Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Aurora Leigh blends the genres of poetry and the novel and is, at the same time, a bildungsroman (a novel that traces the development of a young person to maturity) or, more properly, a Künstlerroman, in which a young artist struggles to create an artistic identity despite adverse conditions. The work is innovative both in its blend of poetry and the novel form and in its focus on a woman as an artist.
As befitting a developmental novelist, Elizabeth Barrett Browning proceeds chronologically, from Aurora’s childhood in Italy to her triumph as a mature artist. The child of a British father and an Italian mother, who dies when Aurora is only four years old, she grows up bereft of maternal nurturing, which she pursues throughout her life. Her sorrowing father leaves Aurora to the care of a servant until his own death when she is thirteen. She is whisked away to “frosty” England, in contrast to the “green reconciling earth” of Italy, the latter country being, in all senses, her “motherland.” She is placed with her father’s sister, who lives a “caged life,” a life which, in turn, encases Aurora. Her education now emphasizes useless facts and accomplishments such as “spinning glass” and the need to be “womanly,” or submissive, as her aunt defines it. Aurora befriends her cousin, Romney Leigh, master of Leigh Hall, only a few years older than she. She escapes into her father’s stored library and discovers poetry,...
(The entire section is 1785 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Aurora Leigh Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
As a personal narrative, Aurora Leigh begins when the central character is born in Italy to an English father and Tuscan mother. When Aurora Leigh's mother dies, the grieving father withdraws to a mountain cottage, where he educates Aurora in the classics amid the wonders of nature. However, when she is only thirteen, her father dies, and she is taken away from her beloved nurse and sent to England to live with a coldhearted maiden aunt who had not approved of Aurora's mother. There, Aurora is submitted to a conventional female education. Her only comforts are her father's books; her cousin, Romney Leigh; and Romney's friend, the painter Vincent Carrington, who talks of Italy.
The expectation is that Aurora will marry Romney, heir to the family estates, and he proposes to her when she is twenty years old. Romney thinks that Aurora should join him in his work for social reform, but she believes that she has a right to her own vocational fulfillment and does not want to be just his helper. He scoffs at her artistic ambitions, thinking them of little value compared with his noble endeavors. Dismayed by his attitude, Aurora rejects Romney's proposal. Angered by this refusal, her Aunt Marjory disinherits her and dies shortly thereafter. Aurora heads to London nonetheless, determined to begin a new life and maintain her independence.
Aurora loses touch...
(The entire section is 1347 words.)