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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).

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