The year 2011 is the sesquicentennial of the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), the celebrated Victorian poet famous for her love sonnets and dramatic ballads. Her masterpiece Aurora Leigh (1856) is an innovative verse memoir about a woman artist and her society. Moving from Florence to London and back to Italy once more, the poem’s cosmopolitan heroine grows up an orphan, who dreams of poetic fame. When a suitor doubts the value of poetry in a society fraught with class conflict and poverty, Aurora refuses marriage and chooses a writer’s life in London. Drawn into the complexities of a romantic triangle that has tragic consequences for a young seamstress, Aurora stands by a woman condemned by others. The poem’s dénouement attempts to resolve the question of art’s role in a fractured, materialistic society, particularly when the artist is a woman.
Michele Martinez introduces readers to the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the challenging circumstances in which she conceived of and composed Aurora Leigh. The Guide accounts for the poem’s major influences and modes of poetic expression. Martinez also takes readers through the poems major themes and contexts, introducing a range of interpretive frameworks. The teaching and bibliographic chapters offer supplementary materials for college or university instruction and direction for future research.