How Do I Love Thee?

Written by Nancy Moser
Review by B. J. Sedlock

This is an inspirational fiction take on the famous love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. It begins in 1840, when Elizabeth (“Ba” to her family) suffers guilt over the death of her brother in a sailing accident. Her father’s peculiarities, including a refusal to let any of his children marry, deeply affect the Barretts’ family life. Ba, a self-taught classical scholar and poet, is confined to her room by chronic illness, maintaining contact with the world via correspondence with fellow authors. Robert Browning writes her an admiring letter, but it is long before the recluse will allow a stranger to visit her room.

A romance eventually grows between them, but when they do decide to marry, they must hide it from her family, followed by a flight to the Continent. There the Brownings enjoy a happy marriage, eventually producing a son. When Robert is in despair over the news of his beloved mother’s death, Ba presents him with the poems eventually published as “Sonnets from the Portuguese.”

The author of fictional biographies of Jane Austen, Mozart’s sister, and Martha Washington, Moser uses the Brownings’ own words when possible and quotes many passages from their letters. Her research resulted in 42 pages of supplemental material: book club discussion questions, explanations of fact vs. fiction, and excerpts of Ba’s sonnets, including the famous one quoted in the book’s title. Ba’s religious views from her writings are gently emphasized. The main problem with a novel based on her life is the difficulty of making enough drama from the domestic situation of a character who almost never leaves her room. But I was intrigued enough to seek out a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning after finishing this book, and bet that Christian fiction fans will also have their interest sparked.