Abstract

Beautiful young women abound in George Eliot's oeuvre, from Hetty Sorrel to Gwendolen Harleth, but most of Eliot's novels also feature marriageable women who are described as plain, or even ugly. George Eliot struggled throughout her life to come to terms with society's judgment of her appearance, and its ramifications in her love life. Rather than being ridiculed or ostracized, Eliot's ugly women are granted a unique perspective on men and the roles available to a Victorian woman other than Angel in the House. Shielded from the male gaze, their gaze is more direct and discerning; spared from male flattery, their speech is direct and witty. In providing readers with female characters who are plain but happy, George Eliot illustrates the unique affordances offered to “ugly” women, herself included.

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