Transcending the Triangle of Desire: Eros and the "Fulfillment of Love" in Middlemarch and Jane Eyre

By Bubel, Katherine | Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Transcending the Triangle of Desire: Eros and the "Fulfillment of Love" in Middlemarch and Jane Eyre


Bubel, Katherine, Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature


"'We may at least have the comfort of speaking to each other without disguise. Since I must go away--since we must always be divided--you may think of me as one on the brink of the grave.' ... and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm.... Then they turned their faces towards each other...."

--Middlemarch, 621

"I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh--it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal--as we are."

--Jane Eyre, 216

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."

--John 12:24

IN Love Declared, Denis de Rougemont traces what he considers to be the central topos of the Western literary tradition since the twelfth century, the opposition of passionate desire (eros) to the "fulfillment of love" in marriage. (1) According to this antithetical formulation, the eroticism of the former takes the shape of either of two recurring extreme "myths of love," the "mystical passion" of Tristan or the "impious license" of Don Juan, "the one beyond, the other this side of marriage ..." (11). De Rougemont writes: "our arts have always retreated before [marriage]. ... our literatures, impotent to create the myth of ideal marriage, have lived on its diseases" (161). But two works of Victorian literature, George Eliot's Middlemarch and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, apparently succeed in pushing beyond de Rougemont's proposed mythic opposition of committed love and erotic passion. Both novels considered here conclude with depictions of the impassioned lovers overcoming all obstacles to enter into the happy and fruitful (each with a child) estate of matrimony.

However, in the following exploration of the relationships of Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch (which will involve consideration of Dorothea's prior marriage to Edward Casaubon), and of Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre (with reference to Jane's response to St. John River's marriage proposal), I have chosen to view the characters through the "structural model" of triangulated positions of desire as presented in Rend Girard's Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. This lens problematizes the relationships, for Girard insists on "the necessity of dying" to self (312) which involves the "[r]epudiation of a human mediator and renunciation of deviated transcendency" (312) in order for lovers to escape the imprisonment of triangular desire. I will provide further elucidation of this statement below. Applying the insights of both Girard and de Rougemont (to whom Girard makes several references) in an analysis of each novelistic pairing, I conclude that de Rougemont's pronouncement is indeed applicable to Middlemarch, despite its "happily ever after" ending, but that Jane Eyre transcends it.

Girard posits his "systematic metaphor," the triangle of desire, as a recurring, universal pattern of the "mystery" of human relations conveyed in the medium of the novel. He asserts that desire is inter-subjective, arising from the influence of a mediator upon the desiring subject, hence the three points of the triangle: subject, mediator, and object (2). "Imitative desire" is aroused in the subject, intentionally or not, by the mediator who possesses, desires, or provides access to the object of desire. Girard further denotes two possible modes of triangular desire depicted in literature: external mediation, in which the mediator is distant and inaccessible to the subject but whose influence is foregrounded in the work; and internal mediation, in which the mediator is within the realm of the subject, thus becoming a rival or obstacle, but whose influence is veiled within the novel to create an illusion of subjective, autonomous desire (9-11). …

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