Aurora Leigh and the Portrait of a Lady: A Panorama of Art, Sexuality, and Marriage

By McCann, Margaret A. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Aurora Leigh and the Portrait of a Lady: A Panorama of Art, Sexuality, and Marriage


McCann, Margaret A., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction (Historical and Literary Contexts)

On October 10, 1839, Queen Victoria, only twenty years of age, recalls waiting on the landing as she watched her future husband, Prince Albert, regally ascend the staircase toward her. The enthralled Victoria recorded her observations in her journal entries of October 11-14, wherein she fondly and vividly declared that Prince Albert's

blue eyes were 'beautiful'; his figure, too, was 'beautiful' [...]
broad in the shoulders with a 'fine waist.' All in all, he was so
'excessively handsome,' his moustache was so 'delicate', his mouth
so 'pretty', his nose 'exquisite'. He really was 'very
fascinating.' He set her heart 'quite going'. Everything about him
seemed perfect. He was just the right height, attractively tall as
she liked men to be but not so tall as to emphasize her own
diminutive size. (3)

So enchanted was the young queen with Prince Albert that five days later she wrote him a hasty note summoning him to her presence for a private interview. Each was "trembling" in front of the other, but after Victoria popped the question, claiming that it would make her 'too happy' if he would marry her, the Prince covered her hands "with kisses", while "murmuring in German that he would be very happy to spend his life with her." (4)

As Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were weaving the tapestry of their happy marriage, in the literary arena Charlotte Bronte was weaving the marriage of a governess to Rochester in Jane Eyre (1847); Matthew Arnold was urging his young wife: "Come to the window" in Dover Beach (1851); and Charles Dickens was orchestrating the marriage of Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock in Bleak House (1852). The portrayal of marriage in these textual landscapes casts an illuminating light--more or less--on the subject of women during the Victorian age but in order to procure a deeper understanding of women and marriage during this time, let us turn our attention to two important masterpieces: Aurora Leigh, a novel in verse-form by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1856-1857) and The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1880-1881). Both of these works deal with the same complicated dynamics. Aurora Leigh is a heroine struggling with her identity as a woman and an artist, just as Isabel Archer, the heroine in The Portrait of a Lady, is struggling with her identity as a woman and an artist. The struggle in both cases takes place within the context of courtship and marriage, but with one fundamental difference: Aurora Leigh's marriage promises to be successful, whereas Isabel Archer's marriage proves to be a dismal failure.

How are we to account for the differences between these two marriages? The answer is simple: Aurora Leigh's husband learns to appreciate his wife as both the woman and the artist that she is; whereas Isabel Archer's husband despises the woman that she is and only appreciates her as an art object--an exquisite addition to his valuable collection of paintings that he wants to own so that he himself will be admired in the eyes of society. In Aurora Leigh, the husband appreciates the artist and the woman for their true essence; whereas in The Portrait of a Lady, art is valued for the prestige that it brings to the husband who marries a beautiful woman so that she will increase the net worth of his art collection. In Aurora Leigh, the heroine knows who she is in relationship to art; in The Portrait of a Lady, the heroine is oblivious as to who she is in relationship to art, yet in her own way, Isabel Archer loves art just as much as Aurora Leigh.

The differences between these two heroines has to do not only with their relationship to art but also with their relationship to power. Aurora Leigh does not love power per se and is not unduly exhilarated when exercising her power over men. Quite the contrary, Isabel Archer loves power in and of itself and experiences an inordinate degree of delight when exercising her power over men. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Aurora Leigh and the Portrait of a Lady: A Panorama of Art, Sexuality, and Marriage
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.