chapter  8
15 Pages

Queer Charlotte: Homoerotics from Mina Laury to The Professor

In an early passage of Charlotte Brontë’s novelette Mina Laury (written January 1838), a text that focuses upon Mina’s undying slavish love for the Byronic Duke of Zamorna, the Duke is disturbed by his enemy and father-in-law Earl Northangerland’s refusal to shake his hand to say goodbye. As Zamorna’s ignored wife Mary, Northangerland’s daughter, beseeches notice, Zamorna “coloured highly … for in truth he had forgotten her. He was thinking about her father” (Brontë, Tales 11). The intensity of the Zamorna (formerly Arthur Wellesley, Marquis of Douro) and Northangerland (formerly Alexander Rogue, then Alexander Percy) rivalry throughout the juvenilia and into the later novelette Mina Laury is a powerful early instance of same-sex obsession in Charlotte Brontë’s fiction. As Heather Glen states: “The two are from their first meeting drawn to each other, but they soon become also enemies. Their love-hate relationship is to be central to the narrative of Angria” (“Background” lix). Homoerotic obsession recurs particularly in The Professor and Villette. While in The Professor it is the rivalry between the Crimsworth brothers and the love-hate relation between William Crimsworth and Hunsden that most vividly embodies this fixation, in Villette it is the intense homoerotics of Lucy Snowe’s relationships with women – particularly with Ginevra Fanshawe – that are most evident. The homoerotics in Charlotte Brontë’s fiction also have an incestuous taint, as in Zamorna’s attraction to his wife’s father, who is also his own father-figure. Both the homoerotics and the incestuous undertones of same-sex attraction can be related to Brontë biography.