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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Disturbing the Peace

Villette opens in the Bretton home in England, which our narrator, Lucy Snowe, describes as a "handsome house" with "peaceful rooms" and "well-arranged furniture."  Lucy spends half of the year here with her godmother,, the widowed Mrs. Bretton, and the other half with unnamed relatives.  Lucy makes it clear that she prefers the Bretton residence because of its quiet atmosphere and cleanliness.  "I liked peace so well," remarks Lucy, who makes such a deal about the calming atmosphere that she seems to have come from a chaotic home, though she gives virtually no information about her background.

Nevertheless, the peace is disturbed with the arrival of a six year old girl named Polly, who's mother has died and whose father leaves her with the Bretton's, who are distant relations, while he uses a visit to relatives in France as a remedy to deal with his wife's death.  The night Polly arrives is a stormy night as describes:  "The rain lashed the panes, and the wind sounded angry and restless."  Whereas Lucy seeks peace in the home, Polly refuses comfort and only talks to her maid Harriet.

Polly doesn't seem to like Lucy and only begins to show signs of liveliness after the arrival of her father to bid her goodbye, and later Mrs. Bretton's 16 year old son Graham, who develops a close friendship with Polly because "she amuses me a great deal more than [Mrs. Bretton] or Lucy Snowe."  Both Polly and Graham have lost a parent, but the attraction between the two is based on shared interests, such as reading, and similar lively and active personalities.  Lucy, on the other hand, doesn't divulge much information about her interests other than sewing and seems to be boring as Graham perceives her, though she is close to him in age.  Nevertheless, Lucy pronounces Polly as "not interesting," causing the reader to suspect that she maybe be jealous of the attention that Polly receives from Graham.  Is Lucy attracted to Graham?  Because Lucy is the narrator tells us very little about herself, one can only suspect as much at the moment.

The above painting is A Quiet Moment by James MacBeth (1847-1891).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Contemporary Reactions to Villette

"That's a plaguy book that Villette.  How clever it is--and how I don't like the heroine." William Thackeray

"There is something almost preternatural in its power."  George Eliot

"All the female characters, in all their thoughts and lives, are full of one thing, or are regarded by the reader in the light of one thought--love."  Harriet Martineau

Bronte is "nothing but hunger, rebellion, and rage, and therefore that is all she can, in fact put into her book."  Matthew Arnold

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bronte's Writing Style

You will see that 'Villette' touches on no matter of public interest. I cannot write books handling the topics of the day; it is of no use trying. Nor can I write a book for its moral. Nor can I take up a philanthropic scheme, though I honour philanthropy; and voluntarily and sincerely veil my face before such a mighty subject as that handled in Mrs. Beecher Stowe's work, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' To manage these great matters rightly, they must be long and practically studied--their bearings known intimately, and their evils felt genuinely; they must not be taken up as a business matter, and a trading speculation. I doubt not, Mrs. Stowe had felt the iron of slavery enter into her heart, from childhood upwards, long before she ever thought of writing books. (Charlotte Bronte, letter to George Smith, her publisher, Oct. 30, 1852)

Charlotte Bronte recognized her inability to tackle issue of the day in the mode of Dickens.  In Victorian Novelists:  Essays in Revaluation, David Cecil writes "Her books are not about men like Dickens', nor about man like Thackeray's, but about an individual man."  Bronte writes about individual experiences with strong feelings of evocative images.  Bronte's strength is her ability to describe and make the reader feel what is happening.  Cecil calls her the "first subjective novelist;" as such, her heroines are highly reflective of herself:  when Lucy Snowe in Villette speaks, it is truly Charlotte speaking.  Cecil states:

Fundamentally, her principal characters are all the same person; and that person is Charlotte Bronte.  Her range is confined, not only to a direct expression of an individual's emotions and impressions, but to a direct expression of Charlotte Bronte's emotions and impressions.

However, her ability to provide subjective portraits of her heroines limits the portrayal of her secondary characters.  Only through the heroine is the reader given a portrait of the other characters.  For example, in Villette the reader sees everything through the eyes of Lucy Snowe; every character is depicted as he is perceived through her vision, "the barest sketches compared with the elaborately finished portrait of the character through whose eyes we look at [him]." 

Technically, Bronte has many flaws.  As M. Heger pointed out to her, she has a literary clumsiness in which her imagination can lead to a turbid flow of words clouding her meaning.  She is also susceptible to implausible plots devoid of verisimilitude, such as is the case with Villette, in which Cecil says she "stretches the long arm of coincidence till it becomes positively dislocated."  Her leading male characters, such as Dr. John, are unrealistic, nothing more than "tedious aggregations of good qualities," with the exception of M. Paul Emanuel, who is presented in unheroic terms throughout most the book. 

Nevertheless, Bronte is a gifted storyteller, displaying "an exceptional mastery of the art of awaking suspense."  She will introduce an incident and leave it unexplained until a few pages later, such as when Lucy stares at Dr. John only to reveal later that she recognizes him as her childhood friend Graham.  It is an engaging style that adds twists to the plot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bronte in Brussels

Juliet Barker has called Villette Charlotte Bronte's "most autobiographical novel," based on Bronte's experiences in Brussels in 1842-43.  After two stints as a governess, Charlotte embarked on a journey with her sister Emily to Brussels with the plan of receiving training in running a school and opening up their own establishment in England.  The journey took Charlotte to London for the first time before arriving in Brussels, where she and Emily would teach at the Pensionnat of Madame and M. Constantin Heger, whom Charlotte described as "choleric and irritable as to temperament," though a very wise and religious teacher of French language and literature.  The school of 80-100 young girls was situated in a large old mansion in the Rue d'Isabelle.  Though the Brontes knew little French and kept mostly to themselves, they enjoyed teaching much better than the time spent as governesses.  Their stay in Brussels, however, was interrupted after the death of an aunt, upon which they returned to England.  Though Charlotte returned to Brussels after nearly three months, Emily refused to leave home again.  Charlotte did not enjoy her return to Brussels without Emily, having no one with which to socialize.  She left Brussels again within a year.

Charlotte was not a woman that had many suitors during her lifetime.  Still, she apparently was attracted to M. Heger and he to her, as their correspondence after her final departure reveals.  Barker places Charlotte's attraction as a motive for her return to England.  Nevertheless, Heger was instrumental in harnessing Charlotte's writing style.  Having an obsessive eye for detail, Heger condemned to a flow of words without a clear objective.  He forced Charlotte to disclipline her runaway imagination.

Sources:   The Brontes by Juliet Barker
Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) was the third child born to Patrick and Maria Bronte.  Her mother and 2 older sisters died while Charlotte was still young, leaving her the oldest of the remaining children, which included Anne, Emily, and Patrick Branwell.  Physically, Charlotte was very small, likely no taller than 4'10.  In 1831, she became a pupil of Miss Margaret Wooler, who would become a lifelong friend, at Roe Head School, about 20 miles from her home.  After leaving in June 1832, she returned in 1835, this time invited by Miss Wooler as a governess.  After two other governess positions, Charlotte traveled to Belgium with Emily to teach at M. Heger's Pensionnatt, a school for young girls.  Her experiences there laid the foundation for the novel Villette.

After a failed project by the sisters to open a school themselves, Charlotte collected the poems of the sisters and published them Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846.  The same year Charlotte's The Professor was written but rejected by publishers until after her death.  The following year Charlottle wrote Jane Eyre, dedicating the second edition to Thackeray.  Villette, written in 1853, was the first novel she wrote known as the entity behind the pseudonym Currer Bell.  Having lost her siblings with a one year period from 1848-49, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854, though likely not in love with him, but she died in 1855 during her pregnancy from consumption.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Victorian Library

Typically, the library was a man's domain.  Here was kept a gentleman's books and important papers and to here a gentleman could retire to be alone or invite other gentleman to talk after dinner.  Viewed as a serious room, the library was typically decorated in dark colors, usually a dark green, and well lit.  A fireplace was a must, in order to keep warm during the cooler months.

One item of importance was the writing table, which one would use to compose important documents and correspondences.  The one to the left has casters which provided portability.  In the drawers one could store important documents and lock them up for privacy.  In The Trumpet Major, Squire Derriman kept his important documents in a tin box and was in constant fear of its being discovered.

One item that was important in the composition of letters was an ink well, such as the one above with a greyhound sculpture.  Dogs were popular as pet during the Victorian era, with Queen Victoria herself owning a King Charles spaniel.  This particular ink well is made of bronze and has two ink wells of glass. 

A man of business could retire to the library to meditate and collect his thoughts.  There, he could relax in an armchair like the one to the right.  This mahogany chair upholstered in leather, made in England around 1860, also has casters for easy portability. 

Such a chair was excellent for a relaxing smoke after a day of transactions and would excellently complemented by an ottoman, of a deep burgundy  leather.  Such an ottoman opens at the top which allows more storage for important documents. 

A large library had to have steps in order to access any out-of-reach books.  These particular steps have casters and open at the top to store the steps, which allows it to be stored away easily.

The pictures are from 1stdibs, a website that sells antique items in many different styles.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Victorian House

The following are pictures from the book Victorian House Style by Linda Osband.  The book offers pictures of a Victorian interior with some modern touches.

An Entrance with high ceilings

A drawing room with fireplace

Intricate designs on the door

Gothic Revival design with arched doorway

Upright tub and side-by-side toilets with exposed plumbing on the wall

Garden with walkway to sunroom-type pavilion

Source:  Victorian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book (North Light Books, 2002) by Linda Osband.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

[John] went off to blow his trumpet over the bloody battle-fields of Spain.  (Chapter 41, original ending during serialization)

[John] went off to blow his trumpet till silenced for ever upon one of the bloody battle-fields of Spain. (revised ending for publication)

Regrettably for the reader, Anne succumbs to the overtures of Bob and accepts his proposal.  Despite John's manners and strong interest, Anne returns to her childhood crush.  John refuses to interfere, but the reader feels she has agreed to marry the wrong person.  Nevertheless, is favorably compensated for an earlier favor she performed for Squire Derriman by being the sole inheritor of his estate at Oxwell Hall.  This wealth she must share with Bob when they marry, but the honor is properly rewarded to one whose gentility is referred to repeatedly throughout the novel.  John departs as he learns of the engagement, to spend his last days on the battlefield. 

Considering John is the titular character, he receives a less than significant farewell.  He does not win the love of Anne and dies an insignificant death at the end, his "bones left to moulder in [Spain]."  The hero of the novel is not given a proper burial, which causes one to question whether Hardy believes there is any value in living honorably.  Hardy changed the ending* when he published the novel, causing John to die disappointed.  Nevertheless, the ending is not necessarily a good one for Anne, since a wedding has not taken place at the novel's ending and Bob could change his mind again.  Additionally, Bob has recently been promoted to lieutenant for his bravery displayed at Trafalgar and he could be sent away at any time. 

*Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited, p. 196

Monday, June 14, 2010

Anne's change of heart

His determined steadfastness to his lodestar won her admiration, the more especially as that star was herself. She began to wonder more and more how she could have so persistently held out against his advances before Bob came home to renew girlish memories which had by that time got considerably weakened. Could she not, after all, please the miller, and try to listen to John? By so doing she would make a worthy man happy, the only sacrifice being at worst that of her unworthy self, whose future was no longer valuable. ‘As for Bob, the woman is to be pitied who loves him,’ she reflected indignantly, and persuaded herself that, whoever the woman might be, she was not Anne Garland.  (Chapter 37)

Bob's lack of communication and his apparent engagement have caused Anne reconsider her feelings for not only Bob but also John.  She realizes that she is the center of John's world and such is not the case with Bob, who may or may not love her, depending on the day or hour.  Anne finds John's "steadfastness" more attractive than Bob's flightiness and John is finally happy, although that happiness is disturbed by a letter from Bob declaring his engagement at an end and his interest in Anne renewed:

I dare not write to Anne as yet, and please do not let her know a word about the other young woman, or there will be the devil to pay. I shall come home and make all things right, please God. In the meantime I should take it as a kindness, John, if you would keep a brotherly eye upon Anne, and guide her mind back to me. I shall die of sorrow if anybody sets her against me, for my hopes are getting bound up in her again quite strong.

Bob knows John's character well enough to know John will honor his wishes.  Nevertheless, Bob presents himself as selfish, knowing his brother's feelings and not considering how Anne must feel at being abandoned by him.  The question becomes will Anne decide her own future or will she place herself at the mercy of Bob's feelings?

The above painting is The Remorseful Lovers by Edward Thompson Davis (1833-1867)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

No Communication from Bob

Well, that's as I had it from one that knows—Bob Loveday of Overcombe—one of the "Victory" men that's going to walk in the funeral.  (The Dynasts, Part I, Act V, Scene VII)

The Dynasts is an verse drama Hardy composed in parts 20 years after the publication of The Trumpet-Major, but he makes a reference to Bob Loveday in the drama.  The Lovedays wait for news from or about Bob but no information is forthcoming.  Lieutenant Lapenotiere, commander of the HMS Pickle, was given the honor of relaying the news of the victory over the French, as well as that of Nelson's death, to the Admiralty in London.  Lapenotiere was delayed in his mission due to a hurricane that further destroyed the Combined Fleet, not leaving until October 26, 1805.  He landed at Plymouth on the morning of  November 4th and made the trek to London, arriving early in the morning of November 6th.  News spread all that day in London and news of the victory and the death of Nelson first appeared in The Times on November 7th.  The Lovedays first received news of Bob in December, a shipmate assuring them that he was alive and well, and engaged, news which causes Anne to faint.

The Victory arrived in England December 4, 1805, though the Loveday hear nothing from Bob until a short letter in January acknowledging his participation in the funeral of Lord Nelson.  Though Anne and John read newspaper accounts about the battle and survivors, only the names of officers were included in the death notices.  Nevertheless, Bob, as fits his flighty personality, is negligent in contacting his family.

The above painting is Funeral procession of Admiral Lord Nelson, from the Admiralty to St. Paul's, London, January 9, 1806 by Augueste Charles Pugin (1762-1832)

Saturday, June 12, 2010


The Battle of Trafalgar took place October 21, 1805.  In the months leading up the battle, the English navy blockaded the French in Cadiz, Spain to prevent the French navy from receiving supplies and to stop the fleet from assisting Napoleon, who was planning an invasion of England.  French Vice-Admiral Villeneuve disobeyed orders to head north to France from fear of an English attack, so Napoleon abandoned plans to invade England and, instead, headed east to battle the Austrians and Russians, now giving the order to the French navy to go to Naples to assist the French army.  At Villeneuve's hesistation, Napoleon appointed Vice-Admiral Rosily to replace Villeneuve, who learned of Napoleon's plan and decided to sail east through the Strait of Gibraltar to avoid being disgraced.

The British navy, under Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, hid the majority of his ships behind the blockade near Cape Trafalgar.  Nelson employed the same strategy he had used to defeat Villeneuve in the Battle of the Nile:  He placed his ships in two lines and had them to sail between the combined French/Spanish fleet and fire on the enemy.  The Combined Fleet was characterized by mass confusion and took six hours to get lined up, while the British remained in attacking position.  The first shot were fired around noon and the battle lasted about five hours.  Nelson was mortally wounded around one o'clock and died around 4:30pm.  Nelson body was preserved in a cask of brandy and he was given a state funeral in January 1806, the first non-royal to receive such an honor.  The victory over the French solidified the English navy as the most powerful in the world.

Source:  Nelson's Trafalgar by Roy Adkins

The paintings above are Battle of Trafalgar by George Chambers (1803-1840) and Captain Horatio Nelson (1781) by John Francis Rigaud.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Continental Perspective

Her interests had grandly developed from the limits of Overcombe and the town life hard by, to an extensiveness truly European. During the whole month of October, however, not a single grain of information reached her, or anybody else, concerning Nelson and his blockading squadron off Cadiz. There were the customary bad jokes about Buonaparte, especially when it was found that the whole French army had turned its back upon Boulogne and set out for the Rhine. Then came accounts of his march through Germany and into Austria; but not a word about the Victory.  (Chapter 35)

Bob boards the ship Victory and heads to battle.  Anne and John watch the ship as it passes a nearby seaport.  Anne reads the newspaper every day to get accounts of the Franco-English encounter but no news is available during the entire month of October.  Everyone begins to suspect the worse, having received information about the movements of the French army but none about the English navy.

The Napoleonic invasion has had an interesting affect on the English countryside which Hardy illustrates through Anne, whose interests have become "truly European."  Throughout its history, English enjoyed its independence from the rest of Europe by its being an island and nearly insusceptible to invasion.  Particularly in the English countryside, residents are self-sustaining, raising their own foods and not dependent on foreign markets for their livelihood.  Nevertheless, Napoleon managed to unite Europe as a common enemy.  Obviously, Anne's European perspective is limited and temporary but it is a perspective that ultimately leads to Napoleon's downfall.

*Picture above is the HMS Victory, permanently docked at Portsmouth.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Captain Thomas Hardy

A press-gang shows up at Overcombe Mill looking for Bob in order to force him to return to sea for an engagement with the French, but Bob hide from them.  He is not opposed to going back to sea, in actuality wanting a change after becoming bored with life at the mill, but he will not submit to impressment.  Nevertheless, Bob goes to submit himself for service of his own accord, going to meet with Captain Thomas Hardy to confirm he may be a member of his crew.  Bob's impressive knowledge and work ethic wins Captain Hardy over.

Captain Thomas Hardy (1769-1839) was born in Dorset to a tenant-farmer and went to work at sea at age 12 on the HMS Helena.  He fought in the Battle of the Nile, afterwards becoming Admiral Horatio Nelson's flag captain on the Foudroyant and later on the Vanguard.  Nelson was impressed with Hardy's judgment and asked his counsel on many important decisions.  Hardy embarked at Portsmouth in Sept 1805 in prep for the Battle of Trafalgar.  At Portsmouth is where Hardy has Bob meet him.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Victorian Dress

Accordingly, in the course of the afternoon they drove off, Bob having clothed himself in a splendid suit, recently purchased as an attempt to bring himself nearer to Anne’s style when they appeared in public together. As finished off by this dashing and really fashionable attire, he was the perfection of a beau in the dog-days; pantaloons and boots of the newest make; yards and yards of muslin wound round his neck, forming a sort of asylum for the lower part of his face; two fancy waistcoats, and coat-buttons like circular shaving glasses. The absurd extreme of female fashion, which was to wear muslin dresses in January, was at this time equalled by that of the men, who wore clothes enough in August to melt them. Nobody would have guessed from Bob’s presentation now that he had ever been aloft on a dark night in the Atlantic, or knew the hundred ingenuities that could be performed with a rope’s end and a marline-spike as well as his mother tongue.

It was a day of days. Anne wore her celebrated celestial blue pelisse, her Leghorn hat, and her muslin dress with the waist under the arms; the latter being decorated with excellent Honiton lace bought of the woman who travelled from that place to Overcombe and its neighbourhood with a basketful of her own manufacture, and a cushion on which she worked by the wayside.  (Chapter 30)

John invites Bob and Anne to the theater to see a play which features, to their surprise, Matilda Johnson in a prominent role.  Bob and Anne assume that she is John's love interest, showing his motive in forcing her to go away, a thought which John neither confirms nor denies.

Bob wears a fashionable suit of pantaloons and boots trying to elevate himself by his dress to Anne's class.  Hardy succeeds in making Bob a comic character, being overdressed for a summer afternoon at the theater. 

Anne, on the other hand, is dressed in a blue pelisse, which was a coat worn over one's dress.

Under that coat, she wore a muslin dress, which was made of a light fabric to be worn in the summer during the day.
Also, Anne wore a Leghorn hat, which was often made of straw.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Brothers

Anne has shown interest in Bob, whom she has loved since childhood, though he has been slow in returning that interest.  Nevertheless, the disappearance of Matilda has caused him to reassess his situation and redirect his attentions to Anne, who remains guarded at first.  She eventually begins to encourage his attentions which John notices and makes up a story about a relationship with a theater girl.  Anne and Bob are suspicious but are excited at the prospect of meeting her.

The way the brothers show their love for Anne tells a lot about their character.  Bob, of flighty disposition, likes Anne as of this moment, though he has shown that can change at any time.  Nevertheless, his love is as sincere as he is capable of.  For John, Anne is the only love interest he has.  Though he wants her for himself, he is not willing to interfere with Anne and Bob.  Though Bob is willing to give her up for John, one can sense that such a sacrifice is not as great for Bob as it is for John.  It appears as if Anne will chose the brother whose love is less secure.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


The religion of the country had, in fact, changed from love of God to hatred of Napoleon Buonaparte; and, as if to remind the devout of this alteration, the pikes for the pikemen (all those accepted men who were not otherwise armed) were kept in the church of each parish.  (Chapter 23)

At the beginning of the 19th century, France had established itself as the strongest land power while England had established itself as the strongest naval power.  Napoleon strengthened the French navy in order to gain control of the seas.  At the same time, France was having great success in its battles with the rest of Europe.  However, things will come to a head off the coast of Spain at the battle of Trafalgar, which will be mentioned later in the novel. 

Hardy portrays the lives of the those in rural England as wholly consumed with the consciousness of a possible Napoleonic attack.  France's reputation as a great land power has the English countrymen fearful that the appearance of the French army will result in the loss of their homes and possibly lives.  Though not religious, Hardy illustrates the fear by the presence of the pikes in the churches and by his portrait of Squire Ferriman, who is in constant fear of his box of valuables ending up in the possession of his nephew in the event of an invasion.  Interestingly, the characters matter of factly expect the French army to show a type of war etiquette in sparing the lives of the elderly and women.

The above is Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801) by Jacques-Louis David.


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