Barrett and Browning Marry in Secret
It is often regarded as one of the most romantic episodes of English literary history: the elopement of the invalid (and morphine addict) Elizabeth Barrett and the daring Robert Browning , both established poets. Her obsessive father Edward thought Browning, son of a bank clerk, was a fortune hunter trying to cash in on his future wife’s greater celebrity, but subsequent events give his views the lie.
The couple were in fact married for a week before their elopement. On September 12 1846 Elizabeth took advantage of her father and family’s absence from their Wimpole Street home to sneak away to St Marylebone Parish Church and marry Browning, her junior by several years. The subterfuge was necessary given Edward Barrett’s mania for preventing his children from marrying – he disinherited all of them who did so. It has been suggested he feared the ancestral black slave blood – the family fortunes were based on Jamaican plantations - that gave Elizabeth her brown skin tone would come out more evidently in future generations to the social ruination of them all in those rather different times.
A week after the secret marriage the couple departed for Italy, mimicking the previous exploits of Shelley , travelling via Paris and Vaucluse to Florence, where in part thanks to her previous inheritances they lived a contented and comfortable existence, her health improving greatly.
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