A "nuanced and insightful" (New Statesman) portrait of Britain’s most famous female poet, a woman who invented herself and defied her times.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." With these words, Elizabeth Barrett Browning has come down to us as a romantic heroine, a recluse controlled by a domineering father and often overshadowed by her husband, Robert Browning. But behind the melodrama lies a thoroughly modern figure whose extraordinary life is an electrifying study in self-invention.
Born in 1806, Barrett Browning lived in an age when women could not attend a university, own property after marriage, or vote. And yet she seized control of her private income, defied chronic illness and disability, became an advocate for the revolutionary Italy to which she eloped, and changed the course of cultural history. Her late-in-life verse novel masterpiece, Aurora Leigh, reveals both the brilliance and originality of her mind, as well as the challenges of being a woman writer in the Victorian era. A feminist icon, high-profile activist for the abolition of slavery, and international literary superstar, Barrett Browning inspired writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf.
Two-Way Mirror is the first biography of Barrett Browning in more than three decades. With unique access to the poet’s abundant correspondence, “astute, thoughtful, and wide-ranging guide” (Times [UK]) Fiona Sampson holds up a mirror to the woman, her art, and the art of biography itself.
About the Author
Fiona Sampson is the author of twenty-eight books of poetry and nonfiction, including the critically acclaimed In Search of Mary Shelley. Published in thirty-seven languages, she’s the recipient of numerous national and international honors, including an MBE for services to literature. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Wordsworth Trust, and English Association, she is professor emerita of the University of Roehampton and lives in on the Welsh borders.
This superb biography rescues Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work from the dustbin of Victorian sentimentality to which her poems have been wrongly consigned for the better part of a century. Peeling back layers of myth, misogyny and critical dismissal, Fiona Sampson allows us to see anew an extraordinary woman whose crowning book-length poem, Aurora Leigh, traces, for the first time in our language, the way a woman became a writer…Sampson’s engaging, deeply intelligent book, which at last gives Barrett Browning her due, is a profound inquiry, a vindication, and a delight.
— Mark Doty, author of What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life
Fiona Sampson’s vivid new biography gives us Elizabeth Barrett Browning as busy and ambitious rather than a swooning sleeping beauty…Sampson’s biography consciously mirrors her subject’s masterpiece, but then biography, she suggests, is itself a mirror that both reveals and distorts its subject…[B]eautifully told. It is high time that Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Aurora Leigh were once again household names.
— Frances Wilson - Daily Mail
[Two-Way Mirror] restores [Barrett Browning] to her proper place as one of the leading voices of the Victorian era…This book is an empathetic—and much-needed—reassessment which tells a fascinating story.
— Lucasta Miller - Telegraph
Sampson’s passionate and exacting biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a surprisingly compact volume, a bristling lyric sandwich of philosophy and action. It is also a page-turner.
— Martina Evans - Irish Times