of the erotic hierarchy and its unworkable inequities for both men and women. The Professor traces the power and the pain of the domination/submission configuration through the experience of the male subject, while Jane Eyre enacts the wish-fulfillment of the female object who is miraculously transformed into an equal subject by the end of the novel. In Shirley the female object's protests against her passive role become too insistent to ignore, disrupting the deceptively smooth conclusion of the novel's events, and in Villette a feminist solution is finally offered to the problem, the solution of a nearly mutual subjectivity in erotic relations.
In Villette the feminine struggle for self-control begun by Jane Eyre and continued with increasing difficulty by Caroline Helstone has become much more complex than simply the effort not to lose a man through the betrayal of feelings. Jane Eyre plays the game of repression and wins, Caroline Helstone plays it much less successfully and nearly loses (amid much bitter protest in each novel against the necessity for such repression), but in Villette we are given a heroine who finally opts out of the game. Lucy Snowe, just as bitterly angry as Jane Eyre or Shirley's implied author about the need to squelch the expression of female desire, at first experiences the kind of love (the "love born of beauty") which demands that she stifle her feelings for Graham, which she does by biting her tongue, swallowing her tears and burying her letters from him. But she then goes on to experience a love that is comfortable and nurturing--at its deepest level a kind of maternal love--and which demands no deception or repression in order to survive. This new love is adult and mutual but also, through its oedipal aspects and its hints of aggression, still erotic; its fulfillment in no way constitutes an anticlimax or a substitute for the real thing (as the final union between Hardy's Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak appears to, for example), even if we choose to believe in the drowning of M. Paul. 11
Charlotte Brontë courageously explores the complexities of erotic relationships in her work, fearlessly probing both the power and the pain of the male-female domination/submission hierarchy from both the male and the female point of view. Her plain heroines display increasing dissatisfaction with their submissive roles in the erotic hierarchy until finally in Villette, her most powerful and most painful novel, Lucy Snowe achieves a relationship in which she becomes, at least tentatively, the authentic subject of her own desire. In the context of the nineteenth-century novel, this constitutes a major achievement.