Deconstructing the savior narrative: The Brownings, agency, and their cultural afterlife
Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love story has quite the cultural afterlife. Articles describing their epic literary love often appear around Valentine’s Day, and there have been many fictionalized narratives re-telling their story. However, this project’s main goal is to show the problems with the Browning-as-savior narrative these narratives create. Whereas re-tellings might lead readers to believe that Browning or his love “saved” EBB from her life before him, close analysis of the Brownings’ letters and poetry complicate this idea by showing the complexities of ideas behind gender, power, and disability. These analyses show we should not buy into these fictionalized salvific ableist heterosexual narratives that require re- writing the past and controlling the future. Rather, this project seeks to influence readers to consider three things: 1) EBB’s disability and the numerous ways it affected her embodied experiences as a woman and a writer within her relationship to Browning, 2) the problems fictionalized narratives have created in terms of understanding disability, gender and power, and 3) the ways in which Browning and EBB slipped in and out of stereotypical gender roles over the course of their relationship.