Sonnets from the Portuguese Review
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Depending on where you’re coming from, this book could either restore or encourage your faith in the strength of love. It might even make a British romantic poetry period skeptic (like me) believe in the romantic period, at least as far as it concerns Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband Robert.

This book places each poem from Elizabeth’s Sonnets from the Portuguese on the right-hand page, juxtaposed with related snippets from Elizabeth and Robert’s courtship correspondence on the left. The result is a gripping (and no, although other positive words apply, I’m not always able to apply the word gripping to either poetry or to correspondence snippets) portrait of a truly beautiful, unexpected courtship between two sincere, i
ntelligent, poetic people. The letters help you understand the sonnets (which were written by Elizabeth for Robert during the same period but weren’t shown to him until after their wedding) and vice versa.

The great part about this book is that it guides you so quietly in understanding the story behind the poetry. The letter bits are just enough to illumine, but not enough to overpower, the poetry, and are well chosen. While reading this book, I never felt like the editors were forcing critical opinions on me. Instead, I felt like they were unfolding a powerful story about the progression of a realistic love between two people. A love that ended happily, in spite of so many obstacles: Elizabeth’s father did not want his children to marry at all, and Elizabeth’s health was poor, among others. In spite of having to elope, Elizabeth and Robert had a happy fifteen year marriage before she died.

So if you need to read an actual happy-ever-after love story that somehow avoids sap, this is an excellent book to pick up. I had a hard time putting it down.

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