Form and Content
Helen E. Waite’s How Do I Love Thee? The Story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a biography, a social commentary, a psychological study, and a romance in the chivalric tradition. Although the author is not forthcoming with specific dates concerning events in the poet’s life, she does reveal details that provide a historical context for the modern reader. Some locations in London, such as streets and train stations, are vividly depicted as seen through the eyes of the protagonist, who seldom ventured out into the world. Each of Barrett Browning’s adventures is captured with a colorful description of society during the mid-nineteenth century. On a more intimate level, the story reveals what experts now call a dysfunctional family. Victorian standards of the treatment of children were often harsh, as this book reveals, and Waite examines the life of the poet in the light of her abusive father and his own damaged psyche.
Waite obtained most of her information from the correspondence that is available between the Brownings, who wrote to each other daily for years. Their letters reveal their professional concerns, their intellectual preferences, their passion for each other, and gossip about their families, friends, and colleagues—many of whom were notable artists of the time.
After she and her husband moved to the Continent, Barrett Browning also corresponded with her sister. Their life together in Europe produced a child, and it...
(The entire section is 509 words.)