November 1854–November 1855, Letters 3487–3677
Volume 21 finds the Brownings spending the winter in Florence. They make progress towards the completion of their masterworks: Aurora Leigh and Men and Women. RB begins transcribing the latter in April with Isa Blagden acting as secretary. In late June, the poets start for England, stopping in Paris for a short visit. Not long after their arrival in London, they attend a séance at Ealing conducted by Daniel Home. A wreath of flowers is placed on EBB’s head by “spirit hands,” but RB believes this and other manifestations to be a clumsy deception perpetrated by the medium. EBB believes otherwise. In late September the Brownings are thrilled when Alfred Tennyson reads aloud his recently published Maud at their apartment. Dante Gabriel Rossetti is also there, and he draws a sketch of Tennyson, afterwards presenting it to the Brownings. The sketch and Rossetti’s evocative watercolor portrait of RB, dated October 1855, are reproduced in this volume. The Brownings return to Paris for the winter. RB’s Men and Women is published on 10 November, and the poets eagerly await news of its public and critical reception.