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Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Books 1 & 2

So. Aurora Leigh by English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, written in 1856 (Dickens had just written Hard Times) is a novel in verse about an English-Italian girl and her journey to becoming a poet.

It is...a little challenging. Here is a live action shot of me reading yesterday:

So, BOOK 1:

Aurora Leigh is born "[t]o make my father sadder, and myself/Not overjoyous truly."

Which kind of just sets the tone, huh. I want this entire review read with an understanding that along with extreme perplexity and frustration for certain parts, I also acknowledge this book is the work of an incredible genius and I'm glad I am reading it. Yes, I shouted parts in anger while my girlfriend tried to get work done last night, but I also was like "WAIT THIS PART IS REALLY GOOD LISTEN."

I've never been a huge fan of poetry, but I do think it fills a very necessary place in humanity's expression of itself, and those who use it well should be lauded. Or their words should be.

EBB has some funny lines. She describes Aurora's father as coming to Florence "where he had come to spend a month/And note the secret of Da Vinci's drains." She also brings up "Pan's white goats, with udders warm and full/Of mystic contemplations," although I was less sure that was supposed to be funny.

So Aurora Leigh is born, her mother promptly dies and she lives in the Italian hills with her father, who then ALSO dies, so she travels to England to live with her father's sister and hang out with her socialist cousin Romney Leigh who is basically the bummer guy on Twitter who is constantly talking about how terrible everything is (haha jk that's everyone on Twitter). Aurora responds

And then I turned, and held my finger up,
And bade him mark that, howsoe'er the world
Went ill, as he related, certainly
The thrushes still sang in it.

Which, okay, Aurora. Maybe not anymore though. Because climate change. Also deforestation.


Romney tells her she's just a dumb girl who can only write dumb poetry and also she should marry him. Aurora says no thanks. Aurora's aunt pitches a fit, then weeks later, dies. Romney tries to give Aurora heaps of cash, to which Aurora again says no thanks. Then she leaves for London.


Whom love had unmade from a common man
But not completed to an uncommon man,

I only thought
Of lying quiet there where I was thrown
Like sea-weed on the rocks, and suffer her
To prick me to a pattern with her pin,
Fibre from fibre, delicate leaf from leaf,
And dry out from my drowned anatomy
The last sea-salt left in me.

This was a pretty sick burn re bad poetry:

Young men, ay, and maids,
Too often sow their wild oats in tame verse.
Before they sit down under their own vine
And live for use. Alas, near all the birds
Will sing at dawn,—and yet we do not take
The chaffering swallow for the holy lark.

vortices of glory and blue air

Here's a super relatable bit by Romney:

'So bad, Aurora. Dear, my soul is grey
With poring over the long sum of ill;
So much for vice, so much for discontent,
So much for the necessities of power,
So much for the contrivances of fear,—
Coherent in statistical depairs
With such a total of distracted life,..
To see it down in figures on a page,
Plain, silent, God sees through the earth
The sense of all the graves!...that's terrible
For one who is not God, and cannot right
The wrong he looks on.

Oh, and Aurora's comment to Romney that

'Why, sir, you are married long ago.
You have a wife already whom you love,
Your social theory. Bless you both, I say.

And let's give Aurora's aunt one good line, which is when she says

Yes, a fine young man
Is Romney Leigh; although the sun of youth
Has shone too straight upon his brain

LOOK. This book is very very very hard in parts, and I am not smart enough to appreciate it as much as it should be. But I'm looking forward to the next section after I pushed through the very difficult beginning (and that long long long section where she talked about The Glory of Being a Poet). 

Link up below!


  1. Oh my GOD that part about the joys of being a poet was SO LONG that part was goddamn infinity long. Come on EBB. Give a reader a break.

  2. THE POETRY PART WAS SO LONG and came directly on the heels of the nature-is-great part which was EQUALLY LONG and honestly I was like "ELIZABETH, I GET IT" and did some skimming.

  3. These GIFS are wonderful and also match my face when I tried (I TRIED!) to read this. But verse. I am defeated


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