Thursday, December 29, 2016

The letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett part 3: "I never shall forget"


Elizabeth Barrett with her dog Flush, sketched by her brother Alfred Moulton-Barrett, July 1845

Getting well

Despite the rebuff of his declaration of love, Browning continued to write and visit Barrett. And although he had been forbidden from mentioning his feelings for her, he expressed them indirectly by urging her to take advantage of the warm summer weather to gain health and strength.

Barrett's progress was slow but steady: on June 10 she reported "yesterday [...] I went down stairs. . .or rather was carried—& am not the worse." (10 June 1845)

Less than a month later she made her first expedition outside the doors of her family home in many years: a short carriage ride towards Regent's Park. Although she later wrote her brother George that "the carriage shook beyond any imagination of my heart, or power of my body" (14 July 1845), she used a more lighthearted tone when describing the adventure to Browning the night after the trip:
Well—I have really been out,—& am really alive after it—which is more surprising still—alive enough I mean, to write even so, tonight. But perhaps I say so with more emphasis, to console myself for failing in my great ambition of getting into the park & of reaching Mr Kenyon’s door just to leave a card there vaingloriously,. . .all which I did fail in, & was forced to turn back from the gates of Devonshire Place. The next time it will be better perhaps—& this time there was no fainting nor anything very wrong. . .not even cowardice on the part of the victim—(be it recorded!) for one of my sisters was as usual in authority & ordered the turning back just according to her own prudence & not my selfwill. Only you will not, any of you, ask me to admit that it was all delightful. . . (7-8 July 1845)
Browning responded encouragingly:
I am happy and thankful the beginning (and worst of it) is over and so well. The Park, & Mr Kenyon's all in good time—and your sister was most prudent—and you mean to try again— [...] go out, without a moment’s thought or care, if to-morrow should suit you—(9 July 1845)
His solicitude touched Barrett deeply. Towards the end of the month she wrote him, 
[...] if I get better or worse. . .as long as I live & to the last moment of life, I shall remember with an emotion which cannot change its character, all the generous interest & feeling you have spent on me——wasted on me I was going to write—[...] I never shall forget these things, my dearest friend,—nor remember them more coldly. (26-27 July 1845)

Image of Elizabeth Barrett's letter to Robert Browning, 26-27 July 1845

Other friends also helped Barrett in her efforts. She wrote George that she had "replaced my sofa by a loan-chair of dear kind Mr Kenyon's,. . .to the obvious inconvenience & dejection of my poor companion [her dog Flush] for whom there's no room close to me." (14 July 1845)

At the end of July Barrett wrote to family friend Judith Martin:
I have been 'getting well'. . .which is a process—going out into the carriage two or three times a week, abdicating my sofa for my armchair. . .moving from one room to another now & then,. . .& walking about mine quite as well as, & with considerably more complacency than a child of two years old. [...] Everybody praises me, & I look in the looking-glass with a better conscience. Also it is an improving improvement—& will be, until, you know, the last hem of the garment of summer is lost sight of—& then, & then, I must either follow to another climate. . .or be ill again. . .that I know, & am prepared for. (28 July 1845)

The Pisa affair

The possibility of a trip to the Mediterranean for the winter had already been raised with Barrett's father in mid-July by her visiting aunt Jane Hedley, "who saw with her eyes how the change came with the sun, & how, from a feeble colourless invalid, I strengthened & brightened as the season advanced. . .she, seeing it day by day!" (13 September 1845) As discussion of a possible trip advanced during August, Barrett's father wrote her what she described to her brother George as a "hard, cold letter": he demanded that she see a doctor, perhaps hoping that any extended travel would be ruled out on medical grounds. The outcome, however, was exactly the reverse, as Barrett delightedly reported to her friend Mary Mitford:
[...] Papa wished me to see [Dr.] Chambers & have his advice—& I sent for him, & was examined with that dreadful stethoscope, & received his command to go without fail to Pisa by sea. He said that it was the obvious thing to do—& that he not merely advised but enjoined it—that there was nothing for me but warm air. . .no other possible remedy. (13 September 1845)
But Barrett's father still refused to give his approval for the trip, which would also necessarily include a sister and a brother as travelling companions:
All I asked him to say the other day, was that he was not displeased with me——& he would’nt; & for me to walk across his displeasure spread on the threshold of the door, & moreover take a sister & brother with me, & do such a thing for the sake of going to Italy, & securing a personal advantage, were altogether impossible, obviously impossible! (18 September 1845)
With time running out before the onset of the cold, stormy weather that would make travel for her impossible, she raised the subject with her father again a few days later:
I have spoken again,—& the result is that we are in precisely the same position,—only with bitterer feelings on one side. If I go or stay they must be bitter: words have been said that I cannot easily forget, nor remember without pain— [...] he complained of the undutifulness & rebellion (!!!) of everyone in the house—& when I asked if he meant that reproach for me, the answer was that he meant it for all of us, one with another. And I could not get an answer. [...] I might do my own way, he said—he would not speak—he would not say that he was not displeased with me, nor the contrary:—I had better do what I liked:—for his part, he washed his hands of me altogether– (24 September 1845)
Her father, without explanation or warning, abruptly stopped visiting her room just before he retired each night:
To show the significance of the omission of those evening or rather night visits of Papa's. . .for they came sometimes at eleven & sometimes at twelve, .. I will tell you that he used to sit & talk in them, & then always kneel & pray with me & for me—which I used of course to feel as a proof of very kind & affectionate sympathy on his part, & which has proportionably pained me in the withdrawing. They were no ordinary visits, you observe,. . .& he could not well throw me further from him than by ceasing to pay them—the thing is quite expressively significant. (11 October 1845)
Paralyzed by her father's anger and disapproval, Barrett turned to Browning for counsel; he responded immediately:
You have said to me more than once that you wished I might never know certain feelings you had been forced to endure: I suppose all of us have the proper place where a blow should fall to be felt most—and I as truly wish you may never feel what I have to bear in looking on, quite powerless, and silent, while you are subjected to this treatment, which I refuse to characterize—so blind is it for blindness. I think I ought to understand what a father may exact, and a child should comply with—[...] I wholly sympathize, however it go against me, with the highest, wariest, pride & love for you, and the proper jealousy and vigilance they entail—but now, and here, the jewel is not being over guarded, but ruined, cast away,—and whoever is privileged to interfere should do so in the possessor’s own interest—all common sense interferes—all rationality against absolute no-reason at all: and you ask whether you ought to obey this no-reason?
While she was willing to disobey her father, she could not bring herself to ask her siblings to do so, "everyone of them all, except myself, being dependent in money-matters on the inflexible will." (20 August 1845) In mid-October, with the weather beginning to turn, a final attempt by her brother George to win permission for the journey failed utterly:
I do not go to Italy. . .it has ended as I feared. What passed between George & Papa there is no need of telling:—only the latter said that I "might go if I pleased, but that going it would be under his heaviest displeasure." George, in great indignation, pressed the question fully. . .but all was vain. . .& I am left in this position. . .to go, if I please, with his displeasure over me, (which after what you have said & after what Mr Kenyon has said, & after what my own conscience & deepest moral convictions say aloud, I would unhesitatingly do at this hour!) and necessarily run the risk of exposing my sister & brother to that same displeasure. . .from which risk I shrink & fall back & feel that to incur it, is impossible. [...] The very kindness & goodness with which they desire me (both my sisters) "not to think of them," naturally makes me think more of them——. And so, tell me that I am not wrong in taking up my chain again & acquiescing in this hard necessity. The bitterest fact of all is, that I had believed Papa to have loved me more than he obviously does— (11 October 1845)


Robert Browning, sketched by André Victor Amédée de Ripert-Monclar, 1837

A declaration renewed, and reciprocated

Barrett was now convinced that her father no longer had her best interests or care at heart. However, there was someone who did, who had aided and encouraged her in getting well, and who had made no secret of his continued passionate feelings for her. In late August, in reply to a letter from her in which she feared he was either "vexed" with her or unwell, he had broken the silence which she had imposed three months previously:
Let me say now—this only once—that I loved you from my soul, and gave you my life, so much of it is as you would take,—and all that is done, not to be altered now: it was, in the nature of the proceeding, wholly independent of any return on your part: [...]—as it is, the assurances of your friendship, the intimacy to which you admit me, now,—make the truest, deepest joy of my life—[...] what you could and would give me, of your affection, you would give nobly and simply and, as a giver—you would not need that I tell you—(tell you!)—what would be supreme happiness to me in the event—however distant– (30 August 1845)
As evidence of her father's selfishness and obstinacy mounted, Browning made a bold offer, couched as a "dream":
[...] you are in what I should wonder at as the veriest slavery—and I who could free you from it, I am here scarcely daring to write. . .tho' I know you must feel for me and forgive what forces itself from me. . .what retires so mutely into my heart at your least word. . .what shall not be again written or spoken, if you so will. . .that I should be made happy beyond all hope of expression by—— Now while I dream, let me once dream! I would marry you now and thus—I would come when you let me, and go when you bade me– I would be no more than one of your brothers—"no more"— [...] I deliberately choose the realization of that dream (—of sitting simply by you for an hour every day) rather than of any other, excluding you, I am able to form for this world, or any world I know. [...] You know what I am, what I would speak, and all I would do. (25 September 1845)

Image of Robert Browning's letter to Elizabeth Barrett, 25 September 1845

Barrett finally allowed herself to acknowledge that she returned his feelings:
[...] your words in this letter have done me good & made me happy,. . .that I thank & bless you for them,. . .& that to receive such a proof of attachment from you, not only overpowers every present evil but seems to me a full & abundant amends for the merely personal sufferings of my whole life. When I had read that letter last night I did think so. I looked round & round for the small bitternesses which for several days had been bitter to me, & I could not find one of them. The tear-marks went away in the moisture of new, happy tears. Why how else could I have felt? how else do you think I could? How would any woman have felt. . .who could feel at all. . .hearing such words said (though "in a dream" indeed) by such a speaker.?
She continued to insist, though, that they needed to wait until her health was sufficiently restored. A recurring theme in her letters to Browning is her fear that she might be a burden to him:
And now listen to me in turn. You have touched me more profoundly than I thought even you could have touched me—my heart was full when you came here today– Henceforward I am yours for everything but to do you harm—and I am yours too much, in my heart, ever to consent to do you harm in that way.—–. If I could consent to do it, not only should I be less loyal .. but in one sense, less yours. I say this to you without drawback & reserve, because it is all I am able to say, & perhaps all I shall be able to say.
But, once the precondition of her restored health was fulfilled, she would gratefully accept his "dream" proposal:
However this may be, a promise goes to you in it that none except God & your will, shall interpose between you & me,––I mean, that if He should free me within a moderate time from the trailing chain of this weakness, I will then be to you whatever at that hour you shall choose. . .whether friend or more than friend. . .a friend to the last in any case. So it rests with God & with you– (26 September 1845)
From this moment on, Barrett's recovery of strength was openly recognized by both lovers to be intertwined with their plans for a life together. But first the long, dangerous winter months would intervene. And always there was the threat of her father discovering Browning's status as acknowledged lover—a discovery which, if it took place, would inevitably result in their forced separation.

Next time: The discovery
Last time: "Burn it at once": The first meeting and Browning's declaration



Image sources:
  1. Sketch of EBB: The Brownings' Correspondence: An Online Edition: Browning Likenesses: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  2. Image of EBB's letter to RB, 26-27 July 1845: Baylor University Library Digital Collections: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ab-letters/id/1091
  3. Sketch of RB: The Brownings' Correspondence: An Online Edition: Browning Likenesses: Robert Browning
  4. Image of RB's letter to EBB, 25 September 1845: Baylor University Library Digital Collections: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ab-letters/id/3324
 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett part 2: "Burn it at once"


Elizabeth Barrett reclining on the sofa in her room, sketched by her brother Alfred Moulton-Barrett, May 1843

The first meeting
Wednesday Morning—Spring! 
Real warm Spring, dear Miss Barrett, and the birds know it; and in Spring I shall see you, surely see you. . .for when did I once fail to get whatever I had set my heart upon? (26 February 1845)
Barrett received this announcement from Browning with trepidation. She responded:
Is it true that your wishes fulfil themselves?— And when they do, are they not bitter to your taste—do you not wish them unfulfilled? (27 February 1845)
Famously reclusive, Barrett allowed visits (which meant, necessarily, entry into her bedroom) by only a handful of old friends. Browning himself had previously been refused permission to see her, in March 1842. At the time she had written to her brother George,
Mr Kenyon proposed also to introduce to my sofa-side. . .Mr Browning the poet. . .who was so honor-giving as to wish something of the sort! I was pleased at the thought of his wishing it—for the rest, no! (30 March 1842)
She later wrote to family friend Julia Martin,
Mr Kenyon wished to bring him to see me five years ago [...]—but I refused then, in my blind dislike to seeing strangers. (22 October 1846)
She did not refuse Browning outright this time, however. She hinted that a visit might be possible, but only at some vague future time:
A little later comes my spring,—and indeed after such severe weather, from which I have just escaped with my life, I may thank it for coming at all [...] spring will really come some day I hope & believe, & the warm settled weather with it, and that then I shall be probably fitter for certain pleasures than I can appear even to myself, now. (27 February 1845)
But this hint was sufficient for Browning to prompt her for a more specific date: "Do you think I shall see you in two months, three months?" (11 March 1845) His insistence brought her to a tentative agreement, but not without a warning:
[...] if you think that I shall not like to see you—you are wrong, for all your learning. But I shall be afraid of you at first—[...] I am a recluse—with nerves that have been all broken on the rack, & now hang loosely,. . .quivering at a step & breath. (20 March 1845)
In early May she raised the possibility of a visit again, only to plead further delay because of the poor weather: "Shall I have courage to see you soon, I wonder! If you ask me, I must ask myself [...] —the English spring-winds have excelled themselves in evil this year; & I have not been down stairs yet" (5-6 May 1845). Browning responded,
"If you ask me, I must ask myself"—that is, when I am to see you. I will never ask you! You do not know what I shall estimate that permission at,—nor do I, quite—but you do—do not you? know so much of me as to make my "asking" worse than a form. [...] I ask you not to see me so long as you are unwell, or mistrustful of (13 May 1845)*


Image of Browning's letter to Barrett of 13 May 1845

Whether she was reassured by his pledge not to ask to see her, or stung by his half-censored accusation of mistrust on her part, her reluctance (if not her ambivalence) was overcome. She wrote back,
Forgive me. I am shy by nature:—& by position & experience,. . .by having had my nerves shaken to excess, & by leading a life of such seclusion,. . .by these things together & by others besides, I have appeared shy & ungrateful to you. Only not mistrustful. You could not mean to judge me so. Mistrustful people do not write as I write,. . .surely! [...]

Well!—but this is to prove that I am not mistrustful, & to say, that if you care to come to see me you can come,—& that it is my gain (as I feel it to be) & not yours, whenever you do come.
The letter contains a remarkable image. In his first letter to her, Browning had compared her poetry to a flower. She echoes that comparison here, but extends the metaphor:
For the rest,. . .when you write that “I do not know how you w[oul]d value, nor yourself quite,” you touch very accurately on the truth [...] Certainly you cannot "quite know," or know at all, whether the least straw of pleasure can go to you from knowing me otherwise than on this paper—& I, for my part, 'quite know' my own honest impression dear Mr Browning, that none is likely to go to you. There is nothing to see in me,—nor to hear in me—I never learnt to talk as you do in London,—although I can admire that brightness of carved speech in Mr Kenyon & others. If my poetry is worth anything to any eye,—it is the flower of me– I have lived most & been most happy in it, & so it has all my colours,—the rest of me is nothing but a root, fit for the ground & the dark.
Of course, "fit for the ground and the dark" is also an image of death—not the first or the last one in her letters. She went on,
Come then. [...] And my sister will bring you up stairs to me,—& we will talk,—or you will talk,—& you will try to be indulgent, & like me as well as you can. [...]

Remember that the how & the when rest with you—except that it cannot be before next week at the soonest. You are to decide– (15 May 1846)
Browning came the following Tuesday, May 20, at 3 o'clock, and stayed until 4:30 (social "morning calls"—actually made after noon and before 5 pm—were usually only 10 to 30 minutes long). The results of that meeting would decisively shift the course of their relationship.


Robert Browning, sketched by André Victor Amédée de Ripert-Monclar, 1837

The declaration

One letter is missing from the Barrett-Browning correspondence. Two days after their first meeting Barrett received a letter from Browning that declared his love, and which may have contained an indirect offer of marriage. She was stunned; the next day she wrote him and forbade him ever to mention it again:
I intended to write to you last night & this morning, & could not,—you do not know what pain you give me in speaking so wildly– [...] You have said some intemperate things. . .fancies—which you will not say over again, nor unsay, but forget at once, & for ever, having said at all,—& which (so) will die out between you & me alone, like a misprint between you & the printer. And this you will do for my sake who am your friend,—(& you have none truer)—& this I ask, because it is a condition necessary to our future liberty of intercourse.
Barrett thought that it was unsuitable that Browning—who had travelled to Europe and had recently written her about dancing the polka until dawn—should express love for a woman who could barely rise from her bed and never left her room:
You remember,—surely you do,—that I am in the most exceptional of positions,—& that, just because of it, I am able to receive you as I did on tuesday,—& that, for me to listen to "unconscious exaggerations", is as unbecoming to the humilities of my position, as unpropitious (which is of more consequence) to the prosperities of yours– Now, if there sh[oul]d be one word of answer attempted to this,—or of reference,—I must not. . .I will not see you again—& you will justify me later in your heart– So for my sake you will not say it—I think you will not—& spare me the sadness of having to break through an intercourse just as it is promising pleasure to me,—to me who have so many sadnesses & so few pleasures.
She also realized that if her father caught wind of Browning's intentions he would be enraged, and that both Browning and his letters would be forever barred from the house ("hail will beat down"):
Your friendship & sympathy will be dear & precious to me all my life, if you indeed leave them with me so long or so little– Your mistakes in me. . .which I cannot mistake (. . .& which have humbled me by too much honoring. . .) I put away gently, & with grateful tears in my eyes,—because all that hail will beat down & spoil crowns, as well as "blossoms." (23 May 1845)
More than a year later Barrett was to confess to Browning the effect his letter had had on her:
[...] the letter was read in pain & agitation, & you have scarcely guessed how much. I could not sleep night after night,—c[oul]d not,—& my fear was at nights, lest the feverishness should make me talk deliriously & tell the secret aloud. [Elizabeth's youngest sister Arabella slept in the same room.] Judge if the deeps of my heart were not shaken. From the first you had that power over me, notwithstanding those convictions which I also had & which you know. (19 May 1846)
"Those convictions" were that she should never fall in love or marry. For one thing, there was her father's stern prohibition against marriage; another barrier was her fragile health.

At Browning's request, she returned his letter, and asked him to destroy it.
I venture to advise you to burn it at once [...] After which friendly turn, you will do me the one last kindness of forgetting all this exquisite nonsense, & of refraining from mentioning it, by breath or pen, to me or another–"
However, in the same letter she invited him to return for another visit, telling him that "if you like to come .. not on tuesday .. but on wednesday at three oclock, I shall be very glad to see you,—& I, for one, shall have forgotten everything by that time,—" (25 May 1845)


Image of Barrett's letter to Browning of 25 May 1845

Their friendship had survived its first crisis. But a few months later another crisis would occur which would bring to the surface all of Browning's forbidden feelings.

Next time: The "Pisa affair"
Last time: The correspondence begins




* The words "mistrustful of" were struck through by Browning in the original, and the sentence left unfinished.

Image sources:
  1. Sketch of EBB: The Brownings' Correspondence: An Online Edition: Browning Likenesses: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  2. Image of RB's letter to EBB, 13 May 1845: Baylor University Library Digital Collections: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ab-letters/id/1735
  3. Sketch of RB: The Brownings' Correspondence: An Online Edition: Browning Likenesses: Robert Browning
  4. Image of EBB's letter to RB, 25 May 1845: Baylor University Library Digital Collections: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ab-letters/id/2497

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett part 1: "The delight of your friendship"

Elizabeth Barrett and her dog Flush. Miniature by Mathilde Carter, 1841

At half-past three on Saturday afternoon, September 19, 1846, Elizabeth Barrett left her family's house in Wimpole Street, London, to go to Hodgson's bookshop around the corner in Great Marylebone Street. Barrett, who suffered from chronically poor health, had spent most of the past six years in virtual seclusion in her bedroom, seeing only a few regular visitors and venturing out of her room infrequently. As usual on her rare expeditions outside the family home she was accompanied by her maid, Elizabeth Wilson, and her dog Flush.

She never returned. At Hodgson's, by prearrangement, she met fellow poet Robert Browning. Together they entered his waiting cab and were driven across the Thames to Vauxhall Station. There they claimed her luggage, secretly sent ahead the previous day, and boarded the 5 pm train to Southampton, arriving there at 8. At 8:15 the night ferry to Le Havre departed with Browning, Barrett and Wilson on board. After a rough passage they arrived the next morning at the French port, where they boarded a night coach for Paris.

The next day, Monday, September 21, they knocked on the door of the Parisian lodgings of their mutual friend, the art historian and critic Anna Jameson, who had not been forewarned of their coming. The travellers were tired and bedraggled; the successive overnight journeys in the heaving boat and jolting carriage were especially hard on Elizabeth. The next day Mrs. Jameson wrote to her friend Lady Noel Byron, "she has suffered much—she is nervous—frightened—ashamed[,] agitated[,] happy, miserable—" (22 September 1846) To Mrs. Jameson the couple broke the news: they were husband and wife, having been married in defiance of her father's express dictates in a clandestine ceremony a week before they left London.

After resting for several days, the Brownings travelled on to northern Italy with Jameson. Back in England, Elizabeth's furious and domineering father, who had forbidden all of his children to marry, disinherited her; he never spoke to her again. But with Elizabeth's independent income of a few hundred pounds a year, financial support from Robert's family, and the earnings from their writings, the Brownings lived for fifteen blissful years in Italy (most of them in Florence). In 1861, at age 55, Elizabeth died there in her husband's arms.

It's one of the most famous love stories in literature. And it's only fitting that the enduring love of these two poets was born and sustained through the written word.

Robert Browning, by J. C. Armytage, based on a sketch attributed to Margaret Gillies ca. 1835 *

The two poets

Literary London in the mid-nineteenth century was a world where everyone seemed to know everyone else, but very few people had ever met the reclusive invalid Elizabeth Barrett. Her already fragile health had been shattered in 1840 when her beloved brother Edward drowned while staying with her at the seaside town of Torquay in Devonshire. Her anguish at his death was compounded by her own intense feelings of guilt; she had asked Edward to remain with her at Torquay instead of going back to London.

After the accident and her own return to the family home in Wimpole Street, Elizabeth stayed entirely in her upstairs room (she did not leave the house or even go downstairs to join the rest of her family for meals). She visited no one, and received only a few visitors, spending her days reclining on a sofa. During this time she produced a collection of poetry, her third book of original verse, which was published in August 1844 with the title Poems. In her preface to the book Barrett wrote,
In 'The Vision of Poets' I have endeavoured to indicate the necessary relations of genius to suffering and self-sacrifice […] I have attempted to express in this poem my view of the mission of the poet, of the self-abnegation implied in it, of the great work involved in it […] and of the obvious truth, above all, that if knowledge is power, suffering should be acceptable as a part of knowledge.**
An anonymous reviewer in The Athenaeum wrote of this work that "much of her verse is profoundly, some of it passionately melancholy." The reviewer recognized that her poems were the expression of a deeply personal sensibility. As Barrett wrote in the preface, "while my poems are full of faults,—as I go forward to my critics, and confess,—they have my heart and life in them." (Athenaeum, 12 August 1844)

Her poems also contained praise of a few of her contemporaries. In "Lady Geraldine's Courtship: A Romance of the Age" the high-born and beautiful Lady Geraldine loves Bertram, a poet of no means and obscure family. Bertram reads aloud to Lady Geraldine from Spenser, Petrarch,
Or at times a modern volume, Wordsworth's solemn-thoughted idyl,
Howitt's ballad-dew, or Tennyson's enchanted reverie,—
Or from Browning some 'Pomegranate,' which, if cut deep down the middle,
Shows a heart within, blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity. (Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1845)
The "Pomegranate" reference is to a series of poems and plays in verse that Browning had been publishing since 1841 in pamphlet form under the collective title Bells & Pomegranates. Browning's immediately previous work, a densely allusive narrative poem entitled Sordello (after a character in Dante's Inferno), had been panned by critics and had not won the public's favor. Bells & Pomegranates had only partly recuperated his reputation; after the success of Barrett's Poems, she was the more highly regarded writer.

At the time of the publication of Barrett's collection Browning himself was in Italy, only returning to England at the end of the year. Hearing the enthusiastic talk of Poems in London's literary circles, Browning read a copy that had been given to his sister by a friend of Barrett, John Kenyon. After reading the book, Browning asked Kenyon whether it would be permissible to write to Barrett. The answer, probably conveyed through Kenyon from Barrett herself—"He assured me with his perfect kindness, you would be even 'pleased' to hear from me" (16 November 1845)—was fateful.


Image of Browning's first letter to Barrett

The correspondence begins
I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,— [...] into me it has gone, and part of me it has become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew [...]

I can give a reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought—but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart—and I love you too [...] (10 January 1845)
By the emotionally reticent standards of the Victorian era, Browning's letter was effusive, not to say extravagant. Browning was responding not only to the flattering reference to his work, but to what he perceived as Barrett's direct, personal, and deeply appealing voice in the poems. As he wrote in his second letter to her:
[...] you do what I always wanted, hoped to do, and only seem now likely to do for the first time—you speak out, you,—I only make men & women speak,—give you truth broken into prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light, even if it is in me [...] (13 January 1845)
Barrett responded the day after she received his first letter, echoing the informality of form and intensity of expression of his:
I thank you, dear Mr Browning, from the bottom of my heart. You meant to give me pleasure by your letter—and even if the object had not been answered, I ought still to thank you. But it is thoroughly answered. Such a letter from such a hand! Sympathy is dear—very dear to me: but the sympathy of a poet & of such a poet, is the quintessence of sympathy to me! […]

I will say that while I live to follow this divine art of poetry, . . .in proportion to my love for it & my devotion to it, I must be a devout admirer & student of your works. This is in my heart to say to you—& I say it. (11 January 1845)
In January 1845 Barrett was 38 years old (Browning was 32). Her beloved brother's death and her continuing health problems had left her deeply melancholy. Although she told Browning early in their correspondence, "I am not desponding by nature" (5 March 1846), she later wrote, "when I first knew you [...] I was tired of living. . .unaffectedly tired [...] My life was ended when I knew you" (13 January 1846 and 15 January 1846).

As they exchanged their first letters, Barrett assumed that she was entering into a solely epistolary friendship with Browning; he, though, had other ideas.

Next in the series: The first meeting and Browning's declaration of love: "Burn it at once"



* The portrait of Browning in this post is from an engraving by J. C. Armytage published in R. H. Horne's A New Spirit of the Age, London, 1844. Before she had any thought of corresponding with Browning, Elizabeth Barrett had received this engraving from Horne, and had framed and hung the portrait in her room (along with those of some of the other authors featured in A New Spirit of the Age: Wordsworth, Tennyson, Carlyle and Harriet Martineau, who was author of (among other works) Life in the Sickroom: Essays by a Invalid). After Barrett met Browning, she wrote to him that "the portrait of you in the 'Spirit of the age' [...] is not like. . .no! [...] has not your character, in a line of it. . . " (4 December 1845)

** In her letters Barrett often uses ellipses to indicate a pause. Where I have omitted material from her or Browning's writings I have enclosed my editorial ellipses in brackets to distinguish them from the ones Barrett wrote.

Image sources:
  1. Miniature of EBB and her dog Flush: The Brownings' Correspondence: An Online Edition: Browning Likenesses: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  2. Engraving of RB: Reproduced in Edward Dowden, Robert Browning (J. M. Dent, 1904), accessed online at Project Gutenberg.
  3. Image of RB's first letter to EBB: Baylor University Library Digital Collections: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ab-letters/id/1960

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Favorites of 2016: Movies and television

Indian films


Madhabi Mukherjee and Satyajit Ray: Satyajit Ray did only three films with the luminous actress Madhabi Mukherjee: Mahanagar (The Big City, 1963), Charulata (1964), and Kapurush (The Coward, 1965). All are brilliantly realized.


Kapurush is a brief and almost Hitchcockian story in which a man who finds himself stranded in a remote village has an unexpected encounter with a former lover, Karuna (Mukherjee). She is now the wife of the wealthy, affable but boorish tea-grower who offers to put the traveller up for the night. Will the reunited lovers run off together (and would that be a good thing?), or will Karuna remain buried alive in her marriage?


In Charulata Mukherjee portrays another wife who is stifled by her marriage. Her husband is so consumed by his political interests that he's unaware of how bored, lonely and frustrated she is. When her writer cousin-in-law comes for an extended visit Charulata's creative impulses are awakened—as are her yearnings for the profound emotional and intellectual connection that her husband, kind as he is, is incapable of providing.


But perhaps my favorite of these three films is Mahanagar, which is also the most warmly humanistic. Mukherjee is a sheltered young housewife and mother, Arati, who out of necessity takes a job outside the home. After her initial trepidation she soon blossoms as she discovers her own resourcefulness and inner strength. But her economic independence and newfound confidence bring her into conflict with the old patriarchal values inherited by her husband. She has changed; will he?

All three films are available in the Criterion Collection; the beautiful restorations do full justice to the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of Soumendu Roy (Kapurush) and Subrata Mitra (Mahanagar and Charulata).

Read the full posts: Mahanagar | Charulata | Kapurush


Three films with Shammi

Somehow we had watched Bollywood films for more than a decade before we saw our first film starring Shammi Kapoor. His exuberance, charm, and surprising grace are overwhelming even on the small screen. This year we saw three of his best-known films, but Junglee (The wild man, 1962), Teesri Manzil (Third floor, 1966), and many others await (see, I hope, my Favorites of 2017).


Brahmachari (1968): Shammi stars as the title character, who runs a home for a group of utterly adorable orphans. One day he rescues Sheetal (Rajshree) as she's about to commit suicide because her greedy boyfriend Ravi (Pran) has refused to marry her. Sheetal helps Brahmachari with the orphans, and he vows to reunite her with Ravi. And he succeeds—only, he has fallen in love with her himself...


Bluff Master (1963): Newly arrived in the big city, Ashok (Shammi) finds a job at a newspaper owned by petulant rich girl Seema (Saira Banu). Of course, love is sure to follow—but first Ashok must overcome Seema's initial bad impression of him, and thwart an attempt by her corrupt uncle and her greedy fiancé (Pran, of course) to steal control of the paper and her wealth. This being a Manmohan Desai movie, Ashok's plan involves facing off against Seema in a qawwali competition—in drag:


The music is by Kalyanji-Anandji assisted by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, with lyrics by Rajinder Krishan; the playback singers are Shamshad Begum (Shammi) and Usha Mangeshkar (Saira).


Professor (1962): A strict aunt advertises for a tutor for her two orphaned nieces, but specifies that only an old man will be hired—she doesn't want her nieces consorting with eligible men. Pritam (Shammi), who must somehow pay for his mother's life-saving treatment in a tuberculosis sanitorium, decides to apply in disguise, and as the elderly "Professor Khanna" he's hired.

Professor Khanna tries to help the nieces understand that their aunt's strictness is an expression of her love for them, and tries to encourage the aunt to recognize that her nieces are nearing adulthood and that it's time to relax her rules—but to no avail on either side.

Meanwhile, when out of disguise Pritam meets one of the nieces in town, and mutual attraction ensues. At the same time, in the heart of the strict aunt unfamiliar feelings are beginning to stir for Professor Khanna...

As I wrote in my original post on these highly enjoyable films, "Shammi wears his heart on his sleeve. Watching him is just a joyful experience."

Read the full post: Big-hearted: Shammi Kapoor


Non-Indian films

 
Remember the Night (1940) features a Preston Sturges script, and co-stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray four years before the Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity. MacMurray is an assistant DA who (thanks to a guilty conscience) decides to bail shoplifter Lee Leander (Stanwyck) out of jail and take her home for Christmas. If you think you know where this is going, you're only partly right. The holiday sentimentality is frequently undercut, not only by Stanwyck's wisecracking (and amazingly suggestive) dialogue, but with a bitter mother-daughter confrontation scene and a darkly ambiguous ending that suggests that redemption isn't always possible. A bleak masterpiece of Christmas noir.

Read the full post: Christmas noir: Remember the Night



Blancanieves (Snow White, 2012): Writer/director Pablo Berger's stylish homage to silent cinema was a victim of fate: it came out just after another stylish and highly acclaimed homage to silent cinema, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist (2011). The coincidence meant that Berger's film didn't receive the wide notice that it deserved.

With its striking black-and-white visuals, Blancanieves is like a Grimm's fairy tale retold by Luis Buñuel. In Berger's film Snow White is Carmen, the daughter of a famous toreador who was gored by a bull and is now paralyzed. Her evil stepmother orders Carmen to be abandoned in the woods, where she is found by a travelling troupe of bullfighting dwarves. She soon becomes a famous bullfighter herself, but her renown catches the attention and excites the renewed jealousy of her stepmother. A poetic and surreal fable that should be far better known.



The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013): This darkly comic film begins with a 100-year-old man, Allan (an utterly convincing performance by Robert Gustafsson), fleeing his depressing nursing-home birthday party and setting out on his own. Misadventures begin immediately, as he winds up with a dead drug dealer's suitcase full of cash and is pursued both by the criminal gang and by an incompetent and easily distracted police detective. In flashback we see how Allan—whose main interests seem to revolve around getting drunk and blowing things up—cluelessly staggered from one of the 20th century's human catastrophes to another. The body count is high, and people meet their demise in a number of horribly absurd ways. Hilarious, disturbing and brilliant.


Television


The Paradise (BBC, 2012-13): Émile Zola's novel The Ladies' Paradise (Au bonheur des dames, 1883) is about the development of the department store in the late 19th century, and the doom it spelled for smaller businesses. There are many differences between the novel and the series, not the least of which is the change of setting from Paris to northern England. (According to Michael Miller's "The Birth of the Department Store," the first shopping emporium in Britain was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, only 50 miles or so from the Scottish border.)

Another difference is that although the series shows the impact of the large economic shifts brought about by the department store, the main focus is on a young woman's coming-of-age. Denise (Joanna Vanderham) travels from her small town to stay with her uncle Edmund (Peter Wight), a high street tailor and dressmaker, and finds herself inexorably drawn to the economic, social and romantic opportunities represented by the Paradise. The manager of the store, John Moray (a name that not only echoes that of Zola's protagonist, Octave Mouret, but nicely suggests Moray's position as dominant predator and his slippery, elusive nature), impressed by Denise's ideas, becomes her secret ally and soon finds himself falling in love with her. But his involvement with Denise only adds to the complications of his love life: he is already engaged to Katherine (Elaine Cassidy), the daughter of store owner Lord Glendenning (Patrick Malahide). As Moray, Scottish actor Emun Elliott does a great job portraying a man caught between his economic and erotic interests.

Miller takes the series to task for its departures from novel. Which is strange, because he also writes that Zola's book "fails miserably as a purely literary creation. Neither characters nor plot development carry any significant weight. . .[the] characters are almost all totally forgettable." Would it really be possible to create a watchable adaptation that was faithful to Zola's novel? Perhaps because I am unfamiliar with the source I wasn't bothered in the least by the freedoms taken by the creator of the series, Bill Gallagher.

Miller calls the series a "period-piece soap opera." There's a certain justice in that description, and there are also some obvious parallels to another excellent Gallagher-created series, Lark Rise to Candleford (in fact, the actress who played Laura in that series, Olivia Hallinan, has a cameo in one episode of The Paradise). But we thoroughly enjoyed the thwarted-romance plots, the vivid secondary characters (including the delightful Ruby Bentall as the shopgirl Pauline—who inexplicably disappears after the first season—David Hayman as the gravelly-voiced store accountant/investigator Jonas, and Stephen Wight as the brash shopfloor assistant Sam), the amazing costumes (based on paintings of the period by James Tissot) and the incredibly detailed sets. Another excellent BBC series.

Other posts in this series:
Favorites of 2016: Books
Favorites of 2016: Music

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Favorites of 2016: Books

Nonfiction

Daniel Bergner, Sing For Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family (Little, Brown, 2016)

Ryan Speedo Green's life story is shattering. His parents split up when he was a young child, and his mother struggled to provide a safe home for the family. As he grew older Green lashed out, exploding in uncontrollable rages. At age 12 he was institutionalized at a facility for violent juveniles, where he was frequently locked in isolation for threatening (and at times assaulting) the staff and other inmates. His life was spiraling out of control.

A dozen years later he walked onstage at the Metropolitan Opera as a semifinalist in the National Council Auditions, the most prestigious operatic vocal competition in the United States. Even to make it to the semifinals is to beat astronomical odds. Green felt desperately out of place, he didn't know how to pronounce Italian properly, and he could barely read music. And then, after his performance in the semifinals, he waits to hear whether he has been chosen for the finals...

Daniel Bergner's recounting of Green's struggles against poverty, racism, and his self-destructive impulses—with the aid of dedicated teachers and his own sheer determination—would be too implausible if it were fiction. It makes for gripping and inspiring reading.*

I read four memoirs by rock musicians in 2016 (and no, that list doesn't (yet) include Born To Run). Two were among my favorite books of the year, and one was my biggest disappointment:

Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (Riverhead Books, 2015)

Brownstein, a guitarist and vocalist in Sleater-Kinney, "offers moving accounts of what it was like to grow up in the 70s and 80s in a suburban family with deeply hidden emotional fissures; to find music as a refuge, as a solace, as an escape, and as a means of expression; to enter the adult world with deep uncertainty about your future and purpose; to try to find like-minded people as friends, partners, mentors, and co-creators; and to struggle to hold on to what you've achieved while at the same time allowing yourself and your partners room to grow and change. . .At the end of the book, describing how it felt to step onstage for the opening show of the tour for the first Sleater-Kinney album in a decade, 2015's No Cities to Love, she writes, 'I was home.'"

Patti Smith, M Train (Knopf, 2015)

"M Train is Patti Smith's deeply personal memoir covering the period from her move to Detroit in 1980 up to the present. In its format and associative structure it is clearly influenced by W. G. Sebald's unclassifiable works such as Rings of Saturn, but like Smith's great cover versions of songs by other artists, it emerges as something uniquely her own, expressed in her own unmistakable voice."

Biggest disappointment: Elvis Costello, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink (Blue River Press, 2015)

"This rambling, confusingly arranged book would be twice as good if half its ink had really disappeared. . .my admiration for Costello did anything but grow after spending 670 pages in his sometimes enjoyable, sometimes annoying, sometimes evasive, and sometimes tedious company. As he writes with self-lacerating wit (on page 372), 'The trouble with finishing any autobiographical tome like this is that for every mildly diverting tale or precious memory, you eventually arrive at this thought: I don't much care for the subject.' It's a feeling the reader may come to share."

Read the full post: Whole lives: Carrie Brownstein, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello

The fourth rock-musician memoir I read this year was Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band (Dey Street, 2015), about which I had distinctly mixed feelings.

Two of my favorite nonfiction books this year inspired not one, but a series of posts:

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Selected Letters (selected and edited by Isobel Grundy, Penguin, 1997)

Lady Mary eloped with a man she tolerated to avoid a forced marriage to a man she despised; travelled with her husband and children to Turkey, where she learned of smallpox inoculation, went to the public baths, and was entertained in a harem; may have had love affairs before and after her marriage with both women and men; and in her late forties left her husband, home and country to follow the man she loved to Italy. I wrote that "she was the medical heroine who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, saving thousands of lives. She was also an acclaimed poet, a woman noted for her learning and wit, and the first Western woman to give an account of Ottoman culture." Her letters are emotionally revealing, sometimes uncomfortably so, and her adventures read like a novel. Also recommended as a companion to the letters: Isobel Grundy's excellent biography of Lady Mary (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Read the first post in the series: "I tremble for what we are doing": Lady Mary Wortley Montagu part 1

Paula Byrne: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (Harper, 2013)

I wrote that The Real Jane Austen is "a fascinating (and very entertaining) examination of a series of objects—among them a family silhouette, an Indian shawl, and a pair of topaz crosses—that illustrate key aspects of Austen's life, work and world." While Byrne has a tendency to write "must have" and "certainly" where she should have written "may have" and "possibly," her engaging book (along with Jocelyn Harris's more specialized A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen's Persuasion (University of Delaware Press, 2007)) inspired me to spend a richly rewarding six months re-reading all of Austen's novels.

Read the first post in the series: "Six months with Jane Austen: The plan"

Fiction

The novels of Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novels are sometimes considered to be timelessly romantic. But I was made far more aware of the social world of Austen's books by passionate readers and scholars such as Paula Byrne, Jocelyn Harris, Brian Southam, and many others. They highlighted issues such as the difficulties faced by women in a highly unequal marriage market, the daughter of a West Indian slave who may have been the inspiration for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, and the unenviable fates of unmarried women without independent means. Awareness of the economic and political realities faced by her characters and by Austen herself made my renewed encounters with her novels an even richer and more involving experience. As I wrote in my final post in the Six Months with Jane Austen series, "Her books are inexhaustible; I know that I will be returning to them again and again."

Read the full series (listed in reverse order): "Six Months with Jane Austen"

Maurizio de Giovanni, the Commissario Ricciardi novels

Sure, the detective as an emotionally wounded loner who follows his own personal code of justice in a city full of corruption, violence and evil is a staple of noir fiction. But the Commissario Ricciardi novels of Italian writer Maurizio de Giovanni are set apart by the richness of their historical setting: Naples in the middle years of Mussolini's fascist regime. The evocation of time and place is highly convincing, and over the course of the series de Giovanni only gradually brings to the fore the impact of fascism on the everyday lives of his characters. Each novel is set during a particular time of year, and as I wrote in my original post, "de Giovanni vividly renders the characteristic sights, sounds and smells of Naples (including its seasonal festivals, cuisine and other traditions)." He also provides his detective with supernatural perception, an element that at first feels like a gimmick but which grows more emotionally consequential as the series progresses. And finally, the novels are distinguished by the almost cinematic quality of de Giovanni's writing (generally well-translated by Anne Milano Appel and Anthony Shugaar). Europa Editions is to be commended for bringing yet another compelling European writer to the attention of English-language readers. The eighth novel in the Commissario Ricciardi series, Glass Souls, has already been announced for 2017.

Read the full post: "Seasons of blood: The Commissario Ricciardi novels of Maurizio de Giovanni"

Next in the series: Favorite movies of 2016




* Note to Sing for Your Life's designers: I realize it's too much to ask for the word "opera" to appear on the cover of a book headed for the bestseller lists, but doesn't the subject's name belong there?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Favorites of 2016: Music

It's that time of year again, when I offer a brief survey of my favorite opera and other music, books, Indian and other movies, television, etc. experienced in the past year.

Favorite live performances


Marissa Simmons as Nerone and Danielle Cheiken as Poppea in Opera Theater Unlimited's production of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea. Photo by Valentina Sadiul

This was an amazing year for performances by local musical groups, often inventively staged in nontraditional venues. I can only hope that as housing in the Bay Area gets priced out of the reach of everyone who doesn't work at Facebook, Google or Twitter, local musical groups can continue to produce programs of such artistic adventurousness and high quality.

In more-or-less-chronological order, my favorite live performances by local musicians this year included:
  • The "Opera Medium Rare" series at West Edge Opera: The other Barber of Seville and the other Bohème, in semi-staged concert performances with excellent young casts accompanied by WEO's indefatigable music director Jonathan Khuner, performed at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse
  • Three superb Baroque operas: Black Box Baroque's production of Handel's Alcina at Exit Theatre, Ars Minerva's modern premiere of The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles at the Marines Memorial Theater, and Opera Theater Unlimited's production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at Exit Theatre (which unfortunately I didn't have a chance to write about; you can see photos and reviews of the production at OTU's website)
  • The Haydn Project's continuing series of informal performances of Haydn string quartets at the Freight and Salvage
  • The Berkeley Early Music Festival and Festival Fringe, including performances by soprano Danielle Sampson (with four different groups!), soprano Jennifer Paulino, and the chamber orchestra Voices of Music (with Rachel Podger and Elizabeth Blumenstock), sponsored by the SF Early Music Society
  • American Bach Soloists' Summer Festival concert version of Handel's brilliant Parnasso in Festa (Celebration on Parnassus), a North American premiere at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • The programs of German lieder stunningly performed by Kindra Scharich at SF Music Day and the Noe Valley Ministry to open the recital season of Lieder Alive!


Jenn Weddel, Stacy Martorana and Rita Donahue in L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Photo by Kevin Yatarola.

Other favorite concerts included:
  • Mark Morris Dance Group's reprise of the delightful L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato accompanied by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorus at Cal Performances
  • Mark Morris Dance Group's world premiere of Layla & Majnun, with Azerbaijani mugham vocalists Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova together with the Silk Road Ensemble, commissioned by Cal Performances
  • Philippe Jaroussky's recital of chansons setting the poetry of Paul Verlaine at Cal Performances
  • The Takács Quartet's first two installments in their survey of the complete Beethoven string quartets, made even more engaging by the host of accompanying demonstrations, interviews, talks, master classes, and other events surrounding the concerts at Cal Performances


Favorite recordings
  • Gustave Charpentier: Louise. Ninon Vallin, Georges Thill, Les Choeurs Raugel and Orchestra conducted by Eugene Bigot (recorded 1935; Nimbus Records)
    If in La Bohème Puccini and his librettists depicted bohemian life in Paris, Charpentier lived it—and out of his experience produced this masterpiece. As I wrote in my post on the opera, this 1935 recording "despite the substantial abridgment and the limits of the mono sound is still perhaps the greatest recording of the opera that has ever been made."


  • Handel: Partenope. Karina Gauvin, Philippe Jaroussky, Il Pomo d'Oro directed by Riccardo Minasi (Erato)
    Queen Partenope must choose among three suitors, one of whom is challenged by an impetuous young warrior—who turns out to be his rejected fiancée in disguise. This recording captures the full range of comedy and pathos in Handel's music, and the cast couldn't be bettered. 
  • Cavalli: La Didone. Anna Bonitatibus, Kresimir Spicer, Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie (Opus Arte DVD)
    Cavalli was a protégé of Monteverdi's, and composed in similar flowing arioso. This retelling of Aeneas's abandonment of Queen Dido of Carthage, taken from Virgil's Aeneid, changes its source by tacking on a happy ending in place of Dido's death. But although it would have been dramatically stronger as a tragedy, the opera is here given a striking production (directed by Clément Hervieu-Léger) with an excellent cast, and the music is brilliantly realized by Christie and his group.
  • Joyce DiDonato: In War & Peace, with Il Pomo d'Oro directed by Maxim Emelyanychev (Erato)
    On CD, this is a striking recital of Baroque arias—including three world premiere recordings—on themes of conflict (both internal and external) and resolution. In concert (seen December 4 at Zellerbach Hall, produced by Cal Performances) DiDonato is an exceptionally vivid and emotionally communicative performer. So much so that I found a good deal of the staging (a bare-chested male dancer and in-your-face lighting) unnecessary; the music and DiDonato's expressive voice conveyed everything that was needed.
  • Philippe Jaroussky: Bach - Telemann: Sacred Cantatas, with Freiburger Barockorchester directed by Petra Müllejans (Erato)
    The Bach cantatas on this disc, "Vergnügte Ruh" and "Ich habe genug," have been recorded many times before, but Jaroussky's beauty of tone and musical intelligence are always welcome. If you already own Andreas Scholl's performance of "Vergnügte Ruh" with the Orchestre du Collegium Vocale directed by Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi) and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's searing version of "Ich habe genug" with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music directed by Craig Smith (Nonesuch), Jaroussky's first recording of German-language Baroque music may not feel essential. Essential, perhaps not, but Jaroussky's artistry is always highly rewarding.


Other posts in the series: 
Favorite books of 2016
Favorite movies and television of 2016