Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Italy. Country in which Aurora Leigh begins her life. She is born in Florence—a major Italian cultural center—to a Florentine mother and an English father. Barrett Browning portrays Aurora’s first years in Florence as edenic, although her mother dies when she is only four years old. Afterward, Aurora and her father moved to Pelago, a mountainous village, where she is sheltered and raised with the assistance of Assunta, a servant. Her father provides her with books and treats her as an intellectual equal; his last words to her—advice to seek love—shape the context of the evolving verse novel. After her father dies 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.” Italy remains ever afterward the place to which Aurora always returns, even in her imagination, for comfort and safety.


*England. While Aurora lives with her father’s sister in England, her life takes a different turn. Her aunt’s country home has a wild beauty that differs from the warm Pelago. Nevertheless, Aurora learns to love it and continues to pursue the life of the mind. She tests her father’s advice, to find love, when her cousin Romney falls in love with her and she refuses to marry him.


*London. Capital city of Great Britain, in which Aurora struggles to support herself as a writer after her aunt’s death. Now alone, she must face many trials in a strange city in order to prove herself. London stands in direct contrast to the wild innocence of Italy, even to her aunt’s country house. She visits St. Margaret’s Court, an area known for prostitution, to meet the seamstress Marian, whom her cousin now intends to marry, and Barrett Browning provides readers with a glimpse of the wretched conditions in which London’s poor live—the desolation of the area, the sickness of its children, and the hopelessness of its people.


*Paris. France’s capital city presents the occasion for the renewal of Aurora’s artistic dreams. Having lost confidence in her abilities, she is refreshed by the similarities of geography. Finding art all around her, she is greatly moved by the beauty of nature, very much like that of Italy.

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

Victorian Poetry

The Romantic movement was dominated by poets, but the Victorian age is better known for its novels....

(The entire section is 542 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)


This specialized form of the bildungsroman, a novel form that addresses psychological and moral growth,...

(The entire section is 740 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

  • 1856: For the first time, during the Crimean War, the government allows women to provide nursing services in combat. Florence...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

  • Browning was an avid reader of the French and English novelists of her day. Make an annotated list of these novelists and their works,...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

  • Aurora Leigh: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism (1994) is available on audiocassette, edited by Margaret...

(The entire section is 21 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

  • Browning's best-known work today is probably Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850). These are forty-four interlocking love poems that...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)


Arnold, Matthew, The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867, Oxford University Press, 1913, p. 1.


(The entire section is 448 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Feminist reading with emphasis on discussing Barrett Browning’s solution to the contemporary conflict between “woman” and “poet.” Clarifies maternal imagery in the poem.

Kaplan, Cora. Introduction to Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Aurora Leigh and Other Poems. London: Women’s Press, 1978. Provides an excellent starting point for comprehending the scope of the poem. The editor’s comments are often cited to support other readings of the poem. Good notes and a bibliography of critical material available at the time.

Leighton, Angela. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. A useful reading of Aurora Leigh as feminist poem, especially in its defiance of patriarchal dominance of women and poetry.

Mermin, Dorothy. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. A biographical study emphasizing the female in Aurora Leigh, its position as a novel, maternal images, and its heroine’s defiance of traditional attitudes toward women. Includes an excellent, comprehensive bibliography.

Moers, Ellen. Literary Women. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976. Focuses on the influence of Mme de Stael, George Sand, and Elizabeth Gaskell on Barrett Browning and her influence on later writers, especially Emily Dickinson. Moers suggests that Dickinson’s poems be read in concert with Aurora Leigh. Cites epic features and establishes it as “the feminist poem.”