Lady Brett Ashley is the only major female character in the novel. On one level she is important because she is beautiful and alluring (she is likened to the mythical Circe) and the men in the novel all are in love with her. This causes tensions, such as between Jake and Cohn.
Brett loves Jake, but it is a doomed love. She needs sex, and Jake has been left impotent due to a war wound from World War II. As she tells him, their love is hopeless because she knows she would cheat on him. Overall, she finds love painful: "I think it’s hell on earth," she says to Jake.
Despite being defined by her importance to men, Brett nevertheless has depths of character. She is a strikingly new woman, a radical departure from the Victorian angel of the home or the mannered Edwardian woman. She has broken entirely away from the ideals of the pure woman that constrained past generations of female. She has short hair, dresses androgynously, has multiple lovers, smokes, drinks heavily, and does whatever she...
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