In the last three chapters I have explored how the speakers and protagonists of EBB's poems are often depicted searching for a home which is variously associated with spiritual security, a meaningful emotional relationship, or the establishment of an inclusive and politically-liberal nation state. Time and again, however, this nominal home remains finally unattainable, as atoneness with Christ or God is deferred or unfulfilled, love and sexual relations are found to be grounded in problematic and often brutal power games, and dominant political structures repeatedly fail the individual, social group or even whole country. Nevertheless, or maybe because of this, the process of the search itself is one which EBB's poetic speakers constantly and insistently rehearse.
In this chapter, I examine a text, the intellectually intriguing and formally innovative Aurora Leigh, where the attainment of home is finally achieved. For the long narrative structure of Aurora Leigh, which is principally founded upon a series of crucial journeys (from Italy to England, England to France, and France to Italy), eventually enables the eponymous heroine to find a resolution to the quest for home which draws together and interweaves the spiritual, the emotional and the political, along with other important elements. As I suggest in the Conclusion to this book, however, this achievement of a more holistic home is only temporary since EBB's subsequent work, in Poems Before Congress (1860) and the posthumous Last Poems (1862), witnesses fragmentation replacing unity once again. Nevertheless, Aurora Leigh is crucial for its detailed and wide-ranging exploration of what a meaningful home might be and how it might be structured.
Aurora Leigh is an extraordinary poem by any standards and took EBB over a decade to bring to fruition. Indeed, as early as 1841, EBB was seeking advice from Mary Russell Mitford on a suitable subject for the longer poem she wished to write. Mitford's suggestion was Napoleon, a figure EBB had tackled in ‘Crowned and Buried’, but at this stage EBB replied that she was rather drawn to a female subject, Joan of Arc. ‘I do not think with you that an objection to a military-glory-subject reverberates necessarily against Joan,’ she speculated;’ If I wrote of her, it wd. not be of “a great general” but of a great enthusiast … preserving faithfully & tenderly her womanly nature unrusted in the iron which sheathes it ‘ (Correspondence 5:173).