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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.

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