This section of She included numerous descriptions of beauty, courtesy of Holly. One of the most striking differences in categories of beauty in this section was that of ‘heroic’ and ‘evil’ beauty. Holly characterizes heroic beauty in a homoerotic manner in his descriptions of Leo during the battle against the Amahaggers and Leo’s resulting illness. Conversely, Holly characterizes evil beauty as that felt towards women, such as in his description of Ayesha and toward women in general. The distinction helps to frame a thematic tension between aesthetic and emotional beauty.
Holly’s language in describing Leo can be interpreted as an ongoing homoerotic love affair with Leo’s handsomeness. During the fight with the Amahaggers, Holly describes his “beautiful pale face crowned with…bright curls … tower[ing]” over an onslaught of attackers. During the journey to Ayesha’s court he betrays a great care for Leo’s recovery and uses such descriptions as “the excessive whiteness of [Leo’s] skin” in fondness. The care that Holly bestows upon Leo is fatherly, but the aesthetic descriptions he uses for him move it into the realm of the homoerotic – Leo solidly conforms to a heroic, lion-esque character, to which both reader and narrator feel a palpable attraction.
On the other hand, Holly spends a lengthy paragraph describing Ayesha’s aesthetic beauty, which had been previously framed as “snake-like” (biblical? phallic?) and analogous to the female involved in instigating Mohamed’s death. Ayesha is wrapped “corpse-like” in thin garments and her overall appearance is at once beautiful and overwhelming: for an English gentleman accustomed to a controllable standard of aesthetic, she is deadly fascinating.
…evil beauty: it’s cold.