Decorative Initial Although Aurora Leigh and Amy Dorrit each attempt to remain unmarried women, a different philosophy motivates each character. In her poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning suggests a feministic theme, which says that a serious female artist must strive to live alone or else sacrifice her craft. Charles Dickens, on the other hand, portrays Amy Dorrit as a self-sacrificing waif, who will not give in to human desire. In Dickens, one who functions primarily as a saintly servant to others tends not to seek her own pleasure.

Aurora Leigh also plans to live a desolate, dedicated life without companionship. Browning first suggests that a woman artist can only reach her creative potential if she lives without a spouse. Later, this theme becomes modified into a lesson about personal growth and marriage involving sacrifice. "'Aurora Leigh' tells the story of the development of a woman poet largely as the story of her struggle to understand how her life and art can accommodate love. . . To be an artist means to be living as a lone woman. This wrongs the feminist nature and, in turn, undermines her art because 'No perfect artist is developed here/From any imperfect woman (IX, 648-9),'" (Laurelyn Douglas, "The Woman Question, The Problem of Love, and 'Aurora Leigh,'").

Throughout the poem, Aurora proves to be emotionally incomplete.

To sit alone,
and think, for comfort, how, that very night,
Affianced lovers, leaning face to face . . .
Are reading happly from some page of ours. (Bk V, p. 171)

In other words, she pines for a love and at times seems to be drafting her poetry out of grief. She claims devotion to her poetry, but "she neither finds happiness in working nor full belief in the value of the work" (Douglas).

As in Little Dorrit, the loner theme here becomes modified also.

Art is much, but love is more.
O Art, my Art, thou'rt much, but Love is more!
Art symbolizes heaven, but Love is God. (IX, p.341)

These lines show that Aurora has made a 360 degree turn since the beginning of her poem, when she spurned Romney's proposal. Now she believes that she must not live without the love she once cursed. "Ultimately, it reveals the insufficiency of artistic ambition and success to make up for the lack of love on which they depend" (Douglas). Aurora's attitude change is more drastic than that of Little Dorrit. Because Aurora once exclaimed,

Who tells you that he wants a wife to love?
He gets a horse to use, not love, I think:
There's work for wives as well, - and after, straw,
When men are liberal" (Bk II, pp.100-101)

One gets the sense that Aurora has sacrificed her poetry in exchange for companionship, but the theme should not necessarily be construed as shifting from the necessity of a female artist being a loner. Instead, Aurora's decision to wed Romney actually reinforces the stoic artistic ideal. "Denial of love was necessary to the production of Aurora's great poem. . . Aurora's continued vocation as a poet doesn't seem very likely at the end because she so completely identifies her former achievements with abdication of love. . ." (Douglas) The theme asserts that women cannot be happy people without love nor can they reach artistic potential without living in solitude. Browning offers the advice that women should make room for love in their hearts, but she also shows that this accommodation may be detrimental to the woman's artistic growth.


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning Aurora Leigh

Last modified 1993