I enjoy that the consensus of this Aurora Leigh readalong immediately and spontaneously coalesced into the following:
- This is very hard and requires slow, careful reading.
- But so many good lines!
- Also, Romney is a butthead.
Those three main bullet points do sum up with extreme accuracy the main three things I remember from reading Aurora Leigh for the first time in 2010 or whatever it was. For those reading along at home, I do not remember softening towards Romney as time went on. Maybe this reread will surprise me (but I don’t think so). How can I ever like someone about whom Aurora says this?
[He] likes me very well,
And wishes me a paradise of good,
Good looks, good means, and good digestion!–ay,
But otherwise evades me, puts me off
With kindness, with a tolerant gentleness,–
Too light a book for a grave man’s reading!
Too light a book for a grave man’s reading is exactly why I love this poem. I mean this passage is basically the whole of How to Suppress Women’s Writing condensed into six lines of iambic pentameter.
Then there is a lot more talk about poetry and how it’s the noblest art, much much much more noble than dumb stupid drama but drama’s okay too but not like poetry okay.
If I were EBB’s editor, I would urge her to cut 75% of the talk about how noble poetry is compared to other professions out of this poem. It would be better, and we’d all want to smack Aurora less. Reader, I skimmed.
BUT. It was T O T A L L Y worth it to get to the part where Aurora’s attending a party at the Howes’ place and learns by eavesdropping Romney is fixing to marry none other than Lady Waldemar. GASP. (Lady Waldemar is at the party too. Aurora comments on her “alabaster shoulders and bare breasts” teehee hashtag gal pals.) Aurora seems to like spending time with rich people so she can judge them. I find this to be a terrible mistake. I can judge rich people perfectly happily from a safe and comfortable distance and not use up my valuable Black Sails-watching time attending their dumb parties.
(There’s a young philosophy bro at the Howes’ party, and Aurora describes him as speaking “with just that shade of sneering on the lip / Compensates for the lagging of the beard.” PLUS CA FUCKING CHANGE, you know what I’m saying?)
Lord Howe asks Aurora to marry a dopey friend of his; Aurora has to listen to two bros have opinions about Women and also Art and also Philosophy; and Lady Waldemar pounces on Aurora to tell her all about her betrothal to Romney. Aurora’s like:
The party is so relentlessly horrible — and again, this is really Aurora’s fault for choosing to go to a rich people party — that once it’s over, she litrally leaves the country. I WOULD TOO.
The next bit is hard to read, I’m not going to lie to you. Although I never read anything that makes me interested in living in the Victorian era (it is far preferable to just read about the Victorian era), sometimes I will read something that makes me want to burn the Victorians to the ground. Book six of Aurora Leigh was one of those things.
In Paris, a city Aurora spends kind of a while defending, I guess because people in England still felt a way about Bonaparte? Or something? I don’t really know much about the mid-1800s — was there something other than Bonaparte that made all British people act snotty about France? Or was it just standard-issue England/France hostility?
Anyway, in Paris, Aurora happens across Marian in the street with a (gasp!) baby, and she basically chases Marian down to demand that Marian explain herself. She is an utter shit about everything. She’s like “Marian you allowed yourself to be seduced so your kisses to this baby’s sweet angel cheek are as the touch of rot upon a dewy flower,” and then once Marian explains that no, she wasn’t seduced, she was raped and is now basically dead, Aurora’s like “MARIAN YOU ARE A SAINT A CHASTE SAINT FROM HEAVEN.”
Double fuck you to the Victorian era that this was a progressive stance for Aurora Leigh to take. I was going to say something nice earlier about how Aurora argues for poets to write about Social Issues, but now I am too furious about what a dick she is to Marian. She and Lady Waldemar and Romney should form a dickish self-righteous polyamorous relationship and THEY WOULD ALL DESERVE EACH OTHER.
Marian tells Aurora what happened: how Lady Waldemar came to visit her all throughout her engagement to Romney and slowly, gradually convinced her that she would ruin Romney’s life by marrying him. Then she gave Marian to her maid, and her maid dumped Marian in a gross brothel, where she was raped and impregnated and went insane, and then the brothel threw her out. This is all quite a bit more Gothic than I remembered.
We’re on a break next week for Thanksgiving, so have a pleasant Turkey Day! Tune in on the 30th for the conclusion of Aurora Leigh, in which I can only hope everybody dies miserably. As ever, thanks to the beautiful Alice for hosting!