decorated initial 'E'lizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh closely examines the literary art created by women. The book, which a woman wrote, explores the life of a woman writer, Aurora Leigh. In the beginning of the book, Aurora Leigh examines the process by which Aurora creates her art and how tenderly she feels towards her writing. Simultaneously, Aurora demeans her first writings, categorically dismissing them as the musings of a young writer: the work of the young is discounted — much as it seems women's writing has sometimes been. As the book goes on, Aurora gets caught up in the tides of life, contending with love among other things, and the emphasis she places on books and words, and the tenderness with which she speaks of each, is misplaced. The place of books in her life seems to fall away, and the critical eye with which she examines her work turns to other things, like her cousin Romney. Yet, her first impassioned speeches about the nature of books and writing, and her passionate condemnations of her own work, cannot be forgotten. She asks (and makes us ask), about the place of the young writer and how a writer matures into one of substance.

Or else I sat in my chamber green,
and lived my life, and thought my thoughts, and prayed
My prayers without the vicar; read my books,
Without considering whether they were fit
To do me good. Mark, there. We get no good
By being ungenerous, even to a book,
and calculating profits, — so much help
By so much reading. It is rather when
We gloriously forget ourselves and plunge
Soul-forward, headlong, into a book's profound
Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth —
Tis then we get the right good from a book.

Later

I lived, those days
And wrote because I lived—unlicensed else:
My heart beat in my brain. Life's violent flood
Abolished bounds—and, which my neighbor's field,
Which mine, what mattered? It is thus in youth! . . . And so, like most young poets, in a flush
Of individual life I poured over myself
Along the veins of others, and achieved
Mere lifeless verse,
And made the living answer for the dead
Profaning nature . . . What make believe,
With so much earnest! What effete results
From virile efforts! What cold wire-drawn odes,
From such white heats. [33]

For me, I wrote
False poems, like the rest, and thought them true
Because myself was true in writing them . . . [35]

Questions

In the preface of Aurora Leigh, Margaret Reynolds claims it is a "necessary" book. In what ways is it necessary to us? Is it necessary to women in the same ways it is to men?

What is the place of the young writer in Aurora Leigh? Is the young writer properly put in his or her place? What is it about the young writer that makes Aurora so critical?

Does Aurora Leigh mature as a writer, and does she come to more fully appreciate her work?

What does she think about the role of emotion in writing? What should inform a writer's work, if not emotion?

What is the role of the individual in the process of writing? How can one remove themselves from writing, and how should they insert themselves? Which is more valuable, and why?<

References

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. Chicago: Academy, 1989.


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning Leading Questions

Last modified 15 March 2004