“How Do I Love Thee” by Nancy Moser
We meet Barrett when she is already in her thirties and a well respected poet in her own rights. She has been sick with ill-defined physical problems since she was in her teens, and has spent the last two decades mostly confined to her room.
Some of these illnesses seem to be self-perpetuating and to a certain extend self-serving – Elizabeth is not always a likable protagonist. Yet while there were times I wanted to slap “Ba” (as Elizabeth Barrett Browning is called by her nearest and dearest) upside the head, I enjoyed this book.
The family patriarch (her mother died after the birth of her 12th child) keeps Elizabeth and her many siblings under an iron rule. Her only escape is in her words. It isn’t until she enters into a forbidden love with a younger man (the poet Robert Browning) that she finds the strength to escape her cage. Their romance eventually gives rise to Barrett Browning’s beautiful sonnets.
I enjoyed the research that went into the book, and especially liked the “fact and fiction” section at the end, where the author (Nancy Moser) goes into which bits of each chapter are historical fact, and which were fudged or invented for storytelling purposes.
The author also includes the “Sonnets from the Portuguese” at the end of the book, which I feel I enjoyed and understood much better after reading this story.
My main complaint would be that the story moves slowly at first (you start wondering if Robert was ever going to actually show up!!) and might be a little rough to get into, but I recommend this to anyone who likes historical chick lit and/or romantic biographies.
I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.