How Do I Love Thee? Critical Essays

Helen E. Waite


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The book chronicles the evolution of the relationship between the somewhat older and more famous Elizabeth Barrett and a younger poet named Robert Browning. Browning was a popular figure on the London social scene, but he was less respected by the critics. Nonetheless, he was greatly admired by Barrett who had pinned his picture in the “poet’s corner” of her room.

Both families had returned to England after having made fortunes on British Caribbean islands. Browning’s father had lost much of his wealth because of his progressive ideas about slavery. While his family life was compassionate and loving, however, hers was guided by the fear of expressing truthful feelings at the chance of displeasing her father. Browning brought his confidence and open warmth into Barrett’s heart and attempted to supplant her terror with positive emotions.

Waite’s episodes reveal that Browning had a true and genuine respect for Barrett’s intellect, an attribute not generally emphasized in Victorian women. He encouraged her genius, and she, in turn, wanted to help him become the best poet that he could be. It was a positive symbiosis that brought out the strength in each person’s character, making their unity greater than each individual. Waite obviously believes their relationship to be an important example of the best of human behavior.

The worst of human behavior is depicted in the person of Edward Barrett, the father who inflicted grave emotional abuse on his children. They were so afraid of his wrath that the Barrett children would never contradict him or disobey him, even when...

(The entire section is 660 words.)