decorated initial 'E'lizabeth Barrett Browning illustrates the divisions of life in her poem Aurora Leigh. She contrasts the public versus private sphere, the distinct social roles of man and woman, and she describes the differences between intelligence and the heart. Aurora Leigh is a prominent female character, passionate about her writing. It is precisely this passion which hinders her in her relationships with other characters. Her cousin Romney scoffs at her intense desires to become a well-known female author. Aurora, who possesses affection for Romney, alienates herself from him, unable to comprehend why he will not support her talents and endeavors. Aurora's writing exudes intelligence, and she ultimately desires her pen to become her source of income. Browning highlights Aurora's initial inability to connect the two separate spheres of intellect and love. However, Aurora and Romney union at the conclusion of the poem describes their ability to transcend their differences. These differences in their work and intelligence may not truly be differences at all, but rather, similarities. Aurora and Romney are potent and difficult characters, focused on their passions and efforts in the world, often unwilling to compromise for others. It is their love which allows them to see each other's passions and intellect, and ultimately unite the world of intellect and love.

With quiet indignation I broke in.
You misconceive the question like a man,
Who sees a woman as the complement
Of his sex merely. You forget too much
That every creature, female as the male,
Stands single in responsible act and though
As also in birth and death. Whoever says
To a loyal woman, 'Love and work with me,
Will get fair answers if the work and love,
Being good themselves, are good for her — the best
She was born for.
But me your work
Is not best for — nor your love the best,
Nor able to commend the kind of work
For love's sake merely. Ah, you force me, sir,
To be over-bold in speaking of myself:
I too have my vocation, — work to do. [51-52]

Questions

Aurora describes men as viewing women as complements to their character. Though she initially feels that the worlds of intellect and love cannot unite, do they ultimately serve as complements to one another by the end of the poem? Is the difference between the mind and the heart too different for work and love to be connected?

What is ill-suited about their occupations? What is Browning saying about the world of art and writing versus the world of politics and social reform? Is Aurora more united to Romney than she initial believes?

Is the inability for love and intellect/work to connect due to Romney and Aurora's inability to compromise? Aurora does not want to compromise her devotion towards writing and her feminine values in order to marry. However, she ultimately confesses her devotion and love to Romney. Is her love confession a type of compromise?

Romney, at the conclusion of Aurora Leigh, speaks to Aurora and says the following:

Our work shall still be better for our love,
And still our love be sweeter for our work,
And both commended, for the sake of each,
By all true workers and true lovers born. [311]

Are their work and love truly growing stronger? Or have the characters realized that they must sacrifice and compromise? Earlier, Romney says: 'A happy life means prudent compromise'(171). Were Romney and Aurora unhappy before they came together because they did not compromise with one another?

Is this a general commentary on equality as a whole? Do intelligence and love need to be valued equally in order for them to function, just like men and women need to be viewed equally in order to get along?

References

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning Leading Questions

Last modified 16 March 2004