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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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marcus! I'm reading David Copperfield for the first time ever right now! How are you? And where are you? -Avi



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