July 1856–January 1857, Letters 3810–3962
Volume 23 opens with the Brownings taking up summer residence in London, where EBB immediately dives into work: she corrects proofs of her Poems (1856), while completing her modern epic, Aurora Leigh, which begins printing in early August. Proofs start to arrive later in the month just as the Brownings feel it necessary to leave town. They spend the next five weeks on the Isle of Wight, first visiting EBB’s sister Arabella and three of her brothers in Ventnor, then the gravely ill John Kenyon in West Cowes. On their roundabout return to London, they stay a week with EBB’s sister Henrietta and her family in Somerset. Meanwhile, the proofs of Aurora Leigh have followed the Brownings “like bloodhounds,” as EBB phrases it, and she manages to finish proofreading and correcting only days before their departure for Italy on 23 October. Upon resuming their quiet life in Florence, the poets await the critical reception of Aurora Leigh, which is published on 15 November. All reviews of the poem traced for this period appear in Appendix III, including those by H.F. Chorley and George Eliot. There are also glowing letters of praise from friends, such as John Ruskin, who twice names Aurora Leigh “the greatest poem in the English language.” In December, the Brownings receive word of John Kenyon’s death. In his will, he bequeaths them £10,500, effectively ending their financial worries.