According to Stone, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is "defiantly indecorous" in her handling of genre rules. "As early as 1845, she had conceived the work as 'a sort of novel-poem,...running into the midst of our conventions, & rushing into drawing-rooms & the like 'where angels fear to tread'; & so, meeting face to face & without mask the Humanity of the age, & speaking the truth as I conceive of it, out plainly.'(29) As her term 'novel-poem' implies, Barrett Browning does not merely mingle genres; she fuses them together to form a new whole. Aurora Leigh combines a verse buildungsroman or spiritual epic like The Prelude, tracing the growth of a woman poet's mind, with a treatise on poetics (including a survey of poetic genres) and a heavily plotted novel in the manner of George Sand, Charles Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte — all enlivened by liberal dashes of racy social satire in the manner of Byron's Don Juan. (115)

Stone further continues that subverting genre subverts gender,

since Victorians viewed epic, philosophic, and racy satiric poetry as male domains, but thought the novel more suited to female writers. Beyond associating the skills of the novelist with the supposedly female virtues of the heart, Victorians found the writing of novels by women more acceptable than attempts in the major poetic genres because, as Gilbert and Gubar observe, novels did not require or display the knowledge of classical models barred to most women, novelists did not aspire to be priestly or prophetic figures interpreting God and the world to their fellows, and the the novel was less subjective than the prevalent lyric and confessional poetic forms and therefore more congruent with the self-effacing role prescribed for Victorian women. Precisely these feature of the major poetic modess — the imitation of classical modesl (above all, the epic), prophetic aspirations, and confessional subjectivity — are the most prominent in Aurora Leigh.


Marjorie Stone, "Genre Subversion and Gender Inversion: The Princess and Aurora Leigh," Victorian Poetry 25: 2 (Summer 1987).

Last modified 1996