lizabeth Barrett Browning's own resentment toward men burns a hole through the fabric of her harmonious poetics (which advocate marriage). Before she married Robert Browning and had not yet replaced her invalid "reveries" with "experiences" of the world outside the sickroom, she wrote to her husband-to-be that she found herself "under signal a manner...a blind poet" (Kintner I.41). Even Robert, her confidante, undercut her literary tastes by sneering at George Sand's Consuelo : "I shall tell you frankly that it strikes me as precisely what in conventional styled a woman's book" (I.62). In their correspondence, Barrett "finally confessed to her obsession for novels as if it were a weakness as culpable as her opium addiction. Robert cuttingly did not repond to her enthusiasm for the genre" (Holloway 126). As Julia Bolton Holloway demonstrates, Barrett Browning displaced her "blindness" onto Romney Leigh. Holloway describes the personal myth of male blindness as a "Victorian revenge fantasy" of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's:

Both Romney Leigh and John Milton had failed to value women as their intellectual equals. Milton before his blindness had visited Florence and at Bellosguardo has looked through Galileo's telescope. He included that scene in the epic Paradise Lost. Elizabeth wrote of Bellosguardo in Aurora Leigh, having blind Romney come there. Milton had compared his blindness to that of Oedipus, who, when sighted, was blind to truth, when blind, saw truth. Elizabeth Barrett Browning read Greek tragedies with blind Hugh Boyd in Malvern. She was capable in the poem of gathering up all these vengeful strands of Jane Eyre 's Rochester; of Hugh Boyd's Oedipus; of Milton's Galileo; and of fashioning from them all a blind and chastened Romney Leigh glimpsing the City of God from Bellosguardo, acknowledging at last his scholarly Aurora as prophet and as poet. (131)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning also wrote a letter to Mrs. Anna Jameson, in which she explained Romney's blindness herself; she wanted Romney to watch his house burn (it had been set afire by the people he established in a phalanstery as a charitable experiment) before he lost his vision.

The only injury received by Romney in the fire was from a blow and from the emotion produced by the circumstances of the fire. Not only did he not lose his eyes in the fire, but he describes the ruin of his house as no blind man could. He was standing there, a spectator. Afterwards he had a fever, and the eyes, the visual nerve, perished, showing no external stain — perished as Milton's did...For it was necessary, I thought, to the bringing-out of my thought, that Romney should be mulcted in his natural sight. (Kintner II.246)

Hence the discontinuities in Barrett Browning's aesthetic theory, which championed marriage as an analogue of God's love for humanity, quietly disrupt her fictional autobiography. The humbled Romney is blinded when he reunites with Aurora. The narrative thus achieves Barrett Browning's goal of "meeting face to face and without mask the Humanity of the age and speaking the truth as I conceive it plainly" (Kintner I.15) — perhaps more completely than is immediately apparent.

Related Materials

  1. Fictional Autobiography: Definitions and Descriptions
  2. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (I): Fall from Paradise
  3. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (II): The First Female Kunstlerroman
  4. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (IV): Inadequacies of the Form
  5. Great Expectations and Fictional Autobiography (I): Fantasy and Nightmare

Victorian Overview E. B. Browning

Last modified 1996