Beauty and the Representation of Authenticity: Women in Jane Eyre

July 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the novel Jane Eyre, author Charlotte Bronte places great importance on the appearance of her characters, repeatedly evaluating their attractiveness through narrative descriptions and dialogue. Her heroine, Jane, is mentioned countless times as plain, small and unpleasant looking. Jane’s rival, Blanche Ingram, is described as the opposite; she is beautiful and ornate, heavily adorned with jewels and bright colors. Rochester chooses to marry Jane over Blanche, and by doing so he emphasizes the importance of a heroine’s female authenticity, or worthiness of trust, belief and reliance. In Jane Eyre, Bronte uses Blanche and Jane’s differences in beauty to illustrate female authenticity, or lack thereof. Jane is unadorned by jewels and fancy colors, reflecting a more genuine, direct person. It is Blanche’s construction of beauty that impairs her authenticity; her ample decorations, colors and even her way of speaking are conventionally beautiful, but are merely adornments that disguise her true self.Even in the beginning chapters when Jane is recalling her childhood, Jane’s unattractiveness is clear. Jane is excluded from playing with Mrs. Reed’s children unless she achieves ” – a more attractive and sprightly manner” (1). When Jane falls ill, she overhears a servant declare ” Poor Miss Jane is to be pitied too – If she were a nice, pretty child, one might compassionate her forlornness; but one really cannot care for a toad such as that” (58). Even Jane herself reflects that had she been “a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child – Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently” (47). Jane fails to improve as she ages; she is still plain and simple when she arrives at Thornfield.Jane is no competition for Blanche Ingram. From the moment she is introduced as Rochester’s intended bride, the novel is filled with descriptions of her perfection. Jane describes Blanche as “moulded like a Diana – the noble bust, the sloping shoulders, the graceful neck, the dark eyes and the black ringlets were all there” (201). Mrs. Fairfax recalls her first impression of Blanche, saying “Miss Ingram was considered the belle of the evening,” and although most of the women present were handsome, “Miss Ingram was certainly the queen” (188-189). Overall, Blanche Ingram’s appearance is superior to all around her, especially Jane.Aside from Blanche’s obvious physical attractiveness, she is beautifully decorated as well. When characters describe Blanche, they immediately are drawn to her appearance. When Mrs. Fairfax recounts her first encounter with Blanche, the details she remembers most clearly are the colors and aesthetics of her clothes. She was “dressed in pure white, an amber colored scarf was passed along her shoulder and across her breast – she wore an amber colored flower, too, which contrasted well with her jetty mass of curls” (189). When Jane is watching Blanche from the window, the first thing she notes is that “her purple riding-habit almost swept the ground, her veil streamed along the breeze – “(196). Blanche is nothing short of picturesque at every moment, armed always with attractive, striking colors and perfect robes.However, it is interesting to note that both Mrs. Fairfax and Jane initially comment on the colors of Blanche’s various outfits, not actually Blanche herself. In fact, Blanche is most often described through the clothing and colors she wears. When Rochester purchases a carriage for her, he declares “won’t she look like a Queen Boadicea, leaning back against those purple cushions?” immediately picturing Blanche according to her possessions (273). It is significant that Bronte also includes Blanche in the charade, and each of her costumes is described in careful detail. In the first scene, Blanche is adorned with “a long veil on her head, and a wreath of roses on her brow” (212). In the next, she wears “a crimson scarf tied round her waist” (213). Finally, at the end of the charade Rochester mimes the presentation of “magnificent bracelets and earrings”(213). Blanche’s adornment is a central to her character, she is continuously described according her ornaments.In contrast, Jane dresses very simply, often comparing herself to a Quaker because of her plainness. She wears a broach once at Mrs. Fairfax’ suggestion, beyond that she is unadorned. When she meets Rochester for the first time, she takes care to mention that “I – replaced my black stuff dress by one of black silk; the best and only additional one that I had, except one of light gray” (151). Jane dresses only in serious, colors: black and gray. When Jane and Rochester becomes engaged, Rochester attempts to buy Jane half a dozen dresses in vibrant colors to replace her old ones. Jane refuses, convincing him to settle on ” a sober black satin and a pearl gray silk” (296). As a result of Jane’s plain clothes, she is not immediately defined by what she wears. Throughout the novel, clothing and decoration are never central to Jane’s character; her clothes do not attract attention as they do with Blanche.Blanche’s attractiveness is also conveyed in the way that she speaks; she has learned to speak with wit and sharpness. As a lady, Blanche does not always say what she means; she speaks with coyness and subtleties that cloud her words. Jane describes Blanche, saying “she laughed continually: her laugh was satirical, and so was the habitual expression of her arched and haughty lip” (202). Blanche meets Adele for the first time and is equally haughty: “Miss Ingram looked down at her with a mocking air, and exclaimed, ‘Oh what a little puppet!'”(202). Although Blanche behaves outwardly as she should, her voice is layered with her true opinions, which are mocking and condescending. Blanche acts ladylike and speaks as a woman is expected to speak, but she lacks sincerity and authenticity in her words.Jane, again, is the complete opposite of Blanche. Her language is clear and direct; she is never facetious or sarcastic. In fact, the plainness of her speech is one of Jane’s flaws; She fails to cloak her strong opinions with ambiguous language. During one of their first meetings at Thornfield, Rochester asks Jane whether she finds him attractive. Jane reflects: “I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware, ‘No Sir'” (162). In the same vein, Jane does not use coyness as a female ploy. When Rochester proposes, her shock is genuine; it is not manufactured or belabored for the sake of being modest or cute.As a result of Jane’s simplicity she is left more exposed. Blanche, however, is protected because of her construction of beauty. Just as she layers her language with sarcasm and coyness, her appearance is likewise layered through all her fancy gowns and striking colors. It becomes impossible to distinguish where Blanche lies amid all her decorations and her many faces; it is herein that her authenticity fails. Blanche cannot be worthy of trust, belief, and reliance because her true beliefs are too indistinguishable by the many parts of her appearance. Ultimately, Blanche is not a kind person; her attempt toward outward beauty caused her to appear one way and then act another, solidifying her lack of authenticity. Jane states that Blanche “gave to a spiteful antipathy she conceived against little Adele – sometimes ordering her from the room, and always treating her with coldness and acrimony” (215). Later, Blanche accosts a servant, shouting “cease that chatter you blockhead! and do my bidding” (222). In the end, she is easily disposable because her heart was never involved: she quickly vanishes when she believes Rochester no longer has money.However, Jane’s female authenticity is not the result of merely being a good woman. Jane possesses authenticity because she is a sincere woman. Throughout the novel, Jane presents nothing but herself: there are no gorgeous gowns and jewelry to attract the eye or create the faÃ?ade of beauty, her words cannot be interpreted to mean anything else except what they are literally stating. Jane’s responses are at times harsh and blunt, but they are always honest. When watching Blanche with Rochester, Jane comments: – she need not coin her smiles so lavishly, flash her glances so unremittingly, manufacture airs so elaborate, graces so multitudinous, It appears to me that she might, by merely sitting quietly and looking less, get nigher to his heart (216).It is female authenticity that Jane is suggesting: If Blanche had acted with more genuineness she would be more likely to succeed in winning Rochester. Her actions, although acceptable female behavior, are excessive and false, and thus not worthy of trust or belief. Ironically, Jane suggests for Blanche what ultimately is the reason for her own success; Jane’s appearance and behavior are more believable purely because they are not contrived.If Rochester had been evaluating his potential brides solely on their physical attributes, Blanche would have been the clear winner on every account. However, Rochester chooses Jane, the woman of lesser beauty. Because Bronte contrasts the women with such detail and attention, Rochester’s action becomes much more significant. Blanche’s beauty, from the way she dresses to the way she behaves, is exquisitely crafted, but it remains too manufactured. Jane’s plainness in her appearance and speech reflects a greater simplicity: a clear presentation of character. In having Rochester choose Jane, Bronte chooses authenticity over the ornate.

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