Presenter: Lindley N. Swift
Advisor(s): Dr. Leila May
Author(s): Lindley N. Swift
Graduate Program: English

Title: Lesbian Desire and the Metaphor of the Closet in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette

Abstract: Although much consideration has been given to issues of gender and sexuality in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, feminist critics have neglected to examine adequately the sexual identity of the female characters from the social and political position of lesbian studies. Rather, a large body of literary criticism surrounding this novel favors a heterosexist interpretation of the principal female character’s performance of gender and sexuality. By reexamining Villette through the lens of lesbian and queer theories, I rethink these categories as they appear in the text in order to reveal the forbidden and thus transgressive expression of female same-sex desire or lesbianism and its subsequent suppression within a distinctly female homosexual closet. I describe “the lesbian closet” as a psychological phenomenon that is manifested physically in the proposed text and initially functions as a vessel in which illicit same-sex desire may be harbored. Evidence of lesbian desire in the novel may be found in the underlying erotic tensions of interfemale relationships or in the experience of another’s feminine beauty as sublime, while, the lesbian closet, as safe-haven, often takes the shape of traditionally female spaces, such as secluded gardens or all-girls schools, and can be viewed as places in which this desire can be safely entertained and realized as a source of creativity. On one level, I would like to privilege the lesbian closet as refuge, a female space with transformative potential. On another level, my reading of the lesbian closet as safe-haven is made problematic by spaces of confinement that serve as prisons for women, who violate conventions of gender and sexuality within the text.