Villette

September 7, 2012 § 2 Comments

My long absence has been a result of a holiday in Mallorca. It was lovely – sunny, calming, lazy, full of food and Mallorcan wine. I managed to finish ‘Villette’ by Charlotte Bronte, paving another stone towards my dissertation. It was an intriguing novel, quite dense with only glints of ‘action’. It is nuanced in its details, as it builds up slowly towards the culminating relationship of the two protagonists. I always enjoy these kinds of stories, the ones that involve a love that is slow to progress with a major obstacle in the way (bit like ‘Jane Eyre’ then). Yet, this novel’s ending irritated me. Where was the happy ending? The union of Lucy and Paul? Never happens. Perhaps it acts as a symbol of the disappointment of life. Like that party you obsess over, spending hours planning an outfit, days dreaming about that elusive ‘perfect’ conversation between you and that cute boy you have seen around a bit and think ‘tonight is the night’ because, of course, who could resist you in that dress eh! Then – never happens. You wake up in the morning, hung-over and sore, and think ‘well, last night definitely ruined any chance of me and that cute boy ever sharing more than a passing glance’. Disappointment reigns.

This feeling resembles that of the ending of ‘Villette’, except it is more poignant and lingering because you know that this was Lucy’s one chance to her share of happiness. Without Paul, there just remains that empty void of nothing but unfulfilled passion and, worse, that unbearable need for companionship, to not be a loner, despite that frosty exterior you mould around yourself. At least, for you, there are other parties, other cute boys (bloody hope so). Not so for Lucy, especially living in a Catholic country (Belgium under the guise of another name – not very well hidden) as a Protestant. This proves to be the main barrier between everlasting loneliness and that longed-for fulfilment. That, coupled with a group of conniving, sly bourgeois-types who plot for their own private purposes; e.g. Madame Beck loves her ‘kinsman’, Paul, and if she cannot have him, no woman can.

I found most tragic the lack of Lucy’s past, so insignificant and little was she made to appear in the beginning that her evidently scarring adolescence remains a mystery. The reader is held constantly at a distance. What struck me about her character was the duality within her personality. I have been reading a criticism recently, ‘Pilgrims from Loneliness’ by Ian M. Emberson of the Bronte Society. He makes the interesting – and, what I consider, quite accurate – point that the characters of ‘Villette’ all have a public and a private life. There is one persona that they project to society, one that fits with convention and hides the reality; the private life could be deemed as more real, more true, mainly because it is the one that few ever see, the one that is kept buried beneath the external. This is something I completely identify with. I know that my own ‘public’ persona can often differ hugely from my private one, particularly at parties, depending on the company. Lucy projects a personality that prefers solitude and shuns company; whilst, in fact, hers is one that desires companionship and love but can never find the words or means of expressing such emotions.

That, the inability to express, is such a powerful theme in literature, films, music – all because it is a universal experience. We all fail to express our emotions and our needs, especially when some part of us cannot bear to expose our true selves, or when our own lack of knowledge chokes our propensity to reach out and speak.

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