Elizabeth Barrett is a published poet–and a virtual prisoner in her own home. Blind family loyalty ties her to a tyrannical father who forbids any of his children to marry. Bedridden by chronic illness, she has resigned herself to simply existing. That is, until the letter arrives…”I love your verses with all my heart,” writes Robert Browning, an admiring fellow poet. As friendly correspondence gives way to something more, Elizabeth discovers that Robert’s love is not for her poetry alone. Might God grant her more than mere existence? And will she risk defying her father in pursuit of true happiness?
What I thought:
Nancy Moser’s ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ is a beautifully written biographical fiction of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life. Nancy’s love of history is obvious in her masterful telling of Elizabeth’s intriguing story.
I had little knowledge of Elizabeth Barrett, beyond the first line of her sonnet, ‘how do I love thee? Let me count the ways’. Nancy exquisitely portrays Elizabeth’s story, staying true to the known facts of her life whilst delving deeper to flesh out the possible reality behind those facts. I was intrigued by the family relationships and the iron-fisted rule of her father over a family of adult children. I was further absorbed by the debilitating effects of Elizabeth’s undefined illness and her contentment to live as a recluse because of it. That Elizabeth overcame her fear of meeting new people to accept a visit from Robert Browning was quite miraculous and it was at this point in the book that I was completely invested in the outcome and how Elizabeth bravely manages to leave her family home to wed Robert against her father’s wishes.
Whilst reading ‘How Do I Love Thee’ I was struck by the power of a parent in their child’s life. Elizabeth’s father refused to allow any of his adult children to marry. He dispensed his orders and expected them to obey him, refusing to acknowledge that each had hopes and dreams of their own. His method of ruling his home in a manner thinly disguised as love has prompted me to consider my own parenting. ‘How Do I Love Thee’ has highlighted, for me, the need to guide my children in seeking their own hopes and dreams for the future with my support.
With thanks to Bethany House for Tracy’s review copy
Guest reviewer: My friend Tracy from Beyond My Picket Fence
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