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A Cinderella Among the Muses: Barrett Browning and the Ballad Tradition

  • Marjorie Stone
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Part of the Women Writers book series (WW)

Abstract

In their 1867 edition of Bishop Percy’s folio of ballads, John H. Hales and Frederick J. Furnivall picture the ballad before the Romantic revival as a ‘Cinderella’ among the Muses:

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

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.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Malcolm Laws, Jr, The British Literary Ballad: A Study in Poetic Imitation (Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1972) pp. 151–8, 89–93.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Nancy K. Miller, Subject to Change: Reading Feminist Writing (New York, Columbia University Press, 1988) p. 208.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Hermann Fischer, Romantic Verse Narrative: The History of a Genre trans. Sue Bollans (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991) pp. 24–35, 53, 90;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Albert B. Friedman, The Ballad Revival: Studies in the Influence of Popular on Sophisticated Poetry (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1961) p. 298.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Stephen Parrish, The Art of the Lyrical Ballads (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1973) pp. 86–90;Google Scholar
  6. Mary Jacobus, Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth’s ‘Lyrical Ballads’ (1798) (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976) pp. 209–32, 277–83.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tilottama Rajan, The Supplement of Reading: Figures of Understanding in Romantic Theory and Practice (Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press, 1990) p. 140.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, Consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs, and other Pieces of our Earlier Poets, Together with some few of later Date (London, J. Dodsley, 1765) vol. 3, pp. 310–13.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Cited by Mary Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1988) p. 147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Marjorie Stone 1995

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  • Marjorie Stone

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