Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Villette read-a-long week 3 : Chapters 12 to 16

I'm really late this week, thanks to a fine little break in the beautiful city of Chester. Lots of English history here from all eras, with plenty to inspire my Bronte reading. I've read all of the other read-a-long bloggers posts this week, and apart from a few people flagging thanks to the sheer density of Charlotte's writing, there is lots of wonderful insight from readers with such a diversity of experiences. If you're reading this Wallace; I'm really enjoying doing this, and thanks for hosting it.

This week's chapters can indeed be heavy-going. There's some tongue-drying sentence lengths going on here, and we're busy grappling with characters in a narrative which is hampered by (as plenty of fellow bloggers have pointed out) a narrator who isn't being quite straight with us all of the time. Lucy Snowe is busy carving out her own little niche in the school. We've already seen how she has established herself in the classroom. Her assertiveness there however doesn't appear to be so forthcoming when it comes to the social aspect of school life. Indeed, Lucy finds a dark secluded backwater of the garden, where the "very gloom of the walk" attracted her, and with a little TLC and a scrubbing brush, made the area her own. Lucy's detached inner thoughts tell us that she is perfectly content with her outsider's perspective on life inside and outside the school:

"Quite near were wide streets brightly lit, teeming at this moment with life: carriages were rolling through them to balls or to the opera. The same hour which tolled curfew for our convent, which extinguished each lamp, and dropped the curtain round each couch, rang for the gay city about us the summons to festal enjoyment. Of this contrast I thought not, however: gay instincts my nature had few; ball or opera I had never seen; and though often I had heard them described, and even wished to see them, it was not the wish of one who hopes to partake a pleasure if she could only reach it—who feels fitted to shine in some bright distant sphere, could she but thither win her way; it was no yearning to attain, no hunger to taste; only the calm desire to look on a new thing."

Lucy is forcibly no longer the observer thanks to the mysterious casket thrown into her secluded corner of the garden. Her human instinct for intrigue is piqued. Far from the passive Lucy we have known thus far, strange passions are being stirred as she, gasp, interacts with other people:

"The spectacle of a suspicious nature so far misled by its own inventions, tickled me much. Yet as the laugh died, a kind of wrath smote me, and then bitterness followed: it was the rock struck, and Meribah's waters gushing out. I never had felt so strange and contradictory an inward tumult as I felt for an hour that evening: soreness and laughter, and fire, and grief, shared my heart between them. I cried hot tears: not because Madame mistrusted me—I did not care twopence for her mistrust—but for other reasons. Complicated, disquieting thoughts broke up the whole repose of my nature. However, that turmoil subsided: next day I was again Lucy Snowe."

Again, other bloggers have brought attention to how Charlotte Bronte uses weather as a powerful metaphor in her writing. In this week's chapters the rolling frisson of early summer is excitedly anticipated by the whole school, and this comes out gloriously in Charlotte's writing, recreating this "strange, frolicsome, noisy little world" for us to enjoy.
The fete really is the finally to this section of the book; things will never be the same again. In real life, Charlotte was no longer a nobody hiding away in a secluded garden watching the whirl of life but taking no part in it herself. Surely Lucy's enforced performance in the play echoes Charlotte's own experience as she was forced to come out into London's literary society, and forced to shed the Currer Bell facade as her fame grew. Just like Lucy in the play, Charlotte stood in front of her new audience on her own terms: as a woman.

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