Charlotte Brontë – Villette (1853)

Boring. Lucy Snow, after spending time with her cousins “Brettons” and Polly, and caring for a dying Mrs. Marchmont (gets some money from her husband in the end), leaves England and goes to a school for girls in Villette, France. Mme Beck runs the place and M. Paul Emmanuel is the main Professor. She meets Dr. John, who is actually Graham Bretton. He is in love with bitchy Ginevra Fanshawe, but gives her up eventually and has a brief friendship-affair with Lucy. But he eventually marries Polly, and the two are very happy. She falls in love with M. Paul, but not before having a lot of strange encounters with a shadowy nun who turns out to be Ginevra’s lover in disguise. Beck and Pere Silas, a creepy Catholic priest, both try to prevent the marriage (jealousy and moralism being motives). Lucy wakes one night and has a crazy opium trip while walking around the town of Villette. She eventually is given a new school by Paul, but he leaves for the West Indies and most likely dies, though the ending is ambiguous. Awful, boring book. Ugh.

Psychology – Secrets don’t drive plot, but are rather meant to indicate psychological aberrations, etc. Question whether this is different in degree or kind from the withholding of secrets in other narratives (since it is always being told retrospectively, there is always some withholding involved). At any rate, it’s clear that character supercedes plot in this novel. This relates to more general themes of concealment. Relate to Fosco’s discussion of the perfect crime, Sherlock Holmes deliberate withholding of evidence from Watson (likewise Sergeant Cuff), and draw final contrast with Jane Eyre, in which Jane finds out things at the same time as the reader.

Negative construction of hope – Look both at the passage about being home with her family (one might as well believe that it was a happy time…track how the tenor of the metaphor shifts from being a ship to being on a ship)

Also, in the end, it’s the ship that we are allowed to believe makes it back to England but KNOW has actually crashed with M. Paul on it. What is the status of hope, knowledge, and belief, especially in the context of a book about faith, etc.

A deliberate playing with conventions – note the three different story lines in which Graham, John, man who sees Lucy to girls home, can all be a part. Lucy withholding her knowledge that it IS Dr. John is crucial for the preservation of these plots.

Why is it called Villette? A primitive form of the objective correlate, in which a neatly defined gepgraphical space is necessary to contain the otherwise boundless movments of a psychological ego. Yet, when Villette is “discovered,” some sort of congruence between self and world is withheld entirely.

Surveillance (Beck, Paul, Lucy herself) compare this to Jane’s capacity to be a spectator


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