The central theme of Jane Eyre, Villette and Shirley lies within the complex issue of the doubled female. Bronti?? persistently returns to this theme in order to vocalise her personal fears on the representations and expectations of the woman in a patriarchal society. As Jennifer Gribble suggests, this vocalising is apparent through, ‘a recurrence of images and patterns that seem to define prevalent social and cultural beliefs and traditions.
1 In order to portray the strain under which women were placed in the nineteenth century, Bronti?? repeatedly fractures the emotional and physical state of her protagonists and in doing so ‘explore(s) the potentialities and limits of a central reflecting consciousness. ‘2 This fracturing of the self creates the ‘double female’ in these novels, the female as consciously and emotionally split, either implicitly through the mirroring of the self by other characters, for example Caroline and Shirley or metaphorically, for example Jane and Bertha.
Bronti?? seeks to illustrate in Shirley, Jane Eyre and Villette the impossibility of obtaining knowledge of self and of reclaiming self hood, faced by all of her female characters. In doing so, Charlotte Bronti?? viscously attacks not only patriarchy, but also the actual act of defining the woman, and suggests that in an effort to define the female to exact proportions, patriarchy effectively creates a race of women forever haunted by their inability to live up to patriarchal designs.
Patriarchy is an important theme within these three novels, as it represents, in itself, the expectations placed on the female, and also the repression suffered by the protagonists. In each novel, patriarchy is established right from the first chapter, in order to render the reader aware of the establishments that the protagonists seek to defy. Shirley, for example, beautifully parodies the curates at their meal, literally devouring everything that the housekeeper brings them.
In itself, this is a terrifying picture of the male appetite, a picture that is to stay with the novel, in characters such as Robert Moore and Mr Yorke, throughout Shirley. John Reed establishes male rule at Gateshead, in Jane Eyre, as does the fact that Jane is locked into the room of a dead male relative, suggestive in itself that it is the male figure of authority that instigates punishment. ‘There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired,’3 says Jane of John Reed.
Yet despite Jane’s own knowledge that it is only her fear of John that allows him to have power over her, Jane still finds herself ‘[H]abitually obedient to John,’4 therefore allowing him power over her and power to create terror in her. It is only in Villette that male dominance is created subjectively through Graham Bretton, subjectively, of course, because it is Lucy’s own desire for Dr. John that allows him to have any dominance over her at all. It is curious to observe that in Villette, Lucy feels dominated not only through her adoration of Graham, but also through the masculine Madame Beck.
Madame Beck of course is also in love with Graham Bretton, and provides a sinister addition to the suppression Lucy feels: not only must Lucy face self repression from her love of the male, but also from the female who acts in a characteristically masculine manner. It is important that a male dominance is established from the outset in order to sustain the fact that, in each case, not only does the male suppress the female, and hence create dominance and patriarchy, but also to illustrate that the only possible hope for a satisfactory, rather than fulfilled, life for Shirley Keeldar, Caroline Helstone, Lucy Snowe and Jane Eyre, is to marry.
In short, these females effectively aim to maintain a form of patriarchy by actively seeking to become married and therefore maintain male domination over themselves. It can be seen therefore, that from the outset of the novel, the protagonists of Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette are split. Bronti??’s antagonistic depictions of male dominance suggest that the female requires more than a ‘master. ‘5 Yet in all three of the novels, the conclusion finds the female in the hands of the male, ‘[T]ame or fierce, wild or subdued.. mine. ‘ Louis Moore claims his prize, as, eventually, so do Rochester, M.
Paul and Robert Moore. The fact that each protagonist enters the novel upon a form of pilgrimage, in search of self-hood and knowledge, only to reach an ending that denies them complete self- knowledge through marriage, epitomises these three novels. Doubling of the female through the splitting of consciousness ensures nothing but confusion and despair, suggests Bronti??: it is submission that counts to the male. As Eagleton suggests, ‘Charlotte’s protagonists want independence, but they also desire to dominate; and their desire to dominate is matched only by their impulse to submit to a superior will. 6 Once again, the female consciousness is split: the desire for independence is great, but the ‘impulse,’ the ingrained pressure of society, to submit is even greater.
The reader is faced with an overtly dominant woman in Shirley. Shirley Keeldar, the heiress with money, beauty, eloquence and grace, in short the heroine after which the novel is named, is introduced to the reader after twelve chapters. In this manner, Shirley is similar to Villette, as Madame Beck is introduced to the novel only after Lucy’s character has been defined to the reader in the first few chapters.
Just as Shirley enters the novel as a masculine mirror to Caroline, Madame Beck enters Villette as a female masculine dominator to Lucy: ‘[S]he is a masculine woman holding a man’s position as landowner,’7 suggests Eagleton of Shirley. Yet Shirley is only ‘masculine’ because she is powerful, as Madame Beck’s masculinity also derives from her wealth. Shirley’s masculinity comes not from facial or physical features, but from an assumption that men were landowners, and men inherited.
In Jane Eyre and Villette the protagonist stands alone from the outset, but Caroline Helstone is deliberately and literally doubled upon the arrival of Shirley into the narrative. This doubling occurs in the chapter ‘Shirley and Caroline,’ where the reader discovers that, while more outspoken, Shirley implicitly mirrors every aspect of Caroline: ‘it is only at this point… that Bronti?? introduces Shirley Keeldar, a heroine who serves in all ways as a contrast to Caroline. ‘8 Each woman looks alike, have the same tastes in music, reading, and love of company.
In fact, their tastes so parallel one another’s, that each ends the novel by marrying one of the Moore brothers, creating an ever greater sense of doubling as, not only do Shirley and Louis Moore mirror Caroline and Robert Moore, but the blood lines of Caroline and Shirley are effectively joined through the marriage: ‘I never had a sister-you never had a sister,’9 cries Caroline to Shirley in chapter fourteen. That is, of course, until marriage renders them doubled, side by side, until death. ‘Caroline is the typical Charlotte heroine,’10 beautiful, quiet, alone with few or no relatives.
Caroline epitomises the requirements for the woman in the nineteenth century novel, but like all Bronti?? heroines she is in need of ‘perfect control and guidance of her feelings. ’11 Caroline, then, is doubled not only with Shirley, but with Lucy Snowe and Jane Eyre, who are equally conscious of their need to rule themselves: ‘next day I was again Lucy Snowe,’12 says Lucy after an incidence when ‘[C]omplicated, disquieting thoughts broke up the whole repose of [her] nature. ’13 Unlike Caroline and Shirley, however, Lucy Snowe and Jane Eyre are not implicitly physically doubled.
The doubling of Lucy and Jane occurs through various characters within the novel, for example Miss Marchmont in the case of Lucy, and Bertha Rochester in the case of Jane. Jane and Lucy are doubled through the suppressed aspects of their personalities, or desired qualities within themselves that are dominantly prevalent in characters such as Bertha or Miss Marchmont. What is vital to observe is that the female characters that surround the protagonists of Villette and Jane Eyre represent Lucy and Jane as they could have been, for as their analysis of Villette, Gilbert and Gubar suggest, Polly, ‘is, in fact, Lucy Snowe born under a lucky star. 14 ‘Polly acts out all those impulses already repressed by Lucy, so that the two girls represent the two sides of Lucy’s divided self,’15 state Gilbert and Gubar, but Polly only acts out what Lucy wishes to be because Lucy is unable to come to terms with her own consciousness.
Lucy has buried her inner being so far within her own mind that expression of emotion is no longer an option. Instead, from the very moment Polly enters the narrative, Lucy seethes with jealously, cautiously observing the ‘little woman’ who has displaced her as the doted child of the household.
Lucy silently destroys Polly in her referral once to her as a doll: ‘Seated on my godmother’s lap, she looked a mere doll; her neck, delicate as wax, her head of silky curls, increased, I thought, the resemblance. ’16 Unlike Ginevra Fanshawe, who also outshines Lucy in beauty, Lucy does not even credit Polly with a personality. Doubling, it appears, occurs not only in Bronti??’s characters, but in the plot itself, as is seen when Lucy is once again replaced by Polly in ‘La Terrace. ‘
Miss Marchmont, on the other hand, represents for Lucy everything she could become if she allowed her unrequited love for Graham Bretton to remain unchecked. However, it is ambiguous to the reader as to whether Lucy ever does stop loving Dr. John. Lucy simply buries her love emotionally and physically. Lucy’s act of burying Dr. John’s letters in the garden significantly mirrors Miss Marchmont. Lucy is unable to let go of her love, so she buries it, deep within her own consciousness and deep beneath the guarding pear tree, ‘.. I was not only going to hide a treasure-I meant also to bury a grief. 17 Just as Lucy’s love for Dr. John has haunted her until this point in the novel, and, the reader suspects, will continue to haunt her, Miss Marchmont confesses that, even after thirty years, ‘I still think of Frank more than God. ’18 Again, the reader notices that the female remains dominated by the male, only by the female’s inability to let go.
Inability to let go is also what causes Caroline Helstone to pine away nearly to death. Most notably, however, the desire to be suppressed is epitomised by Jane. Critics state that Jane’s most inherent doubling occurs through the character of Bertha Rochester, ‘Bertha… s Jane’s truest and darkest double,’19 yet, as with Lucy, whose doubling is created through the projection of her inner desires onto other characters, Jane also wishes to become Miss Temple and Helen Burns: ‘[F]oremost among those Jane admires are the noble Miss Temple and the pathetic Helen Burns. ’20 Whilst at Lowood, under the supervision of Miss Temple, and, for a short period Helen Burns, Jane is able to govern herself: ‘Miss Temple, through all changes, had thus far continued superintendent of the seminary: to her instruction I owed the best part of my acquirements.
21 However, the death of Helen, and later the departure of Miss Temple, who leaves, it should be noted, to be married and therefore enters under the rule of the male, shakes Jane’s ability to control her inner repressed needs: From the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling, every association that had made Lowood in some degree a home to me. I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits: more harmonious thoughts: what seemed better regulated feelings had become the inmates of my mind.
I had given in allegiance and duty and order; I was quiet; I believed I was content: to the eyes of others, usually even to my own, I appeared a disciplined and subdued character. 22 Jane, then, no longer under the guidance of the aptly named Miss Temple, can maintain the fai??ade of a contented, silent woman no more: ‘I had undergone a transforming process; that my mind had put off all it had borrowed from Miss Temple-or rather she had taken with her the serene atmosphere I had been breathing in her vicinity- and that now I was left in my natural element; and beginning to feel the stirring of old emotions.
23 The important phrase here is ‘borrowed. ‘ What Jane attempted to be, the double of Miss Temple, was impossibility because Jane would never have the natural leaning to subdued emotions that Miss Temple is master of. Indeed, it is frightening to analyse how Bronti??’s description of Miss Temple is disturbingly close to the description of Mary Cave in Shirley, a woman whom Caroline is seemingly attempting to emulate in her starvation of mind and body: ‘[A] girl with the face of a Madonna; a girl of living marble-stillness personified. (My emphasis). 24 ‘Miss Temple had looked down when he first began to speak to her; but she now gazed straight before her, and her face, naturally pale as marble, appeared to be assuming also the coldness and fixity of that material; especially her mouth closed as if it would have required a sculptor’s chisel to open it. ‘ (My emphasis). 25 Shirley is also seen to represent the girl of living death when her Uncle begins to pressure her into thoughts of marriage.
Shirley, sure in her own mind that a scene will occur from her rejection of Samuel Fawthrop Wynne, embodies Mary Cave herself: ‘[S]he was pale as the white marble slab and cornice behind her. ‘ It seems, then, that Jane must reject the governing influence of Miss Temple, not only to prevent herself from becoming ‘a girl of living marble,’ but to enable the second part of her pilgrimage towards self, and the opposite half of her nature’s doubling, to begin. It is also apparent that in each of the novels, when the protagonists are faced with difficult situations, or find themselves in situations they cannot handle, they retreat.
In the cases of Shirley and Caroline, the retreat takes place physically, each doubling by returning to represent the favoured image of the angel Mary Cave: ‘Caroline… follows the example set by Mary Cave: standing in shadows, shrinking into the concealment of her own mind, she too becomes a mere white mould, or rigid piece of statuary. ’26 Lucy, however, retreats into the garden to retreat psychologically and escape the convent-like school, just as her spectral double the nun is seen walking in the garden, escaping the confines of suffocating convent life.
Jane, however, escapes in the most unconventionally English manner possible. She simply runs away. From Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield and Marsh End, Jane physically and mentally retreats, leaving behind her, not the ordered silent image of the quiet marble girl, but the picture of the enraged, confused young woman. Once Jane leaves Lowood, the second part of her pilgrimage towards self begins, just as the arrival of Shirley allows Caroline to embark on the second part of her search, and Lucy’s departure from England leaves Lucy physically free to begin a new life.
Notice, however, that with all three novels, none of the protagonists are able to raise themselves socially upon this embarkation into the second stage of their pilgrimage. Lucy leaves England with virtually no social standing or indeed identity: ‘who are you, Miss Snowe,’27 Ginevra Fanshawe repeatedly asks of Lucy. Caroline still yearns for the solitude and hard work of the governess, and, in the case of Jane Eyre, while she leaves the school she is ultimately, in her position as governess to Adeli??, a teacher. Bronti?? suggests through this fixing of social status that there is nothing else for her characters to become.
The protagonists will all finish their pilgrimages married because the only alternatives are to become Miss Marchmont, Miss Mann, or Miss Ainsley. Yet Bronti?? pushes her protagonists further along the road of self-discovery in order to render them aware that unless they come to terms with the inevitably closeted world of the female, their pilgrimage will never end, and the consciousness will remain fractured. Wholeness of self, Bronti?? argues, can only be achieved through acceptance of patriarchy, and it is denial of patriarchy and subscribed views of the female that create the fractured self of the female.
Indeed, it is noticeable that, in the cases of all the protagonists, Bronti?? initially sets up the female to become quiet, calm and subdued, and the remaining part of her narration destroys any sense calm because the search for wholeness can only be achieved through the destruction of the status quo. It seems that Bronti?? was greatly concerned about the effects of suppressing the woman, it can only be maintained so long, she suggests, before the repressed consciousness splits, break s down and becomes tormented. Indeed there was no way to keep well under the circumstances,’
28 says Lucy when she is left alone to wrestle her own thoughts during the long vacation. This phrase of Lucy’s, it seems, epitomises the impossibility of maintaining wholeness of consciousness for all of the protagonists. Jane is so closely, repeatedly, connected with the character of Bertha Rochester. Bertha embodies the sexual, wanton aspect of Jane’s needy personality. Jane not only needs to be freed from the confines of her governess position, but also literally depends upon its destruction in order to save her life.
It is only when Jane is in the presence of Bertha, in the direct vicinity of her ‘darkest twin,’ the woman who actively lives the hidden aspects of Jane’s desires that Jane is able to break out of her governess cocoon. Jane acknowledges the existence of a strange woman in the house, whom she thinks is Grace Poole. However, Jane’s persistent need to seek out Grace Poole, her desire to see her and speak to her, is simply Bronti??’s using the image of the search for a madwoman as a metaphor for Jane’s own inner madness.
Simply put, Jane is Bertha Rochester, Jane is her own mad woman, and wholeness of self is only achieved when Jane acknowledges this: [D]o you think I can stay to become nothing to you? ‘ Shouts Jane to Rochester. ‘Do you think I am an automaton? -a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? ’29 Ironically, Jane acknowledges herself half way through the novel, but she uses this acknowledgement as both ammunition and defence.
By the point in the novel quoted above, Jane knows what she wants, Rochester, and is no longer afraid of using her knowledge and acceptance of herself to obtain it. Jane’s greatest fear lies in her ability to maintain her selfhood on her own terms. It is this challenge to selfhood that creates the fractured self for the remains of the novel, for example in the character of St. John. John Rivers recognises Jane’s wholeness and seeks to challenge this by suggesting to Jane that they marry and become missionaries in India.
However, Jane does not go, she cannot go, because her whole sense of selfhood rejects it: ‘ but as his wife-at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked-forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital-this would be unendurable. ’30 It is not any lack of love or respect that prevents Jane from going, but an intense fear of losing the wholeness of self and the acknowledgement that she has needs.
Jane cannot go, because Rivers recognises her wholeness and seeks to destroy it by forcing Jane to once again split her consciousness by denying who she is: a woman. It is interesting to notice that Bronti??’s description of Bertha, the exotic woman from the West Indies, the foreigner who embodies all things wanton and free, could not contrast more to the ‘perfect’ example of the English female depicted to the reader in the cases of Mary Cave and Miss Temple: ‘ [A] woman, tall and large with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back… and features… fearful and ghastly to me… discoloured face… a savage face… the lips were swelled and dark; the brow furrowed; the black eye-brows widely raised over the blood shot eyes. ’31 Bronti?? is suggesting that in order to retreat from the view of the woman established by patriarchy, the female must resort to the exact opposite of her designed mould. As Gilbert and Gubar point out, Bronti?? is the type of novelist ‘who frequently juxtaposes two characters, the one representing the socially acceptable or conventional personality, the other externalising the free, uninhibited criminal self.
32 However, what can be seen in these three novels, is that none of the characters that are doubled quite match up to the extremes described by Gilbert and Gubar. For example, Bertha Rochester does represent the ‘uninhibited criminal self’ half of Jane’s nature, but Jane does not represent a ‘socially acceptable or conventional personality. ‘ Jane cannot represent the model female, the model represented by, for her, Helen Burns and Miss Temple, because the reader has already observed her inability to contain her emotions without guidance.
Neither does Caroline Helstone represent a conventional personality, just as, although headstrong and opinionated, Shirley is most certainly not an ‘uninhibited criminal self. ‘ In fact, although Caroline actively seeks to become a conventional personality, by visiting Miss Mann and Miss Ainsley, her soul rebels against such confinement, “[A]m I always to be curbed and kept down? ,” demanded Caroline. ’33 Again, Lucy is neither physically doubled by a character who is ‘criminally uninhibited,’ nor is she herself a model character. Madame Beck spies and suppresses Lucy will, but she commits no criminal offence.
Lucy, harshly judgmental of Polly and Ginevra, whilst condemned almost to a life of solitude, hardly moralises or earns her way out of her situation. Instead, Lucy is saved because someone loves her, not through any real effort of her own. In short these women cannot be inherently doubled by the women alongside them, because these ‘doubles’ are, in fact, themselves. Lucy cannot reject the tyrannical M. Paul, or the whimsical Ginevra Fanshawe, or the epitome of loveliness, Polly, because in every sense, each character embodies the protagonist.
Every character that surrounds the main protagonist mirrors, or doubles, an aspect of their personality, consequently physically splitting the consciousness of the protagonist and literally doubling the female on paper. As Eagleton argues about Charlotte’s characters, ‘[H]er protagonists are an extraordinarily contradictory amalgam of smouldering rebelliousness and prim conventionalism, gushing Romantic fantasy and canny hard-heartedness, quivering sensitivity and blunt rationality. 34 In short, Charlotte’s protagonists are constructed through the author borrowing aspects from all her other characters and combining them within the protagonist to create a confused and fractured personality.
It is interesting to notice that Jane initially sees Bertha through the mirror, ‘she took the veil from its place; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite distinctly in the dark oblong glass. 35 At this moment in the novel, it is clear that Bronti?? is momentarily replacing Bertha with Jane. Bertha, the wife of Rochester, the madwoman in the Attic, at the moment of looking into the mirror, represents for Jane what she will become if she marries Rochester. The fact that Jane fearfully relates this story to Rochester, as way of an omen of their live together, can only prove that Jane was under no illusion that the figure in the mirror was what she feared herself to be in years to come: a blood sucking life reducing vampire.
Jane’s discomfort throughout the novel of her social position, and the rejections she attempts at Rochester’s presents illustrates Jane’s anger. Jane is not simply afraid actually being a kept woman and losing her independence, but she is afraid of becoming Blanche Ingram and Bertha Rochester in the same person: rich, haughty, down beaten and most significantly what Bertha ultimately is, due not only to her imprisonment but to the name Jane gives her, the living dead. What Jane then sees, is not only a doubled reflection of a part of her own character, but also what she describes as a ‘Vampyre,’36the living dead.
Spectral or illusionary doubling is also strongly apparent in Villette and Shirley. Most notably, Lucy is doubled by the nun; a woman who the girls of the school think was buried alive for ‘some sin against her vow. ’37 Like the nun, Lucy is confined within the walls not only of the convent, but of a society that confines and represses. Lucy finds within the school religious suppression, just as she fears the nun felt. Madame Beck, on the first night Lucy is at the school, searches through her luggage, thus providing for the remains of the novel an eerie atmosphere of suspicion, anxiety and deception.
Lucy views Madame Beck as both the spy and the respected school, governor, doubling and splitting perceptions of good and evil. Lucy meets the image of the nun in much the same manner; it both terrifies and fascinates her. It terrifies her, of course, because Lucy believes that the nun is an illusion created by her over strained, imaginative brain. And an imaginative brain is something which Lucy defiantly denies, ‘I, Lucy Snowe, plead guiltless of that curse, an overheated and discursive imagination. ’38 Once again, Lucy splits her views with M. Paul, seeing him as both a friend and a tyrannical male.
It is interesting to note that Lucy falls in love with a man who holds much the same characteristics as Shirley’s love, Louis Moore. Both men seek to control the female, ‘[Y]ou are one of those beings that must be kept down,’39 says M. Paul to Lucy. A phrase that is doubled by Louis Moore’s reply to Shirley when she asks, ‘[A]re we equal, the sir? are we equal at last? ‘ To which Louis duly answers, ‘You are younger, frailer, feebler, more ignorant than I. ’40 And then later, ‘you are mine. ’41 Like Jane, Lucy’s relationship with the mirror seeks to show the reader that each woman is doubled through herself and through other characters.
For example, on the night of the fete, Lucy leaves the school to seek the park in which there lies a trough to act as a mirror, ‘[M]y vague aim, as I went, was to find the stone basin, with its clear depth and green lining: of that coolness and verdure I thought, with the passionate thirst of unconscious fever. ’42 Lucy wishes to see herself, to recognise herself in the reflection, but the reader feels that with the ‘passionate thirst of unconscious fever’ that currently surrounds her, Lucy will see much the same image as Jane: her inner consciousness that will terrify and disgust her.
Luckily for Lucy, however, the mirror of truth has already been shown to her by Ginevra Fanshawe: ‘The dressing-room was very near, and we stepped in. Putting her arm through mine, she drew me to the mirror. ’43 Lucy sees herself mirrored with Ginevra and, disliking her image next to that of the beautiful Ginevra, spitefully destroys Ginevra, ‘I stood and let her self-love have its feast and triumph: curious to see how much it could swallow-whether it was possible it could feed to satiety. 44 It is significant that Lucy is mirrored with Ginevra, as it is Ginevra who haunts Lucy when Lucy is in the midst of her great torment in the long vacation. Eventually, ‘[E]ntirely alone, Lucy is … haunted by Ginevra, who becomes her own heroine in a succession of intricately imagined fantasies. ‘
45 As Lucy freely admits herself, Ginevra does indeed embody for her ‘a sort of heroine. ’46 Ginevra becomes for Lucy both the heroine whom she wishes to become, and the image of the female she internally rejects. Ginevra ‘would not be [Lucy] for a kingdom. 47 Lucy, however, despises Ginevra because she embodies everything that Lucy wishes she could be, everything she despises in the female, and finally everything she recognises she never can be. Ginevra splits Lucy’s consciousness not only in representing aspects of Lucy’s inner self and therefore doubling her, but also by representing an ethereal, goddess image to which Bronti?? argues no female is able to live up to. Indeed, Bronti?? deals with the Ginevra problem in the only way she can: Bronti?? illicitly marries Ginevra to her own double, Count Hamal.
However, as the reader later finds out in both Villette and Jane Eyre, the spectral images that the protagonists believe are haunting them, reveal themselves to be living, breathing people: ‘[W]hat has seemed to be Lucy’s disordered senses, a mirrored self, reflecting her own despair of life, is proved to be a trick. ’48 It is a living breathing person that also haunts and mirrors Caroline, that being namely, of course, Shirley. Shirley enters the novel as an unknown entity; her heritage and birthplace are virtually unknown, as are her parents.
Shirley says of her parents, ‘they gave me a man’s name,’49 and that is the last the reader hears about them. The reader knows little about Shirley’s early life, and neither is her character displayed to the reader in the intricate manner that Caroline’s is. In short, Shirley becomes, like Ginevra Fanshawe, an ethereal being, one to initially look up and desire to aspire to. Whilst Bronti?? marries Ginevra to an equal, the pretty and immaculate De Hamal, Shirley is maliciously married to a man who will subdue and control her. A man who doubles Shirley’s own characteristics of controlling and repressing.
Jane described Bertha as a ‘Vampyre,’ and this is exactly what Shirley is to Caroline. Shirley haunts Caroline throughout the novel, very aware of the fact that she needs Caroline, but wholly unaware of whether Caroline needs her. In fact, when Caroline falls dangerously ill, Shirley is lost from the narrative, taking on the image of the evil doppelganger who lays in wait to take over the life of their victim. When Caroline is nursed through ill health after discovering the identity of Mrs Pryor, Shirley reappears, haughtily announcing that the fact that Mrs Pryor was Caroline’s mother ‘is no news to me. 50 Shirley doubles Caroline in her love of Robert Moore, or at least the reader is led to believe this, as is Caroline, and the thought that Robert and Shirley will eventually marry nearly kills Caroline.
Yet Shirley does nothing to reassure Caroline, parasitically living off Caroline’s misery, just as Caroline is determined to live, or die, through her own unhappiness. Doubling Bertha, Shirley laughs at Caroline’s desire and need for Moore, just as Bertha wickedly laughs at Jane whenever she is in turmoil, ‘I tried again to sleep; but my heart beat anxiously: my inward tranquillity was broken… T]his was a demonic laugh-low, suppressed, and deep. ’51 Shirley repeats this action at the scene of the mill riot in chapter twenty-nine: ‘”Off then-I let you go-seek Moore. You’ll not find him. ” She loosened her hold. Caroline sped like levelled shaft from bent bow; after her rang a jesting, gibing laugh. ’52 Shirley, then, in holding Caroline back from Robert Moore by keeping her intentions towards Louis Moore secret, personifies societal repression of the female.
Shirley represses Caroline’s needs in the same manner that societal expectations repress the needs of the female population, and Louis and Robert Moore act out the role of the patriarchal, dominant male. In short, although Shirley haunts Caroline, doubles her emotions and acts out urges that Caroline cannot, ‘[T]hat Shirley is Caroline’s double, a projection of all her repressed desire, becomes apparent on the acts she performs for Caroline,’53 each woman is reduced to the same fate. Shirley, ‘becomes enmeshed in a social role that causes her to duplicate Caroline’s immobility.
54 Shirley, the masculine she hero/devil of the novel, is ultimately defined by the same terms which define Caroline, Lucy and Jane, she is defined as immobile because she is a woman. In these three novels it can be seen that Bronti?? expresses her fear for the future of women by displaying to the reader fundamentally independent women who seek to be dominated by a patriarchal society. The independence of Lucy, Caroline, Shirley and Jane is undermined not only by the pressure of a male dominated society, but by each protagonist’s fear of defying the status quo.
This knowledge of independence, coupled by the desire to come to terms with and acknowledge the true self, splits each of the protagonists because their desire to submit to the male defeats their personal aims. This splitting of the consciousness causes the female to desperately seek herself, or images of herself, in other people. Each novel ends with the protagonist married, which suggests to the reader that Bronti?? insisted on portraying the lot of the nineteenth century woman as confined and dependent on the male, because submission through marriage was the only end a woman could aspire to.
Alternative options were simply unavailable. Ambiguously, however, Bronti?? ends her final novel Villette on a rather more hopeful tone. Does M. Paul survive, one asks at the end of the novel. One can only hope not, for M. Paul’s return could only lead to a life of submission already imparted to Jane, Caroline and Shirley, the life of the female determined to find herself outside of herself, in images of women not trapped as they find themselves to be.