Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Villette" Read-A-Long: Chapters 12-17

Third post for this read-a-long, initiated by Unputdownables.

I am enjoying the book thus far as we have made our way into Volume Two.  But am feeling a bit frustrated that Lucy is not more forthcoming about her past.  I have the same questions as last week:  Where did she come from?   Who is her family?
What happened to her?   Why is she all alone?

She is a mystery, an enigma, hiding the details of her past while dropping hints which for me, only brings up more questions.  Hence the frustration.  Anyone else feeling this?

In the audiocourse, The Art of Reading, Professor Spurgin talks about the difference between flat and round characters from E.M. Forster's Book, Aspects of the Novel.  Round characters are "dynamic, complex, and unpredictable" and are therefore far more interesting than flat characters who are predictable, one-dimensional and boring.  Lucy Snowe is definitely a round character.  I find her to be a study in contradictions as the next three examples show.

1)  On the one hand, she is unambitious and a wall-flower, perfectly content to settle for a "ho-hum" kind of life.  Back in Chapter 8, she says: "Inadventurous, unstirred by impulses of practical ambition, I was capable of sitting twenty years teaching infants the hornbook..."

And yet when faced with a challenge, be it teaching a large group of students for the first time, or at the very last minute, taking a major part in a play, she finds the resources to do so and with success.

2)  She comes across as a stoic, cool, aloof person and yet underneath, has deep, intense feelings.  At times, like a bubbling pot of water that overflows, her emotions get the best of her.  She feels anger, bitterness, loneliness, fear, and anxiety.  Once the emotional outburst is over, she puts a lid back on her feelings as shown in this passage:
"Yet as the laugh died, a kind of wrath smote me, and then bitterness followed....I cried hot tears...complicated, disquieting thoughts broke up the whole repose of my nature. However, that turmoil subsided: next day I was again Lucy Stowe."
3)  When the school is full of people, she separates herself, preferring to live in her "own still, shadow-world."  Another example of this is when, after performing in the fete, she "retired into myself and my ordinary life.....Withdrawing to a quiet nook, whence unobserved I could observe - the ball, its splendours and its pleasures passed before me as a spectacle."

Yet when everyone leaves for vacation, her reaction is surprising.  One would think she would enjoy the emptiness, stillness and quiet.  But no, quite the contrary.  She ends up having an emotional breakdown, she is so distraught.
"My heart almost died within me; miserable longings strained its chords. How long were the September days! How silent, how lifeless! How vast and void seemed the desolate premises! How gloomy the forsaken garden - gray now with the dust of the town-summer departed....I hardly knew how I was to live to the end."
Lucy is not only full of contradictions, but is full of secrets.  Secrets of her past that she refuses to disclose to us readers.  She keeps things from others such as when she knew who Dr. John really was. Why would she keep this to herself?  Why not disclose who she was and renew a relationship with not only him but his mother?   Her motive is unclear which I find disconcerting.

So Lucy is not only full of contradictions and secrets but also fear.  Fear of intimacy.  Fear of rejection. Fear of loving and being hurt.  These are my guesses based on how she reacts to the care and kindness from Dr. John and his mother.
"I left that I still had friends...towards whom, my heart softened instinctively and yearned with an importunate gratitude, which I entreated Reason betimes to check. 'Do not let me not think of them too often, too much, too fondly...let me be content with a temperate draught of this living stream...still repeating it, I steeped that pillow with tears."
Despite being left in the dark, I am still interested in Lucy.  I want to know what happens to her. Will these contradictions in her personality get resolved?  Will she find happiness?  What about love?

I love Bronte's use of language and am now considering how and where to keep a running list of memorable quotes of this and future books.  Anyone else doing this and if so, how?


  1. I agree that Lucy is very much a round character. I don't know if I've ever read something that presented a character quite like this.

    I do have a notebook in which I write down my favorite quotes. It's fun to flip back through it and remember a book that way. If I'm reading and something makes me stop and ponder (or laugh) I'll take the time to make note of it.

  2. Yes! I like that (and did not know that before). Lucy is a round character. Thanks for teaching me that. In fact, knowing that that is a technique almost makes me more interested in Lucy. Is that strange?

  3. I agree, I wish there was more information about Lucy! I want to know where she came from. And she really is unpredictable.

  4. Lucy is indeed a dichotomy - a huge barrel of mixed feelings; some repressed, some in need of being awakened.
    I have tried to explain my own feelings on this elsewhere, but basically I think that the day to day comings and goings of the school engage Lucy without truly grabbing her (preferring her own mind for stimulation), but the vacation really tested that (and being literally placed in the company of a cretin certainly rammed that home), and now, as other bloggers have pointed out, is where her story really begins. All she needs now is a sparring partner who is her intellectual equal...