**Welcome to a two-part blog post on Charlotte Brontë’s  Jane Eyre. See Part 2 here.**

Physiognomy & French – Jane Eyre: Part 1

Have you noticed that Charlotte Brontë seems to infuse two things into all of her novels? Physiognomy and French.


Physiognomy is the idea that the outward appearance of a person can give insights into his personality.
Read any of Charlotte’s works and you will recognize her constant use of the term in describing her characters.
Advert from an 1894 Phrenological Journal
Photo Courtesy: LibraryatNight

I’ve noticed that writers today seem to describe the appearance of their characters, but don’t analyze, to the same extent, how that appearance promotes certain aspects of their personality. But in the 19thcentury, it seems to have been quite a common practice.

Some online dictionaries explain the term as an art, others as a science, still others as an interpretation. Some seem skeptic; others see it as somewhat useful. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte seems very much taken with how the shape and size of a man’s forehead determines his intelligence, the curvature of the nostril indicates his temperament, either cold and harsh or gentle.

Does it Work?

I have to wonder how accurate such a view is.

Does the width of the space between the nose and hairline actually determine the size of the brain? And indeed, does the size of the brain actually have an impact on its capability? Some studies have linked the two; others have led to conclusions that brain organization not size, determines intelligence. Can brain organization be seen in outward appearance?

And yet…despite all of this knowledge gained from Googling, I’m still wondering about the use of physiognomy. Can observing people’s features a little bit more closely help us understand them better?

Perhaps Charlotte Brontë, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many more, were on to something…

Continue to Part 2

Leave a Reply