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Thursday, July 8, 2010


I enjoyed that day, though we travelled slowly, though it was cold, though it rained. Somewhat bare, flat, and treeless was the route along which our journey lay; and slimy canals crept, like half-torpid green snakes, beside the road; and formal pollard willows edged level fields, tilled like kitchen-garden beds. The sky, too, was monotonously gray; the atmosphere was stagnant and humid; yet amidst all these deadening influences, my fancy budded fresh and my heart basked in sunshine. (Ch. 7)

The remainder of the novel takes place in Villette, a town located in the country of Labassecour.  On the day after her arrival, Lucy describes the country as cold and rainy, flat and treeless (possibly signifying lifelessness), though "stagnant and humid."  Upon entering the city of Villette, a palpable darkness accompanies a pervading fog and dense rain.  The muddy country roads have been traded for a "rough and flinty surface."  Nevertheless, despite her surroundings, Lucy maintains a positive outlook and an anticipatory excitement.  During her time in Villette, tries to avoid becoming emotionally involved in harrowing circumstances, though not always successful.  This attitude causes her to appear as cold, though she is quite the opposite; it is her fragile psyche that dictates this attitude. 

Oh, my childhood! I had feelings: passive as I lived, little as I spoke, cold as I looked, when I thought of past days, I could feel. About the present, it was better to be stoical; about the future--such a future as mine--to be dead. And in catalepsy and a dead trance, I studiously held the quick of my nature.

At that time, I well remember whatever could excite--certain accidents of the weather, for instance, were almost dreaded by me, because they woke the being I was always lulling, and stirred up a craving cry I could not satisfy. (Ch. 12)

Lucy recognizes her fragile nature and actively avoids and combats situations that expose this weakness.

Lucy describes Villette as a "cosmopolitan city," (Ch. 9) with the pensionnat having girls from all over Europe.  There is no class distinction in the school:  the rich and poor learn together and are nearly indistinguishable.  As one who is poor herself, Lucy praises this aspect.  An aspect Lucy does not praise is religion.  Labassecour is a Catholic country, which  Lucy, as a Protestant does not like.  Lucy does not participate in evening prayers (Ch. 12), choosing to spend this time in the garden.  Lucy concludes that any negative traits of Catholics are directly related to their Catholicism, such as Lucy's assessment that Labassecouriennes have no problem with lying:

To do all parties justice, the honest aboriginal Labassecouriennes had an hypocrisy of their own, too; but it was of a coarse order, such as could deceive few. Whenever a lie was necessary for their occasions, they brought it out with a careless ease and breadth altogether untroubled by the rebuke of conscience. Not a soul in Madame Beck's house, from the scullion to the directress herself, but was above being ashamed of a lie; they thought nothing of it: to invent might not be precisely a virtue, but it was the most venial of faults. "J'ai menti plusieurs fois," formed an item of every girl's and woman's monthly confession: the priest heard unshocked, and absolved unreluctant. If they had missed going to mass, or read a chapter of a novel, that was another thing: these were crimes whereof rebuke and penance were the unfailing meed. (Ch. 9)

Lucy clearly ridicules the religious habits of not only Labassecouriennes but also the foreign students and teachers of Madame Beck's school, who have had no problem adapting to the moral code.  Lucy shows herself to be quite critical of the Catholic faith as well as its adherents.

The above painting is Old Chelsea by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

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