Date Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Time 1:00– 2:00PM
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.