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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The End of Villette

M. Emanuel was away three years.  Reader, they were the three happiest years of my life (Ch. 42).

The quote above seems likes a paradox for a person who has been seeking love and has finally obtained it, only to have it taken away to the West Indies for three years.  How can Lucy be happy?  For one, she has developed her own school, which has been her goal and which goal came to fruition with the help of M. Paul.  Therefore, everyday she is reminded of him when she engages in business for the school that he set up for her.  Lucy states "I worked - I worked hard.  I deemed myself the steward of his property" (Ch. 42), meaning she is doing the work for him.  Though he has given it to her, she still counts it as his and is determined to take care of it until his return. 

Also, the anticipatory state of love helps preserve Lucy's happiness.  Suggestive of the Miss Marchmont narrative earlier in the novel, Lucy exhibits that the coming fulfillment of love keeps her focused and excites her about what is to come.  It gives Lucy, a person who has endured many torturous trials, a future to look forward to.  The "genial flame" is sustained by M. Paul's constant flow of letters:  "his letters were real food that nourished, living water that refreshed"  (Ch. 42).  Love and the promises of future love give energy to Lucy's efforts.

At the end of the three years, Lucy switches to the present tense to describe her anticipation of M. Emanuel's return.  The shift in verb tense helps the reader participate in awaiting his return.  In diary form, Lucy tells of waiting day by day, hoping to hear news of an arrival, seeing a storm brew for seven days, before calming down.  After describing the raging storm, Lucy closes her narrative with the following lines:

Here pause: pause at once. There is enough said. Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope. Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.

Madame Beck prospered all the days of her life; so did Père Silas; Madame Walravens fulfilled her ninetieth year before she died.  Farewell.
There is no mention of M. Paul.  Lucy has shifted back to the past tense, causing one to speculate that the very end of the novel was written a long time after the events described.  Though the narrative seems strongly to suggest that M. Paul perished in the storm, there was doubt at the time the novel was written.  Nevertheless, Lucy does not detail her life after the storm, choosing instead to describe those responsible for sending M. Paul away.  It is bittersweet that those three lived prosperous lives while the good M. Paul likely died trying to perform a good deed for them.

The above painting is The Well-Known Footstep (1857) by Richard Redgrave.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Rival

I think I never felt jealousy till now. This was not like enduring the endearments of Dr. John and Paulina, against which while I sealed my eyes and my ears, while I withdrew thence my thoughts, my sense of harmony still acknowledged in it a charm. This was an outrage. The love born of beauty was not mine; I had nothing in common with it: I could not dare to meddle with it, but another love, venturing diffidently into life after long acquaintance, furnace-tried by pain, stamped by constancy, consolidated by affection's pure and durable alloy, submitted by intellect to intellect's own tests, and finally wrought up, by his own process, to his own unflawed completeness, this Love that laughed at Passion, his fast frenzies and his hot and hurried extinction, in this Love I had a vested interest; and whatever tended either to its culture or its destruction, I could not view impassibly (Ch. 39).

Lucy witnesses what she calls a "sylvan courtship" between M. Paul and a Justine Marie during a drug-influenced visit to a party.  M. Paul arrives to the party with a young female companion.  Lucy is upset at this sight and leaves the party without speaking to M. Paul.

This is Lucy's first acknowledgement of her love for M. Paul.  Losing Dr. John was not a surprise to Lucy because he valued beauty which she did not have, and she has since seen unattractive character flaws in him.  She is genuinely happy for Polly when Dr. John marries her.  However, she is cannot fathom losing the man with whom she has endured the trials of true affection.  M. Paul's arrival with this unfamiliar face with whom he shares some obvious intimacy has a harrowing effect on Lucy and she leaves without seeking M. Paul for an explanation.  This new interest would be an explanation for the professor's disappearance for several days.  Nevertheless, this companion turns out not to be a love interest but a ward of his.

Lucy also identifies Madame Beck as a rival for M. Paul's attention:

"Dog in the manger!" I said: for I knew she secretly wanted him, and had always wanted him. She called him "insupportable:" she railed at him for a "dévot:" she did not love, but she wanted to marry, that she might bind him to her interest. Deep into some of Madame's secrets I had entered--I know not how: by an intuition or an inspiration which came to me--I know not whence. In the course of living with her too, I had slowly learned, that, unless with an inferior, she must ever be a rival. She was my rival, heart and soul, though secretly, under the smoothest bearing, and utterly unknown to all save her and myself (Ch. 38).

The above passage would explain why Madame Beck encouraged Lucy to spend time with the Brettons.  As long as Lucy was distracted by a love for Dr. John, Lucy cannot pursue M. Paul.  Additionally, the prospect of his marrying a Protestant is unsettling to Madame Beck, who is not in love with M. Paul herself but wants to control her kinsman and take advantage of his selflessness.

Madame Beck made also her private comment, and preferred in her own breast her secret reason for desiring expatriation. The thing she could not obtain, she desired not another to win: rather would she destroy it (Ch. 39).

Nevertheless, M. Paul never expresses an interest in Madame Beck.  At most she is a friend:

"You know not what I have of steady and resolute in me," said he, "but you shall see; the event shall teach you. Modeste," he continued less fiercely, "be gentle, be pitying, be a woman; look at this poor face, and relent. You know I am your friend, and the friend of your friends; in spite of your taunts, you well and deeply know I may be trusted. Of sacrificing myself I made no difficulty but my heart is pained by what I see; it must have and give solace. Leave me!"  (Ch. 41).

He tells her to "be a woman," which is a reason for his lack of interest in Madame Beck; she is not feminine.  Upon first meeting her, Lucy states:  "At that instant she did not wear a woman's aspect, but rather a man's" (Ch. 8).

The above painting is Her First Sorrow by Edward Killingworth Johnson (1825-96).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lucy's Changing Religious View of M. Paul

Lucy begins to embrace M. Paul's religious side.  When the professor takes the students and teachers to have breakfast in the country, Lucy views for the first time his religious nature:

Mindful always of his religion, he made the youngest of the party say a little prayer before we began breakfast, crossing himself as devotedly as a woman. I had never seen him pray before, or make that pious sign; he did it so simply, with such child-like faith, I could not help smiling pleasurably as I watched (Ch. 33).

Lucy begins to admire his personal faith.  Though a Protestant, Lucy can respect his devotion to his beliefs.  She begins to enjoy his company:

I, too, was happy--happy with the bright day, happier with his presence, happiest with his kindness (Ch. 33)

and cries at the prospect of his going abroad for several years:

Monsieur, how could I live in the interval? (Ch. 33).

Madame Beck sends Lucy on an errand, where she learns of M. Paul's history and how he uses his salary to take care of three people.  This revelation elevates M. Paul in Lucy's eyes:

Whatever Romanism may be, there are good Romanists: this man, Emanuel, seemed of the best; touched with superstition, influenced by priestcraft, yet wondrous for fond faith, for pious devotion, for sacrifice of self, for charity unbounded (Ch.34).

Lucy has a profound respect for "my Christian hero" (Ch. 35).  She is able to separate him from Romanism and see him as a good person, despite his faith.  Her feelings toward Catholicism have not changed ("God is not with Rome," ch. 36), but M. Paul is the wheat among the tares.  And she does not seek to convert him to a Protestant religion:

Strange! I had no such feverish wish to turn him from the faith of his fathers. I thought Romanism wrong, a great mixed image of gold and clay; but it seemed to me that this Romanist held the purer elements of his creed with an innocency of heart which God must love (Ch. 36).

According to Lucy, M. Paul has implemented the good of Catholicism and has not allowed it to corrupt him.  For this reason, they are able to find common ground among their beliefs, causing M. Paul to declare: 

I see we worship the same God, in the same spirit, though by different  rites (Ch. 33).

Nevertheless, M. Paul's Catholic friends warn him of he danger involved in a close friendship with Lucy, the Protestant.  In particular, they fear a possible romantic attachment between the two.  However, Lucy and M. Paul strike common ground in another way:  They both strive to live for others Lucy by starting her own school, M. Paul by giving away three-fourths of his salary to care for his mentor and two others.  This kindred spirit fosters their ability to understand and appreciate one another.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Paul Emanuel

Volume Three begins with an exposition of Paul Emanuel.  He has been a curious figure, susceptible to fits of rage, particularly toward Lucy, but Bronte begins to expound on his character.  Lucy repeatedly calls him "little man," though his small stature does not prevent him from giving verbal lashings.  Lucy is a repeated victim of these fulminations and she remains cool to these attacks, though at times she demonstrates passionate responses.  This passionate side Lucy fights against showing, but M. Paul succeeds in getting her to show it and then relents in his anger:

He now thought he had got the victory, since he had made me angry.  In a second he became good-humoured (Ch. 29).

M. Paul enjoys making Lucy mad and showing a side she does not want to show.  Lucy presents herself as an emotion-less person, such as early in the novel when she states, "I, Lucy Snowe, was calm" (Ch. 3).  Miss Snowe presents an "cold exterior" but Lucy (lucent) is a person with a controlled hot interior.

"I don't know whether he [M. Paul] felt hot and angry, but I am free to confess that I did (Ch. 29).

M. Paul is the only person who has been able to penetrate Lucy's external coldness and see that she has a suppressed passionate nature.  He does not like a suppression of the true self:

No calamity so accursed but M. Emanuel could pity and forgive, if it were acknowledged candidly; but where his questioning eyes met dishonest denial--where his ruthless researches found deceitful concealment--oh, then, he could be cruel, and I thought wicked! he would exultantly snatch the screen from poor shrinking wretches, passionately hurry them to the summit of the mount of exposure, and there show them all naked, all false--poor living lies--the spawn of that horrid Truth which cannot be looked on unveiled. He thought he did justice (Ch. 29).

Lucy does not like the penetration of her thoughts, but she appreciates his devotion to being true to oneself.  On the occasion of M. Paul's fête, she forgoes the Labassecourienne tradition of presenting flowers because it does not appeal to her:

I only had no bouquet. I like to see flowers growing, but when they are gathered, they cease to please. I look on them as things rootless and perishable; their likeness to life makes me sad. I never offer flowers to those I love; I never wish to receive them from hands dear to me (Ch. 29).

Lucy's absence of a bouquet upsets M. Paul, but he later accepts her gift, a watchguard she made for him:

It is well--you do right to be honest. I should almost have hated you had you flattered and lied. Better declare at once 'Paul Carl Emanuel--je te déteste, mon garçon!'--than smile an interest, look an affection, and be false and cold at heart. False and cold I don't think you are; but you have made a great mistake in life, that I believe; I think your judgment is warped--that you are indifferent where you ought to be grateful--and perhaps devoted and infatuated, where you ought to be cool as your name. Don't suppose that I wish you to have a passion for me, Mademoiselle; Dieu vous en garde! What do you start for? Because I said passion? Well, I say it again. There is such a word, and there is such a thing--though not within these walls, thank heaven! You are no child that one should not speak of what exists  (Ch. 29).

M. Paul likes Lucy and wants her to be true to herself and not feel the need to hide from him.  For this reason, though he liked the pink dress she wore, he does not like it on her:

And, even after M. Paul had reached the door, he turned back just to explain, "that he would not be understood to speak in entire condemnation of the scarlet dress" ("Pink! pink!" I threw in); "that he had no intention to deny it the merit of  looking rather well" (the fact was, M. Emanuel's taste in colours decidedly leaned to the brilliant); "only he wished to counsel me, whenever, I wore it, to do so in the same spirit as if its material were 'bure,' and its hue 'gris de poussière' (Ch. 28).

Ultimately Lucy does not mind this scrutiny, just as she did not mind Madame Beck's intrusive espionage methods.  Once she understands his reasoning, she is not bothered by him:  "I did not dislike Professor Emanuel" (Ch. 29).  And M. Paul wants her to like him:  "You ought to treat Professor Paul Emanuel decently" (Ch. 29).  Lucy is refreshed after a disagreement by the thought of the coming reconciliation:  "Reconcilement is always sweet"  (Ch. 30).  Finally, despite all the battle, there is an understanding developing between the two.

The above painting is a copy of a self -portrait of Lord Leighton (1880) by Paolo Fossi.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lucy's Female Attraction

In Between Women*, Sharon Marcus analyzes Lucy Snowe's relationship with other women, determining that Lucy harbors lesbian passions, based on her "passionate responses to several other female characters" (102).  Nevertheless, Lucy ultimately rejects female friendship because "their [females] presence undoes her sense of femininity" (104).  This undoing happens as a result of the beauty of the females with which Lucy surrounds herself, such as Ginevra, to whom Marcus says Lucy is attracted because "she find her pleasant to look at and enjoys her unquenchable need to solicit Lucy's attention" (103) . This constant need for Lucy's attention is motivated by Ginevra's "wish that Lucy admire, envy, and cater to her in ways that underscore Lucy's inferiority" (104).  Ginevra and Lucy ultimately separate due to Lucy lack of desire to fulfill this role.

Despite Marcus' supposition of Lucy's female attraction, I do not think Lucy has repressed lesbian desires.  When Lucy meets other female characters, she immediately comments on their beauty; this is true in the case of females she encounters on her trip to Villette, whom she describes as "handsome," "perfectly handsome," and "pretty and fair" (112-3);  Madame Beck, whom she calls "dumpy" (126); Ginevra and Paulina, both of whom she repeatedly calls beautiful.  Nevertheless, her attraction to the beauty of others is not sexual but is a result of her own desire to be beautiful.  As in the case of the Cleopatra painting, Lucy is interested in what men think is beautiful, though at the same time, she does experience the undoing that Marcus describes.  Ultimately, Lucy does not develop any lasting female friendships, as the marriages of both Paulina and Ginevra cause her to lose contact with those women.

*Between Women:  Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007) by Sharon Marcus

The above painting is Idleness (1900) by John William Godward.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who are you, Miss Snowe

The light in which M. de Bassompierre evidently regarded "Miss Snowe," used to occasion me much inward edification. What contradictory attributes of character we sometimes find ascribed to us, according to the eye with which we are viewed! Madame Beck esteemed me learned and blue; Miss Fanshawe, caustic, ironic, and cynical; Mr. Home, a model teacher, the essence of the sedate and discreet: somewhat conventional, perhaps, too strict, limited, and scrupulous, but still the pink and pattern of governess-correctness; whilst another person, Professor Paul Emanuel, to wit, never lost an opportunity of intimating his opinion that mine was rather a fiery and rash nature--adventurous, indocile, and audacious. I smiled at them all. If any one knew me it was little Paulina Mary.  (Ch. 26)

Is there anyone in the novel that truly understands Lucy?  I would answer no, because there is so little that she shares with others.  Even the reader knows very little about her past, though there is an indication of a damaging storm she has had to endure.  Nevertheless, several characters make judgments and try to categorize her, as the quote above indicates.  Eventually, Ginevra asks her, "Who are you, Miss Snowe?," an inquiry to which Lucy responds only with a laugh.

For the people Lucy describes above, Lucy has come to exhibit facets of their personalities.  For example, to M. Paul, Lucy appears fiery and rash but he comes across the same way.  As mentioned earlier, Lucy lacks an identity not only to herself but also to others.  Therefore, since she has failed to define herself, other feel the need to define her in a way convenient for themselves.  Paulina (the former Polly, now Countess de Bassompierre) is the only person that has not tried to define Lucy and allows her to be herself, which is why Lucy says Polly knows her best.

In addition to those mentioned in the above quote, Dr. John also tries to define Lucy, who states, "He wanted always to give me a rôle not mine." (Ch. 27)  He mostly views her as a patient and a close companion but nothing more intimate, which explains the fact that he could go three months without speaking to Lucy and not realize it.  At one point he wishes Lucy were a boy so that they could be better friends, a prospect entirely distasteful to Lucy.

The above painting is The Governess (1854) Rebecca Solomon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Sweet Draught

It becomes obvious in this section (ch. 20-22) that Lucy has developed feelings for Dr. John, though it becomes equally obvious that the latter has not developed feelings for Lucy.  The two, along with Mrs. Bretton, attend a concert given by the students of the Conservatoire.  Lucy, commanded by Mrs. Bretton, wears a pink dress, a stark contrast to her usually dark dress.  Despite the fact that Lucy desires to be looked at, she is not happy about the possible attention her bright dress will draw to her.  Nevertheless, Dr. John never acknowledges her wardrobe:

"Here, Lucy, are some flowers," said he, giving me a bouquet. He took no further notice of my dress than was conveyed in a kind smile and satisfied nod, which calmed at once my sense of shame and fear of ridicule. For the rest; the dress was made with extreme simplicity, guiltless of flounce or furbelow; it was but the light fabric and bright tint which scared me, and since Graham found in it nothing absurd, my own eye consented soon to become reconciled. (Ch. 20)

One would think that Dr. John would address her drastic change in wardrobe, especially after she has been living at his residence for a few weeks, but he makes no comment.  His lack of acknowledgement shows his lack of interest in her.  In this section he calls her "god-sister" and "friend" and only views her as a companion.  He has viewed her as at different times as a acquaintance of youth, a teacher at a school, and a patient ("I look on you now from a professional point of view," Ch. 22), but he has never viewed her with an eye of interest.  Lucy, even in her reticence, exposes her feelings for Dr. John, calling him "the best face, the finest figure, I thought, I had ever seen." (Ch. 20)

Though Dr. John fails to notice Lucy, Bronte makes it clear he does recognize attractive members of the opposite sex, such as the "splendid creature in the pale blue satin dress" that he notices at the concert.  He also notices Ginevra at the concert, though he is enraged by her mocking of his mother.  It is beauty that grabs his attention, a characteristic Lucy is lacking.  Nevertheless, his rejection of Ginevra at this point leaves hope for Lucy that she may win his attention, though Reason cautions her not to expect his attention because she will be disappointed:

Often has Reason turned me out by night, in mid-winter, on cold snow, flinging for sustenance the gnawed bone dogs had forsaken: sternly has she vowed her stores held nothing more for me--harshly denied my right to ask better things.... (Ch. 21)

One person who does notice Lucy in her pink dress is M. Paul, who sardonically regards the dress, which is a change from her "sombre daily attire."  He knows she is not being true to her usual disposition and she, in shame, refuses to acknowledge his presence.  Lucy calls him "a mere sprite of caprice and ubiquity."  (Ch. 21)  For Lucy, he is a haunting presence, always at her side and convicting her conscience.  He sees Lucy like not one else in the novel and Lucy, who desperately wants to be seen, does not like his scrutiny because he seems to read her thoughts and discourages her from that which she knows she should not pursue but pursues anyway.  He warns her of her growing, futile attachment to Dr. John:

"You look," said he, "like one who would snatch at a draught of sweet poison, and spurn wholesome bitters with disgust.

"Indeed, I never liked bitters; nor do I believe them wholesome. And to whatever is sweet, be it poison or food, you cannot, at least, deny its own delicious quality--sweetness. Better, perhaps, to die quickly a pleasant death, than drag on long a charmless life."

"Yet," said he, "you should take your bitter dose duly and daily, if I had the power to administer it; and, as to the well-beloved poison, I would, perhaps, break the very cup which held it."  (Ch. 22)

One senses M. Paul's desire to protect Lucy from falling victim to this "poison," her attachment to Dr. John, who does not return those feelings.  Lucy desires this sweet draught that she has never tasted before.  She is well aware of its harmful effects, but it is the only drink that can quench her thirst, as bitters will only make her more thirsty.  M. Paul wants to administer to her a more salubrious drink, which may signify a possible attraction to Lucy, though his interest in her is not at all clear yet.  Nevertheless, M. Paul's warning is not entirely without effect as Lucy admits that Dr. John is not as ideal a figure as she conceived him to be:

I have been told since that Dr. Bretton was not nearly so perfect as I thought him: that his actual character lacked the depth, height, compass, and endurance it possessed in my creed. I don't know: he was as good to me as the well is to the parched wayfarer--as the sun to the shivering jailbird. I remember him heroic. Heroic at this moment will I hold him to be. (Ch. 22)

For Lucy, Dr. John is a friend in time of need but there exists no special connection between the two.

The above painting is Flower Worship by Charles Edward Perugini (1839-1918)

Thursday, July 15, 2010


While perusing an art gallery, waiting for Dr. John's return, Lucy's attention is arrested by one painting in particular, which she proceeds to describe:

It represented a woman, considerably larger, I thought, than the life.  I calculated that this lady, put into a scale of magnitude, suitable for the reception of a commodity of bulk, would infallibly turn from fourteen to sixteen stone. She was, indeed, extremely well fed: very much butcher's meat--to say nothing of bread, vegetables, and liquids--must she have consumed to attain that breadth and height, that wealth of muscle, that affluence of flesh. She lay half-reclined on a couch: why, it would be difficult to say; broad daylight blazed round her; she appeared in hearty health, strong enough to do the work of two plain cooks; she could not plead a weak spine; she ought to have been standing, or at least sitting bolt upright. She, had no business to lounge away the noon on a sofa. She ought likewise to have worn decent garments; a gown covering her properly, which was not the case: out of abundance of material--seven-and-twenty yards, I should say, of drapery--she managed to make inefficient raiment. Then, for the wretched untidiness surrounding her, there could be no excuse. Pots and pans--perhaps I ought to say vases and goblets--were rolled here and there on the foreground; a perfect rubbish of flowers was mixed amongst them, and an absurd and disorderly mass of curtain upholstery smothered the couch and cumbered the floor. On referring to the catalogue, I found that this notable production bore the name "Cleopatra." (Ch. 19)

Lucy makes fun of the portrayal, calling the subject "extremely well fed" and having an "affluence of flesh."  However, Lucy also makes a sociological observation, commenting on the recumbent pose of the subject, who chooses to "lounge away the noon" while surrounded by "wretched untidiness."  While "Cleopatra" may be beautiful, Lucy considers her lazy and lacking in her duties:  "There could be no excuse."  Lucy finds the painting silly and not ideal.

Her language is light-hearted, calling the work "an enormous piece of claptrap."  Nevertheless, while Lucy views and dismisses the work, men begin to fill the gallery to look at the painting, including M. Paul, who opposes Lucy's viewing of such a work, though he himself takes a moment to observe it.  This growth of interest in the artwork causes Lucy to give it a second look.  She is not interested in the artistic value but in the aspect which causes men to be interested in such a work.  As a woman, she sees silliness when she views it, but men are captivated by the portrait and are drawn to the work.  Lucy, who is almost obsessive in her desire to be looked at, observes "Cleopatra" to see the beauty that men are drawn to.  Nevertheless, M. Paul does not want her to look at the painting and possibly get ideas and explains to her that while the subject is beautiful, it is not the type of beauty he would want in a wife, daughter, or sister.  It is a beauty to be observed but not to be obtained.  Lucy realizes this and decides that is not the beauty she desires for herself.

The above painting is not the portrait on which Bronte based her description, as her description was not based on an actual portrait of Cleopatra.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dream of the Past

During the "long vacation" period in which students and teachers are permitted to leave the pensionnat for eight weeks, Lucy, having no family to visit, remains at the establishment, growing lonely with only a servant as a companion.  This is a harrowing situation for Lucy, who has shown that while she does not need much interaction, she does need to be around life, even if only for observational purposes.  Nevertheless, being alone, Lucy describes herself during this vacation as being "torn, racked, and oppressed in mind," (Ch. 15) in which state she visits a Catholic confessional.  Though her confession is never fully disclosed, Lucy tells the priest she had "a pressure of affliction on my mind," (Ch. 15) later expanding with the following:

I cannot put the case into words, but my days and nights were grown intolerable: a cruel sense of desolation pained my mind: a feeling that would make its way, rush out, or kill me--like (and this you will understand, Dr. John) the current which passes through the heart, and which, if aneurism or any other morbid cause obstructs its natural channels, seeks abnormal outlet. I wanted companionship, I wanted friendship, I wanted counsel. I could find none of these in closet or chamber, so I went and sought them in church and confessional. As to what I said, it was no confidence, no narrative. I have done nothing wrong: my life has not been active enough for any dark deed, either of romance or reality: all I poured out was a dreary, desperate complaint. (Ch. 17)

Lucy does not like being alone because it forces her to reflect on a past she would like to forget.  When others are around, she can thing about their lives and apects of their character, though such reflection causes her to appear to the reader judgmental.

Her collapse at the end of Part One is caused by her recollection of the past with the priest .  When she returns to consciousness at the beginning of Part Two, she is faced by objects of the past, though not from a haunting past but from a comforting past:

Where was I? Not only in what spot of the world, but in what year of our Lord? For all these objects were of past days, and of a distant country. Ten years ago I bade them good-by; since my fourteenth year they and I had never met. I gasped audibly, "Where am I?" (Ch. 16)

She has been carried to the Villette residence of the Brettons, and though the residence is in a different country, the comforting atmosphere has crossed the Channel as well, Lucy calling it a "living stream" (Ch. 16) in a "salubrious climate." (Ch. 17)  After a second day with the Brettons, Lucy comments:  "I felt happier, easier, more at home. That night--instead of crying myself asleep--I went down to dreamland by a pathway bordered with pleasant thoughts."  (Ch. 17)  This is a welcome contrast to the afflicting atmosphere of the vacant school.

The above painting is Dream of the Past (1857) by John Everett Millais.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Fête

Henry Andrews, A fête champêtre, with courtly figures dancingThe party in honor of Madame Beck is an occasion of much significance at the pensionnat, the planning of which involving most of the teachers and students.  Lucy is content to stay in the background until drafted by M. Paul Emmanuel, a kinsman of Madam Beck and instructor at the school, to play a male role in a play, only a few hours before it is to be performed.  M. Paul states the others would not perform such a role because it is uninteresting, blaming their amour propre for their repulsive attitudes toward the role.  Amour propre is a term discussed by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on Inequality describing man's obession with how one is viewed by others, in a self-aggrandizing way.  Rousseau contrasts this term with amour de soi, which describes a healthy self-respect that pursues only one's needs and not seeking to compare with others.  Lucy has no amour propre and one questions whether she has much amour de soi.  Lucy reluctantly accepts the role but will not consent to dress entirely like a man but retains her dress while consenting to wear a vest, a tie, and an overcoat. 

While Lucy likely looks ridiculous, her counterpart in the play, Ginevra Fanshawe, is the beautiful lead female.  Lucy is aware of the disparity, repeatedly pointing out Ginevra's beauty, at one point calling her "fascinatingly pretty."  (Ch. 14)  The stage is a natural place for Ginevra, who is used to being looked at and admired;  Lucy, though, is used to being overlooked and ignored.  Nevertheless, Lucy makes it clear that "it was not the crowd I feared, so much as my own voice."  So far in the novel, Lucy has spoken very little, though she has been the focus.  While she has demonstrated that she has strong and clear opinions, she rarely opens up to others.  In effect, she is a reticent observer, her voice coming through only as narrator.  Her reticence is almost shocking considering the prominent role she plays in the novel.  Lucy fears her own voice because it is so rarely used.

Nevertheless, Lucy finds her voice during the play:

Now I know acted as if wishful and to win and conquer. Ginevra seconded me; between us we half-changed the nature of the rôle, gilding it from top to toe. Between the acts M. Paul, told us he knew not what possessed us, and half expostulated. "C'est peut-être plus beau que votre modèle," said he, "mais ce n'est pas juste." I know not what possessed me either; but somehow, my longing was to eclipse the "Ours," i.e., Dr. John. Ginevra was tender; how could I be otherwise than chivalric? Retaining the letter, I recklessly altered the spirit of the rôle. Without heart, without interest, I could not play it at all. It must be played--in went the yearned-for seasoning--thus favoured, I played it with relish. (Ch. 14)

Lucy describes what seems to be a competition for the attention of Dr. John, who is in the audience.  For Ginevra, it is a game she plays with Dr. John's feelings knowing her is attracted to her.  However, for Lucy, it is an opportunity to fight for one she seems to be attracted to, though she harbors no idea of trying to gain his attention as "Lucy," since he has barely acknowledged her presence.  Therefore this role she adopts is her opportunity for him to see her, though he sees her (maybe) in disguise.  Interestingly, Lucy only finds her voice when she is able to disguise herself as another persona.  Hearing her voice scares her to the point that she declares "I took a firm resolution never to be drawn into a similar affair."

Nevertheless, Lucy finds her voice again later in chapter 14 in a scene also involving Dr. John:

What a god-like person is that de Hamal! What a nose on his face--perfect! Model one in putty or clay, you could not make a better or straighter, or neater; and then, such classic lips and chin--and his bearing--sublime."

"De Hamal is an unutterable puppy, besides being a very white-livered hero."

"You, Dr. John, and every man of a less-refined mould than he, must feel for him a sort of admiring affection, such as Mars and the coarser deities may be supposed to have borne the young, graceful Apollo."

"An unprincipled, gambling little jackanapes!" said Dr. John curtly, "whom, with one hand, I could lift up by the waistband any day, and lay low in the kennel if I liked."

"The sweet seraph!" said I. "What a cruel idea! Are you not a little severe, Dr. John?"

And now I paused. For the second time that night I was going beyond myself--venturing out of what I looked on as my natural habits--speaking in an unpremeditated, impulsive strain, which startled me strangely when I halted to reflect.

Lucy and Dr. John are discussing his rival for Ginevra's attention.  She teases Dr. John about his rival in what maybe her most unguarded moment yet.  One can see that when Lucy is in the presence of Dr. John, she feels comfortable using her voice, though they barely knows each other.  Dr. John talks to her, though mostly about his love for Ginevra, who Lucy sees as "preposterously vain."  Nevertheless, it is in the presence of Dr. John that Lucy shows her personality through her voice, as this is the first evidence that Lucy has a sense of humor.
The above painting is A Fête Champêtre (1851) by Henry Andrews.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I enjoyed that day, though we travelled slowly, though it was cold, though it rained. Somewhat bare, flat, and treeless was the route along which our journey lay; and slimy canals crept, like half-torpid green snakes, beside the road; and formal pollard willows edged level fields, tilled like kitchen-garden beds. The sky, too, was monotonously gray; the atmosphere was stagnant and humid; yet amidst all these deadening influences, my fancy budded fresh and my heart basked in sunshine. (Ch. 7)

The remainder of the novel takes place in Villette, a town located in the country of Labassecour.  On the day after her arrival, Lucy describes the country as cold and rainy, flat and treeless (possibly signifying lifelessness), though "stagnant and humid."  Upon entering the city of Villette, a palpable darkness accompanies a pervading fog and dense rain.  The muddy country roads have been traded for a "rough and flinty surface."  Nevertheless, despite her surroundings, Lucy maintains a positive outlook and an anticipatory excitement.  During her time in Villette, tries to avoid becoming emotionally involved in harrowing circumstances, though not always successful.  This attitude causes her to appear as cold, though she is quite the opposite; it is her fragile psyche that dictates this attitude. 

Oh, my childhood! I had feelings: passive as I lived, little as I spoke, cold as I looked, when I thought of past days, I could feel. About the present, it was better to be stoical; about the future--such a future as mine--to be dead. And in catalepsy and a dead trance, I studiously held the quick of my nature.

At that time, I well remember whatever could excite--certain accidents of the weather, for instance, were almost dreaded by me, because they woke the being I was always lulling, and stirred up a craving cry I could not satisfy. (Ch. 12)

Lucy recognizes her fragile nature and actively avoids and combats situations that expose this weakness.

Lucy describes Villette as a "cosmopolitan city," (Ch. 9) with the pensionnat having girls from all over Europe.  There is no class distinction in the school:  the rich and poor learn together and are nearly indistinguishable.  As one who is poor herself, Lucy praises this aspect.  An aspect Lucy does not praise is religion.  Labassecour is a Catholic country, which  Lucy, as a Protestant does not like.  Lucy does not participate in evening prayers (Ch. 12), choosing to spend this time in the garden.  Lucy concludes that any negative traits of Catholics are directly related to their Catholicism, such as Lucy's assessment that Labassecouriennes have no problem with lying:

To do all parties justice, the honest aboriginal Labassecouriennes had an hypocrisy of their own, too; but it was of a coarse order, such as could deceive few. Whenever a lie was necessary for their occasions, they brought it out with a careless ease and breadth altogether untroubled by the rebuke of conscience. Not a soul in Madame Beck's house, from the scullion to the directress herself, but was above being ashamed of a lie; they thought nothing of it: to invent might not be precisely a virtue, but it was the most venial of faults. "J'ai menti plusieurs fois," formed an item of every girl's and woman's monthly confession: the priest heard unshocked, and absolved unreluctant. If they had missed going to mass, or read a chapter of a novel, that was another thing: these were crimes whereof rebuke and penance were the unfailing meed. (Ch. 9)

Lucy clearly ridicules the religious habits of not only Labassecouriennes but also the foreign students and teachers of Madame Beck's school, who have had no problem adapting to the moral code.  Lucy shows herself to be quite critical of the Catholic faith as well as its adherents.

The above painting is Old Chelsea by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On to Villette

Lucy is once again forced to relocate upon the death of Miss Marchmont, from whose heir Lucy receives 15 pounds (around $1,000) with which to decide her future.  Lucy is once again without anyone to direct her path and Fate has taken her likely benefactor.  Also, Mrs Bretton and her son have lost their property and have moved out of town.  Lucy is like a ship without a captain, tossed along by the waves, not sure where she will land.  Ultimately, she will end up in Villette, but it is an unlikely journey which takes her there.  She describes herself before setting out on this journey as "shaken in nerves" and "though worn not broken." (ch. 5)  Though of a fragile psyche, the inner strength she learned from Miss Marchmont help her to retain "the vigour of youth."  (ch. 5) 

Chance plays a major role in the not-so-believeable plot Bronte constructs.  She finds a former housekeeper who happens to mention that Englishwoman have been known to do well as governesses in foreign families.  Lucy goes to London for the first time and her waiter at the inn in which she is residing happens to know her uncles who used to frequent this particular inn 15 years previously.  This waiter suggests that she visit the continental port Boue-Marine, though he gives her no advice on seeking employment in this French-speaking town.  On the ship bound for Boue-Marie, Lucy meets a young girl named Ginevra Fanshawe, who happens to attend a girls school that is in need of an Englishwoman to teach the girls.  Upon disembarking from the ship, Lucy is separated from Ginevra, but happens to meet what seems to be the one English speaker in close proximity, a young man who directs her to the pensionnat of Madame Beck, the girls school mentioned earlier.  All of these strokes of good luck seem out of place for one whose previous luck has been significantly less than good. 

Lucy's interaction with female characters in this section (chps. 4-8) is interesting, particularly with three characters.  The first is her former housekeeper's mistress, who is a former schoolmate of Lucy.  Though Lucy recognizes her, Mrs. Leigh not only fails to recognize Lucy but does not even seem to see that Lucy is present.  This reaction, or lack thereof, is a facet that Lucy will continue to encounter, as people will continue not to recognize her or not acknowledge her at all.  Lucy's first encounter with Miss Fanshawe solicits an interesting reaction from the latter:

She also glanced in my direction, and slightly curled her short, pretty lip. It might be myself, or it might be my homely mourning habit, that elicited this mark of contempt; more likely, both. (ch. 6)

The final female character of interest that Lucy encounters at this point of the novel is Madame Beck, proprietress of the pensionnat at which Lucy seeks employment.  After careful contemplation of Lucy's character and physical appearance, Madame Beck grants her employment but rummages through Lucy's belongings after the latter is supposedly but not actually asleep.  Though Lucy an observer of people, Madame Beck appears to be an exaggerated form of Lucy in her surveillance of her teachers and students.  Though Lucy fails to realize it, she and Madame Beck are similar in other ways as well.  She describes the proprietress as having "very good sense" and "very sound opinions," which would be an accurate way to describe Lucy.  Nevertheless, when she describes Madame as heartless, that is another extreme of Lucy's personality; while the reader would describe Lucy as cold, heartless is out of place with her.

The above painting is At the Doorway (1898) by Lady Laura Alma-Tadema.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

After the storm

Upon leaving the Bretton residence, Lucy experiences eight years of "halcyon weather" before encountering a "heavy tempest" showing "neither sun nor stars."  After this storm, she is called upon by Miss Marchmont to care for the "furrowed, grey-haired woman, grave with solitude, stern with long affliction, irritable also, and perhaps exacting."  Lucy learns a lot from Miss Marchmont in the short time she spent with her, observation being one of her strongest skills.  She witnesses Miss Marchmont endure a paroxysm of pain with dignity and learns how to handle an attack and remain calm in the midst of a storm.  There will be many occasions in the novel in which Lucy will encounter situations which would taxing to anyone, but Lucy manages to remain calm because of her time with Miss Marchmont.  For Lucy, the latter represents strength in times of weakness.  There will be many times in which Lucy will show no reaction to situations, displaying that "external coldness" Bronte described, but it is a character trait that Lucy learns from Miss Marchmont and which keeps her from being overwhelmed psychologically.  Lucy can deal with with these occasional outbursts, which are nothing compared to what she has had to endure so far.

The time spent with Miss Marchmont is basically a period of boredom, but such is good for Lucy, as she does not need much entertainment and action.  She gravitates toward serenity, so that the fact that the Marchmont residence feels like confinement is not a negative.  Lucy does not venture outside much, which would subject her to the elements; she explicitly states in the last chapter of the novel "I was naturally no florist."  Bad weather, of which she is always conscious, disconcerts her.  Therefore, shelter agrees with her nature because it gives her a certain amount of control over what happens to her.  Of course, this temperament prevents Lucy from making friends, leaving her no one to confide in and forcing her to keep her emotions bottled up.  As a result, Lucy is quite lonely, but this preferable to melodramatic companionship.

Lucy describes herself in chapter four as "a bark slumbering through halcyon weather," showing her vulnerability but also casting her as someone lacking direction; there is no one to instruct her.  Miss Marchmont briefly provides instruction to her of a valuable sort.  Besides teaching her strength in times of weakness, Miss Marchmont warns Lucy prophetically, "It will not be an easy life."  Such a life would be a boon to Lucy, but she will not be indulged.  At one point, Lucy expresses that she could aid Miss Marchmont for twenty years and be happy, but such is denied her:

I had wanted to compromise with Fate: to escape occasional great agonies by submitting to a whole life of privation and small pains. Fate would not so be pacified; nor would Providence sanction this shrinking sloth and cowardly indolence.  (ch. 4)

Lucy later acknowledges that there are those to whom Fate grants a peaceful existence, though she apparently is not one:

do believe there are some human beings so born, so reared, so guided from a soft cradle to a calm and late grave, that no excessive suffering penetrates their lot, and no tempestuous blackness overcasts their journey. And often, these are not pampered, selfish beings, but Nature's elect, harmonious and benign; men and women mild with charity, kind agents of God's kind attributes. (ch. 37)

Also in an instance of clear foreshadowing, Miss Marchmont expresses that to love and lose the object of that love is not to have loved in vain:

What a glorious year I can recall--how bright it comes back to me! What a living spring--what a warm, glad summer--what soft moonlight, silvering the autumn evenings--what strength of hope under the ice-bound waters and frost-hoar fields of that year's winter! Through that year my heart lived with Frank's heart. O my noble Frank--my faithful Frank--my good Frank! so much better than myself--his standard in all things so much higher! This I can now see and say: if few women have suffered as I did in his loss, few have enjoyed what I did in his love. It was a far better kind of love than common; I had no doubts about it or him: it was such a love as honoured, protected, and elevated, no less than it gladdened her to whom it was given. (ch. 4)

Obviously, this foreshadows Lucy's future love interest and may be the best indicator of the ending intended by Bronte.

The above painting is After the Storm (1878) by Henry Redmore.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

Though the story is told from a first person perspective, at times Lucy appears to function as an omniscient narrator.  As an active participant throughout the novel, Lucy is able to tell the reader what she chooses as well as withhold information that does not serve her purpose, such as telling us very little about her background.  Lucy displays her omniscience when she gives detailed accounts of conversations for which she is not present, such as those between Polly and Graham at the beginning.  However, one almost gets the impression that she may have spied on the latter two in order to obtain the information she imparts. 

Lucy is an observer of people and places and does not speak much herself, divulging her thoughts in most situations to the reader only.  She says of Polly, "I observed that her little character never properly cam out, except with young Bretton," before which acquaintance, "I ceased to watch her...she was not interesting."  There is some jealousy in this remark in that before Polly's arrival, Lucy, along with Mrs. Bretton, were the main recipients of Graham's attention.  Nevertheless, once Polly arrives, there is almost no interaction between Graham and Lucy.  Lucy may be attracted to Graham, who is one year older than her, but she is silent in terms of her feelings toward Graham at this point, another possible instance of withholding information.  The situation is made awkward by the fact that while Graham is 16, Polly is only six, though quite precocious.  This fact causes one to suspect that most of the jealousy may have developed later, since Lucy is a much older woman when she is telling the story.

Nevertheless, Lucy does not present herself as sympathetic toward Polly at all, surprising considering that they have similar backgrounds.  Polly's mother has died, though she seems not to have been very attentive to the child or her husband.  Lucy apparently has no parents and has had to deal with tragedy but no connection develops between the girls.  Lucy shows her lack of sympathy when Polly grieves her father's departure and Lucy, though she "perceived [Polly] endured agony," acknowledges "I, Lucy Snowne, was calm," placing herself in contrast to Polly.  It is a cold response from someone who Bronte described as having "an external coldness," though Lucy is also a person with an internal fragility that gravitates toward calm atmospheres.

The above painting is Her Comfort (1889) by Albert Chevallier Tayler.


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