Beauty in Jane Eyre
Physical appearance is a major theme in Jane Eyre. As a child growing up, she was always treated differently because compared to her cousins, she wasn't nearly as beautiful. In a society where beauty in a woman was valued highly, it gave those with beautiful exteriors more opportunities and better treatment from those around them. Jane endured many unnecessary hardships as a result of her plain, forlorn, and average looks. This idea was present in almost every aspect of a woman's life.
External beauty versus internal beauty:
- Throughout the novel, Brontë plays with the dichotomy between external beauty and internal beauty.
- Both Bertha Mason and Blanche Ingram are described as stunningly beautiful, but, in each case, the external beauty obscures an internal ugliness.
- Bertha’s beauty and sensuality blinded Mr. Rochester to her hereditary madness, and it was only after their marriage that he gradually recognized her true nature.
- Blanche’s beauty hides her haughtiness and pride, as well as her desire to marry Mr. Rochester only for his money. Yet, in Blanche’s case, Mr. Rochester seems to have learned not to judge by appearances, and he eventually rejects her, despite her beauty.
The two adjectives Jane most frequently uses to describe herself are “plain” and “little”; based on the nineteenth-century ideals of beauty, Jane would have good cause to consider herself less than gorgeous. Plain might better be termed “monochromatic.” Jane’s fair skin, hazel hair and green eyes and lack of outstanding features would, especially in her own opinion, render her plain. Her style of dress, which she frequently terms “Quaker,” adds to her often colorless appearance. Jane is also tiny. She compares herself unfavorably to the tall Blanche and the curvy Rosamund, both of whom meet the cultural beauty ideal far more successfully than she. Her height and slight figure both add to her childlike appearance, which Rochester thinks of as “elfin,” but which would not have won her any prizes at nineteenth-century beauty contests. Because she is small and not flashy, Jane thinks of herself as plain. But her plainness actually suits her. Unlike the vain and shallow Blanche or the kindly but not spiritually rich Rosamund, Jane is a deep and introspective person whose very “plainness” allows her to blend in and observe those around her. It also draws the attention to her rich and well-developed personality in contrast to her un-remarkable outer person. Though she fulfills the conventions of dress and style of the period, Jane is a character whose inner beauty is far more important than her superficial features.
Only Jane, who lacks the external beauty of typical Victorian heroines, has the inner beauty that appeals to Mr. Rochester. Her intelligence, wit, and calm morality express a far greater personal beauty than that of any other character in the novel, and Brontë clearly intends to highlight the importance of personal development and growth rather than superficial appearances. Once Mr. Rochester loses his hand and eyesight, they are also on equal footing…