Jane Eyre: The Beauty Issue

Beauty plays an unconventional role in Jane Eyre. Often, as readers, we expect and even hope for attractive descriptions of our leading couple. This is likely ingrained in us through societal influences that I will not digress into here. But Jane and Rochester are no beauties. Even the book description on Amazon reads, “Although the poor but plucky heroine is outwardly of plain appearance, she possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage.” Her lack of beauty is a point that is heavily focused on, perhaps too heavily, and this serves a purpose.

For Jane, her looks give her cause to humble and even degrade herself. When she has romantic aspirations towards Rochester, it is not just her station that discourages her from pursuing him. She draws a realistic picture of herself, and captions it, “‘Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain’”(Bronte 187). She believes that no one could be attracted to her, not even someone like Rochester whom she admits is, “an ugly man”(155). Her appearance is again a factor in St. John’s interactions with Jane. When she is resting in his home, he remarks, “She looks sensible, but not at all handsome. The grace and harmony of beauty are quite wanting in those features”(Bronte 390). I believe Jane’s plainness is a factor in St. John’s offer of marriage to her. Because he works so hard to deny himself of earthly pleasures and shuns the beauty of Rosamund Oliver, Jane’s simplicity probably seemed to fit the Christian lifestyle that he had chosen to pursue.

Bronte really hammers the point home that yes, Jane is not pretty. We are not allowed to forget that or deceive ourselves into thinking that she is simply self-deprecating. Despite this, Jane Eyre is still viewed as one of the best romance novels of all time. Thus its influence on our expectations of what romance should look like is notable, because we are forced to put all of our attention into hearing the exchanges instead of imagining their faces. Bronte unapologetically defies not only class expectations but also romantic expectations, and fearlessly refused to conform to any standards of how her heroine should be portrayed.

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