Spoilerrific Readalong Report
The sad thing is I finished on time, but didn’t write up my impressions yesterday so no points for me. A small, but intrepid crew are reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh a poem about a young Victorian woman growing up to be a fiery poet. She is chock full of scorn for most people including her cousin Romney who although completely belittling women poets seems otherwise a stand-up guy. He even tried to make her independently wealthy after she turned him down in marriage, but she would have none of it. I’m not saying she’s wrong to turn it down, but it was very nice of him to make the attempt. He goes off to save the world and she writes poems in a garret.
Three years later she gets a visit and all her prickliness will not put off Lady Whatshername who is trying to get her help to stop Romney from marrying a poor woman. Aurora Leigh tells Lady W to get stuffed and then goes to meet this fiancee whose name is Marion Erle. Marion tells her sad story and Aurora welcomes her into the family as a cousin, but neglects to tell her cousin Romney to watch out for Lady W. Does she do this because as a poetess she’s unaware of the depths to which people will sink or because she subconsciously wants to sink this marriage? Whichever it is, the marriage is sunk. Poor Romney is left at the alter with nothing but an incoherent message which really doesn’t explain anything.
EBB looking as prickly as Aurora. Wondering how much Aurora is based on EBB? Certainly not the orphan part, but her character and having to deal with people who think women should not do anything except look pretty and make babies. This section went much faster for me and with a lot less, huh? She hardly waxed poetic at all, mostly it was all action. Her descriptions of the poor are absolutely dreadful. She’s sympathetic to Marian, but all the rest seem to be caricatures who love nothing better than hitting children and drinking. I can’t help thinking the rich didn’t bathe all that much then either and fluoride was still a thing of the future. Not sure if she really thought the poor were all horrible people simply incapable of being refined like those of good blood like the Leighs, or she’s painting it this way for political purposes. It’s really hard to see the point though in
A woman screamed back — ‘I’m a tender soul,
I never banged a child at two years old
And drew blood from him, but I sobbed for it
Is she parodying what many thought the poor were like? I certainly hope so. It seems pretty clear she’s parodying the rich showing them mostly quite full of themselves so let’s just assume these ghastly portraits of the poor are also parody. Although it doesn’t read so much like parody to me as pure disgust
What an ugly crest
Of faces rose upon you everywhere
From that crammed mass! you did not usuallly
See faces like them in the open day:
They hide in cellars, not to make you mad
As Romney Leigh is — Faces! O my God,
We call those, faces? men’s and women’s… ay,
And children’s — babies, hanging like a rag
Forgotten on their mother’s neck — poor mouths,
Wiped clean of mother’s milk by mother’s blow
Before they are taught her cursing. Faces?… phew,
We’ll call them vices, festering to despairs,
Or sorrows, petrifying to vices: not
A finger-touch of God left whole on them
Harsh realm, Miss Aurora Leigh.