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Acting naturally: Bronte, Lewes and the problem of gender performance.


During the summer of 1851, Charlotte Bronte visited London and saw Rachel Felix, the famous French actress, perform in several plays. "Thackeray's lectures and Rachel's acting," she wrote to Elizabeth Gaskell, "are the two things in this great Babylon which have stirred and interested me most - simply because in them I found most of what was genuine whether for good or evil. . . ."(1) Bronte's adjective, "genuine," affiliates her assessment of Rachel with a mid-century theatrical discourse that increasingly represented the stage and the most favored acting styles as "natural." Although it turns up in many texts and contexts, George Henry Lewes, in his role as drama critic, articulated principles of "natural acting" that influentially framed the discourse for both its onstage and offstage versions.(2) When he too saw Rachel on stage in 1851, Lewes, echoing Bronte, accordingly pronounced the actress "exquisitely natural" and set her up as a positive exemplar for what he perceived to be a theater in decline.(3)

Bronte's and Lewes's assessments register a paradoxical cultural impulse that led them both to specify a controversial actress as the embodiment of naturalness. Recent studies of theatricality have underscored its potential to upset traditional gender categories; in particular, such studies have recognized women's capacities to elude naturalized sexual and gender roles in the theatre and to construct their own identities on stage.(4) While these studies have influenced my arguments, I also suggest that the structure of mid-Victorian theatricality accommodated an essentialist version of gendered identity. In the context of the 1850s, moreover, a careful assessment of some such conceptions of identity must modify what we usually see as the restrictive tendencies of essentialism. Jonathan Dollimore has recently argued for the transgressive potential of certain appropriations of dominant ideologies, even essentialist ones, at specific historical moments.(5) My readings of Lewes and Bronte support Dollimore's point: while they both viewed Rachel as essentially "natural," they surveyed her from markedly different gendered positions within Victorian culture. Their affiliated constructions of theatricality thus instantiate nature in the service of divergent cultural goals.

The discourse of natural acting exhibits the prominent features of a high culture conception of Victorian theatricality. This conception distinguished "genuine" or "natural" essence from a material and artificial medium of performance, a distinction that speaks to our current theoretical debates about identity. In postmodern critiques of the coherent humanist subject, theatricality often functions to disrupt conceptions of an originary self and essential identity that ostensibly exist apart from the discourses and practices of specific cultures. Delineating this disruptive theatricality is a project integral to many feminist dismantlings of monolithic, ahistorical conceptions of "the Feminine." These welcome efforts at cultural concreteness, however, cannot fully explain the Victorians' yoking of theatricality and gender, for their theatricality prefigured but was not a prototype of the postmodern version. Unlike postmodernists, many Victorians believed in a theatricality that sometimes revealed and sometimes obscured a timeless, innate self; in this view, an authentic core identity is separated from an external, performing, artificial self.(6) If the portents of postmodern disintegration lurk in the fissures of this divided self, the binary construction nonetheless permitted the Victorians to privilege the "authentic core" in an effort to maintain what they saw as the integrity of a coherent identity.

As Lewes's assessment of Rachel suggests, adherents of natural acting aimed to save the stage from what many mid-century observers saw as the excesses of its own artifice, what playgoer Henry Morley called its "flashy stage-effects."(7) Natural actors avoided such excesses by acknowledging and exploiting the divide between essence and performance. In his 1859 biography of Charles Kean, for example, John William Cole uses the term "natural acting" to describe a joint performance of Charles and his father Edmund Kean. When the spectators responded to the "last pathetic interview" with "prolonged peals of approbation," the biographer approvingly reports that Edmund whispered to his son, "'Charley, we are doing the trick.'" Quoting Talma to gloss the anecdote, Cole explains that to turn the "trick" of acting, the player must "study from himself" and "produce nature."(8) In Cole's example, the natural actor wields the material tools of performance - gestures, props, declamation, scenery, bodies - with just the right mixture and amount of physical cues to materialize a character's essence. Natural actors, that is, represent rather than reveal nature.

But when players relied too heavily on these performative tools, some critics argued, they impaired not only the aesthetics of the performance but also, more critically, the spectators' "real" emotional and imaginative capacities. Critic W. B. Donne, paralleling what he saw as the over-refined society of his age to its over-materialized stage, lamented the loss of "strong and natural emotions" and the "lack of imagination in the spectators." Compared to their contemporaries in the audience, he complained, playgoers of a previous age, however "far astray [they] may have gone in the principles of good taste . . . at least brought to the theatre an antecedent faith and earnestness from which we now shrink. . . ."(9) Like Cole, Donne testifies to an emotive core distinct from its theatrical embodiment, a distinction that, in his mind, mattered decisively for the world beyond the stage. In this cultural context, what Bronte described as Rachel's "genuine" performance was more than high praise for her talent. While Bronte's letters finally align Thackeray with "good" and the actress with "evil," she and Lewes both believed that Rachel had dissolved the theatrical false fronts which could block the spectators' view of the "genuine" or "natural" in life as well as in the theatre. Natural acting on stage is thus linked to natural feeling offstage, a type of authenticity Victorians both believed in and prescribed.

Such links were crucial for both Bronte and Lewes. One of the central appeals of natural acting was its offstage relevance, what was seen as its capacity to reach and train the emotions of the audience. It was in the construction of these onstage/offstage links that Bronte and Lewes, to some degree, parted ways. For Lewes, the natural actor directed the spectator's gaze to an ideal, universal Nature that authenticated not only the impersonations of professional players but also the everyday roles of ordinary people. For Bronte, in contrast, the natural player refocused the audience's view on the essential, interiorized, individual subject. Both constructed within the essence/performance dichotomy of Victorian theatricality, these affiliated conceptions of subjectivity nonetheless display competing, gendered visions of the "natural" actress and feminine identity. Bronte's insistence on individual female experience counters the naturalizing tendency of Lewes's aesthetic, the tendency to anchor feminine identity to universal ideals detached from the actual conditions of women's ordinary lives. Such divergent visions open to our view the multiple and varied uses of essentialism at specific historical moments, an understanding that we must cultivate if we are to render women's experience in the mid-Victorian period with accuracy and richness.


During the early 1850s, as theater critic for The Leader and in the persona of "Vivian," G. H. Lewes was formulating a sophisticated theory of natural acting that was to help cement the gender categories that middle-class Victorian culture was increasingly understanding as "natural." In his Leader columns, Lewes had begun to define "natural acting" in opposition to what he called "conventional acting." Both concepts emerge from Lewes's idealist tendencies. "The Drama, as an Art," he wrote, "is the material representation of an ideal conception. It places before our eyes the progress and culmination of some passion, the story of some ideal life" (L, 22 February 1851, 181). Conventions allowed actors to materialize that ideal life. By "convention," Lewes meant the means of theatrical representation: the actor's literal embodiment of an "ideal conception" in facial expression, gesture, intonation and declamation; and the material extension of the actor's representation in costumes, staging, and props. An 1851 review shows how Lewes understood conventions as a medium for expressing emotion: "She drew the back of her hand across her forehead, and, with drooping eyes and faltering voice, expressed that joy itself was a sort of pain in its intensity - which we all know to be the effect of sudden joy" (L, 21 June 1851, 589).(10) Without conventions, there could be no theater, a point Lewes frequently celebrated in his insistence that drama was subject to "Representative Conditions" (L, 22 February 1851, 182). In Lewes's aesthetic, commonly understood conventions permitted both the player's art and the spectator's response: players materialized ideal nature in the gestural language that audiences commonly comprehended; spectators thus "know" that "drooping eyes and faltering voice" are "the effect of sudden joy."

Merely conventional actors, however, compromised the aims of art. Such players, he alleged, emphasized the theater at the expense of true art. They scorned drama's grounding in the ideal, preferring to accent the means of theatrical representation over the ideal conceptions those means bodied forth. The result was a "stagey" acting style that was, in the terms of Lewes's dialectic, conventional or theatrical rather than natural or dramatic.(11) Lewes's notion of a "stagey" theatricalism reveals his belief in an authentic subjectivity that is "natural" to the extent that it can be distinguished from representational conventions, whether on stage or off. One of his many comparisons between French and English acting underscores the opposition: "If our [English] actors wish to see the superiority of truth and nature over their conventional stagey modes of representation they should study Nathalie, Regnier, and Lafont" (L, 11 May 1850, 162). Lewes's point is not that French and English players manipulate culturally disparate theatrical conventions, but that French players, unlike the English, use those conventions to reveal ideal "truth and nature."

Unlike merely conventional acting, then, natural acting pointed not to its own mode but to the "ideal conception" materialized by that mode. Of course Lewes could not downplay the theatrical medium too much if he meant to avoid the pitfalls of idiosyncratic acting - acting whose reach for the ideal fails to exceed the grasp of the player's own consciousness. Like other theories of acting, Lewes's notion of natural acting necessarily relied on theatrical conventions as the means of representation. However, natural acting, he maintained, emphasizes neither the player's tools nor the player's personality: "'To represent a character naturally' means to represent it according to its nature, not according to your own" (L, 21 June 1851, 589). Here, "nature" seems to mean not an ideal realm but the character's "inner nature"; rather than representing that inner nature as an imagined one, a merely conventional actor would idiosyncratically represent his own. Instead of acting in a self-consciously theatrical way to highlight the distinction between idiosyncratic reality and the ideal, a natural actor strives for a seamless impersonation that obscures the line between his own personality and the character he represents. The natural actor, Lewes noted, "selects a Mask more or less typical of the character to be represented; and having selected it, does not once let it fall" (L, 21 June 1851, 589; emphasis added). Such type acting, Lewes believed, would best embody the ideal, natural truths on which he founded the dramatic arts.(12)

Lewes's emphasis on impersonating the typical traits of a character points to the central feature of his conception of "nature." For Lewes, nature, as represented on stage, signifies not the "real" world but the ideal. To illustrate this point, Lewes told the story of a Roman actor who, rather than simulate a pig's squeal, brought a live pig on stage. Lewes humorously objected to this ploy in his fabricated response to the player: "Your pig is truly a pig, and the squeak thereof is real; but although a real pig, it is not a Representative Pig . . . it is not a type, - it is not ideal, - it does not give articulate expression to the abstract possibilities of pork! On the stage I require Pig, - not this pig or that pig, but Pig par excellence, - Abstract Pig" (L, 4 June 1853, 549). As Lewes's theory plays itself out here, the actor acts conventionally but not naturally when he stages the real thing, for nature resides not in the actual example but in the ideal world represented by the platonic type. In this case, the simulated pig is a convention the player would use to embody the ideal Pig naturally; but the actual, live pig is a mere convention that cannot transcend its own materiality.

Lewes meant his tongue-in-cheek story to have a serious point. Identity in his aesthetic is not merely idiosyncratic or individualistic but rather is grounded in an authentic, ideal, abstract human nature that is uniform for all cultures and histories. As represented on stage, such universal identity must rely on conventions and types that all spectators can recognize and apply to their present-day reality. Using such conventions, the natural actor can thus embody representations that any human in any time or place can comprehend and enjoy. This fundamental notion is evinced in a review of one of Bouffe's performances: "Bouffe is natural in the highest sense; he represents the nature of the character; the 'stuff' of human nature is plastic in his hands, and out of it he carves images which all the world can recognize as true" (L, 9 August 1851, 758). Because Bouffe's comic representation is derived from an ideal world and is hence independent of culture and history, Lewes believes, "all the world can recognize it as true."

As his review of Bouffe demonstrates, the spectator as well as the actor is central to Lewes's dialectic. What we could call "natural viewing," in the terms of his theory, thus becomes as important as natural acting to understand the significance of his performance theory for mid-Victorian conceptions of gender and identity. Lewes's spectatorial principles seemingly ensue from his ideal of a gradually developing collaborative endeavor between and among players and their audience: spectators do not experience a shock of recognition but participate in an unfolding visual consensus. Theoretically, the goal of natural acting - that is, in Lewes's terms, of authentic dramatic art - is "to elevate the spectator's soul up to the poet's region - to arrest the wandering attention and fix it on great ideas" (L, 28 June 1851, 613). By impersonating the ideal type, the natural player ostensibly shifts the spectator's gaze from the staged representation to the ideal realm materialized by the player. Compliant and open to art's influence, Lewes's imaginary playgoers are led by natural actors to see and thus identify both emotionally and intellectually with the ideal types such players represent.

The partnership of feeling and judgment is key, for the "common heart of sympathy" (L, 9 August 1851, 758) enables authentic community in the theater while transcedent "majestic truths" (L, 28 June 1851, 613) give drama its moral force. As Lewes observed, continuing his review of Bouffe, "The comedy expands your heart with laughter, at which you are not afterward ashamed, for judgment approves what instinct caught at . . ." (L, 9 August 1851, 758). In Lewes's performance theory, nature and convention, the ideal and the real, feeling and judgment, should thus constantly balance each other in a delicate dialectic, each extreme moderating the other's excesses to register and regulate the spectators' aesthetic response.

Lewes theorized a reflective, even spiritualized audience, spectators who would ruminate on Art's "majestic truths" (L, 28 June 1851, 613) in partnership with natural players. As both Joseph Roach and John Stokes have noted, such joint sympathetic identification and absorption were hallmarks of Lewes's performance theory.(13) But although he carefully cultivated the balance of his theoretical dialectic, it was disturbed when actual spectators voiced their preferences for what he saw as conventional theater. Faced with the actual tastes of the theater-going public, Lewes sometimes lost sight of his central premise: that drama is a representational art. In some reviews, "typical" thus seems to mean not "ideal" but the range of "real" identities earthbound spectators might recognize from their actual experience. Practically speaking, the meaning of "natural" then changed as well, signifying not so much "ideal" as "familiar" or "actual." In such cases, Lewes idealizes real-life middle-class roles as "natural" and censures uncooperative spectators for preferring melodrama, burlesque, farce - the conventional theatre that, in Lewes's eyes, promoted unnatural acting.

Lewes's tendency to conflate his conceptions of real and ideal is clear from a review of a Lyceum performance: "Vestris and Charles Mathews were natural - nothing more, nothing less. They were," he observed, "a lady and gentleman such as we meet with in drawing-rooms, graceful, quiet, well-bred, perfectly dressed, perfectly oblivious of the footlights" (L, 7 December 1850, 882). In this case, the natural players represent not platonic types that will elevate the spectator to spiritual realms but familiar actual types, here identified by class, that the spectator might meet on the street or invite to his home. The Lyceum review underscores these theoretical shifts, Lewes now upholding his standard of natural acting as indistinguishable from nonacting: "Oh! what a contrast between the natural manner of these two [Vestris and Mathews] and the stage manner and stage life of all the rest! Yet the others played well too. . . . But the contrast was between sunshine and the footlights - the ruddy cheek and rouged cheek the grace of a graceful woman and that of an opera dancer" (L, 7 December 1850, 882). With this revised notion of natural acting, Lewes blames the public for preferring the theatrical over the actual, the opera dancer over the graceful woman, so equating authenticity with the norms of middle-class life. "I insist upon this point, for the public, the critics, and the actors may here read a valuable lesson as to what constitutes acting: a thing at present they seem to have the wildest notions of, and the ignorance of the public reacts upon the performer, forcing him often to disobey his own conceptions to gain their ignorant applause" (L, 7 December 1850, 882). Sometimes, in similar departures from his theoretical principles, Lewes recognized the actual, commercial role of the spectator in shaping theatrical tastes. Then, with other culture critics, he bemoaned the "good, stolid, stupid public": "they swagger about Shakespeare [sic] . . . but in their heart of hearts they like a Melodrama" (L, 22 February 1851, 182). In such instances, the measured spectatorial consensus he cultivated seems more like a prescriptive policy of public taste, a policy that censures certain kinds of actual responses and the theater that elicits them.

Such prescription is visible in the particular version of Victorian theatricality that infuses Lewes's theory of natural acting. In Melodramatic Tactics, Elaine Hadley articulates a notion of subjectivity that characterized large segments of eighteenth-century culture, a subjectivity that was perceived as publicly constituted in the sympathetic, social exchange of fellow-feeling and did not recognize a divide between inner essence and outer performance.(14) While Lewes's theories of type acting, spectatorial consensus, and sympathetic recognition may seem to derive from those older constructions of identity, their abstraction from actual social exchange in fact places them firmly within mid-Victorian notions of theatricality. By constructing and endorsing authenticity as an ideal, universal category prior to and distinct from the performative process, Lewes's concept of natural acting cannot accommodate either what he deemed to be idiosyncratic acting or idiosyncratic response. Because such idiosyncracies are not ideal (in his terms, "natural"), they are necessarily seen as conventional - and hence suspect, along with the spectators who applaud them.

Lewes's theory thus has no place for actual social exchange, a central contradiction that becomes clearer as we examine the roles "natural actresses" were expected to fill. Lewes's ideal spectator - spiritualized, receptive, sometimes even passive - exhibits the traits of idealized Victorian femininity. Indeed, when constructed by middle-class ideologies, women also seem the ideal Lewesian natural player: as guardians of the realms of private feeling (religion, the home), they "naturally" infuse their domestic roles with the requisite Lewesian ideal "truth." Without such "genuine" feeling, however, even the most "natural" actress could quickly become "unnatural." Precisely because actresses act - because, ostensibly unlike housewives, they pretend and display themselves in public - the promise of nature could, for many observers, be transformed into the threat of artifice. In theatrical texts, such actresses are often portrayed as prostitutes - that is, as women falsely playing at love, bereft of authentic feeling. Such theatrical models helped constitute mid-Victorian conceptions of female inauthenticity beyond the actual stage, as revealed in some important texts on prostitution. In these texts, prostitutes are represented in the terms of Victorian theatricality, as actresses who are threateningly conventional in Lewes's sense. In each case, a critical part of the focus is on anxious spectator-clients whose viewing habits are implicated in the "unnatural" acting of such prostituted players.


Lewes's anxiety over his own spectatorial performances is registered in the character of "Vivian," his persona in the Leader columns and his representation of a "real" spectator. While his theorized ideal was a spiritual, passive spectator, he personified in Vivian a witty, always tasteful, carefree and womanizing bachelor - a personification that destabilized the careful balance of his theories. Resolutely unspiritual, Vivian noticed women's bodies and commented on their clothes, both onstage and off; unlike the properly reflective spectator, he was immediately affected by the actress's physical presence rather than the represented character. The Lewes/Vivian doubling replicates the structure of the divided theatrical identity. Yet, as the performative self, Vivian materialized not ideal nature but Lewes's own physical responses to drama, responses that, in Lewes's mind, threatened not just the stage but the social and moral order as well. Vivian thus embodies the contradictions at the heart of Lewes's performance theory.

The blend of Vivian and Lewes is most discordant in their reviews of actresses. In 1854 Vivian/Lewes applauded a new, young actress not for her dramatic talent but exclusively for her appearance, carriage, and manners: "Miss Talbot . . . is tall, with a figure of voluptuous grace, with adorable arms and wrists, blonde hair, brilliant teeth, and fair complexion. Her manner was natural, quite unstagy [sic] . . ." (L, 11 March 1854, 235). Vivian's praise focuses unabashedly on her body, a body that conforms to the conventions of Victorian feminine beauty. In theory, if Miss Talbot is a good natural actress, he should not notice her body, the "commonplace features" (L, 21 June 1851, 589) of the real person behind the represented character. As a good natural actress, she should be representing a type whose source lies in the ideal, poetic realm. Instead, her "type" is portrayed as very "real": sensual, attractive, and very conventionally Victorian. The emphasis on the actress's actual body tempers Lewes's idealism, but the theoretical weightiness of that idealism serves in turn to authorize the culturally conditioned terms of Miss Talbot's appearance and moralize her conventional womanly charms. Unlike the Roman actor's actual pig but like Vestris' and Mathews' performance, the actual woman is here very "natural" in Lewes's eyes: in her "blonde hair . . . and fair complexion," he sees ideal Woman.(15)

The purpose of my critique, of course, is not to dispute the "actual" appeal of Miss Talbot's stage presence. Instead, I am interested in revealing the cultural moorings of that appeal and in analyzing the representational strategies by which the identities of such actresses were naturalized and extended to women offstage. I also aim to uncover the cultural anxiety that made Miss Talbot's spectators moralize their very bodily attraction to her performances. Though Lewes often used Vivian's voice to muffle his own physical responses, he was at least implicitly aware that such responses rocked the ideal foundations of the sympathetic spectatorial community he theorized. His final assessment of Miss Talbot underscores his uneasiness. Lewes had watched the actress in a full-length play, but still followed the Vivian-like notes on her appearance by asserting that he had not yet seen enough to comment convincingly on her acting ability: "I can't say whether she has any genius for acting. . ." (L, 11 March 1854, 235). That claim did not stop him, however, from justifying his praise by offering the actress as an antidote to what had become a widely lamented malaise: the decline of the Victorian theater. "At present," Lewes noted, "it is enough for me to record the appearance of a beautiful woman, who, if she never takes one step forward as an actress, will still be valuable in the ladylike characters. Is not that something? In the present state of theatricals, is it not a great deal?" (L, 11 March 1854, 235). This defense only widens the fault in his theoretical fortress. Lewes here attempts to shore up a declining Victorian stage on the very grounds he condemns in other places. Like the "good, stolid, stupid public," Lewes/Vivian watches Miss Talbot to have his senses gratified rather than his judgment improved.

Just as Lewes's categories of natural and conventional, ideal and real, were disordered in his assessment of Miss Talbot, so were they scrambled in his evaluations of cross-dressed actresses. In various reviews, he criticizes or condones cross-dressing for conflicting reasons. In a review of a popular actress playing a young officer, for instance, he argues that her male impersonation compromises the "reality" of the play's situation: "It necessarily destroys the reality of the scene in this most pathetically real of dramas, and it is, on that account, an inexcusable error in taste." Such "unreal" impersonations, he asserts, can only be sustained in plays that do not purport to refer to reality: "It may be all very well for ladies to appear in trousers in farces; but in such a play as [this], this sort of masquerade, however admirably it may be sustained, is utterly out of place" (L, 8 July 1854, 645). Here, the actress is "unreal" not by virtue of an unnatural impersonation but by virtue of her staged reversal of gender categories. Elsewhere, Lewes condones cross-dressing if it makes the woman behind the actress more attractive and titillating: "It is seldom an agreeable sight, that of a woman dressed up as a man, but when a woman does an ungraceful thing we insist upon her doing it gracefully; the only excuse for donning our attire is that she become more piquante in it" (L, 10 May 1851, 447; see also L, 21 February 1852, 185). If cross-dressing confirms conventional gender categories, it thus counts as natural.

If Miss Talbot and cross-dressed actresses could be mostly contained by Lewes's theories, Rachel, in some of her staged incarnations, could not. In his reviews of her 1850 and 1851 performances, Lewes commended Rachel for being "exquisitely natural" (L, 21 June 1851, 589) in her interpretations of Racine and Corneille. This assessment seems to reflect his theory of ideal performance art, but Rachel's "exhibition of mental agony" provoked in Lewes not a corresponding ideal response but a palpably physical one: he described both Rachel's performances and his own response in erotically charged terms. He wrote that as Phedre, Rachel was "wasting away with the fire that consumed her, standing on the verge of the grave, her face pallid, her eyes hot . . ." (L, 6 July 1850, 355). In Polyeucte, he wrote, Rachel generated a stronger reaction, pleasing the audience even with Corneille's "lawyer-like poetry" (L, 13 July 1850, 378). Again, Lewes's account is sexually charged. The final scene "with its mounting exultation and radiant glory, her face lighted up with a fervour which was irresistible, her whole frame convulsed with fanaticism, produced such an effect upon the audience as we have seldom witnessed. . ." (L, 13 July 1850, 378). In response to Rachel's Phedre, Lewes's "nerves were quivering with excitement almost insupportable" (L, 6 July 1850, 355).

In the language of Victorian criticism, the "quivering nerves" Rachel stimulated were the expected if unhealthy response to art that was "sensational," a term that a decade later would be applied to the fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Wilkie Collins, and other popular novelists in the cultural debate over "sensationalism." In the 1850s, Lewes anticipated that debate, roundly condemning the kind of art that could evoke such "sensational" responses. He himself, he testified, preferred the "austere simplicity of Racine, trusting more to lovely verses than to startling surprises, caring more for the emotions of his audience than for their sensations . . ." (L, 12 July 1851, 662). If the "insurgent senses" (L, 22 February 1851, 181), the feelings of the body, came to replace the feeling of the heart, the outcome would indeed be serious. For Lewes, such a reversal heralded no less than the end of the theater, even of art itself. He notes, "I see an omen of inevitable decay: decay not only of Art, which is one of the sacred influences; but decay even of the vulgar artifice that takes its place" (L, 22 February 1851, 182). To Lewes, the triumph of the sensational over the emotional, the conventional over the natural, was indeed the harbinger of cultural Doomsday.

By linking sensations to conventionality ("vulgar artifice"), Lewes replicated the movements of a mid-Victorian discourse of sexuality, a discourse that, like Lewes's own idealistic performance theory, postulated an authentic subjectivity whose inner essences were categorically distinct from its outer enactments. The outlines of this discourse are clearly apparent in mid-century discussions of sexuality, most notably of prostitution. The association of the theater and prostitution is, of course, a commonplace in Victorian critiques of the theater; our own criticism habitually underscores that relationship by noticing Victorian condemnations of women who displayed themselves for pay. The context of mid-century theatricality shows us clearly why Victorians judged prostitutes harshly by revealing just what the money signified to them: the absence of genuine feeling at the emotional core of a love relationship. In this concern, they echo the adherents of natural acting who censured the kind of "mere" performance that lacked an authentic essence.

William Acton, one of the most influential mid-century experts on prostitution, states this view clearly. A prostitute, Acton asserts, "is a woman who gives for money that which she ought to give only for love. . . . "(16) He emphasizes here mercenary self-display as a sign of unfeeling sexuality - what Lewes might call "mere sensation." His dissection of the prostitute's identity exposes her affinity to Lewes's conventional player: "She is a woman with half the woman gone, and that half containing all that elevates her nature, leaving her a mere instrument of impurity . . ." (P, 166). Unlike Lewes's version of the natural actor who "elevate[s] the spectator's soul up to the poet's region" (L, 28 June 1851, 613) and reaffirms the audience's authentic humanity, the prostitute violates the "threefold organization of body, mind, and spirit" (P, 162) by miring herself and her partner in mere materiality. And like Lewes's vulgar player of sensations, she is an "instrument" that cannot transcend the bodily medium, "impure" because she is separated from "elevated nature." With a telling stage allusion, Acton notes her perversion of "essential" womanhood: "The prostitute is a sad burlesque of woman . . ." (P, 166). In her ruin, she plays not the grand failure of tragedy but the mocked downfall of burlesque, the theatrical form that for many critics most blatantly staged its own inauthenticity.

In its parody of what many Victorians saw as the authentic emotions of romance, prostitution, they believed, also intensified "unnatural" cravings for "perverted" sex. In these convictions are further parallels between Lewes's notions of vulgar, conventional theatricality and unfeeling sexuality. Acton noted that "each act of gratification [with a prostitute] stimulates desire and necessitates fresh indulgence . . ." (P, 166). Elsewhere, he narrowed the limits of acceptable sexuality to exclude masturbation and what he saw as too frequent sexual intercourse; transgressing these limits had enormous consequences for human health. Immoderate sexual behavior revealed itself, he asserted, in a cumulative process of decay, resulting finally in nothing less than the total breakdown of the human body. "It appears that, at last," he wrote, "nothing but the morbid excitement produced by the baneful practice [of masturbation] can give any sexual gratification, and that the natural stimulus fails to cause any pleasure whatever. . . ."(17) Lewes, using language very similar to Acton's, similarly chronicles the fate of the body public if unhealthy appetites are incontinently indulged by conventional, material theater.

Whoever knows anything of the human organization knows that the more you excite the public by sensuous stimulants the more you destroy the palate and pervert its taste. The four hours of tumult and surprise on Monday night will render more tumult and more surprise necessary for the next piece; and so on till the whole stock is exhausted, and the fate of the bankrupt Theatre Historique be universal. By substituting the material for the moral such is always the result. (L, 22 February 1851, 182)

Like the desires of women and men who masturbate or have sex too often, the appetites of recent theatergoers have been unnaturally whetted. Unless stimulated at ever higher and more unnatural pitches, Lewes believed, they would no longer be satisfied and even conventional theatre would finally cease to exist. In both the sexual and theatrical discourses, the body, whether individual or corporate, is maintained by a wholesomely moderate indulgence in emotion and none whatever in "sensations." With its parallels to Victorian discussions of unfeeling sexuality, Lewes's anxious history of potential decay in the theater betrays his concern not only over the vision of Woman engendered on stage but also for spectators who are unnaturally partnered to her in their constant clamoring for more theatric sensations.

Lewes's performance theory, especially his principles of sympathetic and authentic emotional exchange between natural players and their spectators, was most forcibly challenged by his own performance anxiety during Rachel's 1851 dual portrayal of the queen and the courtesan in Jules Lacroix and Auguste Maquet's Valeria et Lycisca. Analyzed as a natural actress, Rachel complemented Lewes's view of the ruminative spectator whose gaze sees beyond the limitations of the player's embodied representation. Together, he could claim, he and Rachel were engaged in a common pursuit to improve the theater and spread the sacred influence of art. But that ideal agenda was potentially jeopardized by his own physical responses - a lapse he knew he was capable of when he vaguely acknowledged and defended his reaction to Miss Talbot. Maquet and Lacroix's play motivated similar responses, responses that qualified his admiration for Rachel: he applauded her performance but questioned her authenticity. Rachel played, Lewes wrote, "enchantingly." In the role of the empress, he praised her "maternal tenderness." And playing Lycisca, the courtesan, she seemed to him the "ideal of the Greek and Roman courtezan" (L, 12 July 1851, 663). But as Lycisca, Rachel provoked him to respond with irresistible sensations, proving that she could perform "unnaturally" and engage Lewes/Vivian in the act.

Lewes and Vivian's description of Rachel is a story of seduction (Rachel's of Vivian) and betrayal (Lewes's of Rachel), beginning with their response to her as a siren.

She flashed upon my sight as the realization of a Bacchante in her maddening inspiration and beauty, in her exquisite elegance. She looked bewitchingly beautiful, and yet with a something unearthly, unhealthy, feverish, bewildering. For her sake you could do anything, you could commit any folly, almost a crime - but you could not love her!

"C'est Venus route entiere a sa proie attachee;" but it is the race and fascination of a [sic] orgie, not the gentle lovingness of a pure heart. Horace, Catullus, Tibullus, and Anacreon are brilliantly illustrated in Rachel's Lysisca [sic] - she is Lalage, Lydia, Lesbia, Lais - the ideal of the Greek and Roman courtezan!

But when all is over, when you have wondered at the picture of that voluptuous Lysisca, applauded her expressive singing - the very voice having a certain feverish tremulousness in it - and marvelled at the talent of the actress, what remains? You leave the theatre admiring Rachel, but what do you carry away with you of Valeria? No more than if you had but just gaped at a tight rope dancer! Of all that bustle, all that situation, all that intrigue, all those effects that have kept you restless, curious, startled during four mortal hours, nothing remains but a sense of fatigue! And this they call the triumph of dramatic Art! (L, 12 July 1851, 663)

From the start, Rachel is a "feverish, bewildering" Bacchante. In contrast to his other positive evaluations of Rachel, Lewes here imagines himself not engaged to cooperate with her in a moral enterprise but, as Vivian, lured to "commit any folly" - to give himself over to the pleasures of Rachel and the orgiastic sensations of conventional theatre. Lewes/Vivian then surrenders to "four mortal hours" of intrigue, effects, and curiosities. But these sensations are unredeemed by the "gentle lovingness of a pure heart"; and after the "feverish tremulousness" is past and Vivian is in the throes of post-theatric fatigue, Lewes discredits Rachel by disowning Vivian's response. Alarmed by her "bewitching" and "fascinating" allure, Lewes now relegates Rachel to the realm of conventional theater. Finally, he decides, she is a spectacle, a mere tight rope dancer, the figure who embodied for Lewes the worst moral and aesthetic excesses of the Victorian stage. Like the prostitute who Burlesques true love, Rachel, he suggests, now merely performs her sensations in the absence of true feeling. And, casting himself as the degraded partner, Lewes walks away from the encounter, masking his own performance anxiety in concern for the state of "dramatic art."(18)

For Lewes, Rachel's performance was threatening precisely because he perceived it as a "genuine role." I use Bronte's paradoxical term to highlight once again the freighted philosophy of the self that grounds Lewes's performance theory. Clearly vulnerable to Rachel's seductive power, Lewes describes his own involuntary sensations ("restless, curious, startled"), which are not the carefully cultivated and sympathetic responses of the ideal spectator. If he was led on, as his language suggests, those sensations would be all the more suspect in his mind because they have been aroused by Rachel's burlesque of romantic feeling. Amid the representational complexities of his performance theory, Lewes emphasized the "genuineness" of sympathetic exchange. But as Rachel's spectator, he sees and feels the sensations of his own body, sensations that have supplanted the "genuine" feeling and ideal nature that are at the heart of his theory. If Rachel finally prostituted her art, as Lewes intimates, he had been a partner in the act.


As male spectator and cultural critic, Lewes cultivated a superior position that allowed him to drop Rachel as moral partner when his own complicity in sensational theatre became only too clear. In such instances, his notion of "natural" acting upholds the conventional cultural roles of middle-class femininity. In contrast to Lewes, Bronte strikes a more ambivalent pose. In 1851, in her letters and in her last novel, Villette, Bronte, like Lewes, was fascinated by the performative transgressions of Rachel. Her description, "genuine," like Lewes's "natural," derives from the mid-Victorian model of theatricality that isolated an authentic core identity from the external performing self. Just as Lewes theorized a uniform human nature distinct from its local theatricalized embodiments, so Bronte visualized an inner essential identity disunited from its outer presentation. But for Bronte that identity was grounded in the interior and idiosyncratic mix of emotions that, in Villette, she calls the "inner life."(19) And if theatrical identity, for Lewes, was ideally a seamless fabrication, it was, for Bronte, often cruelly ruptured, leaving the interior core at odds with its exterior expression.

This inner life is Bronte's alternative to Lewes's transcendent nature. Stokes argues that in Villette, Bronte overtly challenged Lewes's critical prescriptions, continuing a sometimes heated exchange that had begun with Lewes's objection to what he saw as the "over-masculine vigour" of Bronte's Shirley. "By recreating Rachel as Vashti," Stokes writes, "Bronte was invading Lewes's special territory and, in the bedevilment of his critical categories, asserting the validity of her own creative conflicts."(20) Stokes's claim is richly played out in Villette's uses of Victorian theatricality. Though Bronte, like Lewes, begins with a notion of natural acting, she grounds women's identity not in a transcendental, naturalized ideal but in the individual, acculturated subject. In Rachel, Bronte saw a women who lived and represented her inner life as she chose. If, in Bronte's view, the actress did not propose an alternate culture, she defined her place in the dominant culture pragmatically, identifying and manipulating its conventions for her own ends. For that reason, she especially appealed to Bronte, a woman confined by the cultural conventions that shaped her but not yet ready to propose entirely new ones. Hence, Villette does not propose any feminist solutions so much as it vents proto-feminist desire. Despite her sometimes contradictory cultural allegiances, Bronte saw in Rachel's theatricalism a way for women to express what she figured as an emotional interior. The novel thus shows Bronte recognizing certain historically specific, culturally shaped determinants of gender even as she simultaneously retains an essentialist conception of women's inner life.(21)

Bronte portrays Rachel at the novel's center in the character of Vashti, but she also explores theatricality throughout the novel in the figure of the spectator. The issue of spectatorship is foregrounded in Villette almost immediately, for Lucy Snowe is introduced as a woman who watches. As first-person narrator, she adopts the persona of a spectator, but that persona is opposed to Lewes's Vivian. If Lucy Snowe's passivity seems "typically" female in contrast to Vivian's womanizing masculinity, her calm detachment exudes a strength and authority that forbids such a naturalized reading. Like Vivian, Lucy Snowe is ironically conceived, but in this case the irony works to contest rather than to affirm the dominant logic of gender construction. Lucy's reserve and ladylike propriety characterize a woman who is ironically powerful. Though she depicts herself as passive, Lucy's position as spectator gives her an authority that sometimes seems masculine. In the terms of Joseph Litvak's description of Bronte, Lucy betrays a "predilection for the trappings of patriarchal power - the power to objectify and scrutinize others while exempting oneself from similar treatment."(22) That her powers can be manipulative and duplicitous, however, only serves to complete the irony of her persona. If Lewes lightly mocks Vivian's womanizing ways, the irony finally affirms Vivian's - and Lewes's - position as male spectator and critic. Lucy Snowe's surveillance, in contrast, denaturalizes gender roles not only by insisting that spinsters can be authoritative spectators but also by unsentimentally acknowledging that the powers of observation are never innocent, even when practiced by female eyes.

Ginevra Fanshawe, Lucy's friend and mirror image (a literal image in the novel's mirror scenes), plays up the denaturalizing irony of Lucy's spectator persona, an irony that in turn reflects on Ginevra. In contrast to Lucy's role of female spectator, Ginevra plays the customary role of female spectacle. She charms "Isidore" (also known as Dr. John and Graham Bretton) as Miss Talbot had charmed Lewes: by displaying her "naturally" winning feminine ways and appearance. Like Lewes's Miss Talbot, Ginevra is a "typical" Victorian woman on display. Her manner and appearance, as Lucy describes them, could easily pass Lewes's tests for "ladylike characters": "How pretty she was! How charming she looked, when she came down on a sunny Sunday morning, well-dressed and well-humoured, robed in pale lilac silk, and with her fair long curls reposing on her white shoulders" (V, 149). The novel does not pretend that such charm is not potent, or try to moralize it, but it does contest the source of such power. Lucy's contrary persona dramatizes the fact that Ginevra's authority is not natural at all but conventional - that is, culturally shaped like Lucy's own.

Bronte does not, however, understand women's identity as merely a cultural construct, as only conventional. Instead, Bronte explores the "inner life," specifically, the inner life of marginal women, as an alternative to Lewes's notion of a transcendent and platonic "human nature." For Bronte, this inner life is the seat of female identity; in Villette she explores conventional theatricality - the kind deplored by Lewes - as a mode for expressing and publicly registering that identity. Unlike Lewes's version of nature and the natural actor, Bronte's notion of the inner life is never fully naturalized, for her theatre unveils rather than conceals the theatrical medium that shapes women's offstage as well as onstage enactments. As a provincial spinster with "little feminine charm about her," Bronte believed herself unable to model Ginevra's version of feminine theatricality, the version sanctioned by Victorian culture.(23) Instead, in the novel's theatrical setpieces, Bronte explores conventional theatricality as an expressive mode, an alternative to either the self-protection and concealment of masculine spectatorship or the self-effacement of traditional feminine display. Even as she reaffirms Lewes's conception of the divided theatrical self, then, she does so with cultural goals that stage women's roles more powerfully.

Following Lewes's notion of a theatrical mode that locates reality beyond its local embodiments, Villette frequently portrays Lucy's inner life as completely distinct from, and more vital than, her outer quotidian life. "I seemed to hold two lives - the life of thought, and that of reality; and, provided the former was nourished with a sufficiency of the strange necromantic joys of fancy, the privileges of the latter might remain limited to daily bread, hourly work, and a roof of shelter" (V, 140). Lucy's spectator persona, moreover, effectively conceals her inner life, as she discovers when she can hide her grief from her fellows at the Pensionnat: "Who wills, may keep his own counsel. . . . proof met me on proof, not only that the cause of my present sorrow was unguessed, but that my whole inner life for the last six months, was still mine only" (V, 545). Meanwhile, theatricality offers Lucy the mode by which that inner life might be mediated and expressed to an external world; in this sense, it follows Lewes's notion of theatrical conventions that materialize an ideal world. But unlike Lewes's theory of natural acting, Lucy's theatricalism marks the seams of its own conventional fabrication.

In the novel's first theatrical setpiece, Paul Emanuel's vaudeville, Bronte explores the meanings and uses of a theatricality that expresses an inner life instead of naturalizing a conventional one. Overcoming her fear of performance, Lucy agrees to play a part in the vaudeville. "A thousand objections rushed into my mind. The foreign language, the limited time, the public display. . . . but looking up at M. Paul . . . my lips dropped the word 'oui'" (V, 203). Before the play, sequestered in the attic, Lucy prepares her role. She rehearses there without an audience, trying out the conventions that will enable her to inhabit her character - in Lewes's terms, to act naturally. The liminal space accommodates her transition from passive spectator to natural player. But the setting, "tenanted by rats, by black beetles, and by cockroaches" (V, 204) threatening to invade Lucy's clothes, complicates that move and dramatizes the conventional construction of her inner life.

In the attic, Lucy enacts her alienation from the theatricality endorsed by the dominant culture; but she also resourcefully uses that culture's theatrical materials to assemble a self. Left alone to construct her performing identity, she perches on piled boxes, high above the unused costumes and discarded props of everyday life in the Pensionnat: "Underneath [the skylight] I pushed a large empty chest, and having mounted upon it a smaller box, and wiped from both the dust, I gathered my dress . . . fastidiously around me, ascended this species of extempore throne, and being seated, commenced the acquisition of my task . . ." (V, 204). Dirtied by her surroundings and gasping for fresh air, Lucy nonetheless half-fashions a stage identity that is soon to transform her own self-image. But if the attic is analogous to the inhospitable dominant culture, it also resonates as a metaphor for Lucy's experience of her inner life. Suffocatingly close and populated by vermin, the attic scene realizes-like a Victorian stage tableau - Lucy's choking self-doubt and infestations of loneliness. Although her solitary rehearsal helps her settle into the part, we are finally left wondering what she will enact on stage.

Lucy dramatizes the gap she perceives between her inner life and her culture's conventions of gendered identity, revealing her construction of a theatricalized subjectivity. As an analogue for both the dominant culture and Lucy's emotional interior, the attic setting had realized a conception of feminine identity that was only half-aware of its cultural grounding. Lucy's part in the vaudeville protracts that partial realization, for she enacts the half-male role of a fop. As Kristina Straub observes, the eighteenth-century figure of the fop was "positioned somewhere between a 'feminine' spectacle and 'masculine observer,'" thereby unsettling such rigid gendered binaries as "sexual object and sexual subject, spectacle and spectator, commodity and consumer."(24) In part, Lucy's representation of the fop carries on this tradition of contesting gender categories. By only half altering her clothes for the fop's part, Lucy refuses to suspend the audience's disbelief in stage illusion. She firmly resists a fully male costume: instead, she wears her women's festival clothes and adds to them the tokens of a man's suit - a vest, collar, cravat, and paletot. Lucy's motley costume reminds her spectators not only that gender categories are conventional but also that the theater formerly did this denaturalizing work. She successfully destroys Lewes's compound illusion: the illusion of the play as a slice of middle-class life upholding the illusion of the woman as a naturally "feminine" creature. In one stroke, Lucy's costume challenges Lewes's naturalized constructions of the stage and the women who occupy it.

Even as it unsettles inflexible gender positions, however, Lucy's fop underplays that conclusion. We can see that qualification by examining the fop within its historical contexts of the eighteenth century and, as a character in Villette, of the nineteenth century as well. By 1853, the year of Villette's publication, the character of the fop as a cultural figure with the power to overturn entrenched gendered positions had long since faded away, remaining only as a nostalgic relic from a previous century.(25) Indeed, M. Paul Emanuel substitutes the eighteenth-century farce, "a compact little comic trifle," only after his students cannot effectively carry out "a grand tragedy" (V, 198). The figure of the fop has thus been reduced to an easy part even schoolgirls can manage. For all the feminist fervor that some recent literary critics ascribe to Lucy, her cross-dressing challenges gendered roles that were no longer operative; she bends gender categories not of her own time and place but of a historically distant and trivialized past.(26)

This historical distance reveals Villette's predilection to turn frequently back on itself and its central commitments. More critically, though, it highlights the fop's role in ultimately confirming the foundation of mid-century theatricality in a notion of the essential self, specifically here of essential femininity. If Lucy's resistance to a full male costume can be read as a threat to unyielding gender roles, it can also be interpreted as a reaffirmation of Bronte's reliance on an essential interiority. When Paul Emanuel insists that she wear something on stage to "'announce [herself] as of the nobler sex'" (V, 208), she replies, "'And I will, monsieur; but it must be arranged in my own way: nobody must meddle; the things must not be forced upon me. Just let me dress myself'" (V, 208). Lucy here asserts her own will and her own way, viewing the fop's character as something she can put on but also take off, a character that will not affect her essential identity. By emphasizing its distinction from her own identity, Lucy retains what she sees as the integrity of her own interiority. Like Lewes, she perceives an authentic core beneath the theatrical facade.

In Villette, however, Lucy's self-preservation serves ends different from Lewes's idealism. For Lucy, theatricality becomes a self-expressive mode, a means to enhance her essential inner nature. In Lewes's terms, Lucy's "unnatural" costume is the most obvious mark of "unnatural" acting. If the costume announced itself as stylized and theatrical, so too would the acting. And indeed, Lucy's performance betrays an idea of representation Lewes would certainly call "unnatural" and ineffectual. Like her clothes, Lucy's acting style is mixed. She successfully blends a naturalistic method of acting with a more conventional, theatrical one. Initially, she forgets her audience, and, overcoming her initial nervousness, fully enters the role: "I thought of nothing but the personage I represented" (V, 210). Such focus would win Lewes's approval, for Lucy is ostensibly representing the fop according to its nature rather than her own.

But forgetting herself and her spectators soon yields to a greater awareness of both, an awareness that results in a better performance and an enhanced sense of her "inner self." When she starts to respond to the other performers, Lucy notices that Ginevra is playing to a spectator in the audience: "Dr. John," the eminently respectable physician who has attracted Lucy but is attracted to Ginevra:

The spectacle seemed somehow suggestive. There was language in Dr John's look, though I cannot tell what he said; it animated me: I drew out of it a history; I put my idea into the part I performed; I threw it into my wooing of Ginevra. In the "Ours," or sincere lover, I saw Dr John. Did I pity him, as erst? No, I hardened my heart, rivalled and out-rivalled him. I knew myself but a fop, but where he was outcast I could please. Now I know I acted as if wishful and resolute to win and conquer. Ginevra seconded me; between us we half-changed the nature of the role, gilding it from top to toe. (V, 210)

As she refines her performance, Lucy thus acts neither wholly conventionally nor wholly naturally. Like the eighteenth-century fop, Lucy is neither fish nor fowl. Indeed, as Lucy points out, she and Ginevra "half-changed the nature of the role." Enacted by Lucy, the role has become half-male and half-female, half-Lucy and half-fop, half-natural and half-conventional - and, according to Lewes's theory, wholly unnatural.

The indeterminacy of Lucy's role upsets the boundary Lewes had so carefully erected between stage and world. If he saw the stage as natural and moral, thereby muting its sensational effect on him, Lucy exploited the theatrical mode to construct her "inner life." By describing the vaudeville as "suggestive," she evokes its sexual aura and insinuates that it can operate beyond the stage; by including Dr. John in her performance, she demonstrates that operation. "I put my idea into the part I performed," Lucy states; and the passion she invests in her role suggests that the fop speaks for Lucy as much as Lucy speaks for the fop. As she refines her role, Lucy commits Lewes's most heinous performance sin: she represents the fop partially according to her own "nature." Such absorption in oneself rather than the role, Lewes had warned, was precisely what players should not cultivate on stage, for it could compromise the kind of natural acting that fosters true sympathy. As I have suggested, such absorption also compromised his cultural and moral goals that sustained the illusion of a naturalized female and moralized theater. Aware of her audience, Lucy simultaneously becomes aware of herself. Even as her theatricality maintains Lewes's authentic/artificial divisions, it permits what she experiences as a passionate and assertive inner life.

Like the character she embodies by halves, the substance of Lucy's inner life is portrayed as indeterminate and is instantiated not only by the role of the fop but also by the plot of the vaudeville. Between them, Lucy and Ginevra restructure the naturalized courtship plot to show the mix of sexual and emotional attachments that are customarily hidden. Taking the lead, moreover, Lucy repatterns it according to the passions of her life: the relational triangle that includes both Dr. John and Ginevra. Dr. John's "look," she asserts, is unreadable - not because she misunderstands its meanings but because she is excluded from its purview. Directed toward Ginevra, it is the "look" of sexual attraction and as such "animates" Lucy's performance too. But wanting it for herself, Lucy believes that she resides outside the sexual arrangements endorsed by her culture and typified by Dr. John's attraction to Ginevra.

Like Dr. John, Ginevra embodies dominant cultural norms in both her onstage and offstage performances. The vaudeville permits Lucy to woo Ginevra, whom she had earlier described as "fascinatingly pretty" (V, 207) in her theater clothes; in competition with Dr. John, Lucy too looks at Ginevra with sexual admiration both onstage and off. But Ginevra's beauty is culturally acceptable, and, like Dr. John's heterosexual appeal, draws Lucy partly because of its currency in the dominant culture. Though Lucy's attraction to Ginevra may seem, in part, to denaturalize Dr. John's heterosexual gaze, its revolutionary lesbian potential is muted by Lucy's desire to be like Ginevra - despite her frequent denials throughout the narrative. Indeed, it is Dr. John's gaze that enables Lucy's admiring look at Ginevra in the first place. Her quasi-lesbian attraction is thus constructed within the culture's norms for heterosexual femininity.

In the vaudeville; Bronte flirts with subversive possibilities she finally chooses not to fulfill. In Bronte's hands, theatricality mediates Lucy's idiosyncratic inner life rather than an impersonal ideal one. "I acted to please myself" (V, 211), Lucy had affirmed. But she quickly abandons her center-stage role to reclaim her marginal position and reassume the spectator persona. Performance pleasure, she states, "would not do for a mere looker-on at life: the strength and longing must be put by" (V, 211). Accordingly, she resists the temptation to perform offstage; instead, she withdraws "to a quiet nook, whence unobserved I could observe" (V, 211). Yet Bronte seems to validate Lucy's choice not to perform when she stresses Lucy's central sense of identity and portrays offstage "performance" as the spurious theatricality of conventional feminine display. "I had acted enough for one evening; it was time I retired into myself and my ordinary life. My dun-coloured dress did well enough under a paletot on the stage, but would not suit a waltz or a quadrille" (V, 211). If her refusal to perform recalls the naturalized, feminized Lewesian player, she also resists a traditionally feminine role. The vaudeville had at least raised the paradoxical possibility that "real" culture could be made to accommodate Lucy's "real" clothes, and her inner life as well. By toying with rigid gender dichotomies, it suggested that offstage gender roles are conventionally performed and as such can be recast. And by privileging Lucy's interiority, the vaudeville implied that the "genuine" alternative to naturalized roles is to enact women's authentic inner life. In both emphases, it strengthens the dialectical poles of natural acting and theatrical subjectivity in the service of ordinary feminine experience rather than transcendent universal ideals.

Lucy's act of nonparticipation, then, dims the revolutionary potential of her performance but does not altogether eclipse her rebellious vision. Her position as observer mimics the passive, ruminative, yet controlling position of the Lewesian spectator. After the vaudeville, in one of the novel's many doublings, Lucy meets her real-life counterpart in the character of Alfred de Hamal, Ginevra's favored suitor, who exactly duplicates the vaudeville's plot, wooing Ginevra in Lucy's place. Lucy's new role is to restage the courtship plot that entangles Ginevra, de Hamal, Dr. John, and herself.

By immediately replicating the potentially subversive play offstage, Bronte seems to suggest the power of the theater to accommodate such unsettling plots and characters in real life. As a spectator, however, Lucy is more akin here to Vivian, for she trivializes what happened on stage and undermines her own authority. De Hamal, Lucy's double, is described as an ambiguously sexed and gendered being. Potentially, he could strengthen Lucy's denaturalizing theatrical moves, unsettling rigid gender categories and questioning traditional sexual arrangements. But his character is feminized not by implementing such proto-feminist ideals but by reproducing the culture's naturalized ideals of feminine weakness and doll-like beauty. In Lucy's words, "his lineaments were small, and so were his hands and feet; and he was pretty and smooth, and as trim as a doll: so nicely dressed, so nicely curled, so booted and gloved and cravated - he was charming indeed" (V, 216). His appeal, moreover, is only insipidly sexual; he cannot motivate even the strength of Lucy's repressed passion for Ginevra.

Once again, any unified message the novel might articulate is shattered into multiple contradictory meanings. In a male body, de Hamal's feminized sexuality points out the conventionality of such sexuality in female bodies; but his trivialized characterization undercuts even the restricted power Ginevra wields. His cross-gendered figure could further contest the gender categories Lucy had earlier questioned onstage. But when Lucy firmly champions Dr. John over de Hamal, the cultural norms are still more strongly entrenched. Even Lucy's position as the authoritative Lewesian spectator is undercut when Dr. John pleads with Lucy to guard Ginevra: "'Would you favour me . . . by watching over her this one evening, and observing that she does nothing imprudent - does not, for instance, run out into the night-air immediately after dancing?'" (V, 220). Lucy is again put in her place as caretaker of others' needs, obligated to facilitate a match she deeply envies and to conceal her own emotions. If acting enabled her momentarily to escape that role and dramatize a small episode of her inner life, being a spectator again imprisons her.

In the vaudeville setpiece, Bronte draws on the discourse of natural acting to construct a version of theatricality that seems both to affirm and subvert traditional gendered subject positions. Perceiving theatricality as a mode to mediate Lucy Snowe's "inner life," she replicates the structure of Lewes's performance theory (and of mid-century norms of theatricality in general) by distinguishing between that inner life and its outer enactment. Even so, Bronte's essentialism situated an idiosyncratic feminine consciousness next to Lewes's universal Nature. As Dollimore suggests, such moves have their own effective cultural logic. "At certain historical conjunctures," he argues, "certain kinds of nonconformity may be more transgressive in opting not for extreme lawlessness but for a strategy of inclusion. To be half successful is to lay claim to sharing with the dominant . . . a language, culture, and identity: to participate in is also to contaminate the dominant's authenticity and to counter its discriminatory function."(27) In Lucy Snowe's insistence on the vitality of her inner life, Bronte contests the potential of natural acting to efface the idiosyncratic identities of individual women.


When, in the vaudeville's aftermath, Lucy Snowe reverts to her customary position as spectator, Bronte paradoxically suggests that theatricality is an exclusively inner affair, a behind-the-scenes enactment of private fantasy veiled from the complications of public performance. While this position affirms the primacy of the "inner life," it compromises Victorian constructions of authenticity by fulfilling the solipsistic potential of a theatrical subject whose essence cannot be verified by sight. But in addition to shaping her conceptions of performance, Rachel's 1851 performances provoked Bronte to rethink her notion of spectatorship. If Lewes's "natural" player directed the spectator's gaze offstage to the world of universal, ideal nature, Bronte's "genuine" player shifted the viewer's gaze inward. In that shift, enabled by a close identification of spectator and player, Bronte restructures theatrical identity to buttress yet once more the inner individual consciousness, but does so in such a way as to mediate and verify the "inner life" for both spectator and player. She refines her conception of Lucy's half-natural, half-conventional performance by portraying Rachel as the character Vashti in Villette. As Stokes observes, "Vashti is Bronte alternative version of Rachel, a fictional portrait of the living actress who embodied the truth that the representation of female desire, however diabolic it might appear, could be vehement proof of the reality of female identity."(28) In Bronte's eyes, Rachel acted naturally because she staged a promisingly different vision of authenticity, a vision that, in the novelist's eyes, animated women's essential inner lives.

Bronte's 1851 letters from London testify to Rachel's strong impression on her. Indeed the raw, passionate force of her language registers graphically what Bronte meant by her idea of the "inner life." Like Lewes, Bronte describes her responses in erotically charged language: "On Saturday I went to hear and see Rachel - a wonderful sight - 'terrible as if the earth had cracked deep at your feet and revealed a glimpse of hell' - I shall never forget it - she made me shudder to the marrow of my bones . . ." (B, 3:251). Also like Lewes, she judged Rachel to be unnaturally inhuman and immoral: "It is scarcely human nature that she shows you; it is something wilder and worse; the feelings and fury of a fiend. The great gift of genius she undoubtedly has; but, I fear, she rather abuses it than turns it to good account" (B, 3:290). But even as Bronte made that judgment, she acknowledged the ferocious grip with which Rachel held her: "Rachel's acting transfixed me with wonder, enchained me with interest, and thrilled me with horror" (B, 3:290). Unlike Lewes's, Bronte's sexual reaction and moral assessment did not induce her to disclaim her own response. If Bronte's evaluation was mixed, she did not hesitate to reveal her ambivalence. Indeed, unlike Lewes's, her own position as a spectator led her to explore her relation to Rachel.

Bronte wrote much of Villette in the early autumn of 1852, more than a year after her summer trip to London. Her portrayal of Vashti's performance in the novel augments her descriptions of Rachel in the 1851 letters: Lucy Snowe's attraction to Vashti draws out the meanings of Bronte's initial response to Rachel for an alternative version of the theatrical identity.

The strong magnetism of genius drew my heart out of its wonted orbit; the sunflower turned from the south to a fierce light, not solar - a rushing, red, cometary light - hot on vision and to sensation. I had seen acting before, but never anything like this: never anything which astonished Hope and hushed Desire; which outstripped Impulse and paled Conception; which, instead of merely irritating imagination with the thought of what might be done, at the same time fevering the nerves because it was not done, disclosed power like a deep, swollen, winter river, thundering in cataract, and bearing the soul, like a leaf, on the steep and steely sweep of its descent. (V, 340-41)

If Lucy's schoolhouse performance revised her notion of theatricality, Vashti's performance helped her reimagine the spectator's role. In contrast to the novel's earlier scenes of restrained emotion - scenes Lucy could observe dispassionately - Vashti compells Lucy to participate both emotionally and bodily. The images are at once psychological and sexual: her heart is not merely affected, it is drawn to a "fierce light . . . hot on vision and to sensation"; power is not merely forceful, it is a "deep, swollen, winter river"; her soul is not merely transported, it is borne "like a leaf, on the steep and steely sweep of [power's] descent."

Lucy's response to her feelings contrasts vividly with Lewes's response in his description of Rachel as Lycisca. Their images are both erotic. But where Lewes disclaims Rachel's climactic effect, Lucy revels in it. If Lewes advocates the union of good feeling (emotion) and right judgment, Lucy calls for the union of imagination and sensation. She praises Vashti for doing more than "merely irritating imagination with the thought of what might be done, [while] at the same time fevering the nerves because it was not done." In Vashti's performance, Lucy re-envisions her own inner life as sexual. Unlike the Victorian image of the prostitute, and Lewes's theatrical view of her, Vashti, in Lucy's eyes, fuses the authentic inner life and its outer expression into a sensational union. As Vashti's spectator, Lucy is compelled to identify with the actress and feel what Vashti is feeling - sensations and emotions that help her construct her own inner life and thereby shape her identity anew.

This kind of identification, it might seem, is exactly what Lewes was after. Natural acting, as he had suggested in his review of Bouffe, induces the spectator to participate in the represented emotions. Stokes argues that "this belief that audience response reciprocates a performer's absorption in a part lies at the heart of Lewes's dramatic theory."(29) As Lewes reveals in his response to Rachel, the belief might lie at the heart of his theory - but that theory is troubled by his own responses. Like Rachel in the role of Lycisca, Vashti could be construed as immoral and unnatural because she evokes a sensational response and invites sexual rather than sympathetic absorption. And indeed, that is precisely Bronte's point. She here reconfigures the theatrical subject by constituting it in the sensational identification of spectator and player. That identification locates authenticity not in ideal Nature as sympathetically recognized but in the inner self as bodily experienced.

Though Lucy celebrates Vashti's climactic effect, however, she also portrays the actress's ambiguously gendered embodiments as a threat. Initially, Lucy speaks of Vashti as a woman, though a "unique woman." As the play continues, however, she consciously changes her description.' "By-and-by I recognized my mistake. Behold! I found upon her something neither of woman nor of man: in each of her eyes sat a devil" (V, 339). Lucy uses images of rape and violent male sexuality to describe Vashti as androgyne: "Swordsmen thrust through, and dying in their blood on the arena sand; bulls goring horses disembowelled, make a meeker vision for the public - a milder condiment for a people's palate - than Vashti torn by seven devils . . ." (V, 339). These images refuse to identify Vashti as either perpetrator or victim, male or female; her power and her threat remain troublingly intermixed.

Such ambiguity clearly unsettles Lucy Snowe as much as it did Lewes. Her own sense of identity is upset by Vashti's passionate but ambiguous expression because it seems to compromise the self-consistent essentialism of what she sees as her inner life. But if Rachel as Lycisca was primarily a transgressor in Lewes's eyes, Vashti is also a liberator for Lucy Snowe. At the center of her description of Vashti, Lucy includes a couplet that succinctly captures the ambivalence generated by the actress: "It was a marvellous sight: a mighty revelation. / It was a spectacle low, horrible, immoral" (V, 339). On one hand, Vashti is "marvellous" and "mighty." Most significantly, she is a "revelation." She opens Lucy to her own inner life, passions that cannot be contained by conventional cultural patterns of women's identity. On the other hand, Vashti remains an "immoral spectacle." Lucy cannot yet quite sanction the disruption of roles that Vashti provokes, or claim the inner life that Vashti enacts and restructures. Just as she must put away her own performance tendencies, she must see Vashti as evil. The couplet form reinforces Lucy's ambivalence: it roughly juxtaposes liberation and transgression without explicating the movement from one to the other, or the connection between the two. Yet, in the end, it is the revelation that is marvellous and the spectacle that is immoral. Authentic inner vision, Bronte seems to suggest with her reconception of natural acting, redeems theatricality from the spectacle of performance.

For Graham Bretton, in contrast to Lucy, Vashti only transgresses. Lucy wonders at his lack of response to Vashti's power: "He was watching that sinister and sovereign Vashti, not with wonder, nor worship, nor yet dismay, but simply with intense curiosity" (V, 341). Like Lewes confronted by a sexy Rachel, Graham cannot separate the woman from the actress. "In a few terse phrases he told me his opinion of, and feeling towards, the actress: he judged her as a woman, not an artist: it was a branding judgment" (V, 342).

Graham's response voices the threat of Vashti's and Rachel's theatricality - as well as that of Lucy Snowe and Charlotte Bronte. Lacking the sophisticated viewing skills Lewes had cultivated, skills that would allow him to interpret Vashti's role as "mere performance," Graham's naive reaction gets to the heart of the problem: women's embodied authenticity, their theatrical capacity to contaminate Nature (to recall Dollimore's phrase) with their unidealized sensations and aspirations. If this formulation relies on an essentialism as firmly entrenched as Lewes's idealism, it constructs that essentialism by casting women in the limelight. Lucy Snowe's identification with Vashti, and Graham Bretton's excoriation, reflect their gendered positions as Victorian cultural subjects and thereby reveal both the dream and the danger of Vashti's performance: that the natural woman is really the unnatural actress and that the "Woman Question" will finally be resolved on stage.

University of Chicago


I am grateful to the following readers for their helpful advice and insightful critiques of various drafts of this essay: Mary Jean Corbett, Fran Dolan, Elaine Hadley, J. Paul Hunter, Pain Robertson, Larry Rothfield, Bill Veeder, and members of the Workshop on Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Culture at the University of Chicago.

1 The Brontes: Their Lives, Friendships & Correspondences in Four Volumes, ed. Thomas James Wise and John Alexander Symington (Oxford: Blackwell, 1932), 3:248. Further references to the letters will be cited parenthetically in text and designated by the letter B.

2 My focus in this essay is on Lewes's relatively early formulations of "natural acting" in his Leader theatre columns. Lewes remained interested in the concept for many years, however. In 1865, he again discussed natural acting in a series of essays on drama for the Pall Mall Gazette, republished in 1875 as On Actors and the Art of Acting (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1875). In "Shakespeare as Actor and Critic" and "On Natural Acting," two essays in that series, he more systematically articulates the ideas he formulated earlier in The Leader.

3 [G. H. Lewes], "Mlle. de Belle Isle," The Leader, 21 June 1851, 589. Further references to Lewes's articles in The Leader will be cited within the text of the essay designated by the letter L and the date of issue.

4 Several excellent recent studies of eighteenth-century theatre and masquerade incorporate versions of this kind of analysis. See, for example, Kristina Straub, Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1992), especially chapters 5 and 7. In Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1986), Terry Castle analyzes eighteenth-century masquerade as "anti-nature, a world upside-down, an intoxicating reversal of ordinary sexual, social, and metaphysical hierarchies" (6). Nina Auerbach uses terms similar to mine - sincerity, authenticity, theatricality - but sees Victorian theatricality as wholly resisting rather than partially accommodating a conception of the genuine self: "Reverent Victorians shunned theatricality as the ultimate, deceitful mobility. It connotes not only lies, but a fluidity of character that decomposes the uniform integrity of the self" (Private Theatricals: The Lives of the Victorians [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990], 4). In Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992), Marjorie Garber takes as her project not merely the disruption of traditional gender categories but a critique of categorization itself; see especially 9.

5 See especially chapter three, "Becoming Authentic," in Dollimore's Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). Dollimore makes the point explicitly: "it is sometimes the appropriation of nature that is the most disturbing to the dominant: to lay claim to be (in certain respects) the same may be to reveal the limits of nature in an especially damaging way . . ." (44-45).

6 I am grateful to Elaine Hadley who, in conversations about Victorian theatre, helped me see more fully the implications of my readings for an enhanced understanding of "Victorian theatricality." In Melodramatic Tactics: The Social Constitution of English Melodrama, 1800-1885 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, forthcoming), she identifies a similar construction of theatricality but focuses her attention on what she calls the "melodramatic mode," "a polemical response to the invasive effects of market culture in the nineteenth century" (5). See also her essay, "The Old Price Wars: Melodramatizing the Public Sphere in Early-Nineteenth-Century England," PMLA 107 (1992): 524-37.

7 Henry Morley, The Journal of a London Playgoer from 1851 to 1866 (London: Routledge, 1891), 22.

8 John William Cole, The Life and Theatrical Times of Charles Kean, F.S.A., Including a Summary of the English Stage for the Last Fifty Years, and a Detailed Account of the Management of the Princess's Theatre from 1850 to 1859, 2 vols. (London, 1859; rpt. New York: Garland, 1986), 1:163, 164, 165.

9 "The Drama, Past and Present," in William Bodham Donne, Essays on the Drama (London: John W. Parker & Son, 1858), 205-206 (first published in Fraser's Magazine, July 1855).

10 Despite a theory of natural acting that, in Lewes's view, transcended "staginess," his idea of conventions owes much to earlier, more obviously stylized acting methods such as those outlined by Leman Thomas Rede in The Road to the Stage; Or, the Performer's Preceptor (London: Joseph Smith, 1827). Rede included prescriptions for embodying various emotions by means of very specific physical movements and expressions. Grief, for example, in Rede's terms, "expresses itself by beating the head or forehead, tearing the hair, and catching the breath, as if choking; also by screaming, weeping, stamping with the feet, lifting the eyes from time to time to heaven, and hurrying backwards and forwards. This is a passion which admits, like many others, of a great deal of stage-trick; if not well contrived, and equally as well executed, frequently fails of the desired effect" (78). In Lewes's terms, these kinds of melodramatic gestures were often the staple of "unnatural" or conventional acting.

11 The distinction Lewes makes between drama and theatre, a distinction central to his formulation of natural acting, was widespread during the nineteenth century. The preference for drama over theatre was exemplified perhaps most starkly by the closet dramas of the Romantics. See Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1981), 323-37. For a recent essay that compellingly analyzes Romantic antitheatricalism as a species of antifeminist discourse, see Julie Carlson, "Impositions of Form: Romantic Antitheatricalism and the Case Against Particular Women," ELH 60 (1993): 149-79.

12 Later, in "Shakspeare [sic] as Actor and Critic," Lewes explicitly stated the central paradox of his performance theory: "If [the actor] really feel, he cannot act; but he cannot act unless he feel" (On Actors [note 2], 100). In this essay, as in his Leader columns, Lewes characterizes acting as a representational art that relies on conventions of performance. In the later formulation, however, he depends more heavily on the idiosyncratic individual whose "individual consciousness" provides the "interpreting key." In language that, in this later version, sounds more like Bronte's notion of natural acting, he quotes Talma to explain the actor's exploitation of the divided self: "I have suffered cruel losses, and have often been assailed with profound sorrows; but after the first moment when grief vents itself in cries and tears, I have found myself involuntarily turning my gaze inwards . . . and found that the actor was unconsciously studying the man, and catching nature in the act" (On Actors, 103). In The Player's Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Newark, Delaware and Toronto: Univ. of Delaware Press; Associated University Presses, 1985), Joseph Roach analyzes Lewes's understanding of the theatrical medium in the context of his scientific theories. Although Roach argues that Lewes upheld an "absolute mind-body monism" (190), his descriptions of what he sees as Lewes's scientifically based acting theory also support my notion of a bifurcated theatrical subjectivity. As Roach maintains, "The physical enactment of these outward manifestations of emotion, Lewes believed, inexorably reacts on the inner fibres of the sensorium, producing the emotion itself" (192). Roach notes "that an inner impulse can ignite an outward manifestation as 'spontaneously' powerful as 'the lurid flame of vengeance flashing from [Kean's] eye'. . . obviously intrigued Lewes" (191). Roach's readings give a physiological basis to the essentialism that also grounds Lewes's performance theory.

13 John Stokes, "Rachel's 'Terrible Beauty': An Actress Among the Novelists," ELH 51 (1984): 776; and Joseph R. Roach, Jr., "G. H. Lewes and Performance Theory: Towards a 'Science of Acting,'" Theatre Journal 32 (1980): 316. See also Roach's The Player's Passion (note 12).

14 Hadley (note 7), especially 10-13, 16-17.

15 In her recent biography of Rachel, Rachel Brownstein describes other such artless "natural" actresses and what contemporaries noted as their difference from Rachel. For example, Brownstein observes, "Marie Dorval . . . was the epitome of artlessness, naturalness, femininity: Gautier wrote that when she performed, 'It was no longer art, it was nature itself, it was the essence of maternity distilled in one single woman.' In sharp contrast, Rachel was imagined as an avatar of austere literary art" (Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comedie-Francaise [New York: Knopf, 1993], 61).

16 William Acton, Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects In London and Other Large Cities with Prospects for the Mitigation and Prevention of Its Attendant Evils, 2d ed. (London, 1870; first edition 1857), 166. Other references to this work will be cited in the text of the essay and designated by P.

17 William Acton, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (London, 1857), cited in Elizabeth Helsinger, Robin Lauterbach Sheets, and William Veeder, The Woman Question: Society and Literature in Britain and America, 1837-1883, 3 vols. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983), vol. 2, Social Issues, 63; emphasis added.

18 Lewes's later evaluations and recollections of Rachel consistently applaud her performance abilities. In On Actors and the Art of Acting (note 2), he offers perhaps his best-known and strongest praise of Rachel as "the panther of the stage." But even there, he still responds ambiguously to what he sees as her unfeminine and thus inhuman qualities. "Her range, like Kean's, was very limited, but her expression was perfect within that range. Scorn, triumph, rage, lust and merciless malignity she could represent in symbols of irresistible power; but she had little tenderness, no womanly caressing softness, no gaiety, no heartiness" (see "Rachel," in On Actors, 23). Lewes's early evaluations of Rachel were shaped not only by his conceptions of essential femininity but also, as Brownstein and Stokes note, by anti-Semitism (Brownstein [note 15], 236-37; Stokes [note 13], 776).

19 Charlotte Bronte, Villette (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1979), 545. Further references to the novel will be cited parenthetically in the text and abbreviated V.

20 Stokes (note 13), 780, 782. As cited by Stokes, Lewes's evaluation of Shirley is from his review of the novel in The Brontes: The Critical Heritage, ed. Miriam Allott (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), 84.

21 Bronte's reliance on an essentialist notion of the "inner life" was resolved in different ways in the autobiographies of Victorian actresses. In Representing Femininity: Middle-Class Subjectivity in Victorian and Edwardian Women's Autobiographies (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992), Mary Jean Corbett describes a "middle-class concept of the self" that is related to my notion of a divided theatrical identity, a self that, in her words, "locates subjectivity not in surface, but in depth; not in publicity, but in privacy; not in performing, but in imagining" (112). Corbett convincingly argues that such middle-class actresses as Fanny Kemble and Marie Bancroft relied on this notion of the inner self not to subvert traditional feminine values but to enact them on the professional stage. See especially chapters 4 and 5.

22 Joseph Litvak, Caught in the Act: Theatricality in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1992), 88.

23 The evaluation is by her publisher, George Smith, in his remembrance of Charlotte and Anne on their first visit to London to reveal their authorial identities (Cornhill Magazine, December 1900, cited in Rebecca Fraser, The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family [London and New York: Methuen and Crown, 1988], 307).

24 Straub (note 4), 54 and 57.

25 Straub charts the gradually diminishing cultural role of the fop as a figure that became "'normalized' as heterosexually masculine as defined within the ideologies of romantic love and companionate marriage" (55). See also Laurence Senelick, "Mollies or Men of Mode? Sodomy and the Eighteenth-Century London Stage," Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1990): 33-67. Senelick traces the fortunes of the fop in stage characterizations and sodomy trials, concluding, "By the end of the century, the fop had dwindled into a mere clothes-horse" (67).

26 Christina Crosby, for example, uses Lacan's conception of the Imaginary to assess Villette as "a text more radical than even most feminist readings have allowed" because it asserts "no singular truth, no certain identity, no answer to the enigma waiting to be unveiled" ("Charlotte Bronte's Haunted Text," Studies in English Literature 24 [1984]: 703, 715).

27 Dollimore (note 5), 51.

28 Stokes (note 13), 783.

29 Stokes, 776.
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Title Annotation:Charlotte Bronte; George Henry Lewes
Author:Voskuil, Lynn M.
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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