Female homosocial relations and narrative structure in the novels of Charlotte Bronte


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Female homosocial relations and narrative structure in the novels of Charlotte Bronte
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vii, 209 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Burke, Maryellen
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1994.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 202-208).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Maryellen Burke.
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Copyright 1994


Maryellen Burke


First and foremost, I thank Elizabeth Langland for her continuous
support, encouragement, and responsiveness. For over six years, she
has been a true source of inspiration. I also thank Daniel Cottom, my
committee members both past and present, and the Victorian
dissertation reading group for their constructive criticism and
intellectual stimulation. I wish to thank my endearing colleagues,
Angela Kelsey and Jane Love, for their loving guidance throughout
the stages of this project. In the Fall of 1990, I attended two
remarkable seminars that helped me focus the issues developed
here. I have been deeply influenced by this particular Victorian
novel course taught by Elizabeth Langland and the Feminism and
Popular Culture course taught by Caryl Flinn. I am grateful for the
administrative assistance I have received from Kathy Williams.
Kathryn Reed aided me continually both by her friendship and the
use of her printing facilities. For this I thank her. For their
emotional support and friendship, I would like to thank Edgar
Rawlings and Charles Heaphy. And I am continually grateful to my
parents for their help and guidance always, and I am especially
grateful that they accompanied me to visit the Bronte parsonage in


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...................................... iii

ABSTRACT ......................................... v


I. INTRODUCTION............ .............. 1

II. JANE EYRE ............................... 31

Part One ............................. 42
Part Two ........... ....... .......... 53
Part Three ............................ 64
Part Four............................. 76

III. SHIRLEY .................................. 82

Volume One ....... .................. 86
Volume Two ......................... 94
Volume Three ........................115
Conclusion........................... 127

IV. VILLETTE............................. 130

Miss Marchmont ..................... 141
The Long Vacation................... 149
Polly ............................... 158
Repression ......................... 161

V. THE PROFESSOR........................... 184

The Conclusion...................... 199

WORKS CITED...................................... 202

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............................. 209


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the
University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Maryellen Burke

December 1994

Chair: Elizabeth Langland
Major Department: English

This dissertation analyzes the relationship of female
homosocial desire and narrative structure in the novels of
Charlotte Bronte. Working from the premise that women's
intimate relationships with each other were represented
differently within personal correspondence compared to the
representational system of the novel, I analyze how a woman
novelist negotiates between representations of women in
community with each other and the prescribed codes of narrative
that circumscribe that representation. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg in
Female World of Love and Ritual discovers that ardent,
affectionate and passionate letters between women were common
in the mid-nineteenth century. Reading mid-nineteenth century

novels, one notices a profound lack of representations of such
homosocial relationships. I describe women's relationships with
each other in terms of female homosociality. The term
momentarily side steps the question of whether these
relationships between women were sexual or not. As Eve
Kosofsky Sedgwick has demonstrated with Between Men,
twentieth-century definitions of sexuality are anachronistic to
nineteenth-century social/sexual behavior of both men and
women. The term lesbian or heterosexual woman cannot
sufficiently describe or delineate boundaries between what is
more accurately thought of as a spectrum of female homosocial
In analyzing the novels of Charlotte Bronte one can find a
variety of responses to the circumscription of female homosocial
representation. In each of the following chapters I foreground
how, while working within the boundaries of what was
ideologically sanctioned for the novel, Bronte's narratives were
able to redress the apparent lack of female homosocial relations
that the novel ostensibly dictated. The novels each employ
different narrative strategies to address this lack. My goal in this
dissertation is to bring to light ways in which women novelists,
particularly Bronte, made use of a representational system in
spite of its innate hostility towards their most personal concerns.
Bronte spent her life in the company of women including her
sisters, Ellen Nussey, Mary Taylor, Elizabeth Gaskell, etc. She had
little contact with men except for her publishers and her father's
curates. Yet, her novels, especially Jane Erve, are known as

quintessential romance fiction representing intensely passionate
heterosexual relationships. Drawing attention to particular
narrative strategies, I show how the novel performs a managing
function for both female anxieties and fantasies that arise out of a
particular historical moment. Novels that appear to view women
only in the context of relationships with men, actually function in
a more complex relationship to middle-class ideology of
femininity. The implications for this study extend to today's
middle-class female reading public. Although this study remains
focused on narrative strategies and not historical readers, it
implicitly outlines a rationale as to what compels women to read
the type of novel that ostensibly reifies a heterosexual paradigm
of love and marriage, and excludes vital homosocial relations. I
argue those relations have not been as excluded as they initially
appear to be.



Thus towards the end of the eighteenth century a change
came about which, if I were rewriting history, I would
describe more fully and think of greater importance than
the Crusades or the War of the Roses. The middle-class
woman began to write. (Virginia Woolf 70)

The middle-class woman began to write. The reasons for and
the repercussions of the introduction of women into British literature
are yet to be fully appreciated. We have yet, as Virginia Woolf
states, to describe the shift more fully or think of it as of greater
importance than the Crusades or the War of the Roses. This
dissertation addresses the relationship of Charlotte Bronte's
narratives to formation and consolidation of the middle-class woman
in nineteenth-century England. How did Bronte's novels reflect
concerns, anxieties, and fantasies of middle-class women of this time
period? How did their relationships among each other get defined
and represented in these narratives? In order to facilitate and focus
this project, I will combine a variety of critical methodologies,
including historical, feminist, narratological, and psychoanalytic, from
which will emerge a new paradigm that allows us to discuss in
compelling ways the sociological and historical implications of certain
representational strategies. This new paradigm breaks down the

oppositional textual framework of emancipatory versus oppressive
that has anchored ideological debates of Victorian studies.
In the seventies, American feminists Sandra Gilbert and Susan
Gubar reinvestigated emancipatory strategies in Victorian novels
written by women. They returned to the few works by women
within the existing canon and revitalized their relevance for the
women's movement of the seventies and eighties in America. Their
seminal study, The Madwoman in the Attic, examines the
relationship of women writers to the tradition of writing as defined
by men in patriarchal culture.1 They find subversive themes
running through women's texts: themes waiting to be reinterpreted
by the feminist critic. Their study defines representations of
women's resistance to oppressive roles of middle-class society.
Patricia Yeager's Honey-Mad Women, in a similar vein, interprets
texts by women authors in terms of the emancipatory strategies by
which they negotiate an ideology that has been oppressive to them.
Yeager finds women adopting strategies of play to enable them "to
transform and restructure a literary tradition that forbade them the
right to speak" (18).
Gilbert, Gubar and Yeager and others have defined a counter-
tradition of women's protest and resistance. Their work has been
highly influential and ground breaking for much of feminist
scholarship. However, they fall short of realizing how women, as
authors and in representation, are implicated in the historical system

1 Madwoman in the Attic was published in 1979. The reason I use
it as a point of departure is because it was and still is so influential
and important in many respects.

they seem to be resisting. They fail, for instance, to demonstrate
how the white, middle-class woman author was implicated in
creating a representational system that naturalized middle-class
values and normalized unequal class relations. They also fail to see
that, in Foucault's terms, there is no outside of power. "Where there
is power, there is resistance, and yet or rather consequently, this
resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power"
(Foucault 95-96). Grounding their arguments in a space outside and
separate from patriarchy, these feminists were able to idealize the
space of resistance and the space of feminist liberation. Arguing that
a rebellious, liberating text exists within the constraints of even the
most canonical of Victorian novels, these feminists oversimplified the
relation of representational strategies to historical subjects.
In a different phase of Victorian studies, (popularized in the
eighties by Stephen Greenblatt) New Historicism rejected the idea of
emancipatory literature. New Historical methods of interpreting
texts reexamined the relationship among text, ideology, power, and
history, in a new light. D. A. Miller's The Novel and the Police and
Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction are two examples of
the type of New Historicism I would like to focus on. (Certainly,
other critics might distance themselves from these critics and still
call themselves New Historicists, just as not all feminist subscribe to
Gilbert, Gubar, and Yeager.) In contrast to Gilbert and Gubar, these
two critics adopt Foucault's notion that power is relational, and they
proceed to determine that oppositional resistance to or transgression
of middle-class ideology is actually part and parcel of a normalizing,
disciplinary machine.

Miller views Victorian novels as disciplinary devices of an all-
pervasive middle-class hegemony.2 The particular hegemony he
describes came into being as a result of representational technologies
employed by the novel, e.g. characterization and the first-person
narrator. Miller focuses on how the practice of reading stabilizes a
hegemonic value system for its own ends. All is recuperated to reify
the monologic narrative of the bourgeois subject.
For Miller, the nineteenth-century novel inevitably subjects the
reader to the affirmation of specific political values, and these values
are implicitly based on a patriarchal system. In his analysis, Miller
overlooks the dimension of gender altogether. In The Novel and the
Police, he never approaches the discussion of how gender might
differentiate the relationship of a particular reader to a particular
political value system. It is his greatest blind spot. And it is also the
gap and fissure that I will exploit within a new paradigm.
Whereas Miller's study concentrates on how transgression is
used as a mechanism for stabilizing the status quo, Nancy
Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction demonstrates how the
desiring subject is used as a mechanism in fiction to consolidate
middle-class identity by transforming political issues into
psychological ones requiring regulation and surveillance. Any
aberrant desires are turned into psychological pathologies. Within

2 "The spiritual exercise of reading the novel catches us in
confirming that which we might wish to bring into question, even
before we quite know what this involves. Accordingly, whatever
dissent we do manage is likely to remain within the bounds of
moderation, since we have already put into practice some of the
basic tenets of what gets preached" (130).

the framework of domestic fiction, change comes about not by
modifying a political reality, but by self-regulation and domestication
(Armstrong 164). Armstrong locates the middle-class woman writer
as agent of middle-class ideology. "In representing the household as
a world with its own form of social relations, a distinctly feminine
discourse, this body of literature revised the semiotic of culture at its
most basic level and enabled a coherent idea of the middle class to
take shape" (63). Women did not write despite a patriarchal system
hostile to them as Gilbert and Gubar have stated. Rather, Armstrong
contends that modern culture empowered middle-class women with
the authority to establish norms of subjectivity (254). (At the same
time it denied them political authority (131).) Armstrong invests a
great deal of authority in the figure of the middle-class, woman
writer, but very little authority in the middle-class woman reader.
Armstrong is rigorously tied to a narrative of the middle-class
subject and is unable to entertain the notion that the evolution of her
subject may be complicated by a middle-class readership also
empowered with a type of authority. Armstrong overlooks the fact
that "powerful" women writers were participating in a male-
dominated publishing institution and working within norms set by
male writers previously. Anyone familiar with Charlotte Bronte's
biography can understand the influence that this industry had on
women writers. Publishers were the source of much anxiety, and
their relationships cannot be unproblematically neglected. By
focusing solely on the identification of class for subjects, Armstrong
effaces any form of politics that differentiates middle-class women
from middle-class men (see Newton 87-121). What one needs in

order to appreciate the complicated relationship of middle-class
women and narrative is a method of analysis that takes into account
gender difference while not forsaking class and historical dimensions.
Some contemporary feminists critics have employed
psychoanalytical insights to address the gender issue in the Victorian
novel.3 However, psychoanalysis alone does not satisfactorily
explain the relationship of women and novels in the nineteenth
century because many of its premises imply an ahistorical
essentialist view of gender. Texts exist in dialogue with their
historical and social coordinates.4 They also exist in relation to
certain psychoanalytic structures of subjectivity. Far from being
mutually exclusive fields of study, cultural materialism and
psychoanalysis can be used together to interpret texts. As Nancy
Chodorow has shown us in The Reproduction of Mothering,
sociological, historical patterns of mothering in the Western world
have led to certain types of subjectivity. These gendered
subjectivities are not biologically essential but are, to a certain
extent, products of a historically specific habits of mothering. By
introducing a historical context, we can more fully appreciate the

3 See Mary Jacobus' Reading Woman as well as Diane Sadoff's
Monsters of Affection and others.

4 For more on how coordinates relate to the spatialization of
narrative see Julia Kristeva's work in Desire in Language (35-37).
She adopts Mikhail Bakhtin's insights to formulate the concept of
intertextuality, that is, the text as a verbal surface grid that produces
a dialogue between the bound axis of the characters and the
unbound axis of the writer's and the reader's context. Also see Susan
Stanford Friedman's elaboration of Kristeva's work in "Spatialization:
a Strategy for Reading Narrative" in Narrative, January 1993.

evolution of a genre of texts and understand how it articulates
psychic desires generated by a historically situated individual or
I will briefly survey the socio-historical position of the mid-
nineteenth-century woman and subsequently postulate what
fantasies and predispositions arose from this material context.
Specifically, we can highlight how when girl children were brought
up by same-sex mothers in this social context, they were encourage
by the ideology of femininity to orient themselves in relation to
others, especially to members of their own sex. Separate sphere
ideology kept the two sexes separate through social and architectural
barriers, yet heterosexual marriage was seen as a naturalized and
valorized goal. Female homosocial relations and fantasies of female
homosocial relations (which I will eventually identify specifically)
subsequently arise out of a social context that initially insists on the
division of sexes and then, suddenly, through the institution of
marriage valorizes heterosexuality alone. Female homosocial
fantasies can be attributed to symptoms of lingering attachments to
mother figures in spite of the valorization of heterosexuality.
Ultimately, I will draw a connection to how Victorian homosociality
relates to the rise and popularization of women's novel writing.
What is the coincidence between women's novel writing and the
population growth of middle-class women? What shifts in society
could account for the advent of this female genre (more important
than the War of the Roses)? And how does this genre represent
women in relation to each other?

In the nineteenth century, the male population in England
dwindled due to colonialization and various military engagements.
Large numbers of women were present due to various shifts and
booms in population. "The scope of the problem had been widely
publicized by the 1851 Census, which calculated that forty-two
percent of the women between the ages of twenty and forty were
unmarried" (Poovey 4). At the same time, advancements of women
into the public sector were hotly debated.5 In spite of a number of
different feminist positions that advocated outside employment for
women, a large segment of the middle class became absorbed with
the cult of domesticity. A woman's place was in the home. The end
of the eighteenth century had ushered in "The Angel of the House"
ideal; that ideal was eventually given its most explicit expression in
Coventry Patmore's poem of the same name. Coincidental to the
population increase of single women was the increased rhetoric to
enforce their containment within the household and their segregation
from the workplace. The existence of the single woman contradicted
the "Natural" status of women as wives and mothers. A number of
remedies were proposed including exporting women to the colonies
(see W. R. Gregg's "Redundant Women" 136). The sheer volume of
the debate points to a tremendous cultural anxiety over the
"abnormality" that a single woman represented. Because the
ideology grounded itself in a feminine essential nature that was
natural and unmitigatable, the single woman increasingly

5 See Mary Poovey's Uneven Developments for specific details of
how these debates advanced throughout the century.

problematized the woman-nurturer argument because she was not
participating in an explicitly nurturing role.
The model of woman-as-nurturer dominated the
representational system of the middle-class home. A family's status
as middle class hinged upon whether the family could afford a
servant to leave the wife free to be the moral sustainer. In Family
Fortunes, Davidoff and Hall trace the migrations of up and coming
families in Birmingham, England from the eighteenth to the
nineteenth century. Physically and psychologically, the middle class
shielded itself from the laboring and disenfranchised poor. The
middle-class home became the haven from the obvious political and
economical inequalities. The home became fortress through
architectural barriers as well as barriers of codes and etiquette. The
woman who did not have to work outside the home became the
signifier par excellence.
Although this ideology of the private sphere was hotly
contested and made use of by opposing forces, it nonetheless became
a major force in shaping the society that the middle-class woman
existed in. Davidoff and Hall's research points out the continued and
increasing isolation of the middle-class woman as her family moves
out of communal villages and into the suburbs. Earlier in the
eighteenth century a woman married to a tradesman would often
help run the business or store. Their home often would be upstairs.
And places of business were often located in town centers or in the
marketing hub of the community. Increasing prosperity allowed
many middle-class families to move away from town centers. This
shift removed women from the site of representable and meaningful

public production and placed them in the new site of implicit yet
meaningful social signification. This site of social signification was
articulated through rigid codes of conduct and the suburban woman's
exposure to the world outside her home was highly regulated and
scrutinized. Barbara Leslie Epstein in The Politics of Domesticity
observes this shift in American religious culture also.

In the early nineteenth century as world of commerce and
politics was being created, a world that was detached from
the home in a way that no aspect of Puritan society had
been and one from which women were excluded.... These
new values fit the aspirations of men of the professional,
entrepreneurial, and trading classes, but their women were
being confined to domesticity and thus excluded from the
concerns most valued in their own milieus. (67)
Idle women in the suburban home became a major signifier for a
firm establishment in the middle-class ranks. That is not to say that
women were completely idle; but the representational rhetoric that
proclaimed women as removed from the public sphere effaced all
political, economic and domestic work that did take place in the
In spite of the existence of rhetoric that seems to isolate
women within the home, social historians have found evidence of
close-knit women friendships between married and unmarried
women alike. Within studies such as Family Fortunes and Carroll
Smith-Rosenberg's "The Female World of Love and Ritual," there are
many examples of intense and important relationships between
women. Just as Langland's study has shown that the rhetoric of the

6 See Elizabeth Langland's "Nobody's Angels" in PMLA March 1992.

"idle" wife effaces an active household manager, so to the rhetoric of
the "isolated" woman, contained within the regulated home, effaces a
woman engaged in forming small, close-knit communities. In The
Brontes: Their Lives, Friendships, and Correspondence, for instance,
Charlotte Bronte's relationship with Ellen Nussey is frequently
charged with passionate epithets-- "darling," "love," etc.

Many nineteenth century women lived their lives within a
sympathetic network of female friends and relations....
Deep emotional ties and shared values and ideals were some
compensation for a relatively confined and routinized
existence with educational and economic restrictions as well
as restrictions of the expression of sexuality and even
individual personality. (Hunt 111)

Hunt relies on Bronte's private letters for her argument at this point,
just as Davidoff, Hall and Smith-Rosenberg do. I am extremely
interested in the revelations these sources provide. Finding this type
of homosocial attachment represented outside of private
correspondence is not easy. Social historical research of private
correspondence points to a contradiction with the sanctioned, public,
representational strategies for female communities in novels and the
public debates. The findings of the above research do not
demonstrate the "true" experience of women7, but rather, that there
were two different representational strategies: one that encouraged
the expression of intense and romantic ties between women, and one
that required the effacement of such ties and worked toward the

7 Unfortunately, in the work Family Fortunes, Davidoff and Hall
seem to be unaware that private correspondences were mediated
and created by certain representational strategies. At times, they
use letters as a kind of evidence of a lived reality.

valorization of the heterosexual paradigm of love and marriage. I
would like to investigate what was it that made the two
representational strategies incompatible within the novel.
Victorian novels are most noted for their representations of
women and men engaged in heterosexual romance. Janet Todd, in
Women's Friendship in Literature, searches for the representation of
women's homosocial relations in literature, but she relies heavily on
French novels and on some novels written by men. Looking at the
Victorian canon, especially works by Bronte, Eliot and Gaskell, explicit
primary homosocial relationships are an oddity. Gaskell's Cranford is
one interesting exception; the complexities of the women represented
there and their relationship to narrative require an investigation
beyond the scope of this introduction. Bronte's Shirley is another
exception. I will discuss later how this novel negotiates its
representation of homosociality and pays the consequences. In Jane
Erye, Villette, and The Professor, representations of women's
friendships exist but are never allowed to be sustained. In looking
closely at Charlotte Bronte's life and work, a contradiction appears
between Bronte's life-long engagement with women--including her
sisters, Ellen Nussey, and others, and her ostensible silence on the
subject in her novels. Without public representational strategies, how
did Bronte negotiate this enormous disparity between her lived
experience and the conventions of narrative in the nineteenth
century? Bronte draws intensely romantic relationships with men
when she herself had little exposure to men outside her family and

actually married a man for whom, it seems, she at best, only cared.8
In her novel's, women's friendships are dismissed, rejected, or made
secondary to heterosexual relations. Her fantasy--that of earning her
own bread and living with Ellen Nussey-- becomes the fantasy that
cannot be represented explicitly in the context of the novel. On the
one hand, one might say that Bronte's lived experience had nothing to
do with her ability to be a writer of narrative. Biographical
experience is not a prerequisite for creating fictions. I agree but will
argue that there is a relationship between the two that is not causal
but symptomatic. Bronte's saturation in female community seeps into
her texts and surfaces in symptoms of alternative forms of desire and
relations. I will argue that Bronte does make issues of homosociality
articulatable by employing various narrative strategies. These
strategies are not obvious but can be recovered by a particular
critical approach I now wish to outline.
Using insights from feminism, New Historicism, psychoanalysis
and social history, I propose a new paradigm of study. This paradigm
will break down the opposition constructed by materialist and
psychoanalytical feminists and begin to account for how the novel
relates to the experience of middle-class women in the nineteenth
century, which included intense homosocial ties. As Terry Eagleton

8 This is not to suggest that biographical experience be a necessary
dictate for narrative content; but in the case of Bronte, whose life
was so determined by her circumstances and isolation with her
sisters, the gap between her lived experience with women and her
heterosexual romances, make her a particularly interesting case
study for the negotiation of homosocial desire.

has pointed out, we must learn to see how Bronte's novels are "rooted
in but not reduced to specific social conditions" (3).
Turning back to our overview of previous approaches to
Victorian studies, I have shown that these methods individually
cannot be made use of for this particular endeavor. What I wish to
bring into the foreground now is how Bronte simultaneously wrote
within narrative conventions while bringing into representation her
most vital interests through inobvious ways. My dissertation can be
compared in some ways to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's project in
Between Men. In that work she analyzes how the articulation of
homosocial desire between men shifted and changed through time
and how these shifts can only be understood in relation to issues of
class and to men's relation to women and the gender system as a
whole (1). My project is to decipher symptoms of female homosocial
relations in the novels of Bronte and to note how those
representations relate to and effect narrative structures of what are
normally thought of as stories of heterosexual romantic progress. By
way of a retheorization of narrative and what constitutes narrative, I
will accomplish this project.
Michel De Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life provides a
useful guide to the kind of analysis that transcends the categorical
structures of the above-mentioned methods. De Certeau gives us a
rubric within which we can examine a text without reducing it to
predetermined binaries of emancipatory or disciplinary. He shows
how readings of narratives are made use of in countless ways. While
not particularly focusing on novels, De Certeau does devote a chapter
to reading as a particularly creative activity. He foregrounds what he

sees as a basic misunderstanding of the reading process--that it is a
passive form of consumption where the reading audience is
"imprinted by and like the text which is imposed upon it" (167).
From De Certeau, we learn that the relationship to reading is more
complicated than one might first surmise. Texts become neither
emancipatory nor disciplinary. For my particular interests, De
Certeau's insights will be applied to a gendered analysis of texts.
Gender is an aspect of consumption that De Certeau fails to consider
entirely. Narrative structures will be analyzed for their potential
modes of consumption.
How can we determine a relationship between ideology,
representation and historical participants? The Practice of Everyday
Life demonstrates that demographics and testimonials bear little or
no relationship to how cultural material is assimilated by cultural
participants, i.e. consumers. Instead, De Certeau traces a secondary
production out from under explicit codes of representation. In the
introduction, he uses the example of the Native Americans' relation to
the Spaniards as a model.

Submissive, and even consenting to their subjection, the
Indians nevertheless often made of the rituals,
representations, and laws imposed on them something
quite different from what their conquerors had in mind;
they subverted them not by rejecting or altering them, but
by using them with respect to ends and references foreign
to the system they had no choice but to accept.... They
escaped without leaving it. The strength of their difference
lay in procedures of 'consumption.'... There is a secondary
production hidden in the process of utilization. (xiii)

With this in mind, this study will forsake an investigation of primary
accounts of reader-responses and personal memoir. Those accounts
only serve to point a direction for investigation and actually add
another layer of representational strategies to sift through. Instead,
we can use to De Certeau as a model to expand our conception of the
potentials of narrative function. He invigorates narrative with the
potential elasticity of irrecuperable productivity. By foregrounding
how alternatives can exist within narrative structures, instead of
insisting upon those structures in and of themselves, we transcend
the binary of emancipatory and disciplinary. The texts are neither
one nor the other, but capable of signifying both simultaneously. This
double function and potential become vital for Bronte and contribute
to the popular success with women readers. As a member of an
oppressed group, Bronte can be shown to have "escaped without
leaving" a representational system she had no choice but to accept. I
will demonstrate how her novels make use of narrative constraints to
bring into representation her preoccupation with homosocial desires.
Symptoms of her strong attachments surface throughout her
narratives. Deciphering these symptoms and connecting them to the
historical position of women demonstrate how women escape
patriarchy without leaving it. This method also can begin to account,
in a way that other theories cannot, for why narratives similar in
structure and plot continue to be told over and over again (in the
form of romances), and why the audience for these narratives is
predominately composed of middle-class women.

Before I proceed with my reading of Bronte's secondary
production, I would like to demonstrate how this methodology, which
correlates material conditions, ideology, narrative and
psychoanalytical dispositions, has already been used successfully in
film studies. Then, I will introduce a metaphor for the methodology
of secondary production possible in Bronte texts by a short analysis of
an eighteenth-century document.
Film studies has postulated that the film-noire genre became
popular after World War II because it reflected anxieties and
concerns of a male audience returning home from overseas. That is,
one can read the story of the hero and the femme fatale not as the
explicit content dictates but as an allegory of the confrontation of the
white male returning to the workplace in order to displace the
independent woman who had taken up his position during the war
years. It also performs a psychoanalytic dramatization. Roland
Barthes identified this narrative as the reenactment of the male
Oedipal crisis. In order to preserve his individuation, the hero must
overcome the omnipotent female figure, just as in the Oedipal crisis
the male child must turn away from the mother, often with
resentment and violence. The film audience, assumed to be male,
displaced a cultural anxiety about sex role relations onto a particular
narrative that could resolve that anxiety through the woman's
denigration, submission and or death; the audience makes use of the
film narrative to quell uneasiness. In this way, the narrative brings
into representation and symbolically manages cultural concerns of a
male audience that are historically grounded but could not be made

Another type of film can be read in terms of how it could be
made use of. Stephen King's "Misery" presents another incidence of a
misogynistic Oedipal drama. This reactionary movie was
tremendously popular. In the movie, the injured male romance
writer is taken care of and then mentally and physically tortured by
his female "number one fan." She is characterized as an irrational,
mother-like, omnivorous being from whom he must escape. She
infantalizes him by binding and breaking his feet, (the same fate that
befell baby Oedipus, whose name means "swollen foot"). He, in turn,
must overcome her with violence in order to regain his place in
society. This film, like film-noire, dwells excessively in male point of
view, shutting off attempts to make the female figure human. She
remains the mother/monster from whom he must escape. And the
film audience can make use of both her denigration and his
resurrection as an allegory for patriarchal patterns of subject
development that require males to define themselves in opposition to
the mother.
I use this example in particular because the cultural anxiety
highlighted here revolves around the woman's relation to the
romance genre. This film's existence points to a building anxiety of
male audiences towards the ever-increasing market of contemporary,
female, romance readers. Their patterns of consumption and modes
of secondary production may not have carved out a space of feminist
liberation (which could easily be recuperated by the market), but
they have, nonetheless, had a felt effect.9

9 I develop this idea further in another article in which I use De
Certeau to complicate our understanding of why and how

My third and final example before I turn to my outline of the
chapters, functions on a metaphorical level to illustrate the way I
have negotiated three different critical positions and why I have
chosen to investigate Bronte's texts through narrative structure as
opposed to any other means. I would like to cite at length a
document that Susan S. Lanser brings to our attention in "Feminist
Poetics of Narrative Voice" in Fictions of Authority. In this work,
Lanser calls for a joining of feminist and narrative poetics in order to
"explore through formal evidence, the intersection of social identity
and textual form, reading certain aspects of narrative voice as a
critical locus of ideology" (15). Lanser focuses on how gender
intervenes in issues of voice and authority. Her project succinctly
articulates part of the goal of this dissertation: "Not to reinforce
notions of discursive sexual difference but, on the contrary, to suggest
the complexity and specificity of women's narrative practices even in
the obviously coded texts" (13) The letter "Ingenuity" is the
obviously coded text that I wish to employ as a metaphor for how my
methodology relates to the two textual frameworks emancipatoryy
and disciplining) that have anchored debates in Victorian studies.10

contemporary romance novels are read by women. Some critics
(Douglas, Radway, et al.) represent women as passive receivers of a
derogatory stereotype of femininity. My reading of the romance
genre redresses the relationship between representation, fantasy and
consumption. The paper is entitled, "Another World: Trajectories of
Consumption for Romance."

10 I use the term metaphor to foreground the use of document as a
vehicle for making obvious three different critical practices. The
actual applications of these practices is only gestured to in the
following readings.

It is necessary to cite the document in its entirety in order to
demonstrate its function as a metaphor.

Female Ingenuity

Secret Correspondence.--A young Lady, newly married, being obliged
to show her husband, all the letters she wrote, sent the following to
an intimate friend.

I cannot be satisfied, my Dearest Friend!
blest as I am in the matrimonial state,
unless I pour into your friendly bosom,
which has ever been in unison with mine,
the various deep sensations which swell
with the liveliest emotions of pleasure
my almost bursting heart. I tell you my dear
husband is one of the most amiable of men,
I have been married seven weeks, and
have never found the least reason to
repent the day that joined us, my husband is
in person and manners far from resembling
ugly, crass, old, disagreeable, and jealous
monsters, who think by confining to secure;
a wife, it is his maxim to treat as a
bosom-friend and confident, and not as a
play thing or a menial slave, the woman
chosen to be his companion. Neither party
he says ought to obey implicitly;-
but each yield to the other by turns-
An ancient maiden aunt, near seventy,
a cheerful, venerable, and pleasant old lady,
lives in the house with us--she is the de-
light of both young and old--she is ci-
vil to all the neighborhood round,
generous and charitable to the poor-
I know my husband loves nothing more
than he does me; he flatters me more
than the glass, and his intoxication
(for so I must call the excess of his love,)
often makes me blush for the unworthiness
of its object, and I wish I could be more deserving

of the man whose name I bear. To
say all in one word, my dear, -----, and to
crown the whole, my former gallant lover
in now my indulgent husband, my fondness
is returned, and I might have had
a Prince, without the felicity I find with
him. Adieu! May you be as blest as I am un-
able to wish that I could be more

Recall that the bride must show her correspondence to her husband.
"A note at the bottom tells us that "the key to the above letter, is to
read the first and then every alternate line" (Lanser 10). To facilitate
this reading, here is the alternative letter.

I cannot be satisfied, my dearest Friend!
unless I pour into your friendly bosom,
the various deep sensations which swell
my almost bursting heart. I tell you my dear
I have been married seven weeks, and
repent the day that joined us, my husband is
ugly, crass, old, disagreeable, and jealous;
a wife, it is his maxim to treat as a
play thing or a menial slave, the woman
he says ought to obey implicitly;--
An ancient maiden aunt, near seventy,
lives in the house with us--she is the de-
vil to all the neighborhood round,
I know my husband loves nothing more
than the glass, and his intoxication
often makes me blush for the unworthiness
of the man whose name I bear. To
crown the whole, my former gallant lover
is returned, and I might have had
him. Adieu! may you be as blest as I am un-

There are numerous aspects of this fascinating document that
could be analyzed (some of which are its various narratees, its "plot,"

its publication in a public journal, the representation of the maiden
aunt, etc). Lanser looks at conventions of "feminine" and "masculine"
voices. But, as I have said above, the documents) and three different
readings of it, also serve as a metaphor for three different
methodologies. The first reading of the document in its entirety can
be read as an example of a "public," disciplined text complete with the
panoptic husband who oversees all utterances. The woman, as
narrator/author is empowered with the authority to define her
relationship, but her subjection to exterior disciplining mechanisms is
made obvious by her self-effacing, tentative, and "feminine"
discourse. The second reading, that of the "private" subtext, functions
as a liberated or emancipated text and conforms to the methods of
textual interpretation that Gilbert and Gubar endorse-- the bringing
to the surface of the angry voice of the oppressed woman. The "real"
message is hidden behind the conventional utterances and needs only
the proper key to be unlocked. "The surface designs conceal or
obscure deeper, less accessible (and less socially acceptable) levels of
meaning" (Gilbert and Gubar 73, cited in Lanser 13).
The third level of meaning of the document, complicates the
issues raised in the first two readings. Lanser looks at precisely what
enables the narrative to function on the two disparate levels at the
same time.

The articulation between surface and subtext, the syntactic
hinge that binds and transforms the whole, is a set of
negative constructions that the decoding process pares
away. This negativity turns out to be more than the link
between texts; it makes the surface text not simply a
proclamation of one woman's marital happiness but an
indirect indictment of marriage itself. (12)

By examining the narrative structure, Lanser was able to demonstrate
how the third reading is neither disciplined, nor emancipatory but a
much more complicated way addressing both the narrator's personal
experience and her relationship to the institution of marriage.
Through feminist narrative analysis, she is able to integrate relations
of power, representation, gender, and history.

Underscoring crucial differences of function and form
between "private" and "public" discourse, the letter
represents its own formal practices as neither arbitrary nor
simply representational, but as responses to situational
imperatives produced by the relations of power that acts of
telling entail. (13)

Lanser goes on to take up the issue of how narrative authority is
constituted and implemented along gender lines. Her call for an
expansive theory of narratology here and in an earlier article
"Toward a Feminist Narratology" instigates the continued
investigation of narrative's relation to gender beyond issues of
authority and voice. My concerns focus on how narrative structures
(both the story and the way the story is told), which I find also to be
gendered and not neutral, operate in relation to representational
strategies to introduce or repress homosocial relations. The third
abbreviated interpretation of the letter begins to do what this
dissertation sets out to do: connect issues of gender, specifically
female homosocial relations, to relations of history and
representation. The third method of interpretation, only gestured to
here as a metaphor, scratches the surface of "the complexity and
specificity of women's narrative practices" (Lanser 13).

In this introduction, I have contextualized my work within
current Victorian studies. I have laid out the need for a shift in the
discussion of the Victorian novel's function away from the
emancipatory versus the disciplinary debate. Through De Certeau
and Lanser, I also have outlined a new paradigm which allows us to
discuss in compelling ways the sociological and historical implications
of certain representational strategies.
As I have pointed out above, the constraints of the Victorian
novel circumscribe the articulation of homosocial relationships
between women. In analyzing the novels of Bronte, I find a variety
of responses to that circumscription. In each of the following
chapters I foreground how, while working within the boundaries of
what was ideologically sanctioned for the novel, Bronte's novels were
able to redress the apparent lack of homosocial relations that the
novel ostensibly dictated. The novels each employ different narrative
strategies to address this lack, with the notable exception of The
Professor. My goal in this dissertation is to bring to light ways in
which women novelists, particularly Bronte, made use of a
representational system in spite of its innate hostility towards their
most personal concerns. As I have stated above, Bronte spent much
of her life in the company of women including her sisters, Ellen
Nussey, Mary Taylor, Elizabeth Gaskell etc. Yet, her novels, especially
lane Eyre, are known as quintessential romance fiction representing
intensely passionate heterosexual relationships. Drawing attention to
particular narrative strategies, I show how the novel performs a
managing function for both female anxieties and fantasies that arise
out of a particular historical moment. Novels that appear to view

women only in the context of relationships with men, actually
function in a more complex relationship to middle-class ideology,
femininity and the narratable. The implications for this study extend
to today's middle-class female reading public. Although this study
remains focused on narrative strategies and not historical readers, it
implicitly outlines a rationale as to what compels women to read the
type of novel that ostensibly reifies a heterosexual paradigm of love
and marriage, and excludes vital homosocial relations. I argue those
relations have not been as excluded as they initially appear to be;
and, therefore, the activity of novel reading does not function only in
the ways that previous Victorian studies have suggested.
In Chapter two on lane Eyre, a feminine value system of
relating gets translated via allegory into a heterosexual fantasy.
Female homosocial relations are imported into the heterosexual
relation of romance fantasy. In this particular case, the narrative
allegorizes a type of mother-daughter relation. In lane Evre this
fantasy articulates itself as a mother-quest of the orphan Jane. Even
though female, surrogate mothers are rejected, their value system is
transposed into the heterosexual relation that closes the novel.
Rochester is transformed from the brutal hero into a nurturing figure
for Jane. The novel' s narrative structure insists that male brutality
and a male value system that privileges violence and falsehood must
be done away with. The hero must abandon his value system and
adopt the heroine's, which valorizes nurturance, equality, and truth.
Jane herself is reduced from an independent woman to an infantile
state in a necessary infantilization process that prepares her for her
final union with Rochester. The narrative articulates the

developmental ambivalences experienced by women in an ideology
that encourages them to define themselves both in relation to others
and also insists on their independence and autonomy.
In Chapter three, I show how Shirley dramatizes a different
homosocial fantasy: that of two women friends. Unlike Jane Erye's
quest for the mother-figure, the female characters in Shirley
demonstrate a different pattern of circulating homosocial desire, a
pattern not anchored in a quest for a mother-figure (as in lane Eyre),
but one that generates from what Linda Hunt has called the ideology
of "The Female Subculture" and that Carroll Smith-Rosenberg calls
"The Female World of Love and Ritual." Both Bronte novels represent
fantasies that derive not from culturally repressed "true" desires in
women.11 Rather, both fantasies of mother-daughter relations and
of women's romantic friendships arise within the ideology of
femininity itself in the nineteenth century. The material conditions
of mother-daughter child rearing and the encouragement of female
socialization patterns gave rise to these fantasies; but conventions of
narrative made problematic their articulation in the progression of a
heterosexual romance.
In the chapter on Shirley, Bronte brings into representation an
explicit female homosocial relation at the expense of narrative

11 Michelle Foucault's "Repressive Hypothesis" in History of
Sexuality has taught us that the concept of sexuality was a discursive
formation that invented the need for a repressed reserve of desire
that could then be regulated. See also Mixed Feelings, by Ann
Cvetkovich for a summary of this theory applied to nineteenth-
century women's popular culture (Chapter two) Rutgers UP 1992.

structure. She makes use of the commonplace Victorian association
of women with Nature to discriminate an alternative female
existence outside the domestic sphere, (which was also aligned with
femininity). Bronte builds on and makes use of the classic
association of woman and Nature not to validate such an
essentialized notion of woman, but to facilitate the construction of a
female friendship that exists independent of domestic scene. The
domestic sphere in this novel comes to be aligned with sickness,
death and heterosexuality. I foreground how the terms Nature and
domesticity are employed for specific representational purposes and
not simply to reinforce stereotypes of femininity. Bronte is able to
exploit an unevenly developed ideology of femininity that attempted
to define women both in terms of Nature and in terms of the
domestic sphere.12 The representation of Caroline Helstone and
Shirley Keeldar's romantic friendship also resembles friendships
constructed in private letters of the time period, but when brought
into representation in the context of historical romance, the
homosocial relation ruptures the structure of that text through a
bifurcated focus, structural division and an unconvincing closure.
The novel was criticized for these ruptures demonstrating a tension
between narrative structure and explicit homosocial attachments. I
find this tension to be a productive one.

12 Mary Poovey has brought our attention to the concept of
unevenly developed ideologies of femininity in her book, Uneven
Developments: the Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian

Turning to Villette for Chapter four, I continue the discussion of
homosociality's relationship to narrative structure. In this chapter, I
show the incompatibility of homosociality and the narrative of the
female narrator. Shirley introduced intimate, homosocial ties of
Shirley and Caroline by aligning them with Nature and discriminating
those ties from the domestic scene of heterosexuality. It was
subsequently faulted as a failed novel in terms of structure. Villette
can be read as a response to the critiques of Shirley. This novel does
not articulate an alternative space for homosociality. Rather, it
realigns homosociality with the domestic and the incarceral. The
narrative sets up an opposition between Lucy Snowe's relation to
domesticity (the sphere of women) and her desire to make her way
in the world as an independent woman who tells her own tale.
Relations between women are consistently represented in opposition
to the telling of her story. Domesticity and stability are consistently
aligned with death and the end of the narrative. Repression of
homosocial connection maintains an instability in Lucy's character
that acts generatively in terms of narrative. Villette dramatizes the
consequences of both Lucy Snowe's rejection of the domestic sphere
identity and her inability to forge any other homosocial connection to
women. Bronte representss homosociality's absence. I demonstrate
that the omission of homosocial interaction in this novel is not
incidental but is integrally related to Lucy's identity as both a single
woman and the teller of the tale. Lucy's lack of homosocial
interaction becomes a profoundly present absence throughout the

For Chapter five, I will address Bronte's The Professor and how
it does not focus on key issues of female homosociality. Its male
first-person narrator and awkward, idealized portrayal of
womanhood, make it particularly resistant to the types of readings I
discuss above. I speculate that the lack of female homosocial
engagement may contribute to the novel's lack of both critical and
popular success. What the narrative is explicitly faulted for is its all-
too-seamless progression of it protagonist, William Crimsworth, as he
moves from poverty to prosperity without encountering any
significant disruptions or incidences of self-realization.13 In this case,
the representation of a male homosocial relation has facilitated the
transmission of the tale. Although female homosocial relations have
been shown to have a disruptive effect on narrative structure, male
homosocial relations, here represented by Crimsworth and his friend
Yorke Hunsden, contributes to the opposite effect. Their relation
works in the service of narrative and is used to maintain and
transmit patriarchal power. One would assume that this
seamlessness would contribute to a positive reception of the novel.
However, such is not the case. Possibly, because the narrative is
unable to address issues of female homosociality it remains an
unengaging novel.
In this my last chapter, the coincidence of the novel's poor
reception and its lack of female homosociality lead me to speculate
that the representation of female homosociality in some form was
integral to Bronte's successful narratives. I then speculate that the

13 For example, Helen Moglen (83).

representation of female homosociality is crucial to the romance
novels that descend from lane Eyre as well. I will briefly point to
the implications of this study for contemporary romance novels


A woman is her mother
That's the main thing.
--Anne Sexton

The cathexis between mother and daughter--essential
distorted, misused --is the great unwritten story.... This
relationship has been minimized and trivialized in the
annals of patriarchy. (Adrienne Rich OWB 225-226)

There is a rectitude, a refinement, a constancy, a
modesty, a sense of gentleness about the [letters of her
mother] indescribable. I wish she had lived, and that I
had known her. (Bronte to Ellen Nussey 2/16/1850)

lane Evre, the autobiography of its title character, articulates a
romantic quest for a stable social position and identity. Jane Eyre
attains that position by the end of the novel. She moves from an
isolated heroine without social standing to the ideologically-
sanctioned position of wife and mother of a middle-class household.
The narrative works within the conventions of both realism and
romance to negotiate her stages of development from a young girl to
a grown woman. One can also read within lane Eyre an alternative
narrative that tells a different story of subject development. This

14 Every reference to a Bronte text page number in this chapter
will be for Bronte's lane Evre. In each subsequent chapter the
citation will be for the chapter title text.

alternative narrative is not subversively set in opposition to the
quest narrative described above; rather, it makes use of conventions
of the quest narrative to transform a heterosexual romance plot into
a female homosocial fantasy that manages desires for mother-
daughter relations. This dissertation addresses the narrative
structure of the representation of female homosocial relations in
general. This chapter will address mother-daughter relations as a
particular manifestation of homosocial relations.
The mother-daughter fantasy I shall describe exists in a
complicated and contradictory relationship to Victorian social history,
Victorian codes of narrative, and to psychoanalytical models of
subject development. Material conditions of Victorian, middle-class
culture fostered homosocial relations between women. Yet
conventions of narrative seem to prohibit the articulation of these
relations. As stated in Chapter one, separate sphere ideology
encouraged or required women to associate with one another.
Women were idolized for being "naturally" nurturant, maternal care-
givers. And a mother and daughter relationship stood as an ideally
sacred model of this ideology. But Victorian conventions of narrative
seem to have prohibited the articulation of these mother-daughter
bonds in the representational system of the novel. As Marianne
Hirsch has noted in The Mother-Daughter Plot, the mother-daughter
story is hard to find explicitly represented.15 The lack of this

15 Hirsch's study The Mother-Daughter Plot examines the strong ties
between mother and daughter. She points out that feminism and
psychoanalysis have depended on an objectified, child-centered view
of the mother. In every theorization, mother-daughter relations are
replayed from the point of view of the child fantasy. This is also the
case in my theorization of the function of the allegory. I find her

representation can be attributed to nineteenth-century narrative's
innate hostility to the maternal figure, which in turn can be seen to
relate to a particularly patriarchal paradigm of subject development.
Fictional narratives of individual development parallel the
psychoanalytical narrative of individual development in the world.
Conventions of narrative both reflect and construct classic notions of
an individual's process of masculine identity acquisition. Separation
from the mother-figure is a central component of this process. The
Oedipus story can be seen as the "classic and paradigmatic story of
individual development in Western Civilization" (Hirsch 1).
According to Freud's psychoanalytical narrative, the individual
(presumed male) must overcome his primary attachment to the
mother-figure and turn outward to identify with the father figure.
To develop into a "normal" heterosexual, the boy must pass "through
the stage of the 'positive' Oedipus, a homoerotic identification with
his father, a position of effeminized subordination to the father, as a
condition of finding a model for his own heterosexual role" (Klein
quoted in Sedgwick 23). This "story," "motivated by mechanisms of

pursuit of the mother as subject to be crucial to a future feminist
project; however, I still believe the daughter-centered narrative can
be elaborated on. Especially because I believe that Hirsch is wrong
about positing a linear development of the mother-daughter
narrative. She states that the nineteenth century rejected the
mother outright in favor of the brother. Then she moves on to
modernist literature which begins to introduce the mother as a
figure. Then she privileges the post-modern text with the
articulation of the mother as subject in the texts of Morrison. I do
not dispute her findings on Morrison but I reject her linear history
and instead want to read the fraternalism of the male character with
the heroine as a maternalism.

masculine desire," demonstrates the necessity of individuating, or
separating completely from the mother-figure (Hirsch 2). The
example of "Misery" analyzed in the introductory chapter both
exaggerates and is representative of this process of individuating.
The scripting of this plot of male development is repeated time and
again through narratives that silence or omit maternal relations of
the protagonist.
Contemporary feminist psychoanalysts have problematized the
psychoanalytic narrative of linear development for female figures.16
All subjects, male and female, must individuate from the mother-
figure, but the studies have determined the process to be different
for each gender. Nancy Chodorow's Feminism and Psychoanalytic
Theory and The Reproduction of Mothering demonstrate precisely
how the process of subject individuation is different for daughters.
Rather than reject their identification with the mother figure,
daughters, because they are the same sex as the mother, retain and
build on this tie.

[T]he girl retains and builds upon her pre-Oedipal tie to her
mother (an intense tie characterized by primary
identification--a sense of oneness; primary love--not
differentiated between her own and her mother's interest).
(Chodorow FPT 69)
For women, individuating is not a linear process of complete
disidentification with the mother. Their connection to the mother
remains introjected at the same time they move toward separation

16 In different ways this project has been developed by Jessica
Benjamin, Teresa De Lauretis, Julia Kristeva and others.

from the mother figure. These two contradictory impulses articulate,
according to Chodorow, a blurred ego boundary that defines itself
both in relation to others as well as separate from others. Because
the identification with the mother is both physically obvious and
culturally encouraged, the self-in-relation dominates a girl's ego
structure. Because the boy's sex differs from the mother's, a boy's
ego formation more clearly articulates itself as different from the
mother. This mark of difference enables a more complete and
contained individuation to occur, whereas, for girls of the same sex,
separation and connection characterize individuation from the
mother. These compulsions remain more indeterminate and in flux.
Feminists revaluation of individuation qualifies what can be
valorized as successful subject development. "The celebration of
individuality is gender-related project. Indeed, the feminist critique
of individualism has taken psychoanalysis itself to task for its
tendency to make independence and separateness the goal of
development" (Benjamin 81). Freudian psychoanalysis describes
complete and separate individuation as an essential end-point of
subject formation. It can more productively be seen as a
historically-specific response to relatively modern habits of
mothering for heterosexual boy children. Women's more complicated
process of individuation is likewise a product of historically-specific
habits of mothering and not biologically essential. Habits of
mothering give rise to the specific model of the female subject that is
constructed in terms of a mother-daughter relation. When I employ
the term mother-daughter model of subject development to describe
Jane Eyre, I am referring to a model of subject development that is

characterized primarily in relation to others, but it also contains
compulsions towards separation. Because the identification with the
mother is primary, an ambivalence characterizes the compulsion for
separation throughout adulthood.
Nineteenth-century narrative conventions of realism have been
unable to assimilate the complications and indeterminance of female
subject development. "The conventions of realism, resting on the
structures of consent and containment, shut out various forms of
indeterminacy, instability, and social fragmentation" (Hirsch 14). The
heterosexual romance does not allow for the exploration of conflicts
generated from the daughter's point of view. More readily apparent
is the narrative structure that represents the successful shift away
from mother-centered relationships towards the attachment to a
member of the opposite sex. For women, the articulation of "their
story" within narrative structures necessitates the submergence of a
particularly strong bond to the mother-figure.
Stories of female subject development, of which lane Eyre is an
example, insert the girl/woman figure into conventions developed to
mirror the process of male individuation. Both fictional narrative
structures and psychoanalytical narrative structures have only
belatedly theorized the shift that feminine gender incurs. On one
hand, Jane's story follows the classic identity acquisition of the
Oedipal narrative. She moves through stages of development
towards a stable heterosexual position. Her attachment to her
mother is excised from the narrative to facilitate the process of her

individuation.17 She has moved beyond a primary attachment to
the maternal figure in favor of an outward turn toward an
attachment to the father-figure Rochester. "This shift is utterly
crucial Freud inasmuch as the very idea of heterosexuality and his
definition of adult femininity in culture depend on its successful
completion" (Hirsch 99). Jean Wyatt in Reconstructing Desire and
Jerome Beaty in Victorian Literature and Society read lane Evre
through this frame. However, I contend that lingering bonds to the
maternal figure surface throughout the narrative of lane Eyre.
When the narrative seems to be capitulating to patriarchal
proscriptions, symptoms of woman's strong attachment to the mother
surface through Jane's relation to other women in this narrative.18
We can read these symptoms in terms of a homosocial-centered
fantasy; and in that regard, we can discover how women make use
of a system of representation that circumscribes their experience. In
other words, this homosocial fantasy is articulated through narrative
conventions that ostensibly prohibit its representation.

17 Hirsch highlights Bronte specifically. "Not surprisingly," writes
Hirsch, "mothers tend to be absent, silent or devalued in novels by
Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, George Sand, the Brontes. George Eliot,
and Kate Chopin" (14).

18 It is interesting to note that in the Hollywood adaptation of lane
Eyre starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, all Jane's relations to
adult women except Bessie and Mrs. Fairfax (a servant and a
housekeeper) were omitted from the film. Her Reed cousins and
Rivers cousins as well as Miss Temple are all removed from the
narrative. The good doctor stands in their place for plot facilitation.
This omission is not incidental but demonstrates twentieth-century
narrative's inability to represent women in relation to each other
without complicating the heterosexual drive of the narrative.

I argue that pre-Oedipal ties introjected throughout female
subject formation, though not explicitly allowed by narrative
conventions, punctuate conventional narrative structures. On one
hand, women in heterosexual romances are asked to disidentify with
other women, including especially mother-figures, in order to form a
heterosexual bond. "In conventional nineteenth-century plots of
European and American tradition, the fantasy that controls the
female family romance is the desire for the heroine's singularity
based on a disidentification from the fate of other women, especially
mothers" (Hirsch 10). However, my reading lane Eyre transforms the
heterosexual union back into a relation based upon mother-daughter
model of subject development. It does this through particular
narrative strategies. lane Eyre brings into representation
relationships between women throughout the novel. Although all of
these relationships are curtailed, excised, or made secondary to the
heterosexual relation, the novel makes use of these relationships to
articulate a particular feminine value system that will ultimately be
valorized. This value-system can be defined as a series of
ideologically-derived behaviors sanctioned within the homosocial
subculture of women. This value system is not a vehicle for the
natural expression of women's fondness for women, but becomes a
vehicle through which women can articulate desires that derive from
a mother-daughter model of subject development with its strong
maternal ties. Although Jane's relationships to other women will be
written out of the narrative, the value system is transposed and
preserved in the heterosexual frame. This transposition indirectly
narrates an alternative to the Oedipal narrative of subject

development. Whereas feminist psychoanalysts have complicated
the Oedipal narrative using terms set up by Freud, I will complicate
how lane Eyre represents female subject development within the
conventions of the heterosexual plot line. lane Eyre replays
homosocial issues of connection and separation in a way that
successfully integrates them into a patriarchal frame. Jane Eyre
defines herself in relation to many female characters in the novel.
Conventions of narrative also prescribe that she define her progress
of identity acquisition in terms of her separation from others. For
Jane, as a female character, this process is charged with ambivalence.
I will demonstrate that at times Jane Eyre's compulsions towards
separation are coded as a positive tendency towards independence,
and autonomy and at times her separation from others is
characterized in negative terms of isolation, alienation and
deprivation. The valorization of Jane's homosocial value system by
the end of the novel defines an alternative narrative for women
This alternative narrative enables a form of secondary
production to take place and be utilized by women readers as a
fantasy that manages desires arising from their own process of
subject formation. The strength of this narrative strategy is that the
fantasy does not articulate subversive, repressed desires in
opposition to patriarchal proscriptions, rather, it works within the
conventions of narrative to enable readers to "escape without
leaving" the system of representation that inscribes their experience

(De Certeau xiii).19 I will employ the term allegory to describe the
process by which this secondary production occurs. To speak of the
transposition of the femninie value system in terms of an allegory
enables one to get outside the masculine paradigm of subject
development. Romantic, heterosexual love becomes a vehicle for the
representation of lingering bonds to the maternal figure. Allegory
enables one to interpret hunger and nurturance, truth and duplicity
in terms of the complicated negotiation of the desire for connection;
it also enables one to interpret representations of both isolation and
independence in terms of the ambivalent desire for separation that
takes place within the context of feminine subject development. The
heterosexual romance comes to delineate the various fantasies and
ambivalences generated through female subject formation in
patriarchal culture.
Union in marriage temporarily resolves the desire to define
oneself in both as separate and in relation to another. In the
allegory, the hero eventually adopts a female homosocial value

19 As I have mentioned in the introduction, The Practice of
Everyday Life, outlines a theory of secondary production of cultural
texts. He demonstrates that content, demographics and testimonials
bear little or no relationship to how cultural material is assimilated
into cultural participants, i.e. consumers. He complicates our notions
of consumption by tracing a secondary mode of production out from
under the explicit codes of representation. Cultural participants can
subvert a dominant ideology not by rejecting or altering its codes,
but by using them with respect to ends and references foreign to the
system they had no choice but to accept.... ."They escaped without
leaving it. The strength of their difference lay in procedures of
"consumption." ... There is a secondary production hidden in the
process of utilization" (xiii).

system, as I will show. The heroine, as daughter, represents
alternately the infant in need of care and the adult subject in need of
separating. The allegory serves as a representation, not necessarily
of women's subordination to marriage, but as a representation of the
temporary resolution of contradictory impulses that evolve from the
material conditions of female subject development in patriarchal
culture. The reader participates in a process through which anxieties
and fantasies of female development are articulated and resolved
through heterosexual marriage. The "happy" ending in marriage
only temporarily resolves these ever recurring, ambivalent desires.
After the act of reading is completed, the romance as a homosocial
allegory compels its own repetition. The conditions that prompt this
fantasy for women have been paradoxically encouraged, inscribed
and prohibited in public representation. We need not disparage Jane
Eyre as a "drama of dependency" (as Ann Douglas has described
women's novels in The Feminization of American Culture).20
Rather, we can see how the fantasy functions in the larger context of
the circumscription of homosocial desire.21

20 In this work, Ann Douglas postulates that what is wrong with
American culture is that we do not read enough Melville or
Hawthorne. American nineteenth-century literature suffers from an
inundation of sentimental, frivolous female writers. These scribbling
women and clergymen fostered the type of mass market that today
takes control of the unknowing mass readers. She rejects these texts
using the classic misogynist move that because they are written by
and for women they dupe their readership into social conformity and

21 For a reevaluation of contemporary romance novels see Ann
Snitow's "Soft-Porn Culture."

This chapter will not focus on the transformation of historical
women readers but rather will function on the premise stated above:
that nineteenth-century socialization patterns and material
conditions both created the need for, encouraged, and paradoxically
prohibited the articulation of a particular fantasy of mother-
daughter relations. At times this mother-daughter value system is
represented by explicit mother-figures such as Miss Temple. But I
am concerned not only with explicit maternal figures but also with
how Rochester becomes transformed, not into an explicit mother
figure, but into a participant in a relation based on mother-daughter
interactive values. Finally, I will describe how the conclusion of the
fantasy brings women back to the position they started from, thus
compelling the repetitious return for which romances such as Jane
Evre have been noted.

Part One

.ane Eyre begins with Jane as a ten-year-old girl at Gateshead
during a cold bleak winter. Her orphan status dramatizes her
separation from any maternal figure. Her Aunt Reed is her guardian
and a female figure, but does not provide any maternal nurturing for
Jane. Mrs. Reed's status as a woman does not guarantee her status as
a maternal nurturer. Bronte complicates the automatic alignment of
female with nurturer and shows that they are not biologically
determined. Jane's isolation functions not only to mark Jane in terms

of a "different" middle-class notion of self,22 her isolation also stands
to represent the condition of all women who feel ambivalent as a
result of having to individuate themselves from, in this case, an
absent mother-figure to whom they feel deeply connected.
Individuation is an ambivalent process for daughters. Although a
necessary stage of development, it can be accompanied by fears of
abandonment and desolation. The young Jane at Gateshead
dramatizes these fears and anxieties that are keenly felt by
daughters. "Jane is (what most of us 'merely' fantasize ourselves to
be) an extreme case: she is unloved, unlovely, unpleasant, poor and
dependent orphan child" (Adams 181). In the scenes that follow,
Jane dramatizes the negative aspects of the individuation process. At
other points in the novel individuation is represented in the more
positive light of independence and autonomy. But in these opening
scenes, young Jane appears to be hopelessly abandoned by all.
Mrs. Reed and John Reed represent the most hostile and anti-
maternal of intermediary figures. John Reed brutally cuts Jane off
from any connection with others through physical violence to her

22 For decades critics have focused on the representational
strategies used to create Jane Eyre's "depth" and difference from
other characters. She becomes one of the greatest modem heroines
precisely because of her renegotiation of her self-worth in terms of
her depth of character and not her exterior position as orphan or
governess without connections. Within a New Historicist's paradigm
it is commonplace to see Jane Eyre as a representation of the middle-
class self precisely because her value is denoted by her individual,
interior convictions and not her birth or superficial position. See
Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction pages 42-48.
Armstrong goes on to foreground how the inauguration of this type
of self occurred though the instrument of writing.

body. Violence is the antithesis of mother-love and nurturing. John
Reed throws a book at her. "The cut bled, the pain was sharp" (5).
Then Jane states, "he ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair
and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing.... I felt
blood from my head trickle down my neck (5). All the forces around
Jane seem to conspire against her.

All John Reed's violent tyrannies, all his sisters' proud
indifference, all his mother's aversion, all the servant's
partiality, turned up in my disturbed mind like a dark
deposit in a turbid well. Why was I always suffering,
always browbeaten, always accused, forever condemned?
(Bronte 8)
The unanswered question represents an exaggerated question for all
women: Why must one be forever condemned to an alienated,
separate existence when the maternal bonds of connection are so
strong? Mrs. Reed separates Jane from the other children of the
household. She consistently thrusts Jane away from her even when
Jane begs for mercy. As an interposing figure, Mrs. Reed consistently
separates Jane from connecting with anyone. "'Loose Bessie's hands,
child.'... Mrs. Reed, impatient of my now frantic anguish and wild
sobs, abruptly thrust me back and locked me in, without further
parley" (Bronte 11). After the red room episode, she becomes even
more distant.

Mrs. Reed surveyed me at times with a severe eye, but
seldom addressed me; since my illness she had drawn a
more marked line of separation than ever between me
and her own children, appointing me a small closet to
sleep in by myself, condemning me to take my meals
alone, and pass all my time in the nursery, while my

cousins were constantly in the drawing room.
(Bronte 20)

Jane's isolation works allegorically as the negative aspect of
individuation which all daughters experience unconsciously.
Jane's individuation process is also negatively represented by
way of her internalized alienation. Not only is Jane isolated and
separated from others in the opening of the narrative, she frequently
describes her interior self as divided. "The fact was I was a trifle
beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say" (5).
Her consistent reference to herself as a "thing" confirms her
alienation from herself. This description is repeated many times
throughout this section. With John Reed she is "a desperate thing."
Her own image in the red room mirror is described in third person as
unhuman-like. "The strange little figure there gazing at me with a
white face and arms speaking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear
moving where all else was still, has the effect of a real spirit... .half
fairy, half imp" (8). She describes herself as "a thing that could not
sympathize with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing... a
useless thing,. .. a noxious thing" (9). In terms of allegory, this
alienation represents the most extreme model of a self defined solely
in terms of separation, connected to no one not even herself.
After she falls ill in the red room, Jane is cared for by Bessie.
Bessie becomes the first of a series of mother-substitutes who will
give Jane affection and attention. After beginning the narrative with
the dramatization of the negative fears that individuation can elicit,
the narrative now, for the first time, depicts Jane in relation to

another. Throughout the novel, Jane will vacillate between her
individuated self, frequently represented negatively in terms of
isolation, but at times represented positively in terms of
independence, and, her self in relation to others, represented
positively through women characters from whom Jane receives
necessary nurturance and care. Mother-substitutes play an
important role in articulating Jane's fantasy of a mother-daughter
relation; they establish the nurturing affectionate type of
relationship that the narrative will ultimately authorize.23
Bessie is the first person to show Jane any affection. "When
thus gentle, Bessie seemed to me the best, prettiest, kindest being in
the world.... I preferred her to anyone else at Gateshead Hall"
(Bronte 22). As Karen Rowe notes, "[p] residing over kitchen and
nursery, Bessie fulfills the role of a classic Mother Goose or Mother
Bunch" (Rowe 71). "In sharp contrast to Aunt Reed's authoritarian
detachment, Bessie's maternal warmth enables Jane to anticipate
fulfillment of her cherished fantasies about home and family" (72).
Bessie returns Jane's regard both verbally and physically. "I believe
I am fonder of you than all the others" (Bronte 33). And "Bessie
stooped; we mutually embraced, and I followed her into the house
quite comforted. That afternoon lapsed in peace and harmony; and
in the evening Bessie told me some of her most enchanting stories,

23 Elaine Showalter in A Literature of Their Own, states that Jane
Eyre is virtually peopled with female surrogates for absent powerful
males (112-124). I contend that these women act as stand ins for a
mother and give Jane necessary maternal care. Adrienne Rich in
"Temptations of a Motherless Woman" more accurately describes
these women as mother figures (142).

and sang me some of her sweetest songs. Even for me life had its
gleams of sunshine" (33). Bessie also gives Jane food: tea and cake
(32). The sustaining effect of Bessie's feminine, maternal influence
dramatically contrasts with the effects of Jane's isolation described
above. The narrative moves from the model of the self defined in
terms of isolation, metaphorized in terms of incarceration in the red
room, towards a more interdependent self, a mutually-embracing
model of the self and other.
When Jane begins to connect with another person, her world
expands rather than contracts. Bessie's new-found affection for Jane
is paradoxically linked with Jane's subsequent departure for the
world outside Gateshead Hall. Her self-in-relation prompts her to
seek out more nurturing relations. While out walking, she has just
rejected the "sequestered" area of the grounds and is looking out the
gate into an empty field when Bessie comes to tell her she will be
leaving for school (31-32). The fantasy of getting back to a nurturing
maternal relation is here articulated as a journey away from her one
nurturing relation. She must get away from Gateshead, the site of
her initial isolation. Bessie's maternalism cannot adequately remedy
Jane's fears of abandonment that have been consistently emphasized
by Mrs. Reed and John Reed.
The maternal role Bessie plays in nurturing and comforting
Jane increases as Jane's departure nears, but it cannot last. Bessie is
of another class (in spite of Jane's poverty) and class transgression
becomes an insurmountable boundary even for a child. When asked
by the apothecary, Jane cannot imagine choosing to live with poor
people. "I should not like to belong to poor people" (18). Her

relationship with Bessie is suspended when she exits Gateshead.
"Thus I was severed from Bessie" (35). The narrator evokes images
of a severed umbilical cord. This severing places Jane in the position
of the individuated self searching for a way to incorporate contrary
desires for connection to a maternal figure.
After her separation from Bessie, Jane finds herself at Lowood.
The physical and emotional deprivations of the school once again
dramatize the pain that individuation can entail. Initially, Jane's lack
of a maternal source of comfort parallels her physical lack of
nourishment. "When Jane arrives at Lowood she is emotionally
starved.... .Her life has been one of extreme deprivation and her
only reinforcement has come from the mercurial Bessie" (Moglen
113). At Lowood, "Jane is acutely conscious of her need for love"
(Rich 146). Her need for love is closely aligned with her need for
more food. The food at Lowood is not sufficient to supply Jane's
needs. "Ravenous, and now very faint, I devoured a spoonful or two
of my portion without thinking of its taste, but the first edge of
hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess--
burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon
sickens over it" (Bronte 39). Brocklehurst himself links the two
forms of physical and emotional deprivation. He keeps the girls in a
constant state of physical want to keep them humble emotionally
and spiritually. His policy towards the children's eating habits
reflects his policy regarding their moral upbringing: to mortify the
lusts of the flesh through deprivation. Jane can never get enough
bread just as she can never get enough affection. She states, "I
devoured my bread and drank my coffee with relish: but I should

have been glad of as much more--I was still hungry.... Such was my
first day at Lowood" (45). Hunger represents Jane's craving need for
both physical and emotional connection and nurturance.
Then Jane meets Helen Burns and Miss Temple, who come to
function as maternal figures for Jane in different ways. Both
characters directly figure in the satisfying of Jane's ravenous hunger
for physical and emotional affection. First Helen Burns teaches Jane
to "love your enemies" and bear injustice with patience. They
quickly become intimate friends, and Jane comes to depend on Helen
to sustain her. Helen consistently fulfills the maternal role of
comforter. "Resting my head on Helen's shoulder, I put my arms
round her waist; she drew me to her, and we reposed in silence"
(62). Without her, Jane is again the abandoned infant severed from
her caretaker. "Now I wept: Helen Burns was not there; nothing
sustained me; left to myself I abandoned myself, my tears watered
the boards" (60). Helen serves as Jane's emotional and spiritual
nurturer.24 Although at thirteen Helen is young, her role in the
narrative is maternal. As she is dying, she tells Jane not to be afraid.
On her death bed, it is Helen who actively pulls Jane to her (73).
They exchange endearments ("dear Helen," and "Darling") and fall
asleep wrapped in each other's arms (74). Helen acts as a mother

24 It has been noted that Helen Burns was modeled on Jane's oldest
and adored sister, Maria (see Moglen 21). It is important to note that
Maria had stood in place of mother for the younger Bronte children
after their mother died. "Maria's death at the age of twelve meant to
the others the loss of a second mother, better known than the first,
perhaps more familiarly--more consciously--loved: a shining ideal,
forever fixed, perfect and unattainable" (21).

substitute helping Jane to define herself in closer relation to others.
Even though Helen dies, the representation of their friendship serves
to dramatize the self-in-relation aspect of female development.
Miss Temple, as an adult middle-class woman, is a more
obvious mother-figure for Jane than Bessie or Helen. As a mother
figure, she gratifies Jane's needs for pleasure, food, and affection.
After Jane is most devastatingly humiliated by Brocklehurst, she
feels almost as abandoned as in the red room incident. Instead of
being literally isolated, she is this time set apart as one to be publicly
despised. This time she is "exposed to general view on a pedestal of
infamy" (60). Rescuing her from this infamy, Miss Temple invites
her and Helen to tea. Once Miss Temple believes Jane to be truthful,
Miss Temple kisses her and keeps her at her side (64). She then
feeds them "a cup of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast..
.. [and] a good-sized seed-cake" (65). "We feasted that evening as on
nectar and ambrosia.... We satisfied our famished appetites on the
delicate fare she liberally supplied" (65). This fare is both the actual
food and her affection; both restore Jane. After this incident, she
forgets to fantasize about "the Barmecide supper of hot roast
potatoes, or white bread and new milk" and instead "feasted on the
spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark" (67). "Miss
Temple is maternal in a special sense: not simply sheltering and
protective, but encouraging of intellectual growth" (Rich 146). Jane's
relationship with her is based upon mutual respect, truthfulness, and
sustaining nurturance, the basis for the relationship that will close
the novel also.

Miss Temple's role as a mother figure grows more important as
Jane grows older. But the particular narrative description of her role
decreases as Jane grows older. After Helen Burns death, Jane Eyre
narrates through years of experience quite quickly. She intervenes
in the narrative with a direct address explaining the reasons for this
abbreviation. She assumes that her relationship with Miss Temple
could possess no degree of interest. The following passage explicitly
belittles her eight years with Miss Temple and connects them to
experience not worthy of telling, but rather, worthy of her silence.

Hitherto I have recorded in detail the events of my
insignificant existence: to the first ten years of my life i
have given almost as many chapters. But this is not to be a
regular autobiography: I am only bound to invoke memory
where I know her responses will possess some degree of
interest; therefore I now pass a space of eight years almost
in silence: a few lines only are necessary to keep up the
links of connexion. (75)

The few lines that Jane uses to describe these eight years formulate
Miss Temple as the most intimate and important figure in Jane's
young life. "Her friendship and society has been my continual solace;
she has stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and, latterly
companion" (Bronte 76). In addition to providing for Jane's physical
and emotional needs, Miss Temple also acts to foreshadow what Jane
will become: first a teacher, then a wife. On the one hand, the
importance of the relationship is undermined by its brevity. This
most important and intimate friendship between the two women,
which endures eight years, is not narrated but skipped over in a few
sentences "almost in silence" (75). The intimate relationship of two

women cannot be narrated because it ostensibly is not of interest.
On the other hand, the "continual solace" that Miss Temple provides,
as well as her existence as a role model contribute to the
centralization of their relation. Both Jane's explicit defense of her
narrative abbreviation and then her subsequent contradictory
description of this relationship's importance point toward the
narrative obstacles to representing homosocial relations without
detracting from the heterosexual romance. What the narrative does
instead is to make use of the brief description of their interaction to
establish a value system that will be carried throughout the novel.
That value system is characterized by socially-constructed feminine
ways of interacting, including maternal nurturance, honesty and
solicitude. Miss Temple marries and is not heard from again, but her
relationship with Jane prepares the groundwork for Jane's expansion
into what she describes as "the real world." "Jane loses her first real
mothers [Helen and Miss Temple]. Yet her separation from these two
women enables Jane to move forward into a wider realm of
experience" (Rich 147). "I remembered the real world was wide"
says Jane (Bronte 77). Jane goes in to that "real world" outside of
Lowood and brings with her the homosocial, maternal value system
she has established with Miss Temple.
The novel continues to map a homosocial value system by
contrasting it with Jane's interactions with Edward Rochester at
Thornfield. At this point, the narrative begins the transfer of Jane's
affection towards a masculine figure, Edward Rochester. Up until this
point in the novel (and even first few months at Thornfield) Jane's
only positive interactions are with women. Her homosocial

immersion would have been consistent with societal norms and
certainly was consistent with Charlotte Bronte's experience. But
narrative conventions demand romance and heterosexual
engagement. Female homosocial engagement is of no degree of
interest (75). In the next section, we will see how the novel maps
Rochester's value system (characterized by groughness, deceitfulness,
and mockery), in opposition to Jane's value system that privileges
nurturance, integrity, and equality.

Part Two

The novel begins the process of mapping Rochester's way of
being in the world in opposition to the established homosocial values
of Lowood. We can divide Jane's interactions with Rochester into
two parts: first, her time at Thomfield Hall as governess and, second,
when she returns to him at Ferndean as an heiress. In their first
interactions his character is morose at times. But Jane is nonetheless
attracted to Rochester because she believes his manner is caused by
some "cruel cross of fate." She states, "I believed he was naturally a
man of better tendencies" (Bronte 137). In the first section, Rochester
is likewise attracted to Jane, but he conceives of her in terms
consistent with patriarchal domination and acquisition. First he is
curt with Jane, then he is duplicitous and deceitful towards her.
After their engagement he attempts to adorn her as his prized object.
After Jane's return in the second part, he is finally tender, warm-
hearted, and humbled. He changes from a coarse mastering figure
into a loving, nurturing, and nurtured caretaker. The novel, as an

allegory of homosocial relations, will ultimately insist that their
relationship be founded on the same principles of honesty,
nurturance, and mutual support as Jane's relationship with Miss
Temple was. Jane will return an independent heiress and at the
same time she will nurture and be nurtured by the "bone of her
bone." The ending of the novel as fantasy management temporarily
resolves Jane's contradictory impulses toward independence and
The narrative first depicts Rochester as a cold, brooding figure
with only brief moments of tenderness. In their first encounter,
when he falls off his horse, Rochester is gruff and unamiable to Jane.
After her first inquiry he appears to be swearing. "I think he was
swearing, but I am not certain; however, he was pronouncing some
formula which prevented him from replying to me directly" (Bronte
104). "The frown, the roughness of the traveler set me at ease"
(105). At their first meeting he is duplicitous to Jane in a way he
will continue to be until the disrupted wedding scene. He asks her
who is the owner of Thornfield Hall and whether she knows him or
not and what is her position at the Hall.25 From the advantageous
position of the knowing interviewer he pretends he is someone he is
not in order to get information from Jane. Opening their relationship
with his brusque and manipulative behavior is a commonplace

25 Interesting attention to class codes here. He finds that she lives
at the Hall but cannot be a servant because of her "simple black
merino wool cloak, a black beaver bonnet; neither of them half fine
enough for a lady's maid" (106).

device of romance fiction.26 He leaves her never having shed light
on his true identity. In one of their early interviews he also
commands her in the imperative to do this or that. "Go to the
library," "Fetch me your portfolio," "Approach the table," etc. (115).
"Mr. Rochester had such a direct way of giving orders, it seemed a
matter of course to obey him promptly" (121). She remarks to Mrs.
Fairfax that he is a peculiar character, changefull and abrupt" (118).
Even when Rochester does momentarily soften his demeanor,
he still behaves contrary to the way Jane has learned to expect of
someone who cares for her. When Jane saves his life in the middle of
the night, he is most kind and intimate with her, but then he
abandons her without explanation the next morning. "He held out his
hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, then in both his own...
. He paused; gazed at me: words almost visible trembled on his lips-
-but his voice was checked" (141). Their eyes are locked; her hand is
joined in his, physically uniting them. Even the continuous sentences
joined by semi-colons, colons, and dashes reflect the united intimacy
of their moment in the dark. They are brought together visually,
physically, and syntactically. The next morning Jane waits for him to
call her to him. "During the early part of them morning I
momentarily expected his coming; he was not in the frequent habit
of entering the schoolroom, but he did step in for a few minutes
sometimes, and I had the impression that he was sure to visit it that
day" (142). "I have never heard Mr. Rochester's voice or step in the
house to-day; but surely I shall see him before night: I feared the

26 See Janice Radway's Reading the Romance.

meeting in the morning; now I desire it, because expectation had
been so long baffled that it is grown impatient.... Surely I would not
be wholly disappointed to-night when I had so many things to say to
him!" (146-147). Rochester has left without a word and does not
return for weeks: a cruel disappointment for Jane. She reprimands
herself for thinking he might care for her and she swings back to her
isolated position. "That a greater fool than Jane Erye had never
breathed the breath of life: that a more fantastic idiot had never
surfeited herself on sweet lies, and swallowed poison as if it were
nectar" (149). From her point of view and her way of relating to
others, she assumes he must not care for her if he acts the way he
does. The apparent nourishment he had given her the night before
turns poisonous as she spits it out in her epithets to herself.
He returns weeks later with his guests and forces Jane to
endure painful episodes of drawing room coquetry between himself
and Blanche Ingram. She contrasts the last moment she had seen
him in the middle of the night with their hands intertwined and the
moment he enters the parlor. "How near had I approached him at
that moment! What had occurred since, calculated to change his and
my relative positions? So far estranged, that I did not expect him to
come and speak to me. I did not wonder, when, without looking at
me, he took a seat at the other side of the room, and began
conversing with some of the ladies" (163). "I might pass hours in his
presence and he would never once turn his eyes in my direction--
because I saw all his attentions appropriated by a great lady, who
scorned to touch me with the hem of her robes as she passed" (174).
We later learn that he is being duplicitous here because he is

watching her all the while, when she thinks he is ignoring her. At
this point it appears to Jane only that he has distanced himself from
her as if they had never had their moment in the dark when he held
her hand and would not let her go. In light of the nurturing
caregiving model of affection she had learned from other women,
Jane assumes she had been terribly mistaken and he could not care
for her. But she continues to care for him and continues to search for
those brief moments of endearments that confirm Rochester's
potential as a caregiver.
Different critics have different theories as to why the hero
must be so distant and hostile. Janice Radway in Reading the
Romance states that the hero's hostility teaches women how to accept
male behavior.

The reader is not shown how to find a nurturant man....
What she is encouraged to do is to latch on to whatever
expressions of thoughtfulness he might display, no matter
how few, and to consider them, rather than his more
obvious and frequent disinterest, as evidence of his true
character. (148)
Indeed, this is precisely what Jane herself does in the novel. "I
believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of
morality had their source in some cruel cross of fate" (137). She
makes excuses for his cruelty. But this does not mean that the
reader learns to make excuses for all men. I disagree with Radway's
application to the reader. To understand reading solely in terms of a
didactic function is to misunderstand the process of reading. The
heroine does latch on to the hero's nurturant capability and this
focus does become important, not in terms of a lesson for the reader,

but in terms of the roles in the allegory. His brusque behavior sets
up an alternative way of being in the world that differs from the
heroine's. 2 7
In terms of the allegory, the description of the hero's initial
antagonism and cruelty is important; however, the novel does not
necessarily assure women it is all right to be cruel, or that cruelty,
despite its frequent display, is not a person's true character. Instead
the novel's narrative structure insists that male brutality and a male
value system that privileges violence must be done away with. (John
Reed's fate is called to mind here. He does not make it into
adulthood.) The novel insists that the hero abandon his value system
and adopt the heroine's, which values nurturance and love. It is the
hero who must change to a more feminized way of interacting. The
allegory uses cruelty as a marked point of contrast as it moves from
the recognizable, hostile conditions of patriarchal society (which
includes the existence of male brutality), towards the return to an
ideal state of merger (when Jane returns to Rochester) characterized
by maternal caregiving and nurturance. The more dramatic the
hero's alienation from the heroine initially, the more dramatically
effective is his transformation into a nurturing figure.
In the middle section of the novel, Rochester's interactions with
Jane are consistently grounded in duplicity. Rochester's misleading
of Jane in their first encounter on the path sets the dynamic in

27 Radway uncovers many interesting observations in her study,
but her crude empirical determinations are problematic. Her
evidence is derived from actual romance readers but she fails to see
how her predetermined questions predispose certain responses.

motion for many of their subsequent interchanges. When Rochester
returns with his entourage he continuously leads everyone, including
Jane, to believe he desires to marry Blanche Ingram. At one point,
they play a parlor game of charades, but, in actuality, Rochester is
playing a charade during the whole visit. Jane watches and describes
this charade and believes it to be true. She believes she watches
others unobserved and watches them watch others unobserved. "No
sooner did I see that his attention was riveted on them [the ladies]
and that I might gaze without being observed, than my eyes were
drawn involuntarily to his face; I could not keep their lids under
control" (163). "I see Mr. Rochester turn to Miss Ingram, and Miss
Ingram turn to him; I see her incline her head towards him" (173).
She watches them play out the charade of marriage during the parlor
game. In short, she watches all Rochester's attentions "appropriated
by a great lady, who scorned to touch me with the hem of her robes
as she passed" (174).
But once Rochester convinces Jane it is really she he wants to
marry, he must explain why he performed the charade for so long
and how he was actually watching her all the while. "I wondered
what you thought of me--or if you ever thought of me; to find this
out, I resumed my notice of you" (299). He confesses: "I feigned
courtship of Miss Ingram, because I wished to render you as madly
in love with me as I was with you; and I knew jealousy would be the
best ally I could call in for the furtherance of that end" (249). Jane
answers him, "You have a curious designing mind, Mr. Rochester"
(249). Rochester is never completely truthful to Jane; rather, he

makes duplicitous efforts to extort confessions from her. He also
dresses up as a gypsy for this same reason.
As the gypsy he takes up the position of the all-knowing seer
who can see into Jane's heart. He uses the disguise in an attempt to
probe Jane's heart. "Have you no present interest in any of the
company who occupy the sofas and chairs before you? Is there not
one face you study? one figure whose movements you follow with at
least curiosity?" (186). "She" directly asks Jane if she thinks of the
master of the house (187). Rochester reveals himself and Jane
confronts him. "In short I believe you have been trying to draw me
out--or in; you have been talking nonsense to make me talk
nonsense. It is scarcely fair, sir" (190). Rochester does not play fair
but continues to mislead Jane. His affections are true but his manner
of interacting with Jane rely on a falseness that characterizes all his
relationships with women including Bertha, Celine Varens, and
Blanche Ingram.
Rochester's previous marriage to Bertha Mason motivates and
reflects his duplicity. His other forms of misrepresentation can be
seen as symptomatic of his most major one: misrepresenting himself
as an eligible bachelor. Inadvertently, Jane's perception of the false
courtship of Blanche Ingram can be read as a true perception of the
actual stumbling block to Jane's marrying Rochester. In their
confessional scene in the moonlight, Jane says to Rochester, "You are
a married man... wed to one inferior to you--to one with whom you
have no sympathy" (240). Bertha's insanity aligns her with one
inferior to Rochester in the value system of the novel. Jane also
states that she cannot be near him because his bride stands between

them (241). His marriage to Bertha does indeed stand between
them. When Jane is requesting an answer to a puzzling question,
Rochester fears she will ask about Bertha in the attic. His eyebrows
grow thick as her fingers and Jane states perceptively, "That will be
your married look" (249). It was his married look, as he fears the
revelation of his true marriage. But Rochester has no intention of
revealing the truth; he justifies his actions to himself setting his
teeth and insisting that "it will atone" (243).
During their engagement Rochester is no longer so duplicitous
or cruel with Jane, as they have confessed their feelings for each
other. However, their relationship is still far from the mutually
honest, supportive, nurturing type of relationship Jane had
established with Miss Temple and will establish with the River
sisters. Rochester, at this point in the novel, treats Jane the way he
has treated other women. He attempts to objectify Jane through
flirtatious coquetry and adorning her with jewels and fine clothes.
Jane resists these attempts fervently. She maintains her sense of self
and her self-respect through physical and emotional distance from
him. "He rose and came towards me, and I saw his face all kindled...
I quailed momentarily--then I rallied. Soft scene, daring
demonstration, I would not have; and I stood in peril of both; a
weapon of defense must be prepared--I whetted my tongue" (259).
She behaves this way ostensibly for their mutual advantage
(implicitly to secure her virginity till the wedding) (260), but as we
are examining the allegorical paces of the novel, one can read this
resistance more superficially, that is allegorically. Obstacles keep

Jane from Rochester until their relationship can be established on
grounds of a homosocial relational system.
At this point in the novel, their exchanges are coded in terms of
a virtual battle ground over who will possess Jane. Rochester's
attempts to objectify Jane represent negative aspects of a self
defined totally in relation to another. Rochester would have Jane
obliterate her own identity to become his show piece. She struggles
to maintain her own independence in the face of Rochester's
overwhelming desires to possess, decorate, and display her. Here the
daughter's desire for individuation is coded as a positive desire for
independence. There has been no indication that their union would
be a satisfactory way of negotiating Jane's contradictory desires for
individuation and her need to define herself in relation. Their
relationship will not be consummated within such a framework. The
narrative will insist upon a framework that can balance and manage
these contradictory desires. The structure of this relationship will be
constructed by values that facilitate both the self in need of
individuating and the self in need of merging. Jane learns these
values from her interactions with other women; Rochester has not
yet learned to accept these values.
Jane fervently resists Rochester's attempts to dress her up like
a doll (255). "The more he bought me, the more my cheek burned
with a sense of annoyance and degradation" (255). As a dependent,
Jane senses the imbalance of power between her and Rochester. His
purchase of fine things for her represent an unseemly economic
exchange she is being forced to participate in. At this juncture Jane
thinks to contact her Uncle John to see if she will someday gain

financial independence and could therefore "endure to be kept by
him now" (255). But as their relationship stands in the interim, the
imbalance is unendurable. This incidental idea arises to redress
Jane's need to individuate positively. She wishes to establish the
grounds of their relationship on a more equal footing. This desire
forces the reconstruction of their relationship. The interrupted
wedding occurs as a direct result of Jane having written to her
relation in the West Indies. Allegorically, Jane's desire for their
relationship to be changed represents the desire to shift the terms of
heterosexual romance toward a homosocial value system, where one
is not objectified and obliterated but mutually supported and
supportive in an honest kinship relation.
Rochester proposes that Jane live with him in spite of his first
wife. Jane cannot become another Celine Varens or one of his other
mistresses. But this is what he asks of her. He fails to see that the
economic and societal terms of their relationship would be the same.

'I now hate the recollection of the time I passed with
Celine, Giancinta, and Clara.' I felt the truth of these
words; and I drew from them the certain inference, that
if I were so far to forget myself and all the teaching that
had ever been instilled into me, as--under any pretext--
with any justification--though nay temptation--to
become the successor of these poor girls, he would one
day regard me with the same feeling which now in his
mind desecrated their memory. I did not give utterance
to this conviction: it was enough to feel it. I impressed it
on my heart, that it might remain there to serve me as
aid in the time of trial. (297).
She leaves Thornfield and Rochester and continues her quest for
nurturance, love and kinship. Paradoxically, she rejects Rochester's

plan in order both to maintain her sense of self-worth (her
individuation) and to further her pursuit towards a more egalitarian
union. "Jane flees not in order to be found [by Rochester], but to find
herself, to achieve economic and moral independence" (Modleski 46).
But the independence Jane desires and then achieves comes at an
exorbitant cost. In Part three I will demonstrate how Jane's desire to
maintain her sense of self-worth leads her first out in the world
entirely independent of everyone. She leaves Thornfield with only
her own meager purse to support her. After she loses this, her last
possession, she ultimately is forced back to a state of complete and
infantile dependence. In this state Jane will be nurtured in an ideal
homosocial, domestic environment that will serve as a model to be
transposed eventually to her relationship with Rochester.

Part Three

Jane's desire not to be Rochester's dependent mistress prompts
her flight from Thornfield Hall. In fleeing Thornfield, Jane rejects the
heterosexual model of objectification and dependence presented by
Rochester. What she goes out in search of initially is her
independence but once again nourishment and connection surface as
immediate needs to be fulfilled. Jane does not seem to have a
destination to move towards; rather, she is fleeing away from the
temptation to be with Rochester on his terms. In leaving Thornfield,
Jane severs her only tie, thus explicitly separating herself not only
from Rochester, but from everyone. "Not a tie holds me to human
society at this moment--not a charm or hope calls me where my

fellow-creatures are--none that saw me would have a kind thought
or a good wish for me. I have no relative but the universal mother,
Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose" (307). Jane's
independence becomes encoded as her disconnection from everyone.
She seeks Nature, here a feminized source of comfort, but Nature is
only a beneficent mother to the inhabitants of fields: the bees and
the lizards. "I would fain at the moment have become bee or lizard,
that I might have found fitting nutriment, permanent shelter here"
(309). After being completely severed from society, Jane is also
severed from a sustaining connection to Nature. With nothing and no
one to aid her she is forced to admit her dependent condition. "I was
a human being with a human being's wants: I must not linger where
there was nothing to supply them.... I set out" (309). She reaches
the town and begins searching for human food and nourishment. Her
independent individuation now becomes encoded in negative terms
once again.
Jane's hunger again is closely aligned with her need to connect
with others and relinquish her independence. Hunger forces her to
approach others and disables her from remaining independent of the
care of others. "Much exhausted, and suffering greatly now for want
of food, I turned aside into a lane and sat down under the hedge. Ere
many minutes had elapsed, I was again on my feet, however, and
again searching something--a resource, or at least an informant"
(311). Hunger makes it impossible for her to endure being left alone.
"I was so sick, so weak, so gnawed with nature's cravings, instinct
kept me roaming round abodes where there was a chance of food.
Solitude would be no solitude--rest no rest--while the vulture,

hunger, thus sank beak and talons in my side" (312). She grows
more hungry and more desperate until she is reduced to a fainting
heap on the Rivers' doorstep. "I sank on the wet doorstep; I
groaned--I wrung my hands--I wept in utter anguish. Oh, this
specter of death! Oh, this last hour, approaching in such horror!
Alas, this isolation--this banishment from my own kind! (320). This
last and most dramatic isolation brings Jane to a state of being
utterly incapable of caring for herself. At this final moment of
despair, she is taken in, fed and cared for by the Rivers.
She collapses on the doorstep in her most extremely dependent
state. Her starvation and infantilization allegorically represent Jane
as the regressed daughter in utter need of nurturing. Her self-
subversion can be read as a relinquishing of the burden of
autonomous self-hood and a returning to another way of being in the
world. Completely unable to care for herself, Jane resembles the
condition of an infant who has not yet differentiated itself from the
mother-figure. Indeed Jane is not able to distinguish herself from
anything, not even her bed; she is unable to speak or form words.

The recollection of about three days and nights succeeding
this is very dim in my mind. I can recall some sensations
felt in that interval; but few thoughts framed, and no
actions performed. I knew I was in a small room and in a
narrow bed. To that bed I seemed to have grown; I lay
on it motionless as a stone.... I could not answer; to open
my lips or move my limbs was equally impossible. (323)

Fortunately for Jane, her need is met by the loving Rivers sisters.
They perform the maternal functions that nurse Jane back to health.
"Diana broke some bread, dipped it in milk, and put it to my lips.

Her face was near mine: I saw there was pity in it, and I felt
sympathy in her hurried breathing. In her simple words, too, the
same balm-like emotion spoke: 'Try to eat'" (321). The reduction to
the infantile state allows Jane momentarily to slough off the burden
of being independent and instead, she is to be taken care of. Phyllis
Whitney in "Writing the Gothic Novel" has stated that being taken
care of is of primary importance in the representation of a loving
relationship. "Women want to love and be made love to as they love
babies--that is, in a nurturant fashion" (quoted in Radway 69). Her
cousins and their home become her surrogate womb for a short
while. Once again, women fulfill this nurturing role but again this
relation will not be sustained; it will be eventually transposed onto a
heterosexual one.
After her near-starvation, Jane finds almost everything she is
looking for in the house of the Rivers. This section of the novel
brings into representation a domestic, homosocial ideal even more
completely than was articulated with Miss Temple. Eventually, this
representation will be transferred to the heterosexual relationship of
Jane and Rochester. Their marriage will be characterized by
domestic tranquillity, warmth, and true affection; the traditional
heterosexual relation, as described in Part two with Rochester and
his mistresses, will be replaced by an empowered, homosocial
relation that redefines Jane as an equal partner in a very different
exchange system.
Even though their relation will be ultimately subordinated, it
constitutes an important step in the narrative. For the first time in
the narrative, an ideal domestic scene is represented, and it is

composed of women (St. John does not partake in their activities).28
With the Rivers sisters Jane finds true companions. "There was a
reviving pleasure in this intercourse, of a kind now tasted by me for
the first time--the pleasure arising from perfect congeniality of
tastes, sentiments, and principles. I liked to read what they liked to
read: what they enjoyed, delighted me; what they approved I
reverenced" (333). "Thought fitted thought: opinion met opinion: we
coincided, in short, perfectly.... Our natures dovetailed: mutual
affection--of the strongest kind--was the result" (334). It is hard to
overestimate just how ideal the situation is for Jane. She moves from
being literally destitute--lonely, starving and exposed--to the
picture-perfect domestic scene which liberally bestows upon her
love, food, affection, and shelter. The name of the house--Moor
House, homonymically suggests the plenitude Jane experiences. This
section most clearly dramatizes the novel as an allegorical quest for
nurturance and affection.
However, their domestic bliss cannot be maintained
economically. The Rivers sisters must return to their positions as
governesses. And Jane's aversion to being a dependent surfaces
again. St. John states her opinion for her. He states:

28 Domestic scenes at Thornfield contrast with the harmony of these
scenes. Either Jane is bored to tears spending the winter cooped up
with the good-natured but unintellectual Mrs. Fairfax, or she passes
enjoyable meetings with Rochester, but only after being formally
summoned, or she passes dreadful and excruciating evenings with
Rochester and his company in the drawing room where she is only
one of the anathematized race of governesses.

'You would not like to be long dependent on out hospitality-
-you would wish, I see, to dispense as soon as may be with
my sisters' compassion, and, above all, with my charity (I
am quite sensible of the distinction drawn, nor do I resent
it--it is just): you desire to be independent of us?' 'I do: I
have already said so.'
Jane sets to work as village school mistress. In this position
she is independent and able to provide for herself amidst the general
regard of those around her. However, she develops a kind of split
personality that vacillates between being content with her
independence and longing for a more intimate connection. Her
ambivalence surfaces in a number of scenes.

While I looked, I thought myself happy, and was surprised
to find myself ere long weeping--and why? For the doom
which had left me from adhesion to my master; for him I
was no more to see; for a desperate grief and fatal fury--
consequences of my departure. At this thought I turned
my face aside from the lonely sky of eve and lonely vale of
Morton. (343-344)
Her attainment of her independence has torn her from adhering to
her master and left her looking at "the lonely sky." She vacillates
between contentment and unfulfilled longing; she seems almost
schizophrenic here in the following passage.

My heart swelled oftener with thankfulness than sank with
dejection: and yet, reader, to tell you all, in the midst of this
calm, this useful existence... I used to rush into strange
dreams at night: dreams many-coloured, agitated, full of
the ideal, the stirring, the stormy--dreams where ... I still
again and again met Mr. Rochester, always at some exciting
crisis; and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his
voice, meeting his eye, touching his hand and cheek, loving
him and being loved by him-- the hope of passing a
lifetime by his side, would be renewed, with all its force
and fire... By nine the next morning I was punctually

opening the school; tranquil, settled, prepared for the
steady duties of the day. (350)
Jane needs more than the respect and admiration of her
students. Desires to define herself and her life in relation to
Rochester surface in these dreams. Her dreams manifest her desire
to be connected with him-- to be "in his arms, meeting his eye,
touching his hand and cheek." Jane's need for this connection is
Discovering her relation to the Rivers would seem to be able to
give Jane that intimate connection that she seeks. Her inheritance
enables her and her cousins to be economically independent and that
independence enables the cousins to foster a positive emotional
dependency on each other as members of a household. Jane's wealth
also enables her to purge and renew the household on her own
terms, just as she will ultimately do with Rochester.
One of the first tasks Jane undertakes as a member of this
family is to refurbish the house for the sisters' return from
governessing. In this section, Jane describes in detail the cleaning
and refurbishing of the house. Allegorically, this description plays a
vital role in the way by which a homosocial fantasy is articulated.
The preparation of the home may signify the transformation into
middle-class respectability, but, again, if we read this episode of
household management superficially and allegorically, one can see
that the cleaning, rearranging and preparing is integral to the
representation of the ideal homosocial fantasy. Jane is nesting,
preparing the space for her beloved cousins to nurture and protect
all of them from the outside world. The description articulates an

ideal feminine household and elevates feminine everyday
occupations to the status of important action.29 The particularized
description renders what is normally drudgery, in this case
housecleaning, as a pleasant and pleasure-inducing process on par
with any other event in the novel. "Happy at Moor House I was, and
hard I worked; and so did Hannah: she was charmed to see how
jovial I could be amidst the bustle of a house turned topsy-turvy"
(374). (The topsy-turvy household repeats with a difference the
housecleaning scene at Thornfield. When Rochester orders all the
house prepared for his guest, Jane's occupation is uninvested. "I was
all day in the storeroom, helping (or hindering) her and the cook"
(153).) She relays her plans to St. John Rivers.

My first aim will be to clean down (do you comprehend the
full force of the expression?) --to clean down Moor House
from chamber to cellar; my next to rub it up with beeswax,
oil and an indefinite number of cloths, till it glitters again;
my third, to arrange every chair, table, bed, carpet, with
mathematical precision, afterwards I shall go near to ruin
you in coals and peat to keep up good fires in every room;
and lastly, the two days preceding that on which your
sisters are expected will be devoted by Hannah and me to
such a beating of eggs, sorting of currants, grating of spices,
compounding of Christmas cakes, chopping up of materials
for mince pies, and solemnizing of other culinary rites, as
words can convey but an inadequate notion of to the
uninitiated like you. (372-373)

29 Ann Bar Snitow has noted this characteristic in Harlequins.
"Harlequins revitalize daily routines by insisting that a woman
combing her hair, a woman reaching up to put a plate on a high shelf
a woman doing what women do all day, is in a constant state of
potential sexuality" (145).

Not only does she detail her plan of action, she then details the
furnishings she bought for the house. The cleaning and refurbishing
function as a purging of the household to rejuvenate it and make it
partially her own.

Dark handsome new carpets and curtains, an arrangement
of some carefully selected antique ornaments in porcelain
and bronze, new coverings, and mirrors, and dressing-
cases, for the toilet-tables, answered the end: they looked
fresh without being glaring. A spare parlour and bedroom
I refurnished entirely, with old mahogany and crimson
upholstery: I laid canvas on the passage, and carpets on
the stairs. When all was finished, I thought Moor House as
complete a model of bright modest snugness within, as it
was, at this season, a specimen of wintry waste and desert
dreariness without. (374)
Details of everyday life surroundings such as these are a convention
of both nineteenth and twentieth-century romances. Little has been
written about their actual function in the context of women's lives.
In The Feminization of Detail, Naomi Schor traces the history of the
alignment of ornament with the feminine throughout the Western
tradition. She finds this connection articulated repeatedly
throughout different genres. Turning outside the academy, we can
verify that the detail continues to be integral to the feminine genre
of romance novels but it is unclear why. Contemporary romance
writers, Jayne Ann Krentz and Linda Barlow point out in "Beneath
the Surface: The Hidden Codes of Romance" that details are an
absolute necessity in the romance genre. They argue that the details
are highly connotative and emotionally loaded (25) and that they
"increase women's feelings of connection to other women who share
her most intimate thoughts, dreams, and fantasies" (27). This article

fails to address how women's thoughts, dreams and fantasies are
constructed as a result of codes of romance; it also fails to address
why details function in this way. Ann Snitow in "Soft-Porn Culture"
begins to get to a possible rationale. She argues that the detailed
description of a woman doing what women do everyday, whether
getting dressed or taking dishes off a shelf, is a potentially erotic
scene because it may be observed by the hero. But in this case, as
with many others, it is actually the reader who is doing the
watching/reading. Descriptions of the heroine's actions render
everyday life as potentially erotic and pleasure-producing because
we read/watch as voyeurs. The content of the description is of
utmost importance here because for the viewer/reader of the
homosocial fantasy, the domestic scene is the locus of that fantasy.
Women are restricted from participating outside that scene and
therefore, it becomes the idealized site of nurturance and harmony.
Through description, the narrative brings into representation an
idealized feminine scene. The details themselves induce pleasure in
the reader by their simple yet lengthy articulation.
At Moor House the Rivers' and Jane's domestic bliss is
described in detail. Jane purges the house and establishes her place
within it; however, their homosocial relation cannot maintain
narrative interest or provide sufficient closure according to
nineteenth-century narrative conventions.
St. John Rivers has been Jane's most frequent companion
throughout this section of the novel. His representation posits the
possibility of Jane having a relationship with him. His existence as
an eligible bachelor would seem to enable Jane to maintain her

intimacy with his sisters. However, his absolute inability to nurture
disqualifies him from this role. He is handsome and intelligent, but
he never becomes the nurturer that Jane needs. He remains an
exacting, cold Greek statue (380) who seeks Jane out as a helpmate in
his crusade for God. She remains resolute against his request until
he begins to use gentleness, a more feminine quality. She is almost
swayed at that point to become his wife. "Oh, that gentleness! how
far more potent is it than force! I could resist St. John's wrath: I
grew pliant as a reed under his kindness" ( 400). Only when he
begins to become nurturing can Jane entertain the notion of
becoming his wife. "The Impossible--that is, my marriage with St.
John--was fast becoming Possible" (400). Commitment to him would
represent a profound break from all domestic comfort from which
Jane derives so much pleasure and sustenance. "That he asks me to
be his wife, and has no more of a husband's heart for me than that
frowning giant of a rock, down which the stream is foaming in
yonder gorge. He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon, and
that is all. Unmarried to him, this would never grieve me" (388). St.
John states: "I want a wife: the sole helpmeet I can influence
efficiently in life, and retain till death" (388). Her conception of
marriage would integrate the husband firmly into the blissful
domestic scene. In Jane's ideal, the male would transpose himself
into the position that the Rivers sisters occupy. Marriage to St. John
is represented in opposition to all comforts, all nurturance and would
quickly bring about Jane's death (397). But only his momentary
softness and his momentary nurturing appeal to Jane's belief in a
primary Comforter in heaven begin to sway her.

All was changing utterly with a sudden sweep. Religion
called --Angels beckoned--God commanded--life rolled
together like a scroll--death's gates opening showed
eternity beyond: it seemed that for safety and bliss there,
all might be sacrificed in a second. The dim room was full
of visions. (400)
It is important to foreground that only at this point is she swayed,
only when she begins to visualize an alternative space of comfort and
nurturance. At this point it takes a different supernatural force to
tear her away from a commitment to him.
Jane hears Rochester calling to her. The voice in the wind is
closely aligned with the maternal voice Jane had heard at an earlier
moment of crisis. During her moments of wavering indecision, comes
a voice to direct her. "Jane! Jane! Jane!" cries the voice. "Oh, I will
come!" (401) she answers. This voice seems to come from inside her.
"It seemed in me and not in the external world" (403). This instance
of hearing voices characterizes what psychoanalysis designates as a
permeable ego structure. Jane is unable to distinguish inside from
outside. "I asked was it a mere nervous impression--a delusion? I
could not conceive or believe: it was more like an inspiration" (403).
Nancy Chodorow has identified this characteristic as part of a
daughter's inability to distinguish her own desires from her mother's.
Jane's permeable ego structure has been maintained into adulthood
and manifests itself at Moor House; it manifests itself through Jane's
spiritualized kinship connection with Rochester. Jane has already
noted that he is of her kind. "I am sure he is--I feel akin to him"
(164). This kinship remains an important tie for Jane. And it is this
tie that empowers Jane to venture out in search of Rochester. Her

journey back to Rochester contrasts with her journey away from him.
"It was the same vehicle whence, a year ago, I had alighted one
summer evening on this very spot, how desolate, and hopeless and
objectless! Once more on the road to Thornfield, I felt like the
messenger-pigeon flying home" (404). Jane's financial well-being
marks the most important distinction between her independence a
year previous and her condition returning to Rochester. No longer
does Jane need to fear being financially dependent on Rochester. But
Jane's economic status simply mirrors the other degrees of
independence Jane has attained. She seeks out Rochester at this
point because she has become sufficiently individuated as a
character; her ability to run the school and then to refurbish Moor
House have established this fact. At this point, Jane will be able to
import all of her positive experiences with the Rivers sisters and
their functioning household and bring them to bear on her
relationship with Rochester.

Part Four

Circumstances between Jane and Rochester have changed
dramatically and their relationship will be renewed in light of these
changes. At this point in the novel, a homosocial ideal has been fully
articulated, and Jane has derived much pleasure from experiencing it
with the Rivers sisters. As she goes back to Rochester, her renewed
relationship with him will be reconstructed in light of the homosocial
value system that has been articulated. Rochester will not
necessarily become an ideal maternal figure for Jane, but he will

become a participant in a relation based on mother-daughter
interactive values. They will each provide necessary assistance to
each other; they will also characterize their relationship in terms of
a merged union, similar to the bond experienced by mother and
daughter. A transposition takes place here; ideal situations that
were brought into representation in terms of love and affection
between women will be rearticulated between the newly-maimed
Rochester and the newly-wealthy Jane.
After her tedious journey, Jane approaches Thornfield Hall
apprehensively by foot. She discovers the place she had once lived
with Edward Rochester has become a ruin. "I looked with timorous
joy towards a stately house; I saw a blackened ruin.... And there
was the silence of death about it, the solitude of a lonesome wild" (
406). Thornfield Hall, the place where their relationship was first
founded has crumbled to the ground. Allegorically, this ruined,
empty space forces a shifting of Jane and Rochester's relationship to
a new ground. Their relationship will no longer be constructed
within the patriarchal, ancestral halls that cloistered Rochester's
duplicity and attempted bigamy.
Rather, Jane and Rochester will now meet in a new space at
Ferndean. Since Bertha's "convenient" death, there are no obstacles
to their marriage. After learning the history of the last year, Jane
hires a conveyance to Ferndean. She has discovered from the inn
keeper and then by witnessing herself that Rochester has been
maimed and blinded. Tania Modleski has noted that Rochester's
condition is a sad "admission that a woman only achieves equality
with--not dominance over--men who are crippled in some way" (46).

Rather than reading Rochester's condition in this way, one might say
that Rochester is now in need of Jane's care just as much as Jane is in
need of his care. She states, "I love you better now, when I can
really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud
independence" (426). Their relationship will be constituted in new
terms of a mutual dependency, and Rochester's condition will also
anchor him to the domestic sphere, the place where women interact
with women.
The description of the place at Ferndean is important because
Jane's participation there is implicitly connected to her domesticity at
Moor House. She domesticates Ferndean and Rochester in a similar
way that she refurbished the Rivers's residence. Almost the very
first thing she does at Ferndean is to have the fire brightened and
the room straightened. "This parlour looked gloomy; a neglectful
handful of fire burnt low in the grate" (414). "Summoning Mary, I
soon had the room in more cheerful order: I prepared him, likewise,
a comfortable repast" (418). Later she asks if he has a pocket comb
to comb his "shaggy black mane" (419). Jane's subsequent
description of her interactions with Rochester also mirror the ease
with which she conversed with the Rivers sisters.

My spirits were excited, and with pleasure and ease I
talked to him during supper, and for a long time after.
There was no harassing restraint, no repressing of glee and
vivacity with him; for with him I was at perfect ease,
because I knew I suited him; all I said or did seemed
either to console or revive him. Delightful consciousness!
It brought to life and light my whole nature: in his
presence I thoroughly lived; and he lived in mine. Blind as
he was, smiles played over his face, joy dawned on his
forehead: his lineaments softened and warmed. 418

Jane is able to derive pleasure by rekindling an ideal domestic scene
at Ferndean as she did at Moor House.
Jane's relationship with Rochester at this point becomes
characterized as the nurturing food for which Jane has been
searching. "'To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on
earth.' 'Because you delight in sacrifice?' 'Sacrifice! What do I
sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged
to put my arms round what I value--to press my lips to what I love-
-to repose on what I trust: is that to make a sacrifice? If so, then,
certainly I delight in sacrifice'" (426). Their relationship comes to
stand as the end quest for Jane's search for affection and nurturance.
The narrative brings into representation the need and the means by
which to satisfy that need through transposing homosocial
interactions onto the relationship between Rochester and Jane.

I have describe this process in terms of an allegory; the
heterosexual marriage that closes the novel fulfills desires and ideals
that are derived from a woman's compulsion to manage her
ambivalent bond with a mother-figure. In a romance narrative,
marriage serves, not as an institution that requires women's
subjection (which it may be outside the narrative), but rather as an
allegory of the primary love for the mother-figure that is introjected
into a woman's unconscious. To reiterate, that primary love is
characterized by a sense of oneness and complete nurturance. Jane
tells us at the close of her story: "No woman was ever nearer to her
mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of
his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows

none of mine, anymore than we each do the pulsation of the heart
that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever
together" (431-432). Her connection to Rochester, if taken literally,
merges them together in eternal, uninterrupted bliss. It also reads
as if their connection merges them both to the domestic sphere as
Rochester is now incapable of performing outside of it.
The novel closes with this merged state of complete and
enraptured love. But the reader's parting from the fantasy of the
novel repeats the parting from the primary caregiver. The reader of
this fantasy has participated, through the novel as allegory, in a
regression fantasy that brought into representation both the
anxieties and the desires of women raised in patriarchal culture. The
novel as allegory resolved these anxieties and fulfilled the desires in
a way that brought them in line with sanctioned roles for women in
middle-class culture-- to be the wife of a husband. The marriage in
the novel sustains what has been found to be a homosocial fantasy;
but once the novel is over, the woman reader will find herself again
in a culture where marriage does not perpetuate the ideal merger
and connection to the domestic scene. Rather, that culture at once
encourages her identification with and desires for other women yet
forbids that desire's representation explicitly in narrative. The
woman reader is left bereft and in need of those lingering desires to
be resolved once again. This is what will compel the return to the
novel or any number of other novels with basically the same plot
line and hence the same allegorical structure. That structure can be
summed up finally in the following way: The isolated heroine meets
the brutal hero. At some point in the novel she derives pleasure

from the everyday details of domestic life. At some point in the
novel she also becomes completely incapable of taking care of
herself. Finally, the novel concludes with the hero's transformation
into a nurturing figure, willing or unwilling, and he subsequently
exchanges his value system for the homosocial, domesticated value
system that has been brought into representation by the heroine and
her activities.


Romances show you only the green tempting surface of the
marsh, and give not one faithful or truthful hint of the
slough underneath. (Bronte 366 )

'There are happy marriages..... marriage must be happy.'
'It is never wholly happy. Two people can never literally be
as one.... Be satisfied, my dear: let all the single be
satisfied with their freedom.'... 'This is terrible!' (366)

Chapter two on .ane Eyre demonstrated the transposition of a
female homosocial value system into the heterosexual relation that
closes the novel. Shirley dramatizes homosocial relations and
represents a female homosocial value system in a different way.
Unlike lane Eyre's quest for a mother-substitute, Shirley brings into
representation and sustains a mutually supportive friendship
between two women. Both novels represent female homosociality
through a fantasy that derives not from "true" culturally repressed
desires. Rather, both fantasies of mother-daughter relations and of
women's romantic friendships arise within the ideology of femininity
itself in the nineteenth century. The material conditions of mother-
daughter child rearing and the strong encouragement of female
socialization both gave rise to these fantasies and made them
recognizable. What is of interest to me is the way that the
representation of these fantasies relates to narratives structures.

Shirley, Bronte's third novel, adopts the third-person narrator
to tell the story of two young women friends, Shirley Keeldar, an
orphaned heiress, and Caroline Helstone, dependent niece of the
Rector Helstone. The novel tells the story of their courtship with two
brothers, Louis Moore, a dependent tutor, and Robert Moore, an
innovative, upwardly mobile mill owner. The romances are set
during the political and economic upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars.
Begun before and finished after the deaths of her three siblings,
Shirley occupies a traumatic space in the chronology of Bronte's
work. Some say Shirley's character is modeled after Bronte's sister
Emily and that Caroline is modeled after Anne, if they had been born
with advantages (Winnifrith 91). Bronte's choice to adopt an
omniscient narrator serves a number of functions.30 If it is true that
the characters reflect people in her own life (in some of her letters,
Bronte explicitly connects some of the curates to curates she knew),
then the omniscient stance would enable her to appear more
objective and removed from these characters. The novel is also set
in the past, a generation before her time, possibly as an effort to
displace biographical connections. But, more importantly, Bronte's
adoption of the omniscient narrator enables her to attempt a specific
narrative feat that is not attempted in her other narratives. The
omniscient narrator enables her to move through two very different
modes of representation. These two different modes, which I will
subsequently define as female homosocial and heterosexual, remain

30 See Elizabeth Langland's "Dialogue, Discourse, Theft and Mimicry:
Charlotte Bronte Rereads William Makepeace Thackeray."

separate and unassimilable from each other. I will discuss them in
terms of how they structure the narration, as opposed to focusing on
narrative voice. They structure a dual framework from which the
narrative is articulated.
This chapter will not isolate a female homosexual politics but
rather foregrounds how the representation of a female friendship
structures an alternative strategy for narrative. My project has some
similarities to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's project on male homosocial
relations. Like Sedgwick's project, this chapter is "concerned not
distinctly with homosexual experience, but with the shape of the
entire femalee homosocial spectrum" (Sedgwick 90). I do not
exclusively focus on homosexual undertones in the novel but rather
attempt to see the relations between women as they relate to
narrative structure, prescribed codes of femininity, domesticity, and
codes of romantic love. What is of greatest interest here, in contrast
to more conventional female friendships in novels, is that the
friendship between Caroline and Shirley is independent of male
interaction. "This friendship is not designed to assimilate either of
the women to marriage; in fact, it leads away from marriage, into a
peaceful, manless, female world of Nature" (Cosslett 111). Their
respective courtships develop separate from their friendship.
The novel opens with an orientation to the historical setting of
the time period during the Napoleonic wars and the Luddite riots. I
will briefly outline the contents of Volume one to demonstrate the
way in which Bronte sets up a particular narrative structure and a
particular negative representation of heterosexuality that will be
interrupted by Volume two. I will then examine representational

strategies of Volume two to see how Bronte worked with and against
conventional codes of femininity to bring into the narrative a
sustained a developed female friendship. Bronte imports
representational strategies of homosociality from private letters and
makes use of them throughout Volume two. In Volume two she also
builds on the stereotypic association of women with Nature to
differentiate a female homosocial realm that is independent of a
female domestic realm of heterosexuality. In the feminized
landscapes of Nature, female friendship flourishes and men are
absent. The reintroduction of the heterosexual courtship plot, in
Volume three, is associated with both sickness and incarcerating
domesticity. The codes representing sickness, domesticity, and
heterosexuality virtually collapse into each other in this volume.
Both heroines will undergo an illness that symbolically reinitiates
them as dependent women in a courtship plot. The representation of
the closeness developed between Caroline and Shirley remains
unassimilable from the issues and conflicts of Volume three. Volume
three characterizes each of them as isolated individuals, separated
from each other by curious narrative incidents that bring each of
them into relation with her respective suitor. The closure of the
novel does not resolve the tensions raised by the various
representation strategies employed. The second volume stands as an
alternative narrative of female experience outside the context of
domesticity and heterosexual marriage.

Volume One

As the novel opens, we meet the three boisterous and
consuming curates. Their concerns are food and drink, and the scene
soon descends into clamorous and hectoring conversation (42). No
significant woman character is introduced until Chapter five. The
chapter introduces what will be a major concern throughout the
novel: controversy over the industrialization of textile production,
particularly the mill of Robert Moore. Politics, guns, intrigue,
suspense, murder plots, and violence compose the next chapters. The
only women characters are Mrs. Gale, who serves the curates and is
addressed only as "woman" (42), and then in Chapter four, there is
an obscured "head in a screw of curl paper" (whom we later find is
Hortense Moore). Women are absent from the political conflict being
sketched. Their concerns will remain separate from this conflict
throughout the novel.
In Chapter five, we are finally introduced to a domestic scene
of Robert, his sister, and Caroline. The prolonged scene with Robert
and Caroline initiates the courtship plot of the novel. Robert gives
her a bouquet. "Moore plucked here and there a blossom and leaf,
till he had collected a little bouquet; he returned to the parlour,
pilfered a thread of silk from his sister's work-basket, tied the
flowers, and laid them on Caroline's desk" (100). He then delays
leaving, makes up excuses for lingering, and finally asks Caroline to
stay till he returns.

Moore lingered yet two minutes: he bent over Caroline's desk
and glanced at her grammar, he fingered her pen, he lifted her

bouquet and played with it; his horse stamped impatient; Fred.
Murgatroyd hemmed and coughed at the gate, as is he
wondered what in the world his master was doing. (101)
Caroline herself is bright and attentive to Robert. She nods her head
to his request, and her eyes light up (101). After Robert exits,
Caroline is unable to focus on her work. "Caroline forgot, again and
again, the explanations which were given to her" (102). That
evening, they spend in ideal domestic tranquillity. He walks her
home leaving her "excited and joyously troubled" (120). Their
courtship is not simply initiated; it appears well underway. But in
the subsequent chapters, we find obstacles both thematic and logistic
intervene in their courtship. Moore is not in a position to marry.
The political and economic conditions of history appear to interfere
with the linear development of their courtship.
Thematically, the courtship is also undermined by the various
tirades against marriage by character after character. Heterosexual
relationships in the first volume of the novel are characterized in the
most negative light. Here, we first learn of Mary Cave, Reverend
Helstone's wife and Caroline's aunt. Marriage to an indifferent
husband who could not comprehend her, turned out to be fatal.

His wife after a year or two, was of no great importance to him
in any shape; and when she one day, as he thought, suddenly--
for he had scarcely noticed her decline--but others thought
gradually, took her leave of him and of life, and there was only
a still beautiful-featured mould of clay left, cold and white, in
the conjugal couch, he felt his bereavement--who shall say how
little? 82
Throughout the novel various characters make disparaging remarks
about marriage. In the middle this volume Caroline is talking with
her uncle and she remarks: [W]henever you speak of marriage, you

speak of it scornfully: do you think people shouldn't marry?' 'It is
decidedly the wisest plan to remain single, especially for women.'
'Are all marriages unhappy?' 'Millions of marriages are unhappy: if
everybody confessed the truth, perhaps all are more or less so'"
(Bronte 124).
Directly after this conversation, Caroline "sought 'Bonnie
Robert's' presence speedily" (127). She finds him seemingly anxious
to take leave of her, as dispassionately and coldly as Helstone treated
Mary Cave. The narrator underscores Caroline's folly of participating
in romantic illusions. "She has loved without being asked to love, a
natural, sometimes an inevitable chance, but big with misery" (129).
She responds with shock and pain to his treatment, but continues to
look for him with "False Hope" (130). The narrator continues to
emphasize the hopelessness of men and women being happy
together. "All men, taken single, are more or less selfish; and taken
in bodies they are intensely so" (183). Also through the character of
Mrs. Yorke, the first volume rails against marriage. "And sorely he
has repented marrying me,' added Mrs. Yorke, who liked occasionally
to crack a dry jest against matrimony, even though at her own
expense" (171).
Volume one introduces a courtship plot and its subsequent
miseries for the female character, Caroline. She waits and pines
away while Robert works away at the mill. Her misery stems from
the fact that she can only see Robert's neglect of her. Caroline's
tortured existence continues throughout the volume as she wastes
away in despair. Her home becomes saturated in death imagery--a
closeted, solitary tomb-like place. "Mute was the room,--mute the

house" (189). It has now become painful to go to (Moore's) Hollow's
cottage. Robert brings her too much pain and too much pleasure to
look at (187). "I think only of him; he has no room, no leisure to
think of me" (188). Her domestic incarceration contrasts with the
world of Nature outside her house. "For Nunnely wood in June, she
saw her narrow chamber; for songs of birds in alleys, she heard the
rain on her casement; and for Moore's manly companionship, she had
the thin illusion of her own dim shadow on the wall" (189).
Caroline's disappointment and depression over Robert is interspersed
between chapters about Robert's controversial improvement of his
mill and his investigation into the vandals who destroyed his
machinery. He becomes "quite taken up with business: Hortense
feared he was killing himself by application: he scarcely ever took a
meal in the house; he lived in the countinghouse" (187).
This type of shifting focus, from Caroline's personal loneliness
to the political, economic concerns of the mill, has prompted critics to
disparage the novel for its fragmented structure and focus. Critics in
Bronte's day and today criticize her inability to synthesize what has
been described as a split between the public, historical concerns of
the novel and the private, romantic concerns of the novel. "It has
been faulted for failures of narrative power and synthesis, lack of
organic plot and structural unity, and for inconsistent narrative
voice" (Langland DPCN 25). As Elizabeth Langland has pointed out,
critics as diverse as Gilbert and Gubar and Bronte's contemporary
G. H. Lewes both condemn the novel as failed (25).31 Pauline Nestor

31 See Elizabeth Langland's "Dialogic Plots and Chameleon Narrators
in the Novels of Victorian Women Writers: The example of Charlotte

articulates the public versus private incompatibility. "The novel
remains fragmented at times, wrenching the focus awkwardly
between two heroines, the two heroes, and the religious, political and
social preoccupations of the work" (Nestor CB 70). Janet Gezari
highlights the implications of such shifting focus from class conflict to
personal conflict. "Shirley values individual conflict more than class
conflict and each character struggles with himself or herself more
than the social struggle in which they [sic] are caught up" (Gezari
110). "Shirley argues against any solution that is not an
individualizing one. It denies that oppression, is inherent in the
warped system of things" (115). Although she does not seem
conscious of it, Gezari's comment repeats the classic summarization of
the function of nineteenth-century realism: to authorize and
psychologize class and gender relations and thereby diffuse or
regulate the need for political action.32 Gezari points out only the

Bronte's Shirley." Langland will valorize the positive attributes of
novel's dialogism rather than fault its structure. "Bronte has created
alternative visions of romance and reality which remain in dialectical
tension." This productive tension creates a space for artistic play as
Bronte deconstructs and reconstructs the terms to suggest and
alternative feminine reality that refuses assimilation (26). All
references to this article are abbreviated as DPCN to distinguish them
from her article "Dialogue, Discourse, Theft, and Mimicry: Charlotte
Bronte Rereads William Makepeace Thackeray" which is abbreviated

32 See Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction for the most
thorough deployment of this theory. Armstrong insists the Victorian
novel was used as a disciplining agent through this type of
individualizing and psychologizing.

split here between public and private, not the way the terms
deconstruct to manage the "warped system of things."
Tess Cosslett provides a final example of a critic who also sees
the novel as a structural failure; her comment incidentally shifts
focus from the political/personal dichotomy and raises a question I
will continue to press on throughout this chapter. "The structure of
Shirley has often been criticized for its loose and fragmentary
qualities, but this very looseness is both caused by and allows a more
sustained and central exploration of female friendship for its own
sake than is usual in the well-structured marriage-plot" (Cosslett
111). Cosslett does not ask the question the comment presumes.
What is it about well-structured marriage-plots that forecloses a
sustained exploration of female friendship? Are they mutually
exclusive? There is a more compelling reason as to why the novel is
seen as disrupted.
It is not because of its dual focus on public and private
institutions. That dichotomy was entrenched and naturalized in
Victorian ideology and frequently articulated in novels, for example,
in Trollope's Barchester Towers, Thackeray's Henry Esmond, and
many others that combine private/romantic and historical/public
concerns. This novel is seen as fragmented because it fails to sustain
the allegiance between the courtship plot and linear development.
But what disrupts that courtship is not Robert's cold shoulder to
Caroline. Robert's concerns with the mill and subsequent rejection of
Caroline act only as a postponement or delay of their courtship. He
must work to attain a certain class position before he can marry her.
The shift to his career pursuits demonstrates his desire to overcome

the obstacles that prevent him from courting Caroline. It works in
the service of courtship, not against it.33
What does intercede and become incompatible with courtship
is Volume two. There we are introduced to a female homosocial
relationship. To read Shirlev through the opposition between public
and private is to overlook the succinct discrimination the novel
articulates between heterosexual and homosocial, between a
heterosexual domestic realm of marriage and an alternative,
homosocial realm of female love and ritual. As Cosslett points out,
the exploration and sustained female friendship plot has a narrative
effect on the marriage plot. Traditional sequential narrative
development has been determined in terms of heterosexuality.
Susan Stanford Friedman notes that this merger of the courtship plot
with linear narrative is so engrained as to make it seem part of the
condition of narrative itself. She argues that this allegiance can and
should be disaggregated (Homans 7). In the imposed system of
novelistic conventions and linear development, women's
interpersonal relations have generally gone unarticulated or have
been represented solely in terms of their service towards
heterosexual resolution. Even feminists critics, at times, can see
women characters only in these terms. Tess Cosslett's study on
women's friendships in literature focuses mainly on women whose
friendships function to bring them into a heterosexual relation.

33 Recall that Robert phrases his proposal to Caroline in precisely
economic terms after political events change. Now I can have a
house--a home .. .and now I can think of marriage; now I can seek a
wife" (594).