Our Annual May Celebration – A Browning Round Table Discussion + Performances!

Date Wednesday, May 12, 2021 

Time 1:00– 2:00PM 

Roundtable Discussion/Performances 

by Laura Clarke

For our final meeting of the year, we welcome  members and guests to join us for a round table  discussion on the legacy of the Brownings and the  future of Browning studies. Participants are  encouraged to lead a short discussion on any aspect  of our theme or to select a short reading to discuss.  

Since we will be reflecting on the lives and works of  the Brownings and considering their relevance in the  present day, I want to focus in this newsletter on the  

way that Dr. Joshua King, who holds the post of  Browning Chair at the Armstrong Browning Library  and Museum, is getting students involved in research  on the Brownings. This is a goal close to our heart at  the Browning Society of New York which, thanks to  the work of our President James Kepple, holds an  annual Browning poetry competition in New York  City that now includes over 200 schools. 

Students in Dr. King’s Senior Research Seminar at  Baylor University created an exhibition called The  Brownings in Our World, which explores the lives  and works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert  

Browning through three central themes: injustice,  nature, and faith. Students explored the vast archives  at the Library and selected documents that  contextualize these themes. In the first section of the  exhibition, students noted that despite the fact Robert  and Elizabeth supported the abolition of slavery, they  were also complicit in the slave trade since  Elizabeth’s money was derived from her family’s  plantation in Jamaica. It was this money,  

they point out, that allowed Elizabeth to flee England  with Browning and move to Italy. To illustrate this  conflict, the exhibition displays a first edition copy of  Elizabeth’s poem, “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s  Point” along with a picture of a golden pen that was  gifted to Elizabeth by her father. The poem reveals  Elizabeth’s sympathy with slaves, but the pen signifies  the wealth that her family accumulated through the  slave trade and that allowed her to write.  

The second section of the exhibition focuses on nature  in the works and lives of both poets. Photographs of  Italy and the gardens of Elizabeth’s childhood home  are partnered with poems that use images of flowers to  discuss love, and we are told that the Brownings  regularly included flowers in their courtship  correspondence.  

The final part of the exhibition looks at the role of  religion in the lives of the Brownings, especially the  importance of spiritualism for Elizabeth. One  particularly interesting part of the culminating section – because it tells us something about the beginnings of  our own society—is dedicated to the cult of Robert  Browning that developed in the 1880s. Devoted fans of  Browning organized hundreds of Societies throughout  North America and Britain, which took on a religious  atmosphere. For example, the article shows pictures of  “The Ten Commandments for Literary Studies”  published by The Chicago Browning Society and an  original book of inscriptions gifted to Browning from  his many fans on his seventieth birthday. 

Leave a Reply