By Ana Gonzalez-Rivas Fernandez, Ph.D., Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain
My research fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library during the month of August 2014 was not only a thoroughly enriching academic experience that gave me the opportunity to discover the legacy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning first-hand, but also a personal one which was both inspiring and unforgettable, and which revealed to me the immense charm of Texas and its people.
The aim of my research was to analyze different aspects of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s take on the classical literature of Greece and Rome, making use of her personal reading as well as her formal and non-formal education. With this in mind, the Armstrong Browning Library was an excellent source of books, textbooks, letters and diaries, material that provided me with much invaluable input for my study. There can be little doubt that writers’ personal collections provide the best possible snapshot of their personal tastes as readers, revealing both their choices and their reading habits. At times, too, the dedicatory or the marginalia also give us some clues about the way they are or the way they think. These texts, free from academic restrictions, show the real-life reader hiding behind the public image of the author, and provide us with an exceptional point of view for the analysis of their literary work. In the case of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her love-hate relationship with the classics soon becomes evident, reflecting both the enthusiasm she felt in her youth (when the classics helped her form an important bond with “Bro,” her favourite brother) and the total indifference she showed in her later years. This voluble relationship with the classics was of course reflected in her literary output, from her first poem “The Battle of Marathon” up to “The Dead Pan,” which represents the death of the classical gods and, most probably, also the end of their influence on Elizabeth’s life.
During my research at the ABL, I was able to make use of a number of databases that were to prove indispensable, such as The Brownings: A Research Guide, The Brownings’ Correspondence: An Online Edition, and the in-house database ABL Research Tools. It was both an honour and a privilege to have access to the very same works used by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the 19th century, and to make my own record of the different editions she read. The vast collections of the Armstrong Browning Library and of Baylor University also allowed me to consult a large number of secondary sources, which helped me to ground and finally complete my research.
Some of the results of my study were presented at the academic workshop “Bibliofilia y estudios clásicos: los humanistas y sus legados bibliográficos” (“Bibliophilia and Classical Studies: The Humanists and Their Bibliographical Legacy”) held at the “Marqués de Valdecilla” History Library at the Complutense University in Madrid on the 3rd and 4th of December 2014, and organized by the “Historiografía de la Literatura Grecolatina en España” (“Historiography of Greco-Roman Literature in Spain”) research group, of which I am a member. Examination of the Latin volumes and grammar books of Barrett Browning afforded me a clear view of what a bibliophile the poet was, the owner of not only many of the key works of the 19th century canon, but also of other rarer editions.
I am currently leading a teaching project at the Autonomous University of Madrid, acting as coordinator for a group of students researching the life and work of Barrett Browning and translating articles and studies relating to her. This project provides a number of students (both graduate and postgraduate) with the opportunity to take a closer look at the author and to explore aspects of her work that do not form part of the degree syllabus. As the coordinator of the project, my own research at the Armstrong Browning Library has served as a very important starting point, making available a wealth of resources that the students can now also make use of.
If my work at the Armstrong Browning Library was so productive, though, it was above all thanks to the kindness and helpfulness of all members of the Library’s staff, who provided invaluable assistance with my research, supplying me with all the material I needed. Their support made my work a great deal easier and more fruitful.
Given that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was such an inveterate reader, the analysis of her reading is proving to be an extensive task in which I am still immersed. I expect to be in a position to present new findings soon, and will use this blog to keep you informed of them. I hope that my work will encourage more researchers to continue to study the fascinating figure of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
To learn more about the Armstrong Browning Library’s Visiting Scholars Program, visit our website.