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Combating an Alien Tyranny: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Evolution as a Feminist Poet

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Extract

The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every subject (ego) – who always regards the self as the essential – and the compulsions of a situation in which she is the inessential. (Simone de Beauvoir xxxiv)

The name [of poet]

Is royal, and to sign it like a queen

Is what I dare not, – though some royal blood

Would seem to tingle in me now and then,

With sense of power and ache.

Aurora Leigh I. (934–38)

'Tis Antidote to turn –

To Tomes of solid Witchraft –

(Emily Dickinson, #593)

“Speed and energy, forthrightness and complete self-confidence – these are the qualities that hold us enthralled” as we read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, wrote Virginia Woolf in 1932 (1.212). As Woolf points out, these qualities emanate not so much from Aurora as from her creator, whose strong and lively presence so pervades the poem that “Again and again … Aurora the fictitious seems to be throwing light upon Elizabeth the actual. … [making it] impossible for the most austere of critics not sometimes to touch the flesh when his [sic] eyes should be fixed upon the page” (212). And as Woolf observes, the “flesh” the critic touches is that of a woman who knows that the royal blood of poets flows through her veins. “Elizabeth the actual” is a subject, speaking boldly of the world as she perceives and experiences it.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1987

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