cover image Elizabeth Barrett

Elizabeth Barrett

Margaret Forster. Doubleday Books, $19.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-385-24959-1

Forster's ( William Makepeace Thackeray , etc.) provocative biography offers arresting new information on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her family and associates. The author gleaned a wealth of material from the voluminous Philip Kelley collection of Barrett/Browning letters, several predating her subject's birth in 1806. ``Ba'' was the first of 11 surviving children born to Edward and Mary Barrett. On the evidence, it was a close, caring family and remained so after the grievous blow of Mary's death in 1828. Forster poses intriguing questions about Elizabeth's treatment as an invalid and on injustices done to Edward. Afraid of losing the father she loved and needed, she lied to him about Robert Browning's courtship; and also to Robert, claiming that Edward kept her a prisoner, in isolation. He would have accepted the marriage, Forster suggests, but never forgave the couple after they eloped and fled to Italy. The book covers their 15-year marriage and Robert Browning's life with their son after his wife died in 1861. This biography is an invaluable addition to the record of the great Victorian romance. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Feb.)