In Elizabeth Browning’s novel Aurora Leigh, while it becomes an endeavor for Aurora to defy what modern society considers normal for women, her hopes are repressed by her aunt and cousin as they insist she take on the role of a proper “angel in the house”. Though her own family makes an effort to stifle her aspirations toward poetic eminence, it’s Aurora’s perspective on what it means to live out the “true life” that keeps her pushing toward her objective of life as a great poet stuck within a generation living in the past.
Aurora’s view of the true life is to engage and “represent the age” through poetry that holds it’s own uniqueness, rather than look back to the past that has long come and is now gone. (202). Aurora holds on to the dissimilar belief in society that there remains room for poets in this world. Her reliance in this thought rests on the idea that poets should be representatives of the age that they are in.
Not only does Aurora believe that woman should disregard the outdated societal tendency for women to adhere to the idea of “angel in the house,” she believes a poet’s work should be the material representation of the age they live in, rather than holding onto times of the past. She believes the poets “sole work is to represent the age, their age, not Charlemagne’s” (202-203) and in order to do so they need to embrace this new culture that “brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires, and spends more passions, more heroic heat” (204-205).
Rather than holding fast to the aspects of society that have long passed, poets need to welcome the generation they are experiencing, a generation that Aurora describes with a list of fiery verbs. It is these verbs that create the uniqueness of the time being currently lived, and these poets should learn to seek out the beauty that is to be found in it opposed to looking backwards to the time of Charlemagne. While Aurora believes it is important for poets to represent their era in order to be engaging in the true life, an issue lies in the fact that those who live in any age view their time period as “most unheroic” (157).
It is much easier for people living outside of a certain time to look back and see the epic, heroic nature that existed within that era. On the contrary while living within a time period it is hard to see the grand essence that dwells among the present age. For instance, Aurora sees those around her as viewing their time as disgraceful “an age of scum, spooned off the richer past” with nothing to offer compared to the times that have already come (161). However, Aurora addresses this viewpoint as inoperative and describes it as “wrong thinking”.
This statement points back to Aurora’s view of the true life as engaging in the present rather than continuing to dabble in the past. Viewing one’s current time as “unheroic” with no epic nature to it is part of reason poets tend to stick to the aged times when creating their works, and choose to not embrace the true life. According to Aurora “every age…is ill-discerned by those who have not lived past it” but “poets should exert a double vision; should have eyes to see near things as comprehensively” as they are able to see the things of the past.
Aurora understands the familiar comfort that comes with views of the past but believes embracing the present is a necessity to becoming an exceptional poet and living out the true life. Aurora goes on to say that she finds skepticism in those “who discerns no character or glory in his times, and trundles back his soul five hundred years”. She truly considers those who do not find grandeur in their time to be distrustful in their operations as they fail to follow what the true life really is.
This distrust comes from Aurora’s firm belief that in order to experience the true life and be a successful poet one needs to be enveloped in modern society. In her words it is unlikely that one will be successful if they do not find the allure in their time and continue to look toward the past with “wrong thinking…and wrong thoughts make more poems”. These people will not only fail to find the true life, but their aspirations towards poetry will also diminish.
The correlation is made by Aurora that wrong thinking equates to viewing modern time as unheroic and lacking in epic nature. The result is not being able to write appropriate poetry that is reflective of the era, as if this destitute thinking will bear a reflection on the style and content written by the authors leading to false assumptions and inaccurate information put into their works. In Aurora’s eyes it is not possible to be a successful poet if one fails to find unique style that their time has to offer.
Aurora feels that society has been long influenced on the concept that their era holds little in itself that may be deemed worth writing about as “the critics say the epics have died out”. Society naturally tends to gear towards the greater opinion with little to no loose thinking or outside the box approach to the arts. While Aurora does not specifically identify the critics she speaks of, they appear to have great influence in her eyes as she views her society as succumbing to the thought that these long narratives have been all but lost.
Aurora however chooses to “not believe it” as she yearns for herself and for others to seek out the artistry interwoven in the time they live in. By doing so they may become those authors that create these epics of their generation. Rather than getting caught up in the beauty that has come from the past, they may create the beauty that is of the future and live out the true life in this manner by giving the future something considerable to look back on.
Aurora views the true life as the need to employ the era they have been brought into in order to represent the beauty of the age through works of poetry, rather than holding onto the incredible, unique nature that can be seen in the past. While her family tries to curb her aspirations toward poetic prestige, Aurora looks onward to display the beauty of her time through engaging in the exclusive nature her era has to offer.
While it remains commonplace for writers of her time to stick to the familiarity of the past described in recognizable epics and novels, Aurora aches at the thought of her generation being so lost in the past that they neglect to see they beauty within the time they are currently living in. By looking around and noticing the style of their time that they are given to take advantage of, these poets may begin to create their own generational story that they commonly look look to the past for in envy. In doing so these poets will be living out the true life as Aurora sees it.