Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s pages describing the loneliness of self-isolation are now up for auction.
Many of us can relate to the dark cloud of loneliness and fear of illness she must have felt as she spent weeks alone in Torquay, thanks to our own experiences with self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The three-page letter, due to be sold at Bonhams in London next week, describes weeks of ulcerative tuberculosis recuperation. Barrett left London to stay in Torquay in August 1838, and wrote to her cousin and friend John Kenyon about how lonely she felt.
She told Kenyon of how having a visitor “has been a thing forbidden, & indeed for many weeks & months together … I did not leave my bedroom”. She explained how desperate she was to return to London, telling her friend how “the longing for home will be helped away by nothing I am sure until I can get back again to Wimpole Street … I believe I never loved my dearest Papa & all of them, until I left them.”
The author had written with hop she would recover soon “with a full knowledge of the peculiar uncertainties of my complaint, I do consider myself, & am convinced by the physician who attends me, hopefully better.” Unfortunately she would not return home for another two years.
Sadly two of her brothers died while she was confined, inspiring her poems De Profundis and Grief.
The letter, estimated to be worth between £1,500 to £2,500, will be auctioned by Bonhams, on 17th December.
“She describes the constraints on her life brought about by illness – including weeks of self-isolation – in a way with which many of us will be able to identify and sympathise as we experience the same emotions,” head of fine books and manuscripts said. “It really chimed with all of us in the book department here – we couldn’t believe how appropriate it was for now. She was really struggling – you can tell she was just desperate to get back home, back to London and her family.”