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Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett's marriage certificate.

Harrison/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Elizabeth Barrett showed a gift for literature since she was a young girl. And a couple of her early collections of poetry were so well-regarded, she was considered for the position of England's Poet Laureate. Unfortunately for Barrett, she spent a fair number of years bedridden and a bit reclusive, partly due to a spinal injury she suffered as a child, and partly due to a fear of her domineering dad. By most accounts, Barrett's father, Edward Barrett Moulton, did love his 12 children -- but he didn't want any of them to get married. Ever. His three girls were especially terrified at the thought of disobeying him in this regard [sources: Classic Reader, PBS, NNDB].

Enter Robert Browning. Browning was also a poet, and began reading Barrett's poems in 1844. Intrigued, he began writing to her in 1845, when she was 39 and he was 33. Soon the two were corresponding regularly, and eventually Browning began to visit. The two fell madly, passionately in love. When the couple decided to marry in 1846, Barrett was terrified of her father's reaction, so they married in a secret ceremony, then set up house in Italy. Although Barrett subsequently informed her father of her marriage and begged his forgiveness, he never forgave her or saw her again. In fact, all of the letters she wrote to him were returned unopened [source: NNDB].

Nevertheless, Barrett was incredibly happy with Browning. The two had a son, Robert, and remained devoted to one another until Barrett's death, in her husband's arms, in 1861 [sources: PBS, NNDB].

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