For Better or for Worse: The Subversion of Victorian Marital Ideals in the Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Title: For Better or for Worse: The Subversion of Victorian Marital Ideals in the Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Author: Lee, Elizabeth Anne
Advisors: Dr. Sharon Setzer, Committee Member
Dr. Leila May, Committee Member
Dr. Antony Harrison, Committee Chair
Abstract: Elizabeth Barrett Browning is well-known for her tender poems about love, but one aspect of her poetry that has remained largely ignored is her specific depiction of marriage. In fact, from the time she was a teenager until the day she died, Barrett Browning consistently demonstrates through her poetry that she was largely skeptical, if not cynical, about the idea of marriage as it was commonly practiced in Victorian-era England. In a majority of her poems, Barrett Browning depicts wives or brides-to-be as plighted victims or doomed slaves, and harshly characterizes husbands and grooms as dull, unsympathetic philanderers. In poems such as "A Romance of the Ganges" and "The Romaunt of the Page," the balance of power within marriage is consistent with Victorian ideals, since the wives are subservient to their husbands. These husbands are tyrannical figures, and the unreasonable demands they place on their wives ultimately lead to tragic consequences. When Barrett Browning does portray a "successful marriage" in her poetry, such as that between Aurora and Romney at the end of Aurora Leigh, or between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in "Crowned and Wedded," the traditional gender roles of the time have been reversed: the woman is in a position of uncontested authority over the man. This inversion of what constitutes a happy union was fairly radical for the time, but it remains a consistent theme throughout Barrett Browning's work, challenging Victorian society to reconsider the merits of the popular marital ideal.
Date: 2006-05-09
Degree: MA
Discipline: English
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/1954


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