WHEN AURORA LEIGH, the eponymous poet-protagonist of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s (1806–61) epic ‘novel in verse,’ discovers that ‘In England, no one lives by verse that lives,’ she moves beyond the rarefied sphere of poetry to secure a regular income by writing for the periodical press (1993: 3.307). Like many Victorian poets, Aurora writes for ‘cyclopedias, magazines, / And weekly papers’ (3.310), undertaking what she considers to be inferior hack work that appeals to the taste of ‘light readers’ (3.319). For Aurora, poetry, as a cerebral and pure form of art, should not be tainted by the vulgar dictates of the commercial marketplace. While Barrett Browning would have acquiesced with the spirit of the value-laden dichotomy that Aurora identifies between writing for art and writing for the market, she nevertheless balanced her own sense of poetry’s elevated artistic value against a pragmatic understanding of the cultural and economic significance of periodicals for the careers of literary authors. Her first publicly published poems appeared in the ...
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