Staging Cinderellas: Examining nineteenth-century ideas of the Victorian ballet girl in Miss Clara Webster and Jane Eyre by Fiona Bradbury
This article examines nineteenth-century ideas of Victorian ballet-girls, exploring these in nineteenth-century art and literature. The artefacts presented – G. A. Turner’s aquatint, Miss Clara Webster, and Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre – at first suggest opposing ideas respecting Victorian ballet-girls, in the hallowed figure of real-life Clara or the condemned figure of fictional Céline. Neither artefact can directly address the real hardships Victorian ballet-girls faced, like danger of fire from gas foot-lights, societal judgment, or girls’ objectification through ballet’s fantastical iconography. Reality for working girls in Victorian England (including governess Jane, likened to Rochester’s preferred ballet-girl type) was more precarious than Brontë’s tale and Turner’s aquatint convey. I suggest that both artefacts pity the Victorian ballet-girl, challenging prejudice. Brontë also indicates the problem of ballet iconography affecting men’s interpretation of women, and through Jane, stresses the importance of women being seen, understood, and appreciated for their individual human qualities.