Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This study examines the early life and writings of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and seeks to explain the development of her literary disposition and the art she created in the light of her culture and society, bringing to print for the first time her juvenile novel, “Julia or Virtue.”

EBB, growing up in late Georgian England, was in many ways influenced by Georgian culture - its customs, manners, styles, and aesthetics. She was subject to its predominant beliefs concerning the education of girls and the codified virtues that attended such an education. Children of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries occupied a particular place, and a culture was preserved for and transmitted to them through various forms and means. Literature written for children was becoming more prevalent as authors sought to identify with the didactic concerns of parents and teachers. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries produced a circle of moralist authors, mainly female, who prepared useful story lessons with exemplary protagonists.

EBB’s juvenile works reflect her culture in many ways. It is also the case, however, that her early works bear marks of an education that exceeded the normal boundaries of scholarship deemed appropriate for a female child of Georgian England. Her novel, “Julia or Virtue,” written at age ten, demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the conventions of story writing and reflects in remarkable ways aspects of noteworthy story writers such as Maria Edgeworth and Sir Walter Scott. EBB’s juvenile poetry reflects the influences of a variety of historical and contemporary writers, revealing her strategy of imitatio as she developed artistically. Her imitation of authors such as Homer, Pope, Beattie, Wordsworth, and others provided an important foundation for later, more innovative works.

An examination of the juvenile works of EBB provides an opportunity to study the development of a young artist’s mind in early nineteenth century England. The influences of family, class, reading habits, and education had a telling impact on her writing. In her juvenilia it is clear that EBB significantly both reflected and challenged vital assumptions about girls’ culture of early nineteenth-century England.