As with Franklin and Elinore Roosevelt, many fans of the Brownings adore one at the expense of the others. This is unfortunate in both cases, but particularly so in the Brownings. Why? Because they really were in love and are a perfect example of a couple who were equal in their love. There was no toxic masculinity in Robert Browning’s relationship with his wife and no adultery either way. More, does it matter who was the “better” poet? The point behind these two creative people’s lives was that they both loved to write poetry, and they loved to write poetry about love. Now, I admit that I have yet to read Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book while I have read all of Sonnets of the Portuguese and Aurora Leigh and Other Poems. Yet I love that they represent happy love–even in portrayals of unhappy love. And that is refreshing in literature.
Despite their fans occasionally jealous treatment of who was the “better” poetry, in real life there was no one-up-man-ship (or up-woman-ship). In neither life nor in art was there a Sylvia Plath-Ted Hughes relationship. (Ted Hughes lacking talent and abusing Sylvia even as he got more recognition when young.) Robert fell in love with Elizabeth because of her talent and nobody records them competing in their verses or anything else. I know people who think I am sick for getting Love Poems of Elizabeth and Robert Browning. Mom thinks the idea of it is ghastly, focusing on married love that way. Regardless, I plan to begin reading tomorrow and then read Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book. Then I shall read The Complete Folktales of Afanas’ev Vol 3.
I have a citation of Barrett Browning,
“WE cannot live, except thus mutually
We alternate, aware or unaware,
The reflex act of life: and when we bear
Our virtue onward most impulsively,
Most full of invocation, and to be
Most instantly compellent, certes, there
We live most life, whoever breathes most air
And counts his dying years by sun and sea.
But when a soul, by choice and conscience doth
Throw out her full force on another soul,
The conscience and the concentration both
Make mere life, Love. For Life is perfect whole
And aim consummated, is Love to sooth,
As nature’s magnet-heat rounds pole with pole.”
It no doubt helps to be in love with Robert Browning… yet I still believe in love, after all of this time… and perhaps my unnamable beloved does to. Whether love comes true for me or not, I shall read these two books about love and then I shall read the last of the 3-volume The Complete Folktales of Afanas’ev.