Browning, Elizabeth Barrett: Title Commentary
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING: TITLE COMMENTARYAurora Leigh
SUEANN SCHATZ (ESSAY DATE WINTER 2000)
SOURCE: Schatz, SueAnn. "Aurora Leigh as Paradigm of Domestic-Professional Fiction." Philological Quarterly 79, no. 1 (winter 2000): 91-117.
In the following essay, Schatz presents Aurora Leigh as Browning's effort to counter the Victorian idealization of the domestic woman by creating a heroine who could appear in both domestic and professional roles.
I am waiting for a story, and I won't take one, because I want to make one, and I like to make my own stories, because then I can take liberties with them in the treatment.
—Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning; February 27, 1845
If, therefore, I move certain subjects in this work, it is because my conscience was first moved in me not to ignore them.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Julia Martin;
Through an analysis of Aurora Leigh as domestic-professional fiction, in this essay I investigate Elizabeth Barrett Browning's evolving feminist and artistic philosophy. I define domestic-professional fiction as possessing several distinctive attributes: a prominent character is a professional woman writer who also occupies the role of caregiver in the home. While fulfilling the role of the ideal Victorian woman, "The Angel in the House," the domestic-professional author also subverts Victorian expectations of women by asserting her right to confront immediate political and moral issues and offer solutions. Domestic-professional texts offer paradigms of the woman/writer whose chosen vocation is that of social critic, a model intended to replace the Victorian ideal of woman precisely by co-opting it. Finally, domestic-professional fiction ultimately challenges its readers to make the decision to effect social change.
Barrett Browning's philosophy of literature, revealed in the content and form of Aurora Leigh, most definitively envisions a feminine strength and morality that address society's needs, extending the domestic ethics into the public sphere. Barrett Browning also stresses the power of writing as a means of discovering "truth" and as a woman's construction and acceptance of her self. Aurora's growth as a writer and a woman results from her relationships with Romney Leigh and Marian Erle. Thus, since a central thematic principle in domestic-professional fiction is that a woman break free from cultural conventions to cultivate the power that can transform society, Barrett Browning's doctrine of art encompasses the personal and the political, of which Aurora and Romney's marriage is the ultimate symbol; the "New Jerusalem" they anticipate at the end of this epic verse-novel emphasizes the need to work toward a just society. Importantly, while Barrett Browning advocates the construction of a fair society, she does so by critiquing a cherished Victorian ideal, that of the Angel in the House that she believes denigrates both women and society. For Barrett Browning, society will benefit much more from the professional woman than from the woman who has no creative outlet other than her domestic duties.
Aurora Leigh was first published in 1856, two years after another poem whose female figure would increasingly personify the ideal Victorian woman, Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House. Barrett Browning uses a variety of characters familiar to Victorian readers—the lovelorn heroine (Aurora), the "good" woman (Aurora again), the "fallen" woman (Marian), the social idealist (Romney), and the conniving aristocrat (Lady Waldemar), among others, in surprising ways to address her concerns regarding contemporary issues, such as the woman question, individualism and social conditions. One character type that appears only marginally is the Angel in the House, the feminine figure who is becoming increasingly codified into the middle-class norm as the ideal woman.'1 There are several instances in which the Angel does show up briefly in Aurora Leigh, only to be exorcised by Barrett Browning, who realizes how damaging this image is to women. She teasingly introduces such a woman in the form of Aurora's mother on the first page of the book:
But still I catch my mother at her post2
Beside the nursery-door, with finger up,
'Hush, hush—here's too much noise!' while her sweet eyes
Leap forward, taking part against her word
In the child's riot.
But Barrett Browning immediately destroys such an image by informing the reader that Aurora's mother is already dead. Further, Aurora's study of her mother's portrait conjures up not an idealized version of the woman, but shows the layers of complexity that women truly are (1.149-68). Images range from "abhorrent" to "beautiful," from Muses and Fates, Psyche and Medusa, to Our Lady of Passion and Lamia: "Ghost, fiend, and angel, fairy, witch, and sprite" (1.154). All of these female images, including Aurora's mother, are women of power, specifically women whose power the patriarchal order wants to limit or destroy. In their place the Angel in the House is instituted in order to control female power and influence. From the outset of her poem, Barrett Browning seems to suggest that the Angel in the House is an ideal and only that. Furthermore, it is not necessarily an ideal that should be pursued. Why, after all, seek an unattainable model of a woman when real women contain within them "the burning lava of a song / The full-veined, heaving, double-breasted Age" (5.215-16)?
Aurora Leigh met with great success, despite some critics' reservations. But even reviewers who found major fault with Barrett Browning's subject matter or style almost unanimously praised some portion of the poem. For example, W. E. Aytoun, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, complained that the story was one "which no admirer of Mrs. Browning's genius ought in prudence to defend. In our opinion it is fantastic, unnatural, exaggerated; and all the worse, because it professes to be a tale of our times." Yet, he ends his review thusly: "Still, with all its faults, this is a remarkable poem; strong in energy, rich in thought, abundant in beauty; and it more than sustains that high reputation, which by her previous efforts, Mrs. Browning has so honourably won."3Aurora Leigh continued to be reprinted and influential through the end of the century, as did Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House, however, with one major difference. While Barrett Browning made corrections but no major revisions to her poem before her death in 1861, Patmore continually revised his, finally settling on a last revision in 1886.4 It is this edition that has been reprinted and been the standard for twentieth-century scholars.5
Recently, though, several critics have returned to Patmore's original versions of the two parts of the poem, "The Betrothal" and "The Espousals," which help highlight Barrett Browning's ideological endeavor in Aurora Leigh. In particular, Linda K. Hughes argues that Patmore's revisions indicate an alarmist reaction to the social upheaval Britain was facing by the end of the century. Hughes notes that in the 1854 version, "the husband and wife are collaborators, she the critic rather than the passive recipient of his verses."6 But by the time Patmore finished revising his poem for the standard and approved edition,
[W]hat increasingly disappeares … is a sense of women as living presences.… [They become] far more disembodied and reified, far more relegated to the status of symbols manipulated for artistic purposes. Far more in the final than in the first edition, that is, the female becomes entombed, drained of life and vitality and encased in form.7
What Hughes is noting in the revision of The Angel in the House is a tightening of ranks, so to speak, a retrenching from the idea that British society was progressing toward a more liberated and egalitarian one. Certainly much of this change had to do with the burgeoning industrial and colonial empire that Britain had developed, creating what Karl Beckson calls the "characteristically Victorian assumptions that the age required manliness and determination to sustain Britain's industrial progress, its programs of reform, and the expansion of its empire."8 Since the definition of "manliness" was changing, so too was the definition of "womanliness." The Angel in the House figure became increasingly codified in a middle-class psyche that was more and more confused about moral integrity. If "being a good man" was about obtaining material goods to offer proof of one's economic status, then "being a good woman" was about offering a certain kind of self-sacrifice to counter such rampant materialism, a balancing of intangible morality with tangible acquisitiveness.
As I will show, Barrett Browning eschews the mere idealization of women in favor of presenting a complex individual who might actually improve society. Through Aurora's maturation process, both as a writer and a woman, Barrett Browning suggests a "real-life" role model, a woman who can successfully combine the professional and domestic spheres. In light of nineteenth-century attitudes towards women, for Barrett Browning to imply that women belonged in the professional as well as the domestic sphere required a layered, sophisticated argument. Accordingly, throughout this article I quote several long passages of Barrett Browning's verse-novel; many of her ideas are complicated and deserve citation in full because, as Margaret Reynolds points out, "[T]here is little chance of economical quotation as clauses accumulate and argument opens into allegory."9
In the famous garden scene in Book 2 of Aurora Leigh, Aurora's cousin Romney admonishes her,
'There it is!—
You play beside a death-bed like a child,
Yet measure to yourself a prophet's place
To teach the living. None of all these things,
Can women understand. You generalise
Oh, nothing—not even grief! Your quick-breathed hearts,
So sympathetic to the personal pang,
Close on each separate knife-stroke, yielding up
A whole life at each wound, incapable
Of deepening, widening a large lap of life
To hold the world-full woe. The human race
To you means, such a child, or such a man,
You saw one morning waiting in the cold,
Beside that gate, perhaps. You gather up
A few such cases, and when strong sometimes
Will write of factories and of slaves, as if
Your father were a negro, and your son
A spinner in the mills. All's yours and you,
All, coloured with your blood, or otherwise
Just nothing to you.' (2.179-98)
There are two delicious ironies in Romney's smug accusation. One is that Romney just previously said that he had not read Aurora's poems, but insinuates he knows what she writes about anyway. Since the apostrophe "you" in this speech changes from the singular "Aurora" to the plural "women," one presumes that Romney has read the work of other poetesses and surmises that they all write about the same things. He faults them for not generalizing, for only caring about an individual's problems. Romney here is guilty of exactly the opposite: he generalizes too much (about women poets) and, moreso, he is uninformed. Further, he does not explain why it is important to generalize rather than to individualize. The second irony is Romney's contention that women will "teach the living" what they know "of factories and of slaves" (2.182, 194) Romney overlooks the fact that "ladies" were not "educated" to concern themselves with such matters as slavery and child-labor laws, and since Aurora and other women do so indicates these writers educated themselves regarding political matters, regardless of societal opinion.
Furthermore, Romney is missing the point when he complains, "'The human race / To you means, such a child, or such a man, / You saw one morning waiting in the cold, / Beside that gate, perhaps'" (2.189-92): he does not understand that the personal is political, that an individual's actions towards other individuals are the basis for social change. Yet, Romney is not altogether wrong here. At age twenty, Aurora has not witnessed such things as workhouses and mills personally and so if she has written about them, it is from second-hand experience or from what she has gathered reading about such. The fact is we are never quite sure what Aurora writes about because Aurora Leigh is the only piece of her writing that we actually read. Beverly Taylor notes that we never read the poetry that changes Romney's opinion that art cannot induce social good: "Instead the poetry by Aurora that we do read is Aurora Leigh itself, the poem that relates the social turmoil of the Victorian period to the interior life of individual woman."10 More importantly, as my discussion will show, what Aurora precisely does need to learn is to care deeply rather than superficially for an individual's problems before she can fulfill her potential of becoming a poet who affects and changes society. That is, Aurora must incorporate the ideology of social change within her own life before she can be a true poet.
Despite her belief in her work, Aurora thinks she needs to make a choice between being a professional writer or a wife, thus prompting her initial rejection of Romney's marriage proposal. She vehemently opposes Romney's conventional argument that women cannot produce great art, but totally accepts the societal convention that she must choose between work and love. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi asserts that Aurora consistently denies her femininity precisely because it interferes with her chosen vocation as poet, traditionally a male domain.11 It is only through her interaction with Marian that Aurora comes to realize her true self is a combination of the writer and the wife: she is the poet who will enact social change by calling attention to the wrongs of society, and she is the woman who will influence social change through the model of her personal life, as a partner in an egalitarian marriage. As befitting mirror images, Aurora only achieves her true sense of self when her reflector Marian does.
Thus, one reason why Barrett Browning chooses not to give us examples of Aurora's poetry may be the verse-novel's objective in describing the growth of a poet's mind, specifically a woman poet's mind. Despite the modest fame and critical acclaim she receives for her poetry, Aurora consistently doubts her talent as a force for social change. It is only after she shares in her "sister-mirror" Marian Erle's traumatic experiences that she is truly able to write a poem that she believes is worthy of her genius (and that is Aurora Leigh itself) and so is also worthy to share with readers. She claims in Book 1 that she "Will write my story for my better self" (1.4), but in actuality she also writes Marian's story. As final proof to Romney that political acts spring from personal experience, Aurora's story tells a writer's story and a woman's story, two narratives that are enmeshed and cannot be divided in Barrett Browning's aesthetic credo of domestic-professional fiction.
In some respects, Aurora Leigh is the conventional heroine of mid-Victorian novels who seeks her hero, for despite her own unwillingness to admit her love for Romney, it is consistently brought to the reader's attention. She regularly listens for and encourages his name to be brought up in conversations, and several times she purposely finds reasons to write to him. After fleetingly seeing a woman in Paris she believes to be the lost Marian, her first inclination is not to follow, but "to write to Romney" (6.333). Even in her disquisitions on art, the focal point is her cousin; for example, Aurora questions her ability to write poetry that will affect people since Romney was not touched. She nearly convinces herself of her inadequacy: "I must fail, / Who fail at the beginning to hold and move / One man,—and he my cousin, and he my friend" (5.30-2).
But what sets her apart from the traditional lovelorn heroine is that she is a writer and that does make all the difference. Aurora thinks about things Victorian women are not necessarily supposed to think or write about and she does things women are not necessarily supposed to do. She defies convention by siding with a "fallen woman" and questioning social injustice towards women. More important, Aurora does so by writing and creating a philosophy of art. As Kathleen K. Hickok notes, Barrett Browning's use of familiar characters makes the poem all the more bold because she uses them unconventionally to address controversial social issues: "The audacity and the achievement of Aurora Leigh resided in its confrontation all at once of so many social and personal facts of nineteenth-century English life and in its challenges to the validity of the conventions which customarily concealed those facts."12 Despite the conventional ending of Aurora Leigh with the impending marriage of Aurora and Romney, the conclusion is achieved through unorthodox means and so holds the promise that the future will challenge or change conventions. More specifically it will be the woman writer who envisions such a society, the "New Jerusalem" that Aurora and Romney anticipate at the end of Aurora Leigh. Though Aurora concedes that "Art is much, but love is more" (9.656), it is precisely her experiences as a writer that allow her to come to this conclusion because Aurora realizes that "Art symbolises heaven, but Love is God / And makes heaven" (9.658-9). Love is the ultimate artist/creator of a just society and all other art must be created in duty to Love.
Not content with solely utilizing familiar characters in stereotypical ways, Barrett Browning opposes and aligns these characters, specifically the "good" woman and the "fallen" woman. Several critics, including Gail Turley Houston and Ellen Chafee, have noted the connotation of a woman's writing in the nineteenth century as a form of prostitution.13 Aurora's moral integrity, however, is never questioned either by herself or readers of Aurora Leigh, and so in this way the woman writer is set against the prostitute or fallen woman. Even though Aurora transgresses boundaries by writing professionally and rejecting marriage, she is still seen as morally good; it is her unconventionality that paradoxically emphasizes her integrity. At the same time, Barrett Browning aligns the woman writer with the fallen woman by having Aurora tell Marian's story, thereby vicariously participating in the young woman's disgrace. By giving voice to Marian's story, Aurora allows the reader to see that, despite her circumstances, Marian is also good and should be accorded the same respect as honorable women. However, Barrett Browning makes it clear that Marian is fallen through circumstances not of her own doing and not through caprice. Thus while challenging Victorian standards, Aurora's defense of Marian is acceptable to middle-class readers because of the younger woman's noncomplicity in the situation.
Aurora and Marian are explicitly linked by several comparisons, revealing to the reader that their relationship will address problems that women of both the higher and lower classes faced, and that Marian is necessary to and indivisible from Aurora's self-construction: both were sickly children and both were "parentless," Aurora literally orphaned by her parents' deaths and Marian figuratively by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother willing to prostitute her daughter. Living in the fashionable district of Kensington in London, the adult Aurora occupies an apartment "up three flights of stairs / Not far from being as steep as some larks climb" (3.158-59), prompting Lady Waldemar to remark on "'the trouble of ascent / To this Olympus'" (3.372-73). Going to visit Marian, now engaged to her cousin, Aurora notes her ascent in a tenement slum of St. Margaret's Court: "Still, up, up! / So high lived Romney's bride!" (3.793-94). Although Aurora's rationale for her top-floor rooms is to conserve money, Marian's similar living situation indicates that Aurora is dangerously close to crossing the boundaries of middle-class respectability. Most important, both women share a misguided (Aurora) or an absent (Marian) sense of self. Aurora must correct this condition by realizing that she must construct a new sense of herself as a writer and a woman before she can accept the laurels of the true poet.
Part of this task is Aurora's learning from and recording Marian's construction of herself. They first meet through Romney's act of putting his social theory of abolishing the class system into action; he has asked Marian to marry him: "'Twixt class and class, opposing rich to poor, / Shall we keep parted? Not so.…/…joiningina protest 'gainst the wrong / On both sides. / … fellow-worker, be my wife?'" (4.124-25, 130-31, 150). He thus performs the same action of which he earlier accused Aurora: using the individual to represent the universal. Marian agrees to marry, but not because she loves him. Her past has destroyed any positive sense of herself and she docilely accepts Romney's proposal on the grounds that she will be his "fellow-worker" (ironically the same grounds on which Aurora refused him). When Aurora asks her, "'So indeed / He loves you, Marian?'" (4.167-68), she replies that he does only in the sense that as one of the masses, she is part of his social idealism, and so he loves her as he loves the cause:
'Loves me!' She looked up
With a child's wonder when you ask him first
Who made the sun—a puzzled blush, that grew,
Then broke off in a rapid radiant smile
Of sure solution. 'Loves me! he loves all,—
To work with him for ever and be his wife.' (4.167-75)
Marian cannot, as Aurora at this point in time cannot, conceive of herself as a sexual woman, for similar and differing reasons. Both women are trapped by societal constructions of womanliness from which they cannot presently free themselves. Trained to become only good wives and mothers, Victorian women were consistently reminded of their perceived lack of intellect. Thus, Victorian conventions envisioned women as sexless, spiritual creatures, yet women were constantly made aware that theirs was the inferior sex.
Aurora's inability to form an authentic sense of herself as a woman comes from her belief that she cannot have both a professional and personal life: Victorian culture separated the spheres of domestic and public, and she must live in one or the other. Her identification with the male-dominated arena of poetry writing further denies Aurora the faculty to acknowledge her womanliness, and hence her sexuality.14 Marian's absence of a strong sense of self develops from a past that denied her dignity. Her mother's intention to sell her to the landlord has so scarred Marian that she rejects her right to pure Victorian womanhood. She defines being Romney's wife as being his coworker, thus rejecting her sexuality. Marian is also constrained by middle-class definitions of her as a working-class woman: for her to believe herself worthy of Romney would be considered presumptuous and arrogant.
Since both Aurora and Marian see themselves as transgressing the boundaries of nineteenth-century womanhood, they surrender their sexuality so that they cannot be accused of unwomanliness. Barrett Browning, however, utilizes this conventional attitude to expose the unconventional reality of women's sexuality, of which she consistently reminds her readers through her sensual language, Marian's rape and pregnancy, and Aurora and Romney's sensuous kiss in Book 9. Moreso, according to Barrett Browning, women must not only accept but celebrate their sexuality as part of their identity and as part of their poetry. Aurora and Marian will learn to break free of the restraints imposed upon them by society, each defining for herself what role she will play. Aurora's writing of these self-reconstructions is vitally important to Barrett Browning's philosophy of art, which I will discuss presently: through the creation of art itself comes the creation of the individual, which in turn empowers and changes society.
However, Aurora's transformation is often a slow and painful one, revealing the phases Aurora must maneuver through to achieve an authentic sense of self. For example, Aurora's account of a discussion between herself and Romney reveals a condescending attitude toward Marian, troubling to the reader because it is written several years later, after Aurora knows Marian's whole story and has come to realize how worthy she is. Yet, Aurora must offer this scene because it emphasizes Marian's lowly sense of self. Aurora and Romney objectify her as a "thing" and a "gift," speaking as if Marian were not present:
'Here's one, at least, who is good,' I sighed, and touched
Poor Marian's happy head, as doglike she
Most passionately patient, waited on,
A-tremble for her turn of greeting words;
'I've sate a full hour with your Marian Erle,
And learnt the thing by heart,—and from my heart
Am therefore competent to give you thanks
For such a cousin.
'You accept at last
A gift from me, Aurora, without scorn?
At last I please you?' (4.280-89)
But, despite Aurora's condescension, we must also take this telling as an essentially truthful chronicle of the meeting. Aurora describes Marian as "doglike" precisely because Marian's estimation of herself at that time demands that Aurora do so.
However, when she begins to relate Marian's narrative in Book 3, Aurora reveals, "I tell her story and grow passionate. / She, Marian, / did not tell it so, but used / Meek words that made no wonder of herself / For being so sad a creature" (3.847-50). Aurora realizes the power of her writing, that it can bring about change, but only if it is "truthful." She is willing to make herself look patronizing in order for Marian's tale to fully affect the reader. Her recounting of Marian's story is "truthful" then to its essence, rather than to the actual words used, an important point of Aurora's philosophy that art can enact social change:
'The speakable, imaginable best
God bids [the poet] speak, to prove what lies beyond
Both speech and imagination? …
I hold you will not compass your poor ends
Of barley-feeding and material ease,
Without a poet's individualism
To work your universal. It takes a soul,
To move a body: it takes a high-souled man,
To move the masses, even to a cleaner stye:
It takes the ideal, to blow a hair's-breadth off
The dust of the actual.—Ah, your Fouriers failed,
Because not poets enough to understand
That life develops from within.…' (2.471-3, 476-85)
Aurora's command that "It takes a soul, / To move a body" intimates that poets must first know themselves before being able to affect the lives of others. Even though she understands completely "That life develops from within," Aurora does not know her own soul well enough to trust her instincts regarding her feelings toward Romney. She begins to develop her first steps toward wholeness through relating to Marian's degradation.
Marian's dishonor comes at the expense of her chastity and her naive trusting of others. In an attempt to sabotage their wedding, Lady Waldemar convinces Marian that Romney needs a wife of his own class, and implores her to leave for Australia where she can begin a new life. Lady Waldemar's "maid," who is supposed to make the arrangements, instead orchestrates Marian's kidnapping; she is drugged and sent to France, where raped and impregnated, she later gives birth to a son. Finding her in Paris, Aurora persuades Marian to continue on with her to Florence, where she can care for the young mother and child. Here Aurora's growth is again mirrored by Marian's; Aurora's first impression is that Marian is at fault, accusing her of "'tak[ing] / The hand of a seducer'" (6.746-47), until Marian explains what actually happened. As Marian loses her naiveté, Aurora loses her judgmental superiority and learns to be in sympathetic identification—what Keats termed essential for a poet—with the young woman.
Marian's self-identity is conditioned by her role now as "'nothing more / But just a mother'" (6.823-24). Additionally, as she speaks of Romney, "She felt his / For just his uses, not her own at all" (6.906-7). But Marian is realizing who she is and how she became such: "'man's violence, / Not man's seduction, made me what I am'" (6.1226-27). Because of the brutality of her rape, Marian must learn to stand for herself and her child since she knows no one else will do so. She has made sacrifices for her son, but more important, Marian has gained a self-confidence that is essential to her and her child's survival. This insight allows her to reject Romney's second offer of marriage in Florence, despite knowing that marrying him will give her son a name and a place in society: "'a woman, poor or rich, / Despised or honoured, is a human soul, / And what her soul is, that, she is herself'" (9.328-30).
When Marian finally recognizes that her acceptance of Romney's first proposal was wrong precisely because she did not love him as a woman should love a man ("'What was in my thought? / To be your slave, your help, your toy, your tool. / To be your love … / Did I love, / Or did I worship?'" [9.369-71, 378-79]), Aurora admits that she does indeed love Romney. Both women fully embrace a definition of womanliness they have constructed, rejecting the Victorian ideology of womanhood. Marian refuses Romney in order to take full responsibility for herself and her son. Even though her pregnancy was not of her own proclivity, Marian realizes that she must be proud of her maternity, confronting society about its prejudicial attitudes towards unmarried mothers. Her rejection of Romney enables Aurora to spiritually, intellectually, and physically accept him. Flaunting Victorian conventions as a writer and a woman, through her poetry, she will address prejudice and injustice. And as she embraces Romney, she will embrace her sexuality. However, these victories have been hard-fought battles.
As I will show, Barrett Browning's delineation of Aurora's philosophy of art discloses her philosophy of womanhood, one that integrates the writer's concerns with the woman's. Despite her protestations to Romney that women can write great art, Aurora's philosophy is a complex weaving of newly-emerging feminist and long-embedded patriarchal ideas. As critics have noted, Aurora has inculcated male hereditary conceptions of poetry because she has been educated only by men's ideas.15 Her father taught her Greek and Latin, thus "wrap[ping] his little daughter in his large / Man's doublet, careless did it fit or not" (1.727-28); and her aunt yields to conventional wisdom concerning a girl's education: to train her to be the Angel in the House. Accordingly, her aunt has Aurora learn French and German "since she liked a range / Of liberal education" (1.401-2); some algebra and science "because / She misliked women who are frivolous" (1.405-6); and makes her read "a score of books on womanhood"
To prove, if women do not think at all,
They may teach thinking, (to a maiden-aunt
Or else the author)—books that boldly assert
Their right of comprehending husband's talk
When not too deep, and even of answering
With pretty 'may it please you,' or 'so it is,'—
Their rapid insight and fine aptitude,
Particular worth and general missionariness,
As long as they keep quiet by the fire
And never say 'no' when the world says 'ay,'
For that is fatal,—their angelic reach
Of virtue, chiefly used to sit and darn,
And fatten household sinners,—their, in brief,
Potential faculty in everything
Of abdicating power in it: she owned
She liked a woman to be womanly,
And English women, she thanked God and sighed,
(Some people always sigh in thanking God)
Were models to the universe. (1.427-46)
Reynolds believes that the section dealing with "books on womanhood" refers to conduct books by Sarah Stickney Ellis, while lines 438 and 440, which contain the words angel ic and house-hold, prompt Paul Turner to argue that Aurora Leigh was a direct reference and refutation to Patmore's poem.16 In either case, despite her insistence that Aurora become a "womanly woman" and her perpetuation of the patriarchal system of education, Aunt Leigh herself has rejected this model, and so becomes a different kind of role model for Aurora. Although she seemingly preserves patriarchy through her attitudes, nonetheless, Aunt Leigh remains a single and independent woman.
Amidst the total immersion in patriarchal doctrine but also because of her aunt's example, Aurora finds seeds of feminist thought growing within her. So it is fitting that on the morning of her twentieth birthday, Aurora walks in the garden and crowns herself with a wreath of ivy "In sport, not pride, to learn the feel of it" (2.34), a scene that deftly interweaves these two competing ideologies. She chooses ivy over bay, the traditional crown of the poet, because "The fates deny us if we are overbold" (2.39); but she also refuses bay because it is the crown of the male poet and Aurora, though confident of her writing ability, is less than convinced of her genius. Notwithstanding rebuking Romney for his contention that "'We shall not get a [woman] poet'" (2.225), Aurora has, because of her education, internalized much the same perspective. But she has also found a strength through and in her writing that allows her to struggle against such indoctrination.
Her blossoming philosophy of art is contained within her description of the ivy. While it invokes a pessimistic vision of woman's writing as dead or forgotten since ivy "grow[s] on graves," (2.51), the ivy also resonates with images of power and tradition. Aurora describes the ivy as she envisions her poetry to be: "bold" and "strong," but "pretty too, / (And that's not ill)" (2.50, 51, 52-53). The ivy's ability to grow "as good … on graves / As twist about a thyrsus" (2.51-52) invokes the poetic traditions of elegies and epics. Finally, that "not a leaf will grow / But thinking of a wreath" (2.47-48) represents poetry's utilitarian function, what will eventually become Aurora's chosen, and decidedly feminist, position as a poet of social criticism.
Aurora's growing feminism is evident in the reasons for her rejection of Romney's marriage proposal on the grounds that "'What [he] love[s], /Is not a woman,…but a cause'" (2.400-1). She will not marry a man who puts social activism before love. Aurora also points out the irony that in order to be good wives, women must embody all the qualities that they have been educated and encouraged not to acquire, specifically strength and individuality of character:
… 'am I proved too weak17
To stand alone, yet strong enough to bear
Such leaners on my shoulder? poor to think,
Yet rich enough to sympathise with thought?
Incompetent to sing, as blackbirds can,
Yet competent to love, like HIM?'
Ironically, Aurora, later living in London pursuing her career, finds similar paradoxes in being a writer:
My critic Belfair wants another book
Entirely different, which will sell, (and live?)
A striking book, yet not a startling book,
The public blames originalities,—…
Good things, not subtle, new yet orthodox,
As easy reading as the dog-eared page
That's fingered by said public fifty years,
Since first taught spelling by its grandmother,
And yet a revelation in some sort:
That's hard, my critic Belfair. (3.68-71, 74-9)
The reading public wants something new, yet something comfortable while the husband wants a wife who is morally strong but dependently weak. While Victorian culture associated a woman's writing with prostitution, Barrett Browning also clearly makes the correlation between prostitution and marriage. Any relationship that relies on an uneven power base ultimately abuses the less powerful.
Aurora recognizes the prostitution involved with writing: "I wrote for cyclopaedias, magazines, / And weekly papers, holding up my name / To keep it from the mud" (3.310-12);18 but she also realizes that acceptance of Romney's proposal of marriage would be tantamount to "the sanctioned prostitution of marriage":19 "If I married him, / I should not dare to call my soul my own / Which so he had bought and paid for" (2.785-87). Convinced there is no compromise, the young Aurora chooses the writing because she believes in the God-given right to use her talent for work: "'… every creature, female as the male, / Stands single in responsible act and thought / As also in birth and death'" (2.437-39).
Throughout Aurora Leigh, Barrett Browning reveals Aurora's complex process of finding out who she is as a writer and a woman. As Angela Leighton points out, it is Aurora's (and Barrett Browning's) belief in a poetry that embraces and celebrates everyday life that allows Barrett Browning to "derive a theory of women's writing as contemporary, combative and self-sufficient. However, it is one of the strengths or merits of [Aurora Leigh ] that it also traces the hidden personal cost of this achievement."20 At first Aurora holds onto an unflagging belief in the patriarchal conditions of art. She attempts the traditional forms, with varying degrees of success, but certainly without a sense of accomplishment: ballads and pastorals "the worse done, I think, / For being not ill-done" (5.132-33). Aurora shuns dramatic writing because it mostly "Adopts the standard of the public taste / To chalk its height on" (5.270-71). She concedes that there is great drama, Shakespeare's for example, but the distrust of her own genius convinces her that she would "keep it down / To the level of the footlights" (5.318-19). Romney's words that "[Women] miss the abstract when we comprehend. / We miss it most when we aspire,—and fail" (5.57-58) continue to haunt Aurora's conscience until she decides, "I'll have no traffic with the personal thought / In art's pure temple" (5.61-62). Aurora temporarily thinks that Romney is right, that the personal must be disconnected from the political. However, this notion is short-lived as she realizes her own truth: that to be socially responsible, a poet must deal with important current issues, not with the past.
Thus Aurora makes a startling break with tradition, claiming the right for poetry to be concerned with the contemporary age: "All actual heroes are essential men, / And all men possible heroes" (5.151-52). That epic and, more important, socially-beneficial poetry occupies itself with the past is "wrong thinking, to my mind, / And wrong thoughts make poor poems.…/I do distrust the poet who discerns / No character or glory in his times" (5.165-66, 189-90). Barrett Browning's most unabashed declaration of her theory of art is Aurora's "womanization," in Gail Turley Houston's term, not only of the age but of its poetry:21
But still, unscrupulously epic, catch
Upon the burning lava of a song
The full-veined, heaving, double-breasted Age:
That, when the next shall come, the men of that
May touch the impress with reverent hand, and say
'Behold,—behold the paps we all have sucked!
This bosom seems to beat still, or at least
It sets ours beating: this is living art,
Which thus presents and thus records true life.' (5.213-22)
Here Barrett Browning connects the Victorian age with the power of women, a power that transcends time and will affect future generations. More explicitly, the poetry that she endorses, "Which thus presents and thus records true life," is the literature that doesn't "flinch" nor shy from controversy. In fact, it will produce contention (as did the above passage that earned Aurora Leigh such epithets as "infelicitous," "unnatural," "coarse," "mean, gross, and puerile" from the critics) in order to coerce the public into confronting injustice, another essential doctrine of domestic-professional fiction. The amazonian image that Barrett Browning presents as indicative of true poetry and the true age is Woman, "full-veined" and "heaving," establishing a model for future generations. When Aurora finally decides that "The artist's part is both to be and do, / Transfixing with a special, central power / The flat experience of the common man" (5.367-69), her faith in her genius begins to bloom. But she will go even one step further and "be and do" the experience of the common woman in telling Marian's story. Aurora's initial step in the correction of her sense of self is her sharing in Marian's degradation and allowing her a voice to speak to a society that says such women should be silent.
One of Aurora's chief moves that reveals she is coming to terms with the divisions within herself is her decision to confront Lady Waldemar. Agonizing over her rejection of Romney several years earlier and his now impending marriage to Lady Waldemar, for the first time in the poem Aurora upbraids herself for not being the kind of woman that society says a man wants as a wife:
I thought, 'Now, if I had been a woman, such
As God made women, to save men by love,—
By just my love I might have saved this man,
And made a nobler poem for the world
Than all I have failed in.' But I failed besides
In this; and now he's lost! through me alone! (7.184-89)
Aurora sees herself falling short as a poet and a woman here because she has not yet been able to reconcile a professional life with a personal one; as Susanna Egan points out, "Failing to recognize her own love for Romney, Aurora has separated head from heart and art from life."22 But Aurora does not dwell on this defeat for long; she has Marian and her son to look after. In learning to care for them, Aurora ironically must learn what Romney accused her of many years previously: the importance of individualizing a problem rather than generalizing it. Through this devotion, Aurora can then acknowledge her love for Romney and extend to him her empathy.
Her dawning realization that she must be responsible for others leads Aurora to protect Romney by writing Lady Waldemar, letting her know that she knows what part Lady Waldemar played in Marian's tragedy. That the writing of this letter comes immediately after Aurora's denouncement of herself as not womanly enough is significant. Aurora finally is able to put behind her Victorian society's ideal woman because she realizes she has no use for her as a model for herself; however, stripped of its idealization, the ideology reveals hows the image denigrates and suppresses women and their abilities. In this letter, Aurora demands, when they are married that Lady Waldemar be Romney's "faithful and true wife" (7.344). She then invokes the image of the Angel in the House, but not for the usual idealization:
Keep warm his hearth and clean his board, and, when
He speaks, be quick with your obedience;
Still grind your paltry wants and low desires
To dust beneath his heel;…
… You shall not vex him,—mark,
You shall not vex him, jar him when he's sad,
Or cross him when he's eager. Understand
To trick him with apparent sympathies,
Nor let him see thee in the face too near
And unlearn thy sweet seeming. Pay the price
Of lies, by being constrained to lie on still:
'Tis easy for thy sort: a million more
Will scarcely damn thee deeper. (7.345-48, 353-61)
Aurora summons up the ideal figure of Victorian womanhood not as a model for Lady Waldemar, but as a punishment. Lady Waldemar's false mask of concern for Romney and the lower classes forces Aurora not only into the role of Romney's protector, but also of blackmailer. Despite its "unladylike" connotations, Aurora's threat reveals that she has learned that caring for and protecting others is more important than social conventions. She may not be able to stop the marriage, but she can see to it that Romney is treated well. Not even bothering to veil her threat, Aurora's words are clear:
… Fail a point,
And show our Romney wounded, ill-content,
Tormented in his home, we open mouth,
And such a noise will follow, the last trump's
Will scarcely seem more dreadful; even to you;…
And so I warn you. I'm … Aurora Leigh. (7.364-68, 374)
It is interesting that Barrett Browning constitutes the Angel of the House image as punishment here, and I think it can be read in two ways. It must first be understood, as Elizabeth Langland has convincingly established, that the Angel in the House was largely a middle-class ideal.23 So, if seen as representative of the aristocracy's selfishness and indifference to the lower classes, Lady Waldemar can receive no greater chastisement than having to conduct herself as a middle-class woman. But I think Barrett Browning appropriates this image for a much broader purpose. The Angel in the House, as an unattainable ideal for middle-class women, is clearly a punishment, not a goal, for these women also. This image is a lie, forcing women "to lie on still." Barrett Browning instead offers Aurora Leigh, a not-so-perfect woman who is self-asserting rather than self-effacing. This model of woman, because not ideal nor forced into silence or hypocrisy, is the one who will, with hope and work, change society and create a New Jerusalem.
After Aurora has formulated her ultimate philosophy of art, a change appears in the narrative in Book 6. No longer written in the past tense from a distanced perspective, Aurora's story is now told in journal-or diary-like form, with "entries written down, as it were, soon after the events described have taken place."24 Barrett Browning, says Alison Case, presents two kinds of narrative plots—'a female Kunstlerroman [Books 1-5] and a feminine love story [Books 6-9]"—and then matches them with appropriate narrative styles.25 But it is more than just the construction of two different types of stories here. Once Aurora has fulfilled her quest as artist—definitively elucidating her philosophy of art—, she can break free of the male rules of writing, returning to the more conventionally-accepted feminine writing of diaries and letters, comfortably accepting it but also using it for socio-political purposes. Barrett Browning also breaks from the traditional masculine dictates of writing: her combination of writing an epic concerned with the contemporary and utilizing the traditionally feminine epistolary and diary novel genres leads Barrett Browning to invent a new genre of her own: the novel-poem, a form that she seems to specifically designate as woman's writing. This new genre, specifically designed to address contemporary social problems and offer a woman's solutions to them, marks Barrett Browning's poem as the most prominent, if not the first, example of nineteenth-century domestic-professional fiction.26
The distinctive form of Aurora Leigh met with mixed critical reception, many reviewers accusing Barrett Browning of experimenting for experimentation's sake. While R. A. Vaughn of the British Quarterly Review enthusiastically applauded the poem's novelty as "original, because natural—for originality is but nature—a genuine spontaneity,"27 other reviewers censured Barrett Browning's boldness in breaking the rules. W. E. Aytoun, of Blackwood's, questioned her presumption in mixing the high aesthetics associated with epic poetry with the low social concerns of reality associated with the novel:
We may consider it almost as a certainty that every leading principle of art has been weighed and sifted by our predecessors; and that most of the theories, which are paraded as discoveries, were deliberately examined by them, and rejected because they were false or impracticable.…All poetical characters, all poetical situations, must be idealised. The language is not that of common life, which belongs essentially to the domain of prose. There lies the distinction between a novel and a poem.…We cannot allow fancy to be trammelled in its work by perpetual reference to realities.28
And H. F. Chorley of The Athenæum concurred:
This looks not like a poem, but a novel.…But what are we to say if we waive purpose—if we do not discuss the wisdom of the form selected … if we treat 'Aurora Leigh' as a poetical romance? Simply, that we have no experience of such a mingling of what is precious with what is mean … as we find in these nine books of blank verse.29
Aytoun and Chorley articulate a familiar theme of nineteenth-century criticism: the hallowing of tradition and maintaining of the status quo. Both reviewers see poetry strictly in aesthetic terms; it is not an arena in which to promote change—either in society or in literature. Barrett Browning, however, postulated that poetry should and must confront immediate social issues and knew that she was threatening long-held, sanctioned views. She anticipated reactions such as Aytoun's and Chorley's.
In a letter to art critic Anna Jameson, Barrett Browning conceded that Aurora Leigh was an assay into uncharted territory, but it was one that was borne of lengthy contemplation, not of, in Aytoun's words, "a token of morbid craving for originality"30: "But 'the form,' in this sense is my experiment, & I dont [sic] 'give it up' yet, having considered the subject much & long."31 Barrett Browning not only expected unfavorable reviews, she also seemed to revel in them; in fact, what appears to have surprised her most of all was the immense amount of commendatory reaction, not only from critics but the reading public. In another letter to Jameson, Barrett Browning laughs at the image of herself as a revolutionary:
And as for the critics—yes, indeed, I agree with you that I have no reason to complain. More than that, I confess to you that I am entirely astonished at the amount of reception I have met with—I who expected to be put in the stocks and pelted with the eggs of the last twenty years' 'singing birds' as a disorderly woman and freethinking poet!32
One senses from reading Barrett Browning's letters that she was somewhat disappointed that Aurora Leigh did not draw as much fire as she had thought it would. No cowering wallflower, Barrett Browning wanted the format of her verse-novel to draw attention to the concerns within it, specifically "the condition of women in our cities": "If a woman ignores these wrongs, then may women as a sex continue to suffer them; there is no help for any of us—let us be dumb and die."33
Barrett Browning's anticipation of the predicted reaction from conservative reviewers is reflected in Aurora and Romney's early discordant relationship: Romney is the critic of the woman poet's attempt to transform literature and society. But Barrett Browning makes it clear through their evolving association that it is not so much a confrontational situation as it is a sustaining, nurturing one. From the start, Romney is influential in bringing out the "fight" in Aurora. While all others around her whisper among themselves that she "'Thrives ill in England'" (1.497), but do nothing about it, Romney confronts her "With sudden anger": "'You wish to die and leave the world a-dusk / For others, with your naughty light blown out?'" (1.500, 502-3). Aurora responds by looking "into his face defyingly" (1.504). Men and women, Barrett Browning believes, should not be combative for confrontation's sake, but engage in a communication that debates, challenges, and encourages each other.
Throughout the course of their relationship, each will repeatedly dare the other to achieve his or her highest potential. Romney's assertions that she (nor other women) can write great poetry may be contemptible, but they also challenge Aurora to achieve such greatness. In return, Aurora's contention that Romney's social idealism will not attain its intended ends because it fails to consider the individual will eventually make Romney reconsider his work. After reading one of Aurora's later books of poetry (one that his words dared her to write), Romney concedes that art can affect the political precisely because of its effect on the individual:
… 'We want more quiet in our works,
More knowledge of the bounds in which we work;
More knowledge that each individual man
Remains an Adam to the general race,
Constrained to see, like Adam, that he keep
His personal state's condition honestly,
Or vain all thoughts of his to help the world,
Which still must be developed from its one
If bettered in its many.' (8.852-60)
Romney and Aurora's courtship/friendship survives its on-again/off-again condition because each understands, if somewhat unconsciously, that they are encouraging each other to their fullest capability. Aurora realizes the necessity for both men and women to fulfill their potential for the embetterment of society. However, she also recognizes that women, more often than not, are dissuaded or refused from fulfilling that potential. Therefore, a central thematic principle in domestic-professional fiction is that a woman break free from cultural conventions to cultivate the power that can transform society. That power is embodied in Aurora and Romney's vow of love for each other; their passion for their work is matched by their passion for each other:
There were words
That broke in utterance … melted, in the fire,—
Embrace, that was convulsion,… then a kiss
As long and silent as the ecstatic night,
And deep, deep, shuddering breaths, which meant beyond
Whatever could be told by word or kiss. (9.719-24)
Aurora now can fully engage herself with her work as a social poet, to which the writing of Aurora Leigh will attest, while Romney, blinded in a fire attempting to achieve social idealism by force, understands that his life must actively involve the loving of another, not the cold embracing of a social ideal: "'Shine out for two, Aurora, and fulfil / My falling-short that must be! work for two, / As I, though thus restrained, for two, shall love!'" (9.910-12). His previous figurative blindness now replaced by literal blindness, Romney now "sees" clearly, as does Aurora, that life must be a balance of individualizing and generalizing.
At the beginning of Book 2, Aurora labels herself "Woman and artist,—either incomplete, / Both Credulous of completion" (2.4-5). It is through the writing of her story, within which Marian's story is so crucial a part, that the writer is now completed. Her forthcoming marriage to Romney completes the woman. Deirdre David argues that their union signifies that "woman's poetry is created from her sexuality," and that by uniting Aurora and Romney, Barrett Browning's verse-novel is not feminist, but one that ultimately reifies the concept that "woman's art is made the servitor of the male ideal."34 However, David ignores the revolutionary concept of Barrett Browning's giving Aurora (and Aurora Leigh ) a definite sexuality in the first place.35 Life without love is unbalanced; until she can put her life in balance (and the same can be said of Romney), Aurora cannot fulfill her potential as a poet. Once she does so, the result is Aurora Leigh and a part in a promising union. As Beverly Taylor notes, "The existence of the poem, Aurora Leigh, written after the events it records, demonstrates that her projected marriage to Romney does not silence her as a poet or reduce her to the status of dependent and helpmate she had so much feared initially; instead, their union engenders richer, more complex and more satisfying verse."36 Aurora is now mature enough to realize not only that art and love are compatible, but also mature enough to take on the creation of two "New Jerusalems": the writing of socially-beneficial poetry and partnership in an egalitarian marriage, both embodied within her text.
A new society, based upon "new laws / Admitting freedom" (9.947-8), holds the hope for an equitable community, much as Aurora and Romney's relationship holds the promise of an egalitarian union. Indeed, the entire verse-novel has seemed to be headed in this direction. However, I say "holds the promise" because Aurora writes this ending immediately after the scene where the lovers stand facing the east, toward the rising sun, envisioning a new society that will fuse art and social activism. We are left exactly where Aurora and Romney leave off—looking toward a new dawn, but never entirely confident that this new dawn will be unlike the previous ones. It is an ending of guarded optimism. Barrett Browning would like to believe that a just society is only a sunrise away, yet having Aurora write her story and end it at this moment signifies that she is not certain it will ever be achieved. It is the end of the verse-novel, but only the beginning of social transformation should the readers of Aurora Leigh take up Barrett Browning's challenge as she intends.
- The "Angel in the House" was certainly the ideal long before Patmore's time, but his poem sanctified the image and gave it its celestial epithet.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, ed. Margaret Reynolds (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), 1.15-19. Citations of the text are to this edition.
- W. E. Aytoun, "Mrs. Barrett Browning—Aurora Leigh," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 81 (January 1857): 32, 41.
- In a letter to Isa Blagden on January 7, 1859, Barrett Browning noted the somewhat tediousness of revising proofs for the third edition of Aurora Leigh, claiming she "dizzied myself with the 'ifs' and 'ands,' and done some little good I hope at much cost …" The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Frederic Kenyon (London: Smith, Elder, 1897), 2.302.
- The most widely-used collection of Patmore's poetry is Frederick Page's 1949 edition, The Poems of Coventry Patmore, "complete so far as [Patmore] wished them to be republished and in the text as he finally revised it." (Oxford U. Press), v.
- Linda K. Hughes, "Entombing the Angel: Patmore's Revision of Angel in the House," in Victorian Authors and Their Works: Revision Motivations and Modes, ed. Judith Kennedy (Ohio U. Press, 1991), 143.
- Hughes, 140-41.
- Karl Beckson, London in the 1890s: A Cultural History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 62.
- Margaret Reynolds, "Aurora Leigh: 'Writing her story for her better self,'" Browning Society Notes 17.1-3 (1987-88): 5.
- Beverly Taylor, "'School-Miss Alfred' and 'Materfamilias': Female Sexuality and Poetic Voice in The Princess and Aurora Leigh," in Gender and Discourse in Victorian Literature and Art, ed. Antony H. Harrison and Beverly Taylor (Northern Illinois U. Press, 1992), 23-24.
- Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, "Aurora Leigh: The Vocation of the Woman Poet," Victorian Poetry, 19 (1981), 41.
- Kathleen K. Hickok, "'New Yet Orthodox': The Female Characters in Aurora Leigh," International Journal of Women's Studies 3 (1980): 480.
- Gail Turley Houston, "Gender Construction and the Kunstlerroman: David Copperfield and Aurora Leigh," PQ 72 (1993): 213-36 and Ellen Chafee, "Conceiving Literary Femininity: Figures of the Woman Writer 1857-1900" (Diss., Rutgers University, 1996), 16.
- See Gelpi.
- In addition to Gelpi, see Kathleen Blake, "Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Wordsworth: The Romantic Poet as a Woman," Victorian Poetry, 24(1986): 387-98 and Patricia Thomas Srebrnik, "'The Central Truth': Phallogocentrism in Aurora Leigh," Victorian Newsletter, 84 (1993): 9-11.
- Reynolds, Aurora Leigh: 18, note 1 and Paul Turner, "Aurora Versus the Angel," RES 24 (1948): 227-35.
- Reynolds glosses this word as "Christ, presumably," Aurora Leigh, 49, note 2.
- Aurora's feelings that she "dirties" herself by writing for periodicals echo the sentiments of Mary Shelley who, after Percy Shelley's death, needed to write on an almost constant basis for various magazines in order to support herself and her young son: "I write bad articles which help to make me miserable—But I am going to plunge into a novel, and hope that its clear water will wash off the mud of the magazines—." From a letter to Leigh Hunt, February 9, 1824, in The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1980), 1.412. Shelley had originally written the word "dirt," but crossed it out in favor of the harsher "mud," indicating how much she detested writing such.
- Susanna Egan, "Glad Rags for Lady Godiva: Woman's Story as Womanstance in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh," English Studies in Canada 20 (1994): 290.
- Angela Leighton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Sussex: Harvester Press, Ltd., 1986), 115-16.
- Gail Turley Houston, Royalties: The Queen and Victorian Writers (U. Press of Virginia, 1999).
- Egan, 295.
- Elizabeth Langland, Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture (Cornell U. Press, 1995), 79.
- Reynolds, Aurora Leigh, 194, note 2.
- Alison Case, "Gender and Narration in Aurora Leigh," Victorian Poetry 29 (1991): 17.
- This essay is part of a larger project that examines the influence of Aurora Leigh on British women's domestic-professional fiction of the 1890s. The major texts of my discussion are Rhoda Broughton's A Beginner (1894), Mary Cholmondeley's Red Pottage (1899), Marie Corelli's The Sorrows of Satan (1895), Ella Hepworth Dixon's The Story of a Modern Woman (1894), Sarah Grand's The Beth Book (1897), and Annie E. Holdsworth's The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten (1895).
- R. A. Vaughn, "Aurora Leigh. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning," British Quarterly Review 25 (January 1857): 263.
- Aytoun, 34, 34-5, 41.
- H. F. Chorley, "Aurora Leigh. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning," The Athenæum no. 1517 (November 22, 1856): 1425.
- Aytoun, 39.
- Quoted in Reynolds, Aurora Leigh, 341.
- Letters, 2:252.
- Letters, 2:254.
- Deirdre David, "'Art's A Service': Social Wound, Sexual Politics, and Aurora Leigh," Browning Institute Studies 13 (1985): 130, 113.
- See, for example, Christine Sutphin, "Revising Old Scripts: The Fusion of Independence and Intimacy in Aurora Leigh," Browning Institute Studies, 15 (1987): 43-54.
- Taylor, 23.