Sonnets from the Portuguese

This sonnet sequence by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) first appeared in Poems (1850). The title was misleading, as they were not in fact translations from Portuguese originals. This was a deliberate attempt to mask the poems' intimate content: they were composed before her marriage to Robert Browning in 1846, and the suggestion that they were translations allowed her to express her feelings without embarrassment. Barrett Browning (1806-1861) did not originally intend to publish the poems. Even her husband was unaware of their existence until 1849, when he urged her to make them public. ‘The Portuguese’ also refers to Catarina from a previous poem ‘Catarina to Camoens’: Camoens (1524-1580) is considered Portugal’s greatest poet. Sonnet-writing was associated with male writers, but Barrett Browning’s efforts are profoundly moving and impressively inventive.

Manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'How do I love thee?'

Manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets to the Portuguese [folio: 49r]

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Held by © The Provost and Fellows of Eton College

Creator:
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Published:
1850
Forms:
Poem
Genre:
Victorian literature
Literary period:
Victorian

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Woman Question

Article by:
Simon Avery
Themes:
Gender and sexuality, Victorian poetry

Dr Simon Avery considers how Elizabeth Barrett Browning used poetry to explore and challenge traditional Victorian roles for women, assessing the early influences on her work and thought.

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