Jane Eyre: Redefining Sexuality Essay

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There are many different aspects to the concept of sexuality, encompassing one’s awareness of self as a man or woman, the expression of self as a sexual being, what makes one desirable, and the romantic or erotic interactions with another. Across continents and through time the way in which sexuality is expressed or portrayed, such as in literature, varies dramatically, leaving cultural and political impact on history. The character of Thel in William Blake’s The Book of Thel depicts the typical Victorian ideal of a woman: beautiful, charming, submissive and shy of the adult and sexual world; yet these societal values are incongruent with Charlotte Brontë’s character, Jane Eyre, who is plain but passionate, independent and seeks equality in a romantic union. The novel challenges Victorian notions of sexuality, redefining desirability, gender roles, and romantic interactions. The physical countenance of a person is often central to the perception of their sexuality through another’s eyes; in Victorian times a woman was highly valued for her refined beauty. Thel embodies the classical sense of a womanly figure: gentle, graceful, maidenly- an image reinforced by Blake’s tone of Romanticism. His comparisons of her to many beautiful things found in nature, such as her “morning beauty” and “gentle lamentation [that] falls like morning dew”, suggests an earthly beauty (Christ 1426). Written thirty years prior to the Victorian age, Blake’s poem embodies a generally desired sense of beauty that sets the stage for 19th century ideals. In stark contrast with this idyllic woman, Jane Eyre’s countenance is that of a plain, pale, petite young woman of an “otherworldly” appearance. Brontë accentuates this inconsistency by providing her heroin with two different character foils: that of Miss Blanche Ingram and Miss Rosamond Oliver; both embody a physical perfection that Jane

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