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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)

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