Hysteria, Female Desire, and Self-Control in Villette

  • Beth Torgerson


Of the novels written by Charlotte Brontë, Shirley is most straightforward in its capturing of the idea that the body is the site of struggle where ideological battles are played out. In Shirley, the world is in flux, and the war abroad and the civil strife at home provide examples of how external circumstances affect the characters’ lives. In Villette, however, the outer world is significantly more stable, and the wars are largely internal psychological tensions. In Shirley, Brontë highlights conflict and war, making war one of the novel’s dominant metaphors. The war in France affects the English homefront. Ideologies are at war on both the national and international levels. Shirley explores the tensions at home in England between classes, between genders, between industry and nature, and between the Anglican church and the dissenters, all of which are heightened due to the war abroad. Caroline, Shirley, Robert, and Louis find their hopes and expectations in conflict with the reality that this war brings. Wherever there is conflict, there is a wounded body to signify this conflict. The bodies of the four leading characters can be seen as battlegrounds on which the ideological wars scar and deplete the wholeness of the individual.


Single Woman Female Character Physical Body Moral Sentiment Cultural Constraint 
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© Beth E. Torgerson 2005

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  • Beth Torgerson

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