[Margaret Oliphant, usually known as "Mrs. Oliphant," was a popular British novelist who supported herself and her family by her writing. These remarks come from her book The Victorian Age of English Literature (1893).]

Decorative Initial The last great work of Mrs. Browning's life was the poem of Aurora Leigh published in 1856, the most complete monument perhaps of her genius. The remarkable thing in this work is its energy and strong poetical vitality, the rush and spring of life which is in a narrative, often lengthy, and of which the subject and story are not sufficient for the fervour and power of utterance. The development of the woman-poet, brought from a wild no-training among the Italian hills into a prim English feminine household, and inevitably assuming there that attitude of superiority to everything about her which is so contrary to that of true genius, and so melancholy a mistake in art — gives the reader at first a strong prepossession against, instead of in favour of, the young Aurora, so conscious as she is of her qualities among the limited persons and things about her.

The story, however, soon plunges, in the person of its hero, into those wild depths of philanthropy and sublime intention towards the poor and miserable, which to all sober eyes turn the way of madness. Romney's conclusion that it is his duty to marry the unfortunate Marian Erle, who has been the victim of brutal passion, thus showing how divine pity transcends all other forces, and that the innocent in will and intention can never be sullied — notwithstanding the fact that he does not love her, that indeed he loves another woman, conventionally suitable to him - in every respect — is the climax of the tale; — in which something of that perverse sense of duty in plunging into the most horrible depths, which is the natural balance of those limitations which the world imposes or endeavours to impose on women, is apparent through the indignant denunciations of too prevalent evil, and recognition of much belied and unacknowledged good. There are really admirable pieces of description and bursts of feeling in this poem, but it is throughout a little rhetorical, and its great quality, is as we have said, the remarkable sustained energy and vitality of the long volume of verse.


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning Aurora Leigh

Last modified 2002