Aurora Leigh, a heroic woman who dares to defy contemporary and traditional attitudes toward women, female writers in particular. Bravely, she rejects the security of Romney’s proposed “bequest” and offer of marriage to live alone in London, pursuing her career as a poet on very limited funds. She asserts that women can be artists and accepts the loneliness of a single life rather than surrender into the role of a submissive wife. She befriends Marian and offers to take her to Italy as her companion and “sister.” She accurately evaluates Lady Waldmar’s evil character and berates her for her villainy, but she is strangely imperceptive of Romney’s real feelings and his hints about his blindness. He tells her that she never really knew him if she could really believe he would marry Lady Waldmar. Her quest in search of her identity is triumphantly rewarded when a chastened Romney agrees to marriage on Aurora’s terms, a partnership in poetry and social reform.
Romney Leigh, Aurora’s cousin, who first appears as a paternal figure as heir of the Leigh estate and as a brother figure to his teenage cousin. His social conscience causes him to dedicate his life to social reform, following some of the typical theorists of the day. Aurora tries unsuccessfully to convince him that reform must come from within the individual. After Aurora refuses to marry him (because his proposal apparently was made without love), he generously offers to marry Marian Erle and thus rescue one poor seamstress from poverty. His generosity is rejected, thwarted by the schemes of Lady Waldmar. After a mob burns his ancestral home, the now blinded Romney arrives in Italy for his last quest as knight-errant, marriage to the socially rejected Marian. Through the efforts of Aurora and Marian, he happily acknowledges Aurora’s “superiority” as poet and inspiration for social reform, thus breaking with traditional views on marriage and the role of women.
Marian Erle, an idealized victim of society and circumstance. She escapes from abusive parents—her mother had intended to “sell” her to the local squire—and eventually is rescued by Romney from a life of destitution. Although...
(The entire section is 934 words.)