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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.

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