Browning Letters Readalong, Part 2 (June 1845 to October 1845)

Well, the major event of this portion of the Browning letters is, of course, the mutual declaration (ish — Elizabeth’s still being a little cautious about it) of love. They stop playing games where Robert doesn’t talk about being in love with Elizabeth and Elizabeth doesn’t talk about being in love with Robert. Those games could be really sweet, but it’s even sweeter for them to be able to say, I love you and that will always be true.

Thematically, what interests me about this section is Elizabeth’s falling in love with Robert. I feel like you see it first in the way she becomes so protective of his “unscathed joy” and his open-hearted innocence. That is why I love him too! She brings this up a lot of times. If he ever seems melancholy, she gets very upset about it:

First … of yourself; how can it be that you are unwell again, … and that you should talk (now did you not? — did I not hear you say so?) of being ‘weary in your soul’ … you? What should make you, dearest friend, weary in your soul; or out of spirits in any way?

And when she’s talking about a very sad verse of his that she found to be incredibly true and wrenching, she says:

You never wrote anything which lived with me more than that. It is such a dreadful truth. But you knew it for truth, I hope, by your genius, and not by such proof as mine — I, who could not speak or shed a tear.

The latter is in her letter about losing her brother, which I think marks a sea-change in their relationship. (Robert thinks so too.) She writes to him the complete story (a very sad story) about how she was ordered to go to the seaside for her health, and her brother Edward, “Bro”, came with her. Her father wanted Bro to come home; sick Elizabeth wanted him to stay so he stayed; and a week and a half later, he was killing in a sailing accident. Elizabeth tells all this to Robert. He’s the first person, she says, that she’s ever told. This is what Robert replies that tells me he thinks the time is ripe for LOVE:

Though I could blot [Elizabeth's worry that Robert will stop being interested in her] out of your mind for ever by a very few words now, — for you would believe me at this moment … but I will take no such advantage — I will wait.

He’s waiting, presumably, for some indication that Elizabeth won’t freak out again if he tells her he loves her, so when she writes him a few days later to ask if he’s mad at her (he hasn’t sent a letter in three days), he just lays it all out there:

Let me say now — this only once — that I loved you from my soul, and gave you my life, so much of it as you would take, — and all that is done, not to be altered now: it was, in the nature of the proceeding, wholly independent of any return on your part.

At this point I would like to insert a GIF of Buffy crying and saying “They have a beautiful love,” but I couldn’t find one on the internet after five minutes of searching, so I gave up. Anyway I did not want to trivialize the saddest thing (I think) that Elizabeth ever says in all these letters, which is this:

Your life! If you gave it to me and I put my whole heart into it; what should I put but anxiety, and more sadness than you were born to? What could I give you, which it would not be ungenerous to give? Therefore we must leave this subject.

For once, Robert ignores her instructions about leaving it alone. Seriously, y’all, can we just give the man props for being good at wooing? He’s so gracious and so attentive, his one misstep being whatever the contents of That One Letter were; and although he usually subsides meekly and drops the subjects he’s been asked to drop, he doesn’t do it this time. He pushes back hard (but politely) to say that he doesn’t want her to say no on his account because she makes him so happy; and he can easily make enough money to support them both, and he only hasn’t done that so far because he didn’t have her in his life.

My whole scheme of life (with its wants, material wants at least, closely cut down) was long ago calculated — and it supposed you, the finding such a one as you, utterly impossible — because in calculating one goes upon chances, not on providence — how could I expect you?

Y’all, nobody could resist this. You would have to have a heart of stone, I’m not even kidding. Elizabeth has been so correct so far, though, and so careful not to say anything that would encourage Robert to think that marriage is possible. Even though I’ve read these letters before, I was afraid she wouldn’t tell him she loved him too. But look! Look! Look what she says!

Neither now nor formerly has any man been to my feelings what you are … and that if I were different in some respects and free in others by the providence of God, I would accept the great trust of your happiness, gladly, proudly, and gratefully; and give away my own life and soul to that end. I would do it … not, I do … observe! it is a truth without a consequence; only meaning that I am not all stone.

Seriously, when I read this bit, I wanted to leap up and run around the room pumping my fists and chanting USA! USA! USA!

My really truly favorite thing that Robert ever says to Elizabeth (I think) is in the below passage, an indignant letter he writes to her protesting how ugly her father is to her. (Yes. I like it when Robert wants to leap to Elizabeth’s defense and be her knight in shining armor. I like it that he eventually got to do that.)

Now while I dream, let me once dream! I would marry you now and thus—I would come when you let me, and go when you bade me—I would be no more than one of your brothers—’no more‘—that is, instead of getting to-morrow for Saturday, I should get Saturday as well—two hours for one—when your head ached I should be here. I deliberately choose the realization of that dream (—of sitting simply by you for an hour every day) rather than any other, excluding you, I am able to form for this world, or any world I know—And it will continue but a dream. … You know what I am, what I would speak, and all I would do.

That last line! Seriously, all my Nook annotations on this section of the letters have been Robert! Elizabeth! Elizabeth! YOU. Y’all, if you haven’t been doing this readalong, you should hop on board this train. It’s an excellent train. A wonderful train. A train that will tug at your heartstrings.

(I’m sorry this is not as good a post as last time. I know that I am basically just squeeing and giving virtual hugs to Elizabeth and Robert. But it’s such a sweet section of letters!)

11 thoughts on “Browning Letters Readalong, Part 2 (June 1845 to October 1845)

    • Yay! And yes, do read them again another time. They repay rereading. I get more from them every time I read them.

  1. I’m enjoying rereading these very much. Elizabeth’s attitude really changes — she is going out and walking, she is pursuing going to Pisa for the winter for her health — and one feels that Robert’s friendship may be helping with those changes. Just as her friendship is helping him with her generous comments on his work, her concern and her teasing him. I have to confess that I couldn’t wait and am just finishing December :) Susan E

    • Yayyyy! The part about her going to Pisa makes me really mad — how her father won’t let her go even though it’s obviously wonderful for her health. I love those letters how angry Robert is.

  2. Reading about these letters is making my lazy blogging muscle want to get some exercise reviewing a volume of poetry that is supposed to be modeled on Sonnets from the Portuguese.

    • Even if you can’t catch up, I highly highly recommend these letters. I have the epub of them (it’s public domain), which I will email to you if you like. I basically just want everyone in the world to love the Brownings as much as I do.

  3. Thank you for these posts (I’ve been out of town, is why I’m late commenting.) These quotations are so beautiful. I admit I was skeptical of the Brownings (I don’t know why! I think I thought they would be schmoopy) but you are winning me over, and I love reading letters. I’ll put this on my list.

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