Decorative Initial Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations depict a Victorian society layered with divisions between the separate spheres of public and private, masculine and feminine, and working and upper classes. Each novel depicts individuals struggling against the rigid social structures divided by class and gender. Ultimately, these struggles against the social order are characterized by alienation and pain. In Great Expectations, Pip finds himself alone and set adrift, floating between the social class he was born into and the one he aspires to join. Aurora Leigh struggles against Victorian notions of womanhood and denies her femininity as a pre-condition to becoming a poetūonly to be forced to acknowledge her love for Romney Leigh in the end. At the center of these characters' struggle to establish for themselves a new position and identity in society lie issues of patriarchy affecting societal attitudes concerning how each individual should behave in society and who holds the wealth and power.

Although, at first glance, one might think that Aurora's struggle with masculine notions of feminine ability and Pip's attempt to advance to another social class are entirely separate struggles, issues of both class and gender relations pervade each character's steps towards emotional maturity and self-identity. Love and desire for the beautiful Estella prompt Pip's ambition to become a gentleman, and Aurora's attempt to establish herself as a poet must not only take place within a male-dominated artistic tradition but in the commercial marketplace as well. Each work concerns itself with how an individual's status is determined by that individual and society. Pip obviously had no choice about being born into a blacksmith's family, and Aurora was simply born as a female. The advancement of the protagonists toward their desired goals reverberate with troubling, essentializing implications about individual and social identity that force each individual to deny part of his or her nature, thus resulting in an alienation from self and society. Pip denies his roots, his family — Joe and Biddy — just as he eschews his social class in order to become Estella's suitor. Aurora struggles against Victorian notions of femininity which she finds hard to cast off and denies her sexuality and her love for Romney Leigh by adopting a vision of the poet's vocation coded with masculine ideals. Social attitudes towards class and gender bring about external pressures that the characters in each work struggle against and simultaneously incorporate as they internalize these pressures.

Related Material

References

Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations.New York: Penguin Books, 1985.


Victorian Web Overview Aurora Leigh Gender

Last modified 1996

Last modified 8 June 2007