Feminism in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh Essay

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Feminism in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh

In Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barrett Browning creates an independent, intelligent young woman. Barrett Browning successfully demonstrates the difficult obstacles women had to overcome in the Victorian period. There were preconceived ideas of what "proper" women were suppose to do with their life. Not that this idea has completely been surmounted in our time. Barrett Browning though is optimistic about the goals women can achieve. She wants to demonstrate to women that belief in themselves and their dreams is possible and preferable to the standard.

The poem begins with Aurora Leigh's observations of her aunt. "Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight/ As if for taming
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"Of the mathematics,--brushed with extreme flounce/ The circle of the sciences, because/ She misliked women who are frivolous" (404-407). Her aunt considered the learning of mathematics and science a waste of time because a woman would have no chance to use them. She withheld any reading that were considered improper. In effect Aurora Leigh was taught "A general insight into useful facts" 413). Therefore a woman was taught enough facts that could prove useful in conversation. She was not taught to think deeply and explore ideas for herself.

Her aunt also had her instructed in "Spun glass, Stuffed birds, and modeled flowers in wax,/ Because she liked accomplishments in girls" (425-426). So in the narrow mind of her aunt's she considered the ability to do crafts an accomplishment for women. After the list of Aurora Leigh's education is drawn out, there is an interesting side bar. Barrett Browning adds "By the way,/ The works of women are symbolical./ We sew...producing what...at best, a cushion...and dream of something we are not..." (455-462). She introduces the line subtlety but actually this is the sum of her belief. Women produce goods that are trivial, not necessary in life. This affects the worth of the woman, not only in monetary value but in their esteem. Therefore the value of women in society is low for what they produce is of little worth.

Through this strict upbringing Aurora Leigh's personality persisted. At age twenty she
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