Poetry Reading Group Handout Elizabeth Barrett Browning Critical Articles on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Runaway Slave At Pilgrim’s Point” Battles, Elizabeth H. “Slavery through the Eyes of a Mother: The Runaway Slave At Pilgrim’s Point.” Studies in Browning and His Circle: A Journal of Criticism, History, and Bibliography 19 (1991): 93-100.
Brophy, Sarah. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’ and the Politics of Interpretation.” Victorian Poetry 36: 3 (Fall 1998): 273-288. Parry, Ann. “Sexual Exploitation and Freedom: Religion, Race, and Gender in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point.” Studies in Browning and His Circle: A Journal of Criticism, History, and Bibliography 16 (1998): 114-126.
Stone, Marjorie. “Between Ethics and Anguish: Feminist Ethics, Feminist Aesthetics, and Representations of Infanticide in ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’ and Beloved.” Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries. Ed. Dorota Glowacka. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002. Stone, Marjorie. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Garrisonians: ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,’ the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, and Abolitionist Discourse in the Liberty Bell.” Victorian Women Poets. Ed. Alison Chapman. Woodbridge, England: Brewer, 2003. Warwick, Slinn E. Victorian Poetry as Cultural Critique: The Politics of Performative Language. Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2003.
Critical Articles on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “A Curse for a Nation” Arinshtein, Leonid M. “‘A Curse for a Nation’: A Controversial Episode in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Political Poetry. A Quarterly Journal of English Literature and the English Language 20:77 (Feb 1969): 33-42. David, Deirdre. Intellectual Women and Victorian Patriarchy: Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot. New York: Cornell University Press, 1987. DeLaura, David J. “A Robert Browning Letter: The Occasion of Mrs. Browning’s ‘A Curse for a Nation.’” Victorian Poetry 4 (1966): 210-212. Donaldson, Sandra. “‘For Nothing Was Simply One Thing’: The Reception of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘A Curse for a Nation.” Studies in Browning and His Circle: A Journal of Criticism, History, and Bibliography 20 (1993): 137-44.
Gladish, Robert W. “Mrs. Browning’s ‘A Curse for a Nation’: Some Further Comments.” Victorian Poetry 7 (1969): 275-280. Stone, Marjorie. “Cursing As One of the Fine Arts: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Political Poems.” Dalhousie Review 66:1-2 (Spring-Summer 1986): 155-173.
Warwick, Slinn E. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Problem of Female Agency.” Tradition and the Poetics of Self in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Poetry. Ed. Barbara Garlick. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi, 2002.
Possible Discussion Topics Regarding EBB’s
“The Runaway Slave At Pilgrim’s Point” and “A Curse For a Nation”
1. Topic: Poems’ Perspectives and Narrators What are the perspectives in each poem? In other words, who are the narrators? Who has agency?
What position or control does the speaker seem to wield in each poem?
How are the narrator positions similar or different?
What might these similarities and/or shifts in perspective/narration indicate?
What other implications might these narrative positions suggest?
2. Topic: Poems’ Audience(s) Who do the poems seem to target as an audience or audiences? Who are the narrators speaking to?
Do the audiences remain the same in each poem? Do they shift, and if so, what might be the implications of this?
What is the speaker’s tone or attitude towards the audience(s) in each poem?
Who do the narrators seem to blame? Who do they hold responsible?
What messages do the speakers seem to be relating?
3. Topic: Feminist Readings of the Poems Some scholars read “The Runaway Slave At Pilgrim’s Point” and “A Curse for a Nation” as suggesting that EBB is not a feminist poet. For example, Sarah Brophy contends that “The Runaway Slave At Pilgrim’s Point” ultimately contains conservative messages. Brophy asserts, “The speaker expresses nostalgia for a lost state of perfection in love, implying a belief that for a woman love can neutralize the negative effects of oppression on a female individual’s consciousness, but without actually eliminating oppression” (Brophy 277). Brophy also claims that “The female slave’s agency and authority… are confined to the emotional effect her predicament might have on her male auditors” (Brophy 275). Referring to “A Curse For a Nation,” Deirdre David asserts that
The prologue concludes with the poet’s acquiescence in the angel’s judgment that ‘A curse from the depths of womanhood/ Is very salt, and bitter, and good,’ and in having the poet speaker agree to write this curse, Barrett Browning places her in an ambiguous position, a figure burdened with contending imperatives suggestive of those imposed upon women poets in a male-dominated culture… I have argued… that Barrett Browning should not be regarded as a feminist poet…For Barrett Browning, the woman poet intellectual finds her genesis and authority in androcentric tradition. Speaking patriarchal discourse without rancour and instructed by male authority, she performs as the ‘enjoined’ poet of ‘A Curse for a Nation’ (David 140, 228-229). Other scholars read the poems as suggesting that EBB is indeed a feminist poet. For example, contrary to David, Marjorie Stone asserts that Browning offers a quintessentially feminist position:
Browning came to express her increasingly interconnected political and feminist views with more radical directness and rhetorical sophistication in her later poems. Paradoxically, as her curses move out of the private realm conventionally associated with women and become more explicitly political, they also become more personal, and are more often uttered in her own voice. This paradox is in part explained by her realization that… the personal is the political (Stone 157).
How do you read these two poems? Do you agree or disagree with Brophy, David, and/or Stone? What are other possible readings, other than Brophy, David or Stone’s readings?
What aspects of the poem indicate feminist themes? What aspects indicate the reverse?
What are some complexities which may complicate reading these poems as either fully feminist works or not?