Decorative Initial Elizabeth Barrett Browning's obedience to generic rules did not disguise the fact that her occupation flouted convention: she was a woman experimenting in a male genre — the epic. The novel was considered "more congruent with the self-effacing role prescribed for Victorian women" (Stone 115). Also, as Romney's reference to "lady's Greek / without the accents" (Browning II.75-6) would imply, most Victorian women lacked the thorough classical schooling required to write an epic.

In the absence of a female precedent to follow, Barrett Browning followed her own rules in assembling her verse-novel. This first female Kunstlerroman shamelessly appropriated features of male-coded writing: "imitation of classical models (above all, the epic), prophetic aspirations, and confessional subjectivity" (Stone 115). The poem's Romantic focus on the subjectivity of the narrator hasled to its being called a feminist version of William Wordsworth's autobiographical poemThe Prelude. In preparing such a poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning faced the daunting twofold task of articulating her poetic philosophy in verse and venturing into formerly-male literary territory. For this effort, Regenia Gagnier gives her a dubious tribute:

Feminist critics of literary domesticity have unsurprisingly but uncritically represented female Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, an epic lyric (i.e., a novel-length expression in verse of subjective desire) impossibly reconciling — or at least violently yoking — the Romantic tradition of individual genius and Victorian femininity. (Gagnier 217)

Related Web Materials

  1. Fictional Autobiography: Definitions and Descriptions
  2. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (I): Fall from Paradise
  3. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (II): The First Female Kunstlerroman
  4. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (III): The Victorian Woman's Revenge Fantasy
  5. Aurora Leigh and Fictional Autobiography (IV): Inadequacies of the Form
  6. Great Expectations and Fictional Autobiography (I): Fantasy and Nightmare

Last modified 1996