Publication Date

Spring 4-25-2012


College of Arts and Sciences



Primary Subject Area

Literature, English


Victorian Literature, gender roles, female poet, Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, novel-poem


English Language and Literature | European Languages and Societies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


Through Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barrett Browning explores the role of female poets as agents of social change in the Victorian society. During the Victorian period, the role of women was largely confined to the domestic setting. While women were allowed to write, female writers were limited to the realm of novels, which was perceived by the Victorian society to be the less distinguished genre. In writing Aurora Leigh, Barrett Browning challenged this gender stereotype by producing a "novel-poem" that unites the feminine voice with masculine authority and superiority. Like Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, in her fictional role as a writer, also challenges the same stereotypes. She seeks to redefine poetry, which is the domain of man. In rejecting Romney’s initial marriage proposal, Aurora Leigh also rebels against the stereotypical gender roles. At the same time, in doing so, she inadvertently rejects Romney’s plan for social change that involves only the physical aspect. Instead, in pursuing her career as a poet, Aurora Leigh finds herself in a position to bring about social change on a level that transcends the physical. By telling the story of Marian Erle, Aurora Leigh has the power to change the plight of women in the Victorian society. Finally, being women themselves, both Barrett Browning and Aurora Leigh can speak up for the Victorian women even more effectively.