Thursday, March 17, 2011

Villette read-a-long week 6 : Chapters 26-30

(The above picture is Constantin Heger, the real M. Paul, with whom Charlotte fell in (unrequited) love during her spell in Brussels. Not how I imagined M. Paul to look from reading the book...)

Lucy's relationship with Dr. John, their conversation so often revolving around other people, particularly the singular Ginevra Fanshawe, was surely a red herring for us readers in determining where Lucy Snowe's heart will find its berth. As other bloggers have so eloquently pointed out in their posts, Graham Bretton is the perfect suitor on paper only, carrying an inbuilt outward respectability that comes from being that icon of the Victorian age: a doctor, and yet being so silly and frivolous in mind as to be taken in by the shallow charms and selfish nature of Miss Fanshawe. Don't get me wrong - Graham is a wonderful friend and courteous gentleman to Lucy - but their relationship stays where it very much belongs; in a love of the surrogate sibling kind. I think we maybe knew this in our hearts all along, but we want Lucy to find the happiness that seems to so elude her that we read things into the little nuances of their relationship. I'm sure this is just as Charlotte Bronte intended.

And so we slowly open our eyes to M. Paul Emanuel emergence as Lucy's true romantic foil. For this reader, it is endearing to read of M. Paul's blundering, gruff, jealous attempts at gaining Lucy's attention, at wooing her. At least I think that's what he is attempting. It's almost as if we haven't really noticed it thus far; we think he's just a rude little man - a peripheral character simply there to add colour to Lucy's life in the school - whose outburst at the Hotel Crecy are something to be laughed at when overheard by the ever-mischievous Graham. But there seems to be a subtle turning point here. As Graham scurries away to flirt with Polly (his eyes having been forcibly opened by our Lucy), she reflects on how she felt about what Graham had said about M. Paul, and how her reaction might look in his eyes - how "the evening had not been one flow of exultant enjoyment for the volatile, pleasure-loving Mademoiselle Lucie".
Later in this chapter he have the 'mon-ami' conversation between M. Paul and Lucy. As Lucy knows very well, the literal English wording - 'my friend' - doesn't quite tell the whole story as it doesn't convey the sense of familial intimacy of the French phrase. And we just KNOW that M. Paul knows this very well. But she agrees to at least say the words in their English translation, and the beautiful observation of M. Paul's resulting smile takes up the best part of half a page and is as good a place as any to witness Charlotte Bronte's descriptive genius:

"You should have seen him smile, reader; and you should have marked the difference between his countenance now, and that he wore half an hour ago. I cannot affirm that I had ever witnessed the smile of pleasure, or content, or kindness round M. Paul's lips, or in his eyes before. The ironic, the sarcastic, the disdainful, the passionately exultant, I had hundreds of times seen him express by what he called a smile, but any illuminated sign of milder or warmer feelings struck me as wholly new in his visage. It changed it as from a mask to a face: the deep lines left his features; the very complexion seemed clearer and fresher; that swart, sallow, southern darkness which spoke his Spanish blood, became displaced by a lighter hue. I know not that I have ever seen in any other human face an equal metamorphosis from a similar cause."

What an amazing awakening of feeling which, through Charlotte's fevered pen, we get to feel first hand - the first sentence of the passage almost IMPLORING us to be there with Lucy. The power of simple muscular movements to evoke and disturb emotions lying too dormant for too long. We, along with Lucy, have just seen a fresh side of M. Paul we never imagined to be there.

I'm sure that I've written far too much for a weekly little post, so I should really leave it there. Chapter 28 (The Watchguard) is the beginning of the third part of the original triple-decker format of the novel, and it is interesting that it's opening words are "M. Paul Emanuel", leading as it does into the wonderfully funny 'broken glasses' sequence that so wittily encapsulates where his and Lucy's hearts are going. I'm sure there are still twists to the tale, but we can be sure that the final part of Lucy Snowe's adventures in this funny little town are now going to be very much more intertwined with a funny little man who is (like Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester) her intellectual and emotional equal.
Wherever they go, we follow, as ever, mesmerised.


Alexandra said...

I also wondered about the similarities between M. Heger and M. Paul in these chapters. But M. Paul's attention-calling antics really hit a nerve with me. A bad nerve, even after the (magnificent) description of his smile.

M. Paul is too much of a bully for me to really warm up to him and I'm sorry for this. Did Charlotte really wanted us to like him, you think?

Anonymous said...

M Paul & Lucy's relationship was really reminding me of Jane Eyre & Rochester's relationship this week, too. So does M Paul have a mad wife (or a ghostly nun) shut up in his attic? (Just kidding) Guess we'll find out... Susan E

Josh's mom said...

Well written post!

I've never read a book like this - stopping along the way to ponder, write and read other's thoughts - while not having a clue how it will end.

All of our questioning and hypothesizing - it will be interesting to see how correct we are.

mindy said...

Thanks for the picture-- we can always seem to count on you to provide some great historical tidbit. I think I'll keep my imaginary picture of M. Paul (he looks somewhat Napoleon-esque in my imagination), but the photo gave me a little new insight into a book I read about a year ago called Becoming Jane Eyre.