Mother Cries: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poetics of Maternity

Katherine MontwielerUniversity of North Carolina, Wilmington
Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring 2019), 79-104

This essay explores Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s conflicted portrayals of maternity. By foregrounding the experiences of pregnancy, labor, birth, and death, Barrett Browning shows that motherhood is based on the physical acts of stretching, tearing, and letting go; indeed, such physical acts serve as metaphors for the emotional ruptures at the heart of the maternal condition, and in that insistent attention to loss, Barrett Browning articulates the desire for individuation—for mothers as well as for children. This article traces Barrett Browning’s portrayal of maternity chronologically through her oeuvre, revealing increasingly politicized images of motherhood after her own experiences of miscarriages and birth. The trajectory of Barrett Browning’s work suggests that motherhood creates a more politically engaged sensibility.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]