Flanked by competing allegiances to the church and the public, Harding's predicament recalls Barrett Browning's "double-vision" of the masculine and feminine, novel and poem, self and society. Trollope's simultaneously comic and sympathetic portrayal of Harding suggests Trollope's ambivalence as a liberal conservative — his simultaneous embrace of social reform and sadness at the resulting loss of old-order grandeur and ceremony. Whereas Aurora's ascent to domestic dominance over Romney presupposes his financial disaster at the hands of social reformists, Trollope (perhaps as a male) is wary of Barrett Browning's aspirations for revolution. Indeed, whereas Marian endures her rape and penury, Harding wilts under the pressure, at several points unable to restrain his tears. In an interview with the bishop, Harding is "almost in tears" (118). Shortly thereafter, Harding responds to Eleanor's assurances of her promised loyalty:

How he pressed her to his heart again with almost a spasmodic pressure! How he kissed her as the tears fell like rain from his old eyes! How he blessed her, and called her by a hundred soft sweet names which now came new to his lips! how he chid himself for ever having been unhappy with such a treasure in his house, such a jewel on his bosom, with so sweet a flower in the choice garden of his heart! (136)

Ironically, Harding considers Eleanor a "treasure" and a "jewel" precisely because she pledges to forego the accouterments of the salary Harding is soon to concede. "Do you think that I cannot be happy without a pony-carriage and a fine drawing room?" she asks. "Papa, I can never be happy here, as long as there is a question as to your honour in staying here." Much as Marian sacrifices Romney's hand in marriage, here Eleanor sacrifices personal, material satisfaction so as to ensure the stability of the Harding family domestic space as well as Harding's honor as the domestic figurehead of his twelve bedesmen. As Trollope puts it, "such is the tact and talent of women! (102). In chapter XI, Trollope likens her predicament to that of Iphigenia, a Classical daughter-figure whom Meneleus sacrifices in order to gain wind to go to Troy. "Self-sacrifice was decided on as the means to be adopted" she says (138). "Was not so good an Agamemnon worthy of an Iphigenia? She would herself personally implore John Bold to desist from his undertakings." Trollope's allusion to Iphigenia enacts the very democratization of the hero Barrett Browning proposes in Book V of Aurora Leigh. Eleanor's petitions Bold to sacrifice his lawsuit out of faith for her father, much in the same way that Bold concedes out of faith for her, and Harding sacrifices his position as Warden out of faith for his twelve bedesmen. As a result of multiple, over-lapping sacrifices, Trollope's characters route each other towards successful domestic spaces, much like Mariana's self-sacrifice facilitates Aurora's eventual domestic contract with Romney. Near the conclusion, Trollope envisions a harmonious domestic space free of Early Victorian violence:

Not long after the marriage, perhaps six months, when Eleanor's bridal-honours were fading, and persons were beginning to call her Mrs. Bold without twittering, the archdeacon consented to meet John Bold at a dinner-party, and since that time they have become almost friends. The archdeacon firmly believes that his brother-in-law was, as a bachelor, an infidel, an unbeliever in the great truths of our religion; but that matrimony has opened his eyes, as it has those of others. (283)

Other Sections of "From Violence to Domesticity: Heroism and Gender in Aurora Leigh and The Warden"

Victorian Web Overview E. B. Browning Aurora Leigh

Last modified 2000