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Isa or Isabella Jane Blagden (30 June 1816 or 1817 – 20 January 1873) was an English-language novelist and poet born in the East Indies or India, who spent much of her life among the English community in Florence. She was notably friendly with the Browning, Bulwer-Lytton and Trollope families. Blagden was friends with Charlotte Cushman and Emma Stebbins; one of the women’s many pets became the subject of a eulogy by Isa Blagden, “To Dear Old Bushie. From One Who Loved Her.” In its emphasis on the true devotion of a passionate love that remains tacit, the poem signals Blagden’s genuine affection for Bushie and her appreciation for the “lifelong love” between the two women with whom the dog lived.
Blagden's father's first name is given as Thomas in the records of the Florentine Protestant cemetery and her nationality as Swiss, but she was widely thought to be the illegitimate offspring of an English father and an Indian mother. This seemed to be confirmed by an Oriental appearance. There is circumstantial evidence that she was born in Calcutta, the natural daughter of one Thomas Bracken and of a Eurasian, possibly named Blagden. Little is known firmly about her before she arrived in 1850 in Florence, where she soon became a feature of the English community. She was probably educated at Louisa Agassiz's Ladies School near Regent's Park, London, which was favoured by English parents in India.
In Florence Blagden had a comfortable income (possibly an allowance from her father and later his estate) and was remembered as a kind, generous friend, notably to the Browning, Bulwer-Lytton and Trollope families. She is said to have occupied "a unique place in the Brownings' circle by virtue of her intimacy with both poets." She may have been romantically involved with Robert Bulwer-Lytton, the poet son of the novelists Edward Bulwer-Lytton and his wife Rosina, after nursing him in 1857.
Some of the surviving letters to Blagden from Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning are demonstrably affectionate. (Unfortunately Blagden's letters to them have not survived.)
"Isa, perfect in companionship, as in other things," Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote of her. In one letter to Isa in the summer of 1859, she wrote: "My ever dearest, kindest Isa, I can't let another day go without writing just a word to say that I am alive enough to love you." In another from Paris a year earlier, Elizabeth Barrett Browning states that they had arrived "having lost nothing – neither a carpet-bag nor a bit of our true love for you."
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