A Cinderella Among the Muses: Barrett Browning and the Ballad Tradition
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Some readers might pause over the class- and gender-inflected assumptions in this ingenuous fairy story of a gallantly patronizing ‘Prince’ taking a low-born maiden ‘to himself’. But few would dispute the importance of the union Hales and Furnivall fancifully describe. Every student of Romantic poetry recognizes the profound significance of the ballad revival, reflected in Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘minstrelsy’, and above all in the Lyrical Ballads published by Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1798.
She had never dared to think herself beautiful. No admiring eyes ever came near her in which she might mirror herself. She had never dared to think her voice sweet… She met with many enemies, who clamoured that the kitchen was her proper place, and vehemently opposed her admission into any higher room. The Prince was long in finding her out. The sisters put many an obstacle between him and her… But at last the Prince found her, and took her in all her simple sweetness to himself.1
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