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Mr. Chan Man Long Johnson
RPg, School of English, The University of Hong Kong
Why Verse? Aurora Leigh and the Rise of the Verse-Novel

In 1856, Elizabeth Barrett Browning published her masterpiece Aurora Leigh, her “novel-poem” conceived as early as 1845. This decade-long work remains as one of the few examples of a little-researched literary genre in the Victorian era - the verse-novel. Using Aurora Leigh as my prime example, my talk aims to provide an answer as to why verse-novelists chose to write their novels in verse rather than in prose. By examining both poetic and novelistic conventions employed in Aurora Leigh, we can come to understand Barrett Browning’s purpose in choosing verse as the medium of narrating what would otherwise be a tale fit for the novel. As we will see, the various properties of verse contribute to Barrett Browning's critique of the conventional novel - and the very concept of realism - in mid-Victorian era. Barrett Browning uses verse’s historic prestige, literary devices and formal logic to expose the problems of the realist novel, how, in its pursuit for the real, is fundamentally unable to represent truth.


Johnson Chan is currently a M.Phil candidate at the School of English in The University of Hong Kong. Previously, he has obtained his B.A. in English Literature from The University of British Columbia and his J.D. from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His current academic interests include 18th century and 19th century poetry as well as Victorian verse-novels.