Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Textual Bodies and the Rhetoric of Gender in Nineteenth-Century Critical Discourse


  • Elizabeth Johnston West Virginia University


Elizabeth Barrett Browning, female poets, corporealization of female authors, gendered criticism, misogyny in literary criticism


This essay examines the fetishistic transformation of Elizabeth Barrett Browningââ¬â¢s poetry into metaphorical bodies by her nineteenth-century reviewers. Men have historically laid claim to reason by disavowing the body; within this logic women, inextricably linked to their bodies, cannot write the kind of poetry valued by Victorian literary society. However, Barrett Browning does write the kind of poetry restricted to masculine imagination, and she does threaten to rival male contemporaries. In as much, she disavows the ideologically marked female body. I suggest the recurring corporealization of Barrett Browningââ¬â¢s poetry signifies reviewersââ¬â¢ efforts to locate her body at the site of its supposed disappearance. Its materialization in critical discourse as a disabled body, conveniently aligned with the authorââ¬â¢s crippled autobiographical body, implies the need to produce a visible, familiar, and governable figure of femininity. However, the discursive slippage from which emerges a monstrous figure of female authorship suggests the inability of ideology to control and contain its own aberrations.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Johnston, West Virginia University

Elizabeth Johnston is currently a West Virginia University PhD student working on her dissertation, ââ¬ÅRival Fictions: Eighteenth-century Domestic Ideology and the Trope of Female Competition,ââ¬Â under the direction of Dr. Robert Markley. She also teaches as an adjunct instructor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY.