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Congratulations to Sarah Alpert '21, who attended NAVSA (North American Victorian Studies Association) in St. Petersburg, FL this past weekend. Sarah submitted her work for consideration and was selected to present her poster as part of the first undergraduate session NAVSA has ever held.
Her poster was titled “Androgyny and the Gaze: Ethics, Identity, and Urban Detachment in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette", and was based on her work in Professor Christie Harner's spring 2018 course, "The Brontës" (ENGL 72.13). Sarah’s project draws on theories of gender fluidity and the urban gaze to argue that Charlotte Brontë’s 1853 novel "Villette" challenges the rules governing who could look at whom — and in what way — in the nineteenth-century city. She argues that the novel locates the detached and classificatory “urban gaze” within existing class and gender hierarchies. By contrast, the novel’s protagonist Lucy Snowe adopts androgynous characteristics to circumvent persistent hierarchies and discover a more ethical way of looking. Even if, as she notes, the end of the novel finds Lucy yearning for heterosexual love, marking the failure of her androgynous experiment, Villette offers a radical alternative to modern detachment. It reflects Brontë’s own frustration with the shallow, consumerist gazes of her time and prompts us to question the freedoms and inhibitions of nineteenth-century “looking” in the context of Europe’s transition to modernity.