Monday, November 5, 2012

November 5, 1845

Miss Barrett writes to Browning after a silence of five days:


I had your note last night, & am waiting for the book today,—a true living breathing book let the writer say of it what he will. Also when it comes it wont certainly come ‘sine te [without you]’. Which is my comfort.

And now—not to make any more fuss about a matter of simple restitution—may I have my letter back? .. I mean the letter which if you did not destroy .. did not punish for its sins long & long ago .. belongs to me—which, if destroyed, I must lose for my sins, .. but, if undestroyed, which I may have back,—may I not? is it not my own? must I not?—that letter I was made to return & now turn to ask for again in further expiation. Now do I ask humbly enough? And send it at once, if undestroyed—do not wait till saturday–"
Ah, so finally she asks for her "boon". She wants the "missing" letter back. The letter Browning wrote after their first meeting and in which he declared his love. The letter that began the long summer of courting that Browning had to undertake to win her trust. She had made him promise to burn the letter. Perhaps she is assuming that he disobeyed her request. Perhaps it is a pretty lovers compliment.

"I have considered about Mr Kenyon & it seems best, in the event of a question or of a remark equivalent to a question, to confess to the visits ‘generally once a week’ .. because he may hear, one, two, three different ways, .. not to say the other reasons & Chaucer’s charge against 'doubleness.'I fear .. I fear that he (not Chaucer) will wonder a little—& he has looked at me with scanning spectacles already & talked of its being a mystery to him how you made your way here; & I, who though I can bespeak selfcommand, have no sort of presence of mind (not so much as one would use to play at Jack straws) did not help the case at all. Well—it cannot be helped. Did I ever tell you what he said of you once—'that you deserved to be a poet—being one in your heart & life': he said that of you to me, & I thought it a noble encomium & deserving its application.

For the rest .. yes! you know I do—God knows I do—whatever I can feel is for you .. & perhaps it is not less, for not being simmered away in too much sunshine as with women accounted happier– I am happy besides now—happy enough to die now. May God bless you, dear—dearest.

Ever I am yours–
The book does not come—so I shall not wait.
Mr Kenyon came instead, & comes again on friday he says, & Saturday seems to be clear still."
"For the rest .. yes! you know I do—God knows I do," is in response to Browning's asking her, in his last note, if she loved him. This is notable turn of phrase. Notice that she does not say "yes! I love you." I did a 'find' for the word 'love' on the Project Gutenberg epage for this volume of the letters and 'love' is used more than 100 times, in all kinds of contexts. However Miss Barrett does not actually tell Browning that she loves him (using those words) until January 9, 1846: "If you were to leave me even,—to decide that it is best for you to do it, and do it,—I should accede at once of course, but never should I nor could I 'repent' ... regret anything ... be sorry for having known you and loved you ... no!" and again later in the same letter: "I love you from the deepest of my nature—the whole world is nothing to me beside you—and what is so precious, is not far from being terrible." Why is she so reticent to write the words? Is it shyness? Browning repeatedly uses the word in describing his feelings for her, from his very first letter as a matter of fact. Earlier, in some of my blog cogitations I mused that she was really quite brave in being so open with him because he could have used her letters for nefarious purposes if he were an evil man. I believe I was discussing trust. She seemed to trust him in some ways but not in others. She certainly did not trust him to know his own mind or heart when it  came to his feelings for her. Could her timidity to say that she loved him come from a lack of trust? And yet she is totally open in so many other ways. I will also note that Browning is very affectionate in his letters, often referring to wanting to kiss her and hold her hand, etc. but she seldom discusses this in the letters. She certainly does in her poetry. I conclude that this reticence is the reserve of a Victorian lady. But does this reserve in discussing their physical affection apply to her stating that she loves Browning. I do not think so because she eventually does clearly state her love for him, eventually. Shyness? Lack of trust? Fear of rejection?
Also note how she writes, "whatever I can feel is for you". This is a woman crawling out of a well of despair, shaking off a self-imposed numbness. This might explain it as well. Perhaps she does not trust her own feelings, just as she does not trust Browning to know his own heart.
Discuss amongst yourselves. When you have reached a consensus let me know your conclusions.


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