26 November 2015


Theme Thursday 18

What I have for you today, dear readers, is some filler. But high-quality filler! A theme from all the way back in 21 April 2011 lets me talk about a book from 1853, which I didn't get to until this month . . .

This Week's Theme:

At that time, I well remember whatever could excite--certain accidents of the weather, for instance, were almost dreaded by me, because they woke the being I was always lulling, and stirred up a craving cry I could not satisfy. One night a thunder-storm broke; a sort of hurricane shook us in our beds: the Catholics rose in panic and prayed to their saints. As for me, the tempest took hold of me with tyranny: I was roughly roused and obliged to live. I got up and dressed myself, and creeping outside the casement close by my bed, sat on its ledge, with my feet on the roof of a lower adjoining building. It was wet, it was wild, it was pitch-dark. Within the dormitory they gathered round the night-lamp in consternation, praying loud. I could not go in: too resistless was the delight of staying with the wild hour, black and full of thunder, pealing out such an ode as language never delivered to man--too terribly glorious, the spectacle of clouds, split and pierced by white and blinding bolts.

I did long, achingly, then and for four and twenty hours afterwards, for something to fetch me out of my present existence, and lead me upwards and onwards. This longing, and all of a similar kind, it was necessary to knock on the head; which I did, figuratively, after the manner of Jael to Sisera, driving a nail through their temples. Unlike Sisera, they did not die: they were but transiently stunned, and at intervals would turn on the nail with a rebellious wrench: then did the temples bleed, and the brain thrill to its core.

The above happens to be my favourite part of Charlotte Bronte's Villette. It reminds me of the part in its predecessor Jane Eyre where we get the famous lines about action and tranquility--a part which would be more iconic in English literature if the scene it were in gave us action rather than tranquility. (So ironic, I know . . .) Well, in Villette Bronte brings the action. Her narrator Lucy Snowe isn't very grateful about it.

If you had no choice to live as Jane and Lucy did, you probably wouldn't be very grateful, either. Jane doesn't like longing for something she will never have and Lucy is even more upset over feeling desperate cravings that she cannot satisfy. The modern advice to pursue your passions doesn't apply in their case, though I don't think that Lucy's decision to tamp them down every time she feels them--an act that she has compared to a grisly murder attempt--is the best course of action either.

Later in the novel, Lucy does find something she can do that lets her feel fully alive: the stage. And I wonder if it was as appalling to the first readers of Villette as it must be to us, their modern counterparts, to read Lucy's reaction to her own dramatic debut, which was a revelation to the director, the cast, and most of all herself . . .

A keen relish for dramatic expression had revealed itself as part of my nature; to cherish and exercise this newfound faculty might gift me with a world of delight, but it would not do for a mere looker-on in life. The strength and longing must be put by . . .

While it is true that most nineteenth-century women had their lives circumscribed by outward forces, it is undeniable in Lucy's case that many of the limitations on her life are there by her own design.

And now I realise that I've just written about what I love most and what I loathe most about Villette. Have you read this classic? If so, let's chat about it a bit in the combox!

Image Source: Villette by Charlotte Bronte


mrsdarwin said...

Here's a thesis waiting to be written: contrast the views of theatricals in Austen and Bronte!

Within Bronte, Jane and Lucy are an interesting study: Lucy takes part in the play, loves acting and excels at it, and for that reason alone, it seems, she denies herself the pleasure of ever doing it again (which implies that she could have had the opportunity). Jane is offered the chance to participate in the tableaux, but refuses. Unlike Lucy, she is not the social equal of anyone else in the charades, which gives her less freedom to act badly. And Jane finds her liberty in honest, direct action, not in playing a part. (Remember how piqued she is to discover that she's been an unwitting participant in Mr. Rochester's little gypsy deception?) Lucy is still playing a part even when she refuses to act anymore, because it's in acting that she finds a genuine talent and reveals a new facet of her character.

Enbrethiliel said...


I confess that it was Fanny Price of Austen's Mansfield Park who came to mind most often as a contrast to Lucy! Both of them find amateur theatricals a little too dangerous, though for very different reasons.