When Romney Leigh first proposes to Aurora, he assumes that she will join him in his life’s work. He does not believe that women have the same concept of a vocation to which they are called. He turns a deaf ear to her assertions of a need to find her own way and her own voice. As Aurora is emerging from adolescence, she has immersed herself in the world of poetry and realized that she must devote her life to this art. Aurora chastises Romney for holding an abstracted view of womanhood that focuses on marriage and motherhood. She cannot marry a person who sees her primarily as an instrument to furthering his ends, no matter how noble the cause he embraces: what he offers is little more than servitude. Aurora believes in the life of the soul, which has transformative capabilities.
Much later, Marian also rejects Romney, which leaves him unencumbered and free to marry Aurora at last, as the two have finally found a common ground. Marian had previously accepted his proposal, even though his idea about matrimony was not much changed from what he offered to Aurora. Marian, who had internalized a sense of inferiority because of her lower social class, had been willing at that time to aid him in any necessary aspect of his cause. Her experiences of degradation in the brothel eventually instill a greater sense of self and pride, which is nurtured by Aurora. While Marian’s rejection also includes the fact that Romney does not love her, she also points out that he is trying to be honorable in making good on his earlier commitment but that would not be a solid basis for a marriage. Distinct from Aurora’s desire for a career or artistic self-expression, Marian intends to devote herself to motherhood.