Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Villette Readalong Week 3

Week Three of the Villette Readalong is upon us!  I apologize for posting this early, but I'm getting ready for Persephone Reading Weekend and I have a lot of posting to do.   It's actually been about a week since I finished this section, so if I mix up any of my facts, please forgive me.

So, this week, we're discussing Chapters 12 through 17.  At first was going to start out by writing that not much happens, but now that I look back, I suppose it does.  I'll explain.

Lucy has settled into her role as English teacher in the school and spends a lot of time observing everyone else around her.  She spends a lot of evenings sitting outside in one of the school's walled gardens, and one evening she finds a mysterious little package that someone has thrown over the wall.  Dr. John is spending a lot more time at the school -- ostensibly to take care of Madame Beck's children, but does he have ulterior motives?  Madame certainly seems to have a crush on him.

Ginevera Fanshaw is still playing games with all her suitors, which makes me want to smack her even more.  She's starting to annoy me as much as Cathy from Wuthering Heights (and I do realize they're different Bronte sisters, but I always lump them in together.  I can't help it).  Anyhow, Ginevera is playing two suitors off one another -- one is a French officer and another is a mysterious man she only refers to as "Isidore."  That is a truly unfortunate name for an alias.

There's also a somewhat interesting section in which Lucy is pressed into acting a part in a play for the annual school fete -- actually, in man's part, which makes her sort of uncomfortable.  Monsieur Paul, a very overbearing sort of teacher, basically strong-arms her into taking the part at the last minute, going so far as to lock her in an attic without food and water so she can learn her lines.  I can't imagine anyone putting up with that kind of treatment -- I would have been so angry I would have refused to be in his silly play at all.  (But I am not a 20-year-old English teacher in a 19th century novel, so of course this helps to advance the plot.)  Naturally, she's playing opposite Ginevera.  To her surprise, Lucy really enjoys the play:

What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven.  Cold reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself. 

However, the next day she has regrets and resolves never to do it again:

A keen relish for dramatic expression had reveal itself as part of my nature; to cherish and delight, but it would not do for a mere looker-on at life: the strength and longing must be put by; and I put them by, and fastened them in with the lock of a resolution which neither Time nor Temptation has since picked.

I'm not really into literary analysis, since I'm writing this for fun and not a class assignment, but I definitely get the idea this is an important section and one that would be discussed and analyzed if this was a literature class.   In general, Lucy seems to spend a lot more time watching than doing. Maybe this is because it's a later, more mature novel than Jane Eyre, but it seems to me this book is much more character-driven than plot driven, much more internal and philosophical.  I wonder if this passage signals that Lucy was tempted stop being so passive, but realizes it's not in her nature (which would surprise me because she took charge and moved to France and got a job); or, if it signals that she's ready to change and take charge of her life.  We shall see.

Before the close of this section, Lucy has a crisis of nerves and falls into a fever -- what is it with the mysterious fevers people fell into in those days?  Is it just a literary device?  Obviously they didn't have the medical knowledge of today but it seems like literary characters seem to mysteriously fall into a fever at convenient plot points, after a tragedy or broken heart or what have you.  Anyway, Lucy is naturally saved and when she comes to, the reader is presented with another of those fabulous and unbelievable coincidences of Victorian literature.  I'll say no more.


  1. I read the first two paragraphs and then "shut my eyes." :) My dds and I have just finished Jane Eyre which is making me want to read some more Bronte while I'm in "Bronte-mode." I remembered y'all were doing a read along and went to look at the schedule to see if I can catch up with y'all. I'm not sure yet (I have to keep up with our high school literature and we start Hard Times next week), but I may try. If I could get to the "caught up place" then I think I could manage since the schedule looks to have fairly manageable chunks. Ah, but Persephone weekend comes first. Go ahead and say it with me... "so many books, so little time..." :)
    I'm sure I would've enjoyed your summary if I had allowed myself to read it - I'll be back when I get there.

  2. Susan -- I tried not to give away too much in the summary. I am a complete spoiler-phobe. I read most if it pretty quickly, I'm sure if I didn't have Persephone reading weekend I'd have plowed through and I'd have been almost done by now.

    BTW, where are you in Texas?

  3. Ms Karen - given the precarious health of upper-class women at the time, perhaps it IS more realistic than one would expect? I know I've gotten physically ill from psychological shock, in the past, and I certainly don't have a delicate constitution particularly.

  4. I finally quit the book about 3 chapters after this section. This section bored me to tears, though I must admit, I LOVE the name Isadore.

    And I agree about the whole convenient illness thing. That bothers me in Gaskell's books too, and most 1800s books. It really does feel like a plot device.

  5. I keep thinking of Wuthering Heights while reading this book too. Kind of hard not to, though. Depression, storms, Bronte Sisters.

    At least she hasn't died from being sad (yet), that always astounds me as well. How did people always die from being sad (when first coming down with some terrible fever or cold, like you mentioned)???

  6. Interesting what you said about the play, how she enjoys herself only to regret it. I noticed the same thing in a paragraph she she actually laughs (!), only to become more depressed the next minute. Is she punishing herself? Maybe she just takes herself too seriously...

  7. Jason -- I realize people died a lot younger then, but it just seemed like it was always some kind of mysterious fever, always a fever, and that it would just strike after a shock. Not just women, I think Oliver Twist falls into a fever and then Mr. Brownlow takes care of him.

    Amanda -- I'm beginning to think it's a whole Victorian thing, like the amazing coincidences. It's all over Dickens too.

    Wallace -- it reminds me of how people would say if you didn't stop crying you'd make yourself sick. How is that possible? Dying of a broken heart? I suppose if you already had a heart condition you could drop dead of a heart attack if you had terrible news. Or maybe people just have no will to live any more and didn't take care of themselves, so they got sick, and that's what killed them.

    Alexandra -- well, she's very young, only in her early 20s, so maybe she's being overly dramatic, like a teenager. I think you're right, she is taking herself too seriously.

  8. Ms Karen - Thinking about it more last night, and from reading Hippocrates recently, the other thing that strikes me is that the art of diagnosis didn't really exist - often they really had no IDEA why people go tsick - this is the age when Florence Nightingale, a genius of public health, explained illness as being a result of bad smells, you know? So since people are a pattern-seeking animal, probably it would be easy (and honest if mistaken), to think it was related to sorrow, or any number of other things, I would think. Not to invalidate or argue wtih your point, I hope I don't sound like I'm being rude. You just have my brain thinking, now.

  9. Jason -- thinking is dangerous. You could make yourself sick! (Just kidding. And I don't think you're being rude, that is an excellent point. I had no idea Nightingale thought bad smells made you sick. Though smelly stuff was probably germ-ridden, right?) And you're right about the patterns of behavior -- they used to blame illnesses on the four body humours, or the humours being out of whack, or some such.