Decorative Initial In "Gender Construction and the Kunstlerroman: David Copperfield and Aurora Leigh," Gail Turley Houston discusses the conflict of a woman poet: "Aurora continually talks about and exposes the practical concerns of her craft. What she reveals is that in a market system not only were Victorians prostitutes, but women as writers and human beings became the signs of market transactions" (224-5). As a poet, Aurora has a public voice but as a woman, she is supposed to remain silent. Her one memory of her mother's voice is "hush! hush!�here's too much noise!" (AL I, 17) Houston poses the question of how a woman poet who because of her gender was supposed to remain silent and act strictly within the domestic sphere "inscribe herself" as Barrett Browning does herself. Houston writes,

Relegated to the private sphere, the angel of the house was expected to purge the taints of the male's own daily prostitution of himself in the public sphere; at the same time, she was also expected to act as the very reward that made such prostitution possible. Thus to the Victorians the distinctions between the prostitute and the wife was very tenuous, for the prostitute just made money doing what Victorian angels/queens were expected to do without pay: that is, to fulfill and reflect the desires of their procurers without expressing any desires of their own. (225)

Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi addresses this dichotomy between the woman and the poet in Aurora Leigh, where Aurora views the role of the mother as a betrayal of the artist and aspires to while taking a derogatory stance towards feminine ability similar to Romney's own criticisms of women poets. Deirdre David takes this argument further and claims that Elizabeth Barrett Browning reinforces Victorian deification and disempowerment of women by using a female narrator to reinforce patriarchal values. "The art of the woman poet performs a service for a patriarchal vision of the apocalypse. In Aurora Leigh, woman's art is made the servitor of male ideal...her novel-poem is an integrated expression of essentialist and ultimately non-feminist views of sex and gender, despite sharp attacks on sexual hypocrisy and devastating satire of women's education...Aurora Leigh is certainly confrontational: its antagonist, however, is more the middle class materialism which found a convenient ally in Victorian patriarchal formations than it is patriarchy itself" (113-14).

Related Material


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

David, Deirdre." 'Art's a Service': Social Wound, Sexual Politics, and Aurora Leigh." Browning Insitute Studies .13. (1985): 113-36.

Gelpi, Barbara Charlesworth. "Aurora Leigh: The Vocation of the Woman Poet." Victorian Poetry 19. (1981): 35-48.

Houston, Gail Turley. "Gender Construstion and Kunstlerroman: David Copperfield and Aurora Leigh." Philological Quarterly 72. (1993): 213-36.

Last modified 1996