‘There never was a mistress whose rule was milder’: Sadomasochism and Female Identity in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette

  • Abigail BoucherEmail author
Part of the British Women’s Writing from Brontë to Bloomsbury, 1840-1940 book series (BWWFBB, volume 1)


This chapter discusses sadomasochism and female identity in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853), showing that the proto-feminist and masochist sides of Brontë’s heroines are not mutually exclusive. Triangulating Villette’s romantic subversiveness with 1850s calls for marriage reform and Brontë’s engagement with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s ‘The Master/Slave Dialectic,’ Boucher argues that Brontë reframes female submissiveness and self-sacrifice as a subversion, rather than reification, of patriarchal structures. Gender roles thereby become sources of power to Lucy Snowe, and Villette’s portrayal of consensual sadomasochistic relationships depicts the complexity of an individual woman’s desires, and the very novelty and complexity of those desires creates a proto-feminist space inside a greater culture of submission and (self-)victimization.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aston UniversityBirminghamUK

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