets grew out of intellectual compatibility and mutual respect.

The fact that Browning admired his wife’s brilliance at a time in history when women were expected to be merely decorative, as well as the fact that she was much older than he was, depicts an unusual relationship even by modern standards. Set against the dicta of Victorian England, personified most glaringly by Barrett’s father, their mutual attraction defies time and place.

Waite, the author of other books about valiant women, relates the story in a gushing manner that maintains a level of excitement that will interest many young readers. Although Waite’s sympathies are clearly with the lovers, she emphasizes that their dramatic elopement and idyllic life together, the result of her defiance of her father, is not the message to send to young readers. The dysfunctional family from which Barrett escaped must be understood in order to appreciate her act as one of salvation, not of rebellion.