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Sunday, July 4, 2010

After the storm

Upon leaving the Bretton residence, Lucy experiences eight years of "halcyon weather" before encountering a "heavy tempest" showing "neither sun nor stars."  After this storm, she is called upon by Miss Marchmont to care for the "furrowed, grey-haired woman, grave with solitude, stern with long affliction, irritable also, and perhaps exacting."  Lucy learns a lot from Miss Marchmont in the short time she spent with her, observation being one of her strongest skills.  She witnesses Miss Marchmont endure a paroxysm of pain with dignity and learns how to handle an attack and remain calm in the midst of a storm.  There will be many occasions in the novel in which Lucy will encounter situations which would taxing to anyone, but Lucy manages to remain calm because of her time with Miss Marchmont.  For Lucy, the latter represents strength in times of weakness.  There will be many times in which Lucy will show no reaction to situations, displaying that "external coldness" Bronte described, but it is a character trait that Lucy learns from Miss Marchmont and which keeps her from being overwhelmed psychologically.  Lucy can deal with with these occasional outbursts, which are nothing compared to what she has had to endure so far.

The time spent with Miss Marchmont is basically a period of boredom, but such is good for Lucy, as she does not need much entertainment and action.  She gravitates toward serenity, so that the fact that the Marchmont residence feels like confinement is not a negative.  Lucy does not venture outside much, which would subject her to the elements; she explicitly states in the last chapter of the novel "I was naturally no florist."  Bad weather, of which she is always conscious, disconcerts her.  Therefore, shelter agrees with her nature because it gives her a certain amount of control over what happens to her.  Of course, this temperament prevents Lucy from making friends, leaving her no one to confide in and forcing her to keep her emotions bottled up.  As a result, Lucy is quite lonely, but this preferable to melodramatic companionship.

Lucy describes herself in chapter four as "a bark slumbering through halcyon weather," showing her vulnerability but also casting her as someone lacking direction; there is no one to instruct her.  Miss Marchmont briefly provides instruction to her of a valuable sort.  Besides teaching her strength in times of weakness, Miss Marchmont warns Lucy prophetically, "It will not be an easy life."  Such a life would be a boon to Lucy, but she will not be indulged.  At one point, Lucy expresses that she could aid Miss Marchmont for twenty years and be happy, but such is denied her:

I had wanted to compromise with Fate: to escape occasional great agonies by submitting to a whole life of privation and small pains. Fate would not so be pacified; nor would Providence sanction this shrinking sloth and cowardly indolence.  (ch. 4)

Lucy later acknowledges that there are those to whom Fate grants a peaceful existence, though she apparently is not one:

do believe there are some human beings so born, so reared, so guided from a soft cradle to a calm and late grave, that no excessive suffering penetrates their lot, and no tempestuous blackness overcasts their journey. And often, these are not pampered, selfish beings, but Nature's elect, harmonious and benign; men and women mild with charity, kind agents of God's kind attributes. (ch. 37)

Also in an instance of clear foreshadowing, Miss Marchmont expresses that to love and lose the object of that love is not to have loved in vain:

What a glorious year I can recall--how bright it comes back to me! What a living spring--what a warm, glad summer--what soft moonlight, silvering the autumn evenings--what strength of hope under the ice-bound waters and frost-hoar fields of that year's winter! Through that year my heart lived with Frank's heart. O my noble Frank--my faithful Frank--my good Frank! so much better than myself--his standard in all things so much higher! This I can now see and say: if few women have suffered as I did in his loss, few have enjoyed what I did in his love. It was a far better kind of love than common; I had no doubts about it or him: it was such a love as honoured, protected, and elevated, no less than it gladdened her to whom it was given. (ch. 4)

Obviously, this foreshadows Lucy's future love interest and may be the best indicator of the ending intended by Bronte.

The above painting is After the Storm (1878) by Henry Redmore.

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