After reading the post "Why the passion is pure in Charlotte Bronte" by Caroline Helstone in her blog "The Briarfield Chronicles" I had some objections that were so lengthy I thought they deserved a whole new post. I had noticed too that after "Τhe Professor" and "Jane Eyre" that Charlotte's writing was less prone to descriptions of erotic scenes than before, but I disagree that it is because - as Caroline thinks - she was becoming more mature and stopped imitating what she had read. For me there were three possible reasons that this change took place.
First and foremost was all that accusation from a bunch of reviewers of her being "coarse" (a word which has many meanings from immoral to raw and uncivilized) that offended and puzzled Charlotte Bronte, who was a moral and educated woman. Whether she was so out of touch with her era (as she mostly admired the Romantics) not to foresee the reaction or she simply wrote the way she saw things and would like literature to be, I don't know, but having sexual feelings for a person does not make you immoral and sexual attraction for your partner/husband/other half is something healthy, important and nothing to be ashamed of. In that respect, I really salute Charlotte Bronte every single time I read the part where Jane Eyre sits on Rochester's lap because it proves to me that human nature has always been the same and does not promote that fake and distorted image where people in the past only wore prudish dresses and expressed their love only by holding hands. Someone has said that she vindicates in his eyes the sexuality of all her era. So, the fact is that Charlotte wrote for an adult audience and that is why she wrote all this stuff in her preface about hypocrisy. Was it so wrong or unusual for people who are in love to kiss or desire one another? But if that would cost her her reputation as a woman and writer she must have thought it was better to avoid provoking them. Let alone the fact that despite being poor, she struggled to be thought of as an accomplished lady. This all explain her anguish whether the reviewers would think her novels coarse again and that is why she asked the opinion of her female novelists, especially Miss Martineau's. Things became worse when her identity was known. She had already told Mrs Gaskell that she dreaded it lest she lose the power of writing the truth. Because it is different to be judged for your work and different to be insulted as a person who has to live in a certain society.
Another reason of why her subsequent novels are different is because Charlotte didn't want to repeat herself. Some themes are unavoidably the same, but their treatment is very different. For example "Shirley" is a social novel and Charlotte had clearly stated she did not want to write another "Jane Eyre". "Villette" on the other hand is a story about a woman going mad with isolation right in the middle of a crowd. Love saves her in a way in the instance of Graham in showing her that she really didn't want to be the shadow of a bright lady anymore (so she realized some things about herself and became more assertive) and in the case of Paul that there are people who will love you for who you are and will support you. But "Jane Eyre" was really a novel of growth: personal growth, spiritual, ethical and (why not?) sexual. It is the transit of a girl ecoming a full grown woman and also having to balance her moral beliefs and her passions. Now if her passion were mild, that would not be a big deal, but as it is desire takes tragic dimensions. And then when your heroes have such a great age discrepancy, then you really have to put that fatal attraction in order to make all that fuss of being together believable.
And the third reason is the fact that after the loss of her siblings Charlotte was more depressed than ever. And we know that sexuality and depression do not get along. I believe in "Jane Eyre" she may have been frustrated, but she had at least some family support and she finally let herself live the story and be in a certain point carried away by it. For me it is in "Jane Eyre" where she spoke most openly about her love. She took that feeling that anybody would disapprove of and made it immortal having two safety guards, the disguise of the actual relationship (the master-pupil is now master-servant) and the anonymity. With "Villette" things were different. She was a lonely woman for too long with not the brightest prospects of a good change. The situation was too complicated to write straight enough about Smith and she was too close in describing Heger, so there were things omitted to be written and in a way unnecessary because the main theme was Lucy's anguish. I agree with Caroline, thought, that the reversed order of love is put there to show the greater one and that is what must have annoyed Smith too, but what mostly "Villette" says to me is that you can love people for different qualities and that the love you have doesn't necessarily end, when another starts. It is something that the Victorians thought shocking and blamed her that her heroine was in love with two men simultaneously.
As for her purity of her love for Heger and the sexual attraction to him, it is clear that he was not her ideal of masculine beauty. She made fun of him at the beginning, she also called another one of her suitors "the little man" and in "Shirley" she writes that one of the curators who was very little in body chose to marry, as she says usually happens in those circumstances, the most robust girl of a neighbour family. Ironically Nicholls was the one closer to Rochester's image. But what Heger lacked in physical attraction he made up for intellectual and of course Charlotte, who felt ugly could sympathize with him, because she too hoped one man would love her for her character and mind at least. Personally I think that Charlotte was a sexually aware being. What may have stopped her from realizing her feelings for him was her moral inhibitions. Since in her mind there was no possibility of them becoming lovers, she would avoid to think of it. In Shirley Caroline too was avoiding to face it. She writes about Robert "friendship she called the feeling" and perhaps since Heger proposed a friendship with his ambiguous way, Charlotte too "envied no girl her lover, no bride her bridegroom, no wife her husband" since she felt for the time being that the relationship was fulfilling for her too. I understand what Caroline in her blog means when she says her love for him was pure and I agree that she was more attracted to his intellectual side, but for me ever if she had sexual feelings or fantasies about him, I still would have a bad opinion about her, because she was human after all and because we may condemn people for their acts, but to condemn them for their thoughts too, is too severe.