At 10,938 lines, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh would seem unsuited for the present-day classroom, with its focus on short, simple texts adapted for readers with little experience of long poems. Yet it teaches quite readily and, indeed, is often a student favorite. This article emphasizes the multigeneric quality of Browning's epic and the advantages of presenting its successive layers. The poem functions as a veiled autobiographical narrative of development, a fast-paced novel plot centering on gender and class relationships, and a closet drama utilizing features of the contemporary stage. Other aspects of the poem include its appeal as a travel narrative, as Aurora responds to European sites still unfamiliar to many of Browning's readers, and its self-reflexivity as a critical treatise on poetics, as Aurora attempts to enunciate the principles that have guided the poem's author. Certain aspects of the poem's imagery and characterization are especially effective in prompting classroom debate; among these are the ideologically laden symbols of a burned aristocratic manor, a blinded hero, the final vision of a New Jerusalem, and the remarkable portrayal of the aggrieved seamstress Marian, who protests her victimization by rape and rejects marriage with an upper-class suitor.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.