Elizabeth Barrett Browning Group
Aurora Leigh (1856)
edited by Margaret Reynolds
“Where we disavow
Being keeper to our brother we're his Cain" (4.467-68).
Aurora Leigh (1856)
to Path 2 prompts should deliver a structured, narrow argument
in only 400-500 words, one you publish on Blackboard by
11:59 p.m. on Friday. Arguments should
evince creativity and organization, support their claims with detailed
evidence ( incl. page citations), and show signs of careful revision. Remember too that whether I happen to agree or not with your thesis matters little, as long as it is sufficiently supported and logically, persuasively rendered.
Some of the strongest essays will incorporate ideas from path 2 essays written by your peers and/or pertinent path 1 discussions and topics, though neither is required.
Two: Aurora Leigh, Books 1 & 2
- option one: does the following generalization from Elizbeth Barrett Browning's verse-novel favor one sex over the other? "Such good do mothers. Fathers love as well / -- Mine did, I know, -- but still with heavier brains, / And wills more consciously responsible, / And not as wisely, since less foolishly" (1.60-63).
- option two: does the painting of Aurora's mother hanging in the home shared by Aurora and her father prove a blessing to Aurora's psychological development (1.128-75)?
three: what does EBB’s narrator repeatedly suggest about the nature of right action and true knowledge? Do they require careful forethought, or passionate abandon?
- option four: why does Aurora Leigh rebel so strongly against Nature as manifest in England, and why does she later grow to love it -- what does it do for her?
- option five: what tone dominates Aurora Leigh’s description of her aunt (1.270-358)?
- option six: does the education Aurora Leigh receives under her aunt’s guidance enable or suppress her individuality?
- option seven: does Aurora Leigh's cousin Romney Leigh act as enabler or roadblock in her life?
- option eight: do lines 1003-19 constitute a criticism or praise of the poets Keats, Pope, and Byron?
- option nine: do the closing, pessimistic lines of Book One (1.1141-45) undercut the optimism of the preceding stanza?
- option ten: does the narrator of Aurora Leigh ventriloquize the sentiments of any particular Romantic poet? You might consider her reflections on the power of Nature, the uses of poetry, and/or the direction and nature of her nationalism.
- option one: what clear, if non-belligerent, signs of sexism does Romney betray in his interactions with Aurora?
- option two: what is the essence of Romney's critique of women in lines 183-225?
- option three: is Aurora callous to not more immediately and compassionately respond to Romney's cry that the world is in pain?
- option four: what elements of Romney's proposal are particularly ironic?
- option five: according to Aurora, what important role does poetry serve which social work cannot?
- option six: does Aurora's rejection of love and money constitute an act of scornful pride, an act of necessary self definition, or something else?
Week Three: Aurora Leigh, Book 3
one: does the Nature that Aurora so loved in Italy and the English countryside similarly inspire and soothe her once she is living in the Kensington district of London?
- option two: does all of the writing created by Aurora benefit her?
- option three: what do Lady Waldemar's repeated references to Romney's "madness" suggest about the importance of the socioeconomic class hierarchy to this upper-class woman?
- option four: Aurora Leigh tells us that she will translate Marian Erle’s life story “with fuller utterance, / As coloured and confirmed in aftertimes / By others and herself too” (3.828-30). Putting aside the actual details/events relayed in this telling, what of Aurora Leigh’s language assures us that she is indeed speaking in her own voice, not Marian Erle’s? Be sure to organize your supporting examples into a coherent argument, and mention the two women’s different educations in your response.
- option five: as she begins to narrate Marian Erle's story, Aurora takes care to inform her readers that she will be changing Marian's own phrasing, diction, and tone (3.828, 847-48). Locate a few obvious examples of this linguistic alteration, and spin them into some kind of cohesive argument.
- option six: Aurora Leigh tells us that she relays Marian Erle's story with "passionate" language, not the "meek words" used by Marian herself (3.849). Provide a few examples.
- option seven: discuss the limited validity (within this story) of Marian Erle’s observation, “‘How sick we must be, ere we make men just!’” (3.1120).
- option eight: how does Marian Erle learn about God?
- option nine: does Marian's relationship with Nature as a child (3.881-1012) echo that of the young Aurora (Book 1)?
- option ten: in Book 3, Aurora rejected much of the epistolary encouragement she received from critics and adorers alike, maintaining that it was more important for her poetry to "live" than merely to sell well (3.69). What does she mean by "live" (see 3.70-104, etc.), and has the verse novel in your hands actually achieved this kind of life thus far?
Week Four: Aurora Leigh, Books 4-5
- option one: what purpose is served by choosing to have Marian Erle work Lady Waldemar's new dress (4.26-27) in the seamstress shop where Romney placed her a year earlier?
- option two: what motivates Romney's offer to Marian Erle?
- option three: why does Aurora Leigh quickly begin to misinterpret Romney’s facial expressions, words, and silences when he reappears on the scene (4.270 and following)?
- option four: does Marian Erle manifest any fallible human qualities, or is she a paragon of virtue?
- option five: does Marian Erle betray some important measure of self-knowledge in lines 4.378-84 or 4.417-19?
- option six: does Aurora Leigh’s description of the impoverished individuals who crowd into St. James Church, Piccadilly in Book Four (4.542-601) earn the reader’s harsh judgment? That is, do her words ring with hypocrisy given her earlier claim that “‘poets . . . are still whole democrats . . . loyal to the low’” (4.314-17)? Does she lack the very compassion and sensitivity which she earlier stated must characterize the true poet? In your response, consider too her successive description of the rich characters who also appear in the church for the big event (4.615-709, 710-92)
- option seven: what kinds of words and ideas (unheard by us) might Aurora be softly murmuring to the distressed Romney in lines 4.1088-08?
- option eight: what change of strategy is Aurora suggesting to Romney in lines 4.1193-98?
- option nine: what change of perspective is Romney suggesting to Aurora in lines 4.1206-11?
- option ten: Romney engages in much self-deprecation towards the end of Book Four. Is this self-flagellation warranted?
- option one: what preconditions does Aurora Leigh place upon Art in order for it to be considered good art?
- option two: which matters more to the poet Aurora Leigh, form or substance? Reason or passion?
- option three: does Aurora Leigh demonstrate the truth of Romney's earlier accusation (2.180-225) in her focus on the personal and immediate (5.474-88)?
- option four: if you had to extrapolate E.B.B.’s own opinion concerning female beauty and modesty from both Aurora’s thoughts on Lady Waldemar and the dialogue between Sir Blaise and the young German student concerning this beautiful woman (5.612-92), what would that opinion be?
- option five: how high is the personal cost of being an artist, according to Aurora Leigh?
- option six: given the cost and difficulty of creating Art (or, here, poetry), as detailed by Aurora Leigh (5.365-88), is it worth it?
- option seven: does the narrator wish us to dislike Lord Howe?
- option eight: Low Howe asks his friend Aurora Leigh to "compromise" for her own well-being. What does he mean, and what is her response?
- option nine: Marian Erle condensed the rationale for her changed plans down to two reasons in lines 4.956-57. Which of these two explanations for her behavior seems more valid, given what we know by the end of Book Five?
"Country Landscape" (late 19th c.)
Dr. Paul Marchbanks