Residing with her father's sister after his death, Aurora struggles with her aunt's notion of femininity. Living with different morals and assumptions than her aunt, Aurora strives to be a woman capable not only of personal autonomy but of artistic achievement as well. Under the strain of her aunt's conservative ideals, Aurora attempts to reconcile memories of her mother despite her aunt's disapproval of this woman. Already enduring a chaotic and unstable familial situation, Aurora recognizes that her new home in England is really only home to half of whom she truly is. Aurora resists her aunt's rules and regulations at different times, both because she wishes to be an independent person and because she desires to preserve her mother's memory. Upon their first meeting, her aunt violently searches for any trace of Aurora's mother within her features, and Aurora finds such a search intrusive and abusive:
There with some strange spasm
Of pain and passion, she wrung loose my hands
Imperiously, and held me at arm's length,
And with two grey-steel naked-bladed eyes
Searched through my face, — ay, stabbed it through and through,
Through brows and cheeks and chin, as if to find
A wicked murderer in my innocent face.
If not here, there perhaps. Then, drawing breath,
She struggled for her ordinary calm
And missed it rather,
— told me not to shrink
As if she had told me not to lie or swear -
"She loved my father and would love me too
As long as I deserved it." Very kind.
I understand her meaning afterward;
She thought to find my mother in my face
And questioned it for that. For she, my aunt,
Had loved my father truly, as she could,
And hated, with the gall of gentle souls,
My Tuscan mother who had fooled away
A wise man from wise courses, a good man.
From obvious duties, and, depriving her,
His sister, of the household precedence,
Had wronged his tenants, robbed his native land,
And made him mad, alike by life and death,
In love and sorrow. She had pored for years
What sort of woman could be suitable
To her sort of hate, to entertain it with,
And so, her very curiosity,
Became hate too, and all the idealism,
She ever used in life, was used for hate,
Till hate, so nourished, did exceed at last
The love from which it grew, in strength and heat,
And wrinkled her smooth conscience with a sense of Disputable virtue (say not, sin)
When Christian doctrine was enforced at church. [FB, 324-358]
What is the significance of Aurora's mother's Tuscan identity as it relates to the aunt's dislike of her? Does the aunt create a notion of the so-called other in Aurora's mother's character? What does such a dislike say about Aurora's ability to adhere to strict Victorian ideals?
How much of Aurora's resistance to her standard gender ideals are an attempt to reconcile her love for a mother that is not highly regarded in this new society?
Is this rejection of the mother figure by Aurora's aunt a driving motivation for Aurora to gain independence and therefore look to achieve great things artistically?
What is the significance that the aunt looks for physical traits of Aurora's mother in her face? What does such an action say about standard ideas of heredity and inheritance in the context of the novel-poem?
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.
Last modified 15 March 2004