Elizabeth Barrett Browning has been portrayed as a helpless invalid, the captive of a despotic, even incestuous, father, awaiting rescue by her knight errant: Robert Browning.
However, Elizabeth was far from helpless. She was a determined woman who nearly always got her own way, through a combination of charm and invalidism.
Six years after her death, Robert Browning stated that he would not live that time over again, ‘not one day of it’.
This biography tells us, for the first time, that her prolonged first illness at the age of fourteen was anorexia nervosa.
For the rest of her life she kept herself thin, and during periods of emotional crisis she lost weight and became ill.
It was a combination of starvation and a cumulative overdose of opium, claims Dally, which eventually caused her death.
This biography sheds new light on the personality of Elizabeth’s father, a subject curiously neglected by earlier biographers, and demonstrates how Elizabeth’s hunger for his praise and love, against a background of family tension, caused lifelong phobic anxieties.
This stimulating biography also tells us much about the personality of Robert himself, revealing his morbidity and latent violent tendencies.
Dally believes that Elizabeth and Robert achieved a strange rapport through mutual ill-health. Robert was subject to terrible headaches at times of stress, and both husband and wife suffered or improved in health dramatically according to their states of mind.
Peter Dally brings to this biography his special expertise as a leading psychiatrist and expert on anorexia nervosa. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a thought-provoking and profound insight into one of the most tragic and fascinating stories in literary history.
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