English Lamp Posts Top Victorian Blog Award Winner 2011

Brought to you by English Lamp Posts

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Woman's Vocation

Book II addresses a woman's vocation and whether popular literature is proper for the female sex.  During the Victorian Era, female writers struggled to attain the level of success available to their male counterparts.  Writers such as George Eliot as well as the Bronte sisters published works using masculine pseudonyms in order to have their works taken seriously.  In Aurora Leigh, Romney Leigh, a prototypical Victorian gentleman, rejects female writers as inferior to male writers, not being able to produce works of the same quality.  Romney's greater fault, however, is his inability to see poetry's significance as an Art.  He views Art as a weak and ineffective means of making a social statement.  Ultimately, his contention with Aurora is that female writers are incapable of making a social statement because they lack knowledge about how the world works.

Romney's foremost agenda in life is as a social reformer.  As such he has to deal with real life problems in the face.  However, according to Romney, poets are idealistic and fail to deal with reality.  He calls them "lovers of the beautiful" (line 1226), to portray them as oblivious to the pain and suffering in the world.  They must be oblivious because no one could witness such anguish and despair without actively curing the problem.

Being man, Aurora, can stand calmly by
And view these things, and never tease his soul
For some great cure? (279-82).

Romney believes it is impossible for one to know of the great suffering and not immediately want to fix it.  Art by itself cannot cure these social ills, pursuing only "sleek fringes" (138) rather than actual ends and means.  Therefore, Romney does not take poetry as an Art seriously and considers it a juvenile way of addressing the world, since poets are content "to play at art, as children play at swords" (229).  Ultimately, poets have little effect on the world and Romney judges poetry a weak profession, particular when employed by a woman. 

Equally women have little experience in the world and know even less about it, making them unlikely to be able to have a social impact without a man's help.  First of all, they have no proper worldview.

Your quick-breathed hearts,
So sympathetic to the personal pang,
Close on each separate knife-stroke, yielding up
A whole life at each wound; incapable
Of deepening, widening a large lap of life
To hold the world-full woe (184-9).

Women can sympathize on a personal level but not en masse, causing Romney to comment, "You (women) weep for what you know" (213).  Therefore, women should little influence a world they don't understand.

Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you must remain
Uninfluenced by you. Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doating mothers, and chaste wives.
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints! (218-23).

As Romney points out above, women do well as wives, and he is perfectly willing, desirous even, to make Aurora his wife, though she rejects his offer.  With him to guide her, she would perform well as his partner in the fight against social wrongs.  When Aurora states that she prefers to be a free thinker, even if such a choice would force her to endure headaches, Romney responds:

  'Dear Aurora, choose instead
To cure them. You have balsams' (109-10).

Romney acknowledges that Aurora has the ability to do social work and wants her to work with him.  He believes a woman needs the guidance of a husband to be a productive member of society.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails