The Stone and the Scorpion: The Female Subject of Desire in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy

By Judith Mitchell | Go to book overview

2
CHARLOTTE BRONTË

Robert Keefe sees a progression in Charlotte Brontë's work from possession (in The Professor) through innocence (in lane Eyre) and emptiness (in Shirley) to exile (in Villette). Tracing Brontë's creative impulse to what Keefe considers to be "the single most important event" in her life, the death of her mother when she was a child, Keefe, like many other critics, sees in the novels a pattern of increasing abandonment. I see a wholly different pattern of progression in these remarkable novels, a pattern that moves from domination of self and others in The Professor to conventional male/female erotic domination in Jane Eyre to a questioning of this fantasy in Shirley to a qualified, negotiated emotional equality in Villette. In fact, of the novelists I shall discuss, Charlotte Brontë comes the closest to creating a female subject of desire, so that I was initially tempted to proceed, as Dianne Sadoff does in Monsters of Affection, in an anti-chronological order, beginning with Hardy and concluding with Brontë. Sadoff does this type of chronological juggling because she is concerned with Freudian progressions, from primal scene metaphors in Dickens to seduction metaphors in George Eliot to castration metaphors in Brontë. Sadoff is concerned in particular with fatherhood and, while her analysis is valuable and insightful, it leaves room for further analysis. In fact, while parental love and abandonment are undoubtedly important to Charlotte Brontë's work, neither Keefe's mother-love nor Sadoff's father-love tens the whole story, as I shall show in the following chapter.

The desire for the mother and the desire for the father are both subsumed in the desire and need of mature adult male-female relationships in many novels, and particularly in those of the Victorian period. If such desires are closer to the surface, more obvious and accessible, in Brontë's novels it is because her analysis of such relationships is both penetrating and honest. Her understanding of erotic domination and submission is acute, and her

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The Stone and the Scorpion: The Female Subject of Desire in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Women's Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • 1 - Introduction: The Erotic Subject 1
  • Notes 26
  • 2 - Charlotte Bronte 29
  • Notes 82
  • 3 - George Eliot 85
  • Notes 153
  • 4 - Thomas Hardy 155
  • Notes 207
  • 5 - Conclusion 209
  • Works Cited 213
  • Index 221
  • About the Author 229
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