Sarianna Browning

Sarianna Browning (1814–1903)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 310–311.

Born in Camberwell on 7 January 1814—about two years after her brother, RB—Sarianna was the only other child of Robert (Sr.) and Sarah Anna Browning. Never marrying, she spent her entire adult life as a companion to her mother, her father, RB, and—finally—nephew Pen. Joseph Arnould, a friend of RB, described her at age 30 as follows: “… she is marvellously clever—such fine clear animal spirits—talks much and well, and yet withal is so simply and deeply good-hearted that it is a real pleasure to be with her” (RB-AD, p. 104). RB’s French associate Amédée de Ripert-Monclar (q.v.) likewise complimented her appearance and accomplishments. Another Browning family friend, Captain James Pritchard (mentioned by RB in letter 497), remembered her with a legacy of £1,000 plus some books and papers when he died in 1859. Sarianna attended Miss Goodson’s School in Camberwell. There, her intelligence was favourably noted by Italian tutor Angelo Cerutti, who also taught RB and stimulated his interest in Italian culture. To some extent, Sarianna lived in her brother’s shadow—as confidante, amanuensis of early works, proof-reader, etc. She was among the few who knew about his anonymous authorship of Pauline (1833), and was herself a person of wide literary tastes. Sarah Anna Browning—mother of RB and Sarianna—died in 1849, while RB was in Italy. EBB, in a letter to Mary Russell Mitford (q.v.) dated 30 April, told how Sarianna broke the news: “My husband has been in the deepest anguish, and indeed, except for the courageous consideration of his sister who wrote two letters of preparation, saying that ‘she was not well,’ & she ‘was very ill’ when in fact all was over, I am frightened to think what the result would have been to him.” After the mother’s death, Sarianna continued to live with RB, Sr., accompanying him to Paris when he moved there in 1852. Cyrus Mason, a cousin, has accused her of being unsympathetic and domineering toward her father, but this is not necessarily a fair assessment. Mason also mentions, as apparent evidence of snobbishness: “Sarianna Browning passing on her way to Chapel, followed by a maid servant carrying her books” (The Poet Robert Browning and his Kinsfolk, ed. W. Craig Turner, 1983, p. 98). After the death of RB, Sr., which occurred in 1866, Sarianna was a constant companion of the widowed RB, and the efficient manager of his London household—first at 19 Warwick Crescent and later at 29 De Vere Gardens. She willingly shared the rigours of his travels, which sometimes included muleback rides and sojourns at primitive country inns. She also shared his close association and correspondence with Mrs. Katharine Bronson, of Venice, during the final decade of RB’s life. (For the correspondence, see More Than Friend, ed. Michael Meredith, Waco, Texas & Winfield, Kansas, 1985.) In his will, RB left Sarianna a substantial regular income from proceeds of his stocks and other securities. After his death in Italy, in 1889, Sarianna returned to London and stayed for a little over a year. She then spent the rest of her life in Italy with her nephew, Pen. She died at his estate, Casalino, near Florence, on 22 April 1903, and was buried in Gli Allori, Via Senese (section E, line 2, number 13). The same Florentine cemetery holds Pen’s tomb (section E, line 5, number 19).

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