Book I

  1. What are some connotations of the title? Whom might the name "Aurora" have suggested to mid-century Victorians?
  2. From what temporal vantage point is the narrator writing? Does this shift?
  3. What are some advantages of the diary/memoir form? Can you think of other long poems in memoir form?
  4. As you read the poem, notice which portions seem autobiographical. Are we expected to find the narrator consistently reliable?
  5. Why do you think EBB's character is preoccupied with the theme of mother-love?
  6. What is the psychological significance of the opening metaphor of putting one's picture in a drawer? (2-8)
  7. What has been the most important loss of Aurora's childhood?
  8. What is the nature of the parents' love for each other and their relationship? To what extent is this idealized?
  9. What qualities does each represent?
  10. What are some important experiences in Aurora's early childhood? What significance does her mother's portrait come to assume? (168-73)
  11. What contrasting associations does she have with Italy and England? Does her isolation serve any structural purpose for the poem?
  12. What are Aurora's views on the usefulness of philosophic systems?
  13. What symbolism adheres to her description of the sea voyage?
  14. What are her first responses to England and to her aunt? (251-69) How is the aunt described?
  15. In Aurora's view, what kind of life has the aunt lived? (287-308)
  16. What is the significance of the metaphor of the caged bird? With what forms of nature does Aurora naturally identify?
  17. How is Aurora's Victorian lady's education attacked? (385-426) What "accomplishments" is she expected to acquire?
  18. What metaphors are used to describe Victorian women's education? (465-70)
  19. What are the contents of contemporary handbooks for women? (427-441) How are women rewarded for their needlework? (455-465)
  20. What threatens Aurora's survival in the new land? What changes occur in her emotions over time? (661ff.) What are some ways in which she exhibits her rebelliousness?
  21. How is Romney Leigh first presented and judged? Is he shown to possess any good traits?
  22. What regenerative forces exist in Aurora's environment? (660-78) What are her tastes in scenery, and are these analogous in any way with her reading habits? (sun, flowers, room a natural bower)
  23. What comparisons does Aurora draw between the process of reading and other areas of life?
  24. Do any aspects of Book I remind you of Wordsworth's Prelude?
  25. What characterizes her first poetic effusions? As she looks back, what does she find to be their merits and limitations?
  26. How does her aunt react to Aurora's growing preoccupation with poetry? (1030ff.)
  27. What is Aurora's defense of poetry (moral/aesthetic, etc.)? Romney later comments that women are incapable of generalizations on humanity--is this true of her poetic responses?
  28. Are there any aspects of her poetic ideals which seem to you to require further expansion or thought?
  29. What are some features of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's style in Aurora Leigh? Her use of metaphors?
  30. What foreboding suggestion ends the first book? (1143-45)


  1. What are some symbolic features of the book's opening scene? What is the significance of the fact that it occurs on Aurora's twentieth birthday?
  2. Why does she choose the ivy as opposed to other vines or leaves with which to crown herself?
  3. What is Romney's response on first finding her outdoors on her birthday? What are his first objections to her desire to be a poet? (91-95, 141-49)
  4. What points does Aurora make in her rebuttal? What does he think is a proper sphere for women? (108, 109)
  5. According to Romney, what characterizes women's style and how are women writers inevitably treated by male critics? How do female temperaments differ from those of men, and of what achievements are they incapable?
  6. Why does Aurora consider herself more limited than a man of the same age? (329-335) Of what hypocrisy does she accuse Romney? (359-361)
  7. On what grounds does she reject Romney? What theories of marriage is she opposing? (cmp. Jane Eyre and St. John Rivers) (402-406)
  8. What, by contrast, does she believe must characterize her choices? (must be suitable for her) What critique does she make of Victorian views of women's proper "love"? (443-406)
  9. Of what does her aunt accuse her, and what is her response? (blushes)
  10. What significant facts, hitherto unknown to Aurora, are revealed to her by her aunt? (585ff.) Whom does the aunt blame for Aurora's disinheritance, and what is the latter's reaction?
  11. How does Aurora interpret Romney's motivations in hindsight, with the additional knowledge that she will be nearly without income on her aunt's death? (755-64) How can you explain her sense of resentment? (doesn't want to be dependent, 281)
  12. Is Aurora brave to reject all help? What point is she making?
  13. Does Romney's letter show any modulation of his attitude toward poetry and her ambitions?
  14. Does her narration reveal ambivalence in her attitude toward Romney? What mood does she fall into after her rejection of his proposal, and their separation? (sense of lost tranquility, 751)
  15. On what grounds does she refuse to accept his assurances on financial matters? (1054-65)
  16. What will be the goal of her independent life in London? (1181-87) Is this scene set up to prepare for the later reversal?
  17. What does Romney think the content of her poetic life will be? (1200, 1201)
  18. What recurring themes or dichotomies have been set up by the first two books?
  19. How long does the narrator claim it has been since the events she has described and the present narration?


  1. According to Aurora, what's wrong with the values of literary and social London? What do you make of the comparison of her life with St. Peter's crucifixion?
  2. What descriptions and images are repeatedly associated with city life? (ll. 1-24, 169-83, etc.) Are there any aspects of urban life which she finds aesthetically attractive? (195-203)
  3. Is there anything interesting or appropriate in EBB's frequent use of solitary bird images?
  4. From whom does Aurora hear news of Romney, and with whom is he contrasted? Do these remarks add to our respect for Romney? (117-121)
  5. What subjects does Vincent Carrington paint? Do his themes resemble those of any contemporary Victorian school of art? (118ff.)
  6. How does Aurora respond to his subject matter? Do her remarks critique aspects of the portrayal of women in Victorian art?
  7. What progress does the poet make with her work, and how are her poems received? (204-208) How are the poet's body and her poetry connected? (246)
  8. What seems lacking in even friendly praise? Whose response to her work does she miss? (233-34)
  9. What in her background or in early Victorian writing may have reinforced EBB's deep belief in the work ethic?
  10. How does Aurora's writing improve? (272ff.)
  11. What details add venom to the description of Lady Waldemar? What does she reveal of Romney's recent actions? (ll. 543ff.) Which of her remarks about her cousin would have especially galled Aurora?
  12. What is so insidious about Lady Waldemar's methods? What current French socialists does she read to impress Romney? (584-92) Why the mention of Eugene Sue?
  13. What wouldn't Lady Waldemar do for Romney--and the significance of this lapse? (598-602)
  14. How is Marian Erle first described? What are some connotations of her name? (Mary--maternal figure; Maid Marian, woman of the people)
  15. What purpose is served--thematically and structurally--by the narration of Marian's past? Is the account told in Marian's words, and if not, what effect is produced by this mediation? (827-30) Did Aurora's and Marian's childhoods have anything in common?
  16. Can you think of earlier examples of a mistress/servant (or master/servant) plot in poetry?
  17. Can you compare the ending of book III with the conclusions of books I and II? What are some features which recur in the endings of each book? (partings, sense of depression or anxiety, loss of self)


  1. What do we learn about Marian's character from the opening scene?
  2. According to Marian, under what circumstances and how had Romney proposed to her? (108-50) Does this courtship resemble any prior scene in recent British literature? (St. John Rivers' proposal to Jane Eyre)
  3. In her conversation with Aurora, what does Marian indicate is the role she expects to fulfill in marriage? (226-29) What criticism does she make of upper-class women? (255ff.)
  4. Does the author/narrative provide any critique of this conception of a wifely role? In discussing European marriage, against what is Aurora's irony directed? (176-202)
  5. What metaphors are used in describing Marian? Do these elevate or condescend to her? E. g., with what animal(s) is poor Marian compared? (279-82)
  6. How do you interpret Romney's irritation at Aurora's praise for his choice of wife? What displeases Aurora in his answer?
  7. Do you find Romney's account of his motivations credible? What criticism of his actions is made by Aurora, and are these similar to those made by others? (100ff) What is meant by her remark that he is donning a tragic mask? (almost a parody of marriage)
  8. Is it significant that he rejects Aurora's offer to have Marian married from her house? What is his motive? How would his acceptance have changed the outcome?
  9. For what act of omission does Aurora blame herself in retrospect? (failed to visit Marian before the wedding, 448) What reason does she give for the omission? ("this marriage somewhat jarred," 458)
  10. Does she believe she should have warned Romney of Lady Waldemar's schemes? (474-76)
  11. What are some emblematic aspects of the non-wedding scene? What do members of the upper class think of this union, and how do they describe the bride? Are their descriptions accurate or fair?
  12. How are the members of the lower classes represented in the wedding scene, and do you think this representation is entirely just? (541-54) What biblical injunction does this scene evoke? ("go into the highways and byways and compell them to come in")
  13. What characterizations are offered of Prince Albert? (665) Might this have caused offense? How is Lord Howe described? Why do you think these two characterizations are included?
  14. What might be the author's purpose in presenting a gathering of poor people as so disorderly and even violent? (1109ff.)
  15. On what grounds do some poor members of the audience suspect Romney's motives? Is this humorous? Accurate? Pathetic? Bizarre?
  16. How does Aurora react to the mob's assault on Romney? How is he described in this context? (868-76)
  17. Why has Marian fled? What does her letter indicate about her motives for leaving, her future, and her state of mind when writing?
  18. Which persons seem to have been most responsible for Marian's departure? (1031ff) What are we supposed to guess about her future?
  19. How do Romney and Aurora interpret Marian's motives and present situation? Do they seem to read her letter correctly? (touching, foolish lines, 987) How do they differ in their judgments and responses?
  20. On what grounds does Romney feel responsible for what has happened? (1084-86)
  21. What new element seems to enter into their relationship? On what grounds is each able to offer sympathy to the other? (fellow-feeling for each other's difficulties)
  22. Has Aurora changed the basis of her defense of art to Romney? (art a means of working toward the good, 1150-57)


  1. What does Aurora claim are her goals for her poetry? (1-29) Why is Romney's opinion important to her? (30-41)
  2. What inner irresolution does Aurora conquer? (42-83) How does she characterize her past poetic career?
  3. How should poets respond to nature? (ll. 115-135) Are her views in accord with those of the Pre-Raphaelite poets? With the speaker of her husband's recently published "Fra Lippo Lippi"?
  4. Does Aurora believe that epics have died out since the classical period? (139-183)
  5. What is her opinion of romantizations of the past--e. g. such as medieval poems? (183-198) What examples of Victorian poems could she have had in mind in 1857?
  6. What instead should be the poet's proper work and why? (201-222, should render the present age heroic, discern its moral conflicts)
  7. Why doesn't Aurora write dramas? (267ff.) What does she find fault with in the drama of her day?
  8. What claims does she make about the psychological origins of her new book? (365ff.)
  9. What is the significance of her reference to childlessness? (420)
  10. What reflections intensify her sense of personal solitude? (439-477)
  11. Does she find attendance at Lord Howe's party cheering? (578ff.) How are the guests described?
  12. What causes her to feel a sense of alienation? Why does she disapprove of the costumes of some female guests?
  13. Aurora Leigh was published the same year as the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act. From her presentation of the debate between Sir Blaise and the young man, does EBB seem to favor the loosening of the marriage tie?
  14. What seems to her unconsidered about the new radical views? What will be their consequences? How does Aurora contrast the significance of marriage for men and women? (1073-1081)
  15. What is shown in the scene in which she rejects the indirect suit of Lord Eglinton? How do her responses contrast with those of Lord Howe?
  16. What does she learn/discern from her conversation with Lady Waldemar, and how does she respond? What are some especially catty implications/nuances of Lady Waldemar's speech? (boasts of her visit to the philanstery, where Aurora's poems are considered suitable for immature readers; claims that Romney has outgrown poetry)
  17. What motivates Aurora to set off for Italy? (avoids Romney and Lady Waldemar's wedding)
  18. How does she finance her trip? What seems symbolic about the sale of her father's books? Her completion of a manuscript to leave with her publisher?


  1. What are Aurora's opinions on and criticism of French character? On its politics? (53-66) What does she see by contrast as the defining virtues and vices of the English?
  2. Whom does she have in mind when she speaks of a ruler who claims to be "no despot, though twice absolute" (71)?
  3. How does she respond to French art, in contrast to that of England? (96-109) To Parisian stores?
  4. To what extent would her views have been unusual for the time?
  5. What should be the subject matter of poetry, according to Aurora? (161-97)
  6. Do her current thoughts reflect any shift of emphasis? What two careers does Aurora now see as allied? (198-204) Have her interests moved closer to those of Romney?
  7. What sight disrupts Aurora's musings on poetry? (226ff.) How is Marian's face described? (239-240)
  8. What are the effects of the narrative gaps in Aurora's tale of having found Marian? (412)
  9. Which of Marian's acts reveals her? (434-441) Where does Marian live? (506-526)
  10. How does Aurora first respond to Marian's maternity? Why do you think EBB presents Aurora's arbitrary judgment before giving us the facts and tracing Aurora's changed views?
  11. How is Marian's child described (565-581)? Can you think of earlier poetic descriptions of an infant?
  12. How is the relationship between mother and child portrayed? (his smile, her gaze, 598-611)
  13. What standard Victorian arguments does Aurora give against the morality of having a child outside of marriage? (631-44)
  14. What is Marian's retort to Aurora's criticism that she is depriving her child of a father? (644-647) Is it convincing?
  15. On what basis does Aurora come to respect Marian? What is the essence of the latter's defense? (661ff.)
  16. What traumatic events have occurred to Marian and how has she responded psychologically?
  17. What contemporary social practices are responsible for her plight? To what country was she taken? Why is there no legal redress?
  18. What is Aurora's response to Marian's outpouring of intense emotion?
  19. What does Marian now claim is her reason for existence? (824-27)
  20. What role has Lady Waldemar played in the betrayal of Marian? How has she managed to convince Marian to sever her ties with Romney? In particular, what lies has she told?
  21. What arrangements has Lady Waldemar made for Marian's departure? Whom has she used as her agent? Is she concerned for the outcome of these arrangements?
  22. How is the rape scene described? Why can Marian not describe in explicit terms what has happened to her? (1220-27)
  23. What thoughts of Lady Waldemar's possible present situation gall Aurora?
  24. In what state of mind is Marian at the ending of book 6? What are the implications of the final metaphor which closes the book?


  1. What are some important incidents in Marian's narration? By whom has she been betrayed? (Lady Waldemar's maid) Who takes pity on her in her hour of need? (miller's wife takes her in) Are there biblical echoes in her account of her pregnancy? (47ff.) Unrealistic features?
  2. How are we to interpret her response to the news that she is about to bear a child?
  3. What familiar hypocrisy was involved in her employer's treatment of her? (86-105)
  4. Would elements of Marian's story have shocked some Victorian readers?
  5. Why does Aurora decide that she can't tell Romney what she has learned about Lady Waldemar's involvement in Marian's life? (152-74)
  6. What new living arrangement does Aurora propose? With what imagery is it associated? (117-132)
  7. To what does Aurora frequently ascribe her fits of depression? (200-214) What qualities does she generally associate with femininity and masculinity? (e. g. 227-34) What actions--masculine or feminine--does she finally resolve to take?
  8. What is the content of her letter to Lord Howe, and to what emotions does she admit? (267-72) Of her letter to Lady Waldemar?
  9. What does Aurora learn from Vincent's letter--and why doesn't he mention news of the burning of Romney's house? Of what traits of character does she accuse men of having? (fickleness)
  10. What frequent female response to women writers does Vincent Carrington describe? (612-22) To what extent does he share these views?
  11. What does Vincent describe as Kate Ward's response to Aurora?
  12. What are some features of the descriptions of the journey to Italy? How do they reflect nineteenth-century experiences of travel? (395-407ff)
  13. What are some of Aurora's responses on returning to the land of her birth?
  14. What credo of art does she now enunciate? Is her desire to unite the natural and spiritual unusual for her day? (760-826)
  15. In her view, what do the physical forms of nature represent? (834-869) Do her views accord with those of Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites? Of Robert Browning?
  16. How does Aurora find Italy changed since her childhood? Which aspects of a summer in Italy cause her discomfort or alienation? (1086-1109)
  17. How does she spend her time in Italy? What are literary echoes in her prayer, 1027-39? (Miltonic) Will her prayer be answered?
  18. What forms of nature please her? (1053-1098) How has her attitude toward them changed with age? (1099-1101; no longer feels immediate identification) What earlier Romantic poet had experienced this alteration with age?
  19. What are her emotions on visiting her father's former home? (1119-42)
  20. How does Aurora respond to the experience of being semi-alone in a foreign country? (1208-11) Can you think of a Victorian literary antecedent for the scene in which she prays in a foreign church?
  21. Why doesn't she approach Sir Blaise Delorme when she recognizes him? (1280-95) How does the encounter affect her? (1295-1305)
  22. What are the implications of the metaphor with which she describes herself as the book ends? (1306-11)


  1. What is the significance of the Boccaccio reference in the opening passage, 21-24? (lover destroys love)
  2. What are some implications of the water imagery which suffuses the opening, especially the notion of Florence/Fiesole as an enchanted sea? (34-44; J. Stanyon Bigg's The Sea King was a recent epic.)
  3. What signs of Romney's blindness does Aurora fail to note? What are some ways in which she and Romney speak at cross-purposes? (94ff.)
  4. What is the reader expected to make of the fact that Aurora suspects Romney of loving Kate Ward? (123-38) Is this likely?
  5. On what topic does she lecture Romney in the mistaken belief that he has already married Lady Waldemar? (222-237) How does her assumption affect their conversation?
  6. What is Romney's response to her last book? (283-97) How does she answer, and how do you account for the tone? (298-313)
  7. Why does Romney consider his work has been a failure? (460-64) At what new perceptions has he arrived? (429-436, 683-90, hope; 698-702)
  8. How does Aurora attempt to explain their mutual sense of failure? (569-80)
  9. What new qualities has Romney discerned in her latest book of poems? (599-655)
  10. How does Aurora attempt to comfort him? (693-716) Are her views on the dignity of labor characteristically Victorian?
  11. To what Victorian critic is her metaphor of the seven men who make a pin indebted, and how does she alter its meaning? (732-34)
  12. According to Aurora, what must be the pace of social change? (732-768)
  13. In what context does Aurora express dislike for discussions of women's rights and proper roles? (814-24) Has she been guilty of this? Are her claims that she who can do something will be accepted accurate within her Victorian context? (833-46)
  14. What views does Romney now express on the origins of good government? (883-938)
  15. What has happened to Romney's social experiment at Leigh Hall? (942-1003)
  16. How had his neighbors reacted to his philanthropic project? The farmers and other dwellers on his property? (894-939)
  17. What actions during the destruction of his home reveal Romney's affections and character?
  18. What ominous metaphors are associated with the burning of Leigh Hall? (1032-46)
  19. What does Aurora see as the cause of this macabre outcome? (1135-38) What are some implications of the metaphors used for Romney?
  20. From the author's or protagonist's point of view, can you see any hopeful symbolism in this burning of an aristocratic house? Any autobiographical resonances?
  21. What admission does Romney make about his emotions toward Marian? Why is Romney unwilling for Aurora to live with them after his projected marriage to Marian?
  22. At what imputation does Romney take offense, and on what grounds? (1202-1249) What desirable perceptions are demonstrated by his anger?
  23. Are elements of this scene improbable? Are portions humorous? If so, is the humor appropriate?


  1. What is added by the use of a letter to convey Lady Waldemar's point of view? Is the letter one she would likely have sent under the circumstances? What details do we learn?
  2. What grounds does Lady Waldemar give for her expressed preference for male poets? (63-67) Have we heard these views before?
  3. What ruptured her relationship with Romney? What excuse does Lady Waldemar give for having handed Marian over to the woman who arranged for her rape? (84-96)
  4. What imputation does she attempt to cast on Marian? (96-98) Do her remarks undercut Romney's testimony to her innocence of having arranged for Marian's degradation?
  5. What reasons does she give for hating Aurora? (162-69) What final curse does she send?
  6. What purpose has been served by Lady Waldemar's presence in the narrative?
  7. According to Marian, what are some reasons she cannot she marry Romney? (301ff.) Do you find these convincing?
  8. Why does Marian believe she cannot love again? What does she forsee as the pattern of her life?
  9. What information had been contained in Lord Howe's undelivered letter? (539-61)
  10. What role had Marian's father played in causing Romney's blindness? (549-61)
  11. What biblical imagery is associated with Romney's disability? (701-702) What are some literary associations with blindness?
  12. In her speech to Romney, what does Aurora state have been her own faults? What unintended benefit does Aurora claim Romney's blindness has permitted? (688-95)
  13. What do the lovers see as the relation between love and art? (666-67) What does Romney believe to be the relationship between marriage and other human relationships? (882-890)
  14. Is their love scene unusual in Victorian poetry or fiction, and if so, how?
  15. Can you think of Victorian novels in which the lovers openly embrace? According to Victorian mores, would it have been proper for them to be together without a chaperone?
  16. How is their union related to the music of the spheres? (835-842) What symbolism inheres in the fact that Romney sings? (844f.) How does she respond? (854-858)
  17. What final vision do they share? What symbolism inheres in the vision of the New Jerusalem? Why is the final stone mentioned that of amethyst?
  18. What will be the role of each in their shared work and marriage? (910-49)
  19. How do you react to the ending? Are there literary parallels to the burned hall/blinded suitor conclusion? How has Barrett Browning altered Charlotte Bronte's plot motif?

Final questions:

  1. What are some ways in which Aurora Leigh follows patterns of traditional epic poetry, and what are some of its revisionist features?
  2. What are some of the poem's more important themes? (difficulties of cross-class relationships; need for gender and class equality; need for aesthetic and reformist aims to complement one another in poetry; complementarity of work and love; opposition to marriage for financial gain) Its original stylistic features? (enthusiastic, metaphysical, sarcastic; uses elements of direct speech; narrator provides metanarrative commentary on her own writing)
  3. In your view, do the concluding sections resolve most of the issues raised in the early books?
  4. In particular, what do you think of the resolution of the sub-plot, in which Marian raises her son as an independent parent? How might Victorian and more recent readers have differed in their evaluation of her choice, and of Aurora's choices?
  5. To what extent does this poem resemble a novel? How does it maintain its identity as a poem? Do you think this hybrid is successful, thematically and linguistically?
  6. Is this a bildungsroman? If so, how does its form as a poem effect the nature of the story of development?
  7. Is characterization fully and convincingly maintained for Aurora? Romney? Lady Waldemar? Marian?
  8. What intellectual and poetic themes are emphasized? Are these necessary for a full appreciation of the plot? (nature and role of poetry; relationship of love and work; features of different cultures)
  9. What are some recurrent images, and how are these significant? (e. g., sight/blindness, face/gaze)
  10. What are some dramatic/melodramatic features of the poem? Could any of the characters have appeared in popular melodrama? (Lady Waldemar a melodramatic villainess)
  11. What are some central organizing features of the plot? (character foils; reversals; travel; symbolic events such as the burning of Leigh Hall and the vision of the New Jerusalem)
  12. What are some features of the narration? (use of pictures, letters, gossip and indirect reports, conversation, inserted stories, a vision; repeated shifts in time; narrator's comments on her own writing) What effect does the fact that it is told from more than one point in time have on the narrative? (emphasis on failed communication, geographic shifts)
  13. Are aspects of Aurora Leigh autobiographical?
  14. Which aspects of this book seem most Victorian? Most modern?