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Archived Group Reads 2015 > Villette - Week 2 - Chapters 8 thru 13

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message 1: by Deborah (last edited Aug 09, 2015 06:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments A romantic mystery has occurred. Who is throwing the flowers and billets out of the window? For whom are they intended? Lucy has managed to not only obtain a job at Mrs. Beck's, but has also been promoted to English teacher. Dr. John has replaced the old doctor at the school.

Some questions to get us thinking:

1. Lucy still appears to be an observer. Describe Lucy without referring to her observation abilities.

2. What do you think of Mrs. Beck's method of control - espionage?

3. There seems to be a prevalence of stereotypes and prejudices. Is this particularly Bronte or is it the time period?

4. During a thunderstorm Lucy says "...I was roughly roused and obliged to live" (chapter 12). What does she mean by this?

5. Who is Lucy Snowe?

6. What do you notice about the characters' names or the translations of same?


message 2: by Peter (last edited Aug 10, 2015 02:43PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Peter The question "Who is Lucy Snowe?" is not an easy one to answer. From last week's discussion it is clear that we question her openness to reveal herself as a reliable narrator. There is little consensus even to why she is or how she became an orphan. A good mystery to carry into Week Two.

It seems M. Beck wants to know more about Lucy as well. It is not long into Chapter Eight before Lucy, feigning sleep, watched as M. Beck "turned [the room] inside out," counted Lucy's money, read Lucy's memorandum-book and took impressions of Lucy's keys to make duplicates. Lucy notes that "Surveillance, espionage - these were her watchwords." One would think that such intrusion would see Lucy leaving M. Beck's employment but Lucy does not. Indeed, Lucy frames the snooping in such a way to herself that it does not really matter. As Lucy was an observer in the first week, we now move to another character who is also an observer, but M. Beck is both an active and intrusive observer. The motif of watching, viewing, analysing continues to be evolved.

Very strange. Is it because Lucy desperately needs the job or sees herself as such a blank slate that there is nothing of value or interest in her life anyway? The reader does not know much about Lucy, M. Beck seems intent on learning more, and Lucy is rather passive about the whole situation.

The colour white follows through in this section and begins to be framed in specific ways. M. Beck comes into Lucy's darkened room as a "white figure" to the bed. In Chapter 12 the billet-deux comes in "a small box of white" and in Chapter 13 the beds are seen as "white beds."

I found the contrast of the garden in Chapter 12 "The Casket" to Chapter 13 "A Sneeze Out of Season" very interesting. In chapter 12, the garden is framed as a peaceful place, one where Lucy frequents and appoints herself gardener of "this strait and narrow path" where love is possible and where she met "[Dr. John] who appears like some ghost." In Chapter 13 the garden, according to Lucy, has become tainted, even "vulgarized."

Wow. Innocent gardens, the same garden "vulgarized," Lucy's self-appointment as the garden's "strait and narrow path," white figures, mentions of ghost-like people and actions under the moonlight ... events are certainly heating up, but we still don't really know who Lucy is. Great stuff!


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Plus Lucy chooses the dark gloomy path in the garden as her favorite spot instead of the beautiful part. Also, I was struck by the lack of fellow teachers. It feels as if it's Lucy, Mrs. Beck, Mrs. Beck's daughters, and an occasional student.


Brit | 88 comments Re #6: Names
This seems to be another way for Charlotte Bronte to create mysteries or not fully disclose everything about the characters.

Lucy Snowe's name is not disclosed until chapter 2 and she is the main character!

John Graham Bretton is introduced with his full name twice in the intro chapters, but is otherwise just called Graham. There is more to be said about the use of his name, but that would require a spoiler.

Dr. John appear, but without listing his last name.

I completed the book really fast and missed a lot of details, so in order to follow the discussion properly I am re-reading the chapters carefully. Bronte's handling of the names is quite interesting. There are others who get listed one way initially, but with full names later in the story.


Peter Brit wrote: "Re #6: Names
This seems to be another way for Charlotte Bronte to create mysteries or not fully disclose everything about the characters.

Lucy Snowe's name is not disclosed until chapter 2 and she..."


I never thought much about names past Lucy's last name which links her to the colour white. I am interested in what you comment on regarding names as we read through the novel. Thanks.

For my part, I will continue to track the colour white.


Frances (francesab) | 312 comments Lucy Snowe strikes me as a woman who has gone into "survival mode"-she seeks or expects no pleasures from life for herself, she only wishes to survive and find a safe haven. I think this is why she took no umbrage at the search of her belongings my Mme Beck, she was only happy to have somewhere to live safely and in seclusion. This mode of life leaves her very much as an observer-she expects no life for herself, but resigns herself to experiencing life through observing others. She forms no real relationship with anyone at the school (although there is a tender moment with the youngest daughter when she is waiting for the Dr to appear) and expects that she herself will be disregarded by those around her-that she will fade into the background.

While this attitude to life would strike most modern readers as passive or defeatist, I think that the reality for women like Lucie would be that life could be very harsh (she was essentially left with very little money and no family) and her options were limited-governess, companion, teacher-and in all of these positions she would be very vulnerable. She has found a secure place to live and work and does not want to risk this in any way.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Brit wrote: "Re #6: Names
This seems to be another way for Charlotte Bronte to create mysteries or not fully disclose everything about the characters.

Lucy Snowe's name is not disclosed until chapter 2 and she..."


Also the translations of the French names. The previous doctor translates to dr. Pill. There are more :)


Peter Deborah wrote: "Brit wrote: "Re #6: Names
This seems to be another way for Charlotte Bronte to create mysteries or not fully disclose everything about the characters.

Lucy Snowe's name is not disclosed until chap..."


I'm looking forward to "the name game."


message 9: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cindy Newton | 296 comments Mod
Lucy carries passivity to incredible lengths, in my opinion. The only real action she's taken has been to travel to France. Other than that, she has merely sat back and observed, and all other changes have been a result of them just occurring to her, or being forced on her. Her observance of her possessions being searched was possibly as Peter said and is a an indication of her own lack of self-worth. I don't agree at all with the snooping, but if Madame Beck felt the need to try to discover more about Lucy to allay any suspicions she had, I could see her possibly flipping through her memorandum book, but making impressions of all of her keys? What's that about? Does she plan to go and search all the places the keys belong to?


message 10: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Lucy's acceptance of M. Beck's snooping seems unusual, but was perhaps born of resignation. Lucy was desperate for a position and had no references to recommend her. (Way crazy/brave/naive to hop a boat to France on a chanced comment and with no command of the language. I can't decide if this action is out of character.) However, it also seems to infer that M. Beck can be somehow "trusted" with what she discovers, or rather that she will only be interested in discovering secrets which would affect the position of her school, the well-being of her pupils. Which is either a lot to swallow or speaks to Lucy's regard of her employer.


message 11: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
The romantic mystery is kind of a hoot. I was sure Dr. McDreamy was going to be Ginevra's boy toy that she calls Isidore. But who is dropping the letters? And Lucy seems so confident in him. But then she is disposed to think we'll if him because he helped her when she got to France. And she has allowed us to see that she thinks he's beautiful... Which might be affecting her judgement. Maybe he is GF's Isidore and some other guy issuing time with his girl. Ha! Many possibilities!


I also noticed a fair amount of religious commentary. Catholic vs. Protestant. I wonder if that's important to the story or just Charlotte giving a bit of vent.


message 12: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Gah! I just finished the next section. Now I'm going to fester in anticipation... As I deserve!


message 13: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments

Madame Beck's espionage and snooping is beyond what most would tolerate. I agree with Renee that Lucy tolerates this out of resignation. Before the nighttime snooping, we read twice that she could not bear going back out into the dark streets.

But there is a glimmer of self-assertion. Lucy convinces Madame Beck to take her in the night she arrives and to not come back in the morning.

We also see Lucy assert herself against Ginerva. She refuses to mend the girl's garments.



Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Renee wrote: "Gah! I just finished the next section. Now I'm going to fester in anticipation... As I deserve!"

I couldn't help but giggle.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Frances wrote: "Lucy Snowe strikes me as a woman who has gone into "survival mode"-she seeks or expects no pleasures from life for herself, she only wishes to survive and find a safe haven. I think this is why she..."

I agree that Lucy is in survival mode, or endurance mode once she has a position. She gives the impression she is still numb from her family losses: it seemed to me a great thing to be without heavy anxiety, and relieved from intimate trial; the negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know.

It also did not surprise me that, in her vulnerable position, she would not protest against Madame Beck's search. I did not find her passive, however. While her move to the continent seemed mostly inspired by desperation (and perhaps Providence?), her choice to take up the challenge of teaching was impressive and risky, I thought, especially given she was unqualified and inexperienced. It would take some resolve to face 60 "insolent" teens, without proficiency in their language. It seemed quite a feat, although her methods were amusing from a modern perspective. I also found her bias of English girls vs. continental funny as well.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments I was struck by the passage where Lucy describes Dr. John as giving her no more notice than a piece of furniture, as "a person of my exterior habitually expects." This gives some insight into her sense of her own prospects. She is plain and poor, both in fortune and "heart-poverty". I suspect she has been disregarded many times before, including by Graham, and that this has impacted her outlook. It's difficult to know how much her lack of options have affected her, compared with whatever family grief she has endured.


Frances (francesab) | 312 comments Can someone clarify where in France Villette is situated and what group does "Labassecouriens" refer to?

Also, I'm surprised at how much untranslated French Bronte uses in her writing. Would she have assumed her readers all speak sufficient French to understand? I don't know of any other Victorian author who does this-any you can think of?


message 18: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Oh yeah. Sacre Bleu!
I'm just plowing through and trying to get it from context but it's a pain.


message 19: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments I am reading Villette as an eBook on my iPad, so I use Google translate. My French is not current enough and good enough to understand it otherwise.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Frances wrote: "Can someone clarify where in France Villette is situated and what group does "Labassecouriens" refer to?

Also, I'm surprised at how much untranslated French Bronte uses in her writing. Would she h..."


We don't know where Villette is. The word means little town, and Bronte is using it in place of Brussels. I believe Labasscouriens are the people from that area of France. Re the French, I'm using Penguin Classic edition. It has the French in the text, and translations in the notes which has been very helpful.


message 21: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments Re Names

I believe Villette (= little town) is a fictional town in Labassecour (= farm yard). Charlotte Bronte taught in a boarding school in Belgium, but I find no reference to Belgium in the novel, so it must be in France, even though she seems to make Labassecour a country with a king and queen.


message 22: by Trudy (last edited Aug 27, 2015 05:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trudy Brasure | 93 comments Ugh, I hate reading on Kindles. It's so difficult to go back and peruse past chapters!
Thanks for all the comments, which have my mind whirling and whetted for discovering what comes next.
There was a description somewhere of Lucy's attitude of letting the drama happen around her and being content with a routine and rather drab existence as long as she was left alone to let her imagination gallop where it wished. This to me, is a perfect description of an introvert. She has an active mind, and doesn't need social interaction to be happy or mentally satisfied.
This makes her appear as a sedate, shrinking wallflower to many. But in regard to question #4, the surge of life and deep stirring she feels during a storm reveals that there are seething, hidden passions within her. And her self-confidence and strength is actually quite pronounced. She has not yet failed to rise to any great challenge thrust upon her.
This character is very much like Jane Eyre. And schoolroom drama is once again an integral part of Bronte's story.
The comments here regarding Dr John made bells ring in my head and made me realize I need to pay closer attention to what Lucy Snowe is NOT saying (so important in these Victorian novels where the demure heroine must try to repress her strong feelings).
And going back to chapter 13 (I'm a little further ahead), I discovered a gold mine which I'm now reeling over, because it had completely passed my notice until now.
When Lucy discovers Mme Beck searching her room in this chapter, she is amused because she knows now that Mme Beck saw her in the garden with Dr John and is checking to see if there is anything going on between the two.

It's Lucy's reaction to this clandestine search that is revelatory, only if the reader is paying very close attention, which I was not -- until now:
"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 two pence 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 Snow."

This sounds very much like Lucy is suffering from pangs of attraction to Dr John. In one instance, Lucy can laugh at the thought of Madame suspecting something going on between them, because she knows there is nothing to be found. But that very truth - that there is nothing between them - is actually painful to acknowledge.
Why else would she cry hot tears? I believe Lucy Snow has feelings for Dr John which makes her particularly sensitive to believe that he pays no more attention to her than to the furniture.


message 23: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments Trudy, I am reading Villette on iBooks and like that a lot. What I do is to highlight with and without notes in different colors important sentences. Also I can search on words. Does the Kindle have these capabilities? If so that may help you find past sections.


message 24: by Trudy (last edited Aug 27, 2015 07:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trudy Brasure | 93 comments Brit wrote: "Trudy, I am reading Villette on iBooks and like that a lot. What I do is to highlight with and without notes in different colors important sentences. Also I can search on words. Does the Kindle hav..."

I can search words on my old Kindle. Not sure if I can highlight. I'm not the most tech savvy person and I just really like searching for past passages on paper pages. In this case, I don't think I would have highlighted the part that in hindsight I now consider a great find. So a search for a past section would have been easier for me with a real book.
Thanks, though. I should learn how to highlight and bookmark with a newer Kindle.


Lesley I'm reading on my iPad Kindle app bookmarking, highlighting, searching word/s and returning to location. Also able to get Google translations at the press of a finger - great.

It took me a bit to figure out who Dr John was. I thought when Polly was flirting with Graham that Lucy was envious and, once the connection was made, why she made the remark that he gave her no more notice than a piece of furniture. Also why M. Beck's snooping was of no matter compared to the lack of attention from Dr John again and why she shed hot tears.

Like Trudy, I see Lucy Snow as a very strong, intelligent but introvert woman who desperately wants to be accepted and find love.


Trudy Brasure | 93 comments My years of French benefit me now. I don't need translation. But this is a remarkable amount of foreign language in an English novel. This says something about the market audience of the time. I don't suppose the lower classes knew French as a matter of course.
I don't think I would have picked up the Graham is Dr John connection if it wasn't for this discussion thread! Lucy is so silent on this phenomenal coincidence.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Trudy wrote: "My years of French benefit me now. I don't need translation. But this is a remarkable amount of foreign language in an English novel. This says something about the market audience of the time. I do..."

Lucy is an unreliable narrator because of her silence on things. I don't remember my French, and am grateful for the notes in my book which translate. I pick up a few words here and there, but that's it. Astute comments re the audience at the time.


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

What a great conversation I have ventured into here! I am just beginning chapter 10 and am wondering why Ginevra feels compelled to tell Lucy about her romantic escapades, unless perhaps she is attempting to make Lucy jealous?

Frances made a wonderful insight into Lucy's character and I do agree that part of her preoccupation with remaining stoic at all times has to do with her lack of options to provide for herself. It would make sense that she needs to go into a state of emotional detachment just to survive.

I did not take French in school, therefore I am thankful for the translator function on my kindle. Until I began reading this novel, I really had not noticed that function was even available! :)

Since I have not read chapter 12 yet I cannot comment on question #4, but I will be looking forward to that passage in the book. Does Lucy actually admit to experiencing feelings and passion?


message 29: by Renee, Moderator (last edited Aug 29, 2015 03:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
*exits to search for Kindle translator*


message 30: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 29, 2015 03:50PM) (new)

Renee- On my kindle 8.9 hdx (vintage 2014) the translator works by pressing and holding to temporarily highlight a word or phrase. At that point the usual menu to permanantly hightlight, make a note, etc., appears in addition to pop-ups for Wikipedia definitions and a translator. I was amazed it automatically came up with the French to English translation. (I don't recall my older kindle having that ability though.) So I hope that helps and I did not send anyone off to look for a translator if it isn't available on all kindles.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Frances wrote: "Can someone clarify where in France Villette is situated and what group does "Labassecouriens" refer to?

Also, I'm surprised at how much untranslated French Bronte uses in her writing. Would she h..."


The notes in my book are quite explicit that Villette is Brussels and the country is Belgium and it is firmly set within Bronte's autobiographical experiences of being in Belgium. If anyone is familiar with 'The Professor', I think she used real place names in there. But apparently she fictionalised the names here to be a general insult towards Catholic countries rather than a specific place.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Regarding the French language, educated people who would have been reading the novel in Victorian times would have been presumed to have some knowledge of French and Latin as it was part of standard teaching. I find it interesting that even the frivolous Ginevra is fluent and confident to swap between English and French at will.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments I found the watching very interesting in this section, Lucy watching Mme Beck spy through her things. And also Lucy quietly withdrawing as it would ruin their relationship if Mmme Beck saw Lucy watching her as they would have to look into each other's eyes and know each other.
Then there is the secret package thrown out of the window, seen by Lucy, Dr John, Mme, Rosine. Lucy reading the note not meant for her.
Lucy overhearing parts of conversations.
I can't remember the details of Jane Eyre so well, but I recall in Wuthering Heights the importance of windows, people looking through them, seeing action but being separated from the 'living' that is happening.
Is it tempting to put autobiographical details of these women in their twenties seeing and feeling but not experiencing for themselves? Their intelligence making them aware of more than their social position made available to them?
There is also the philosophical reading of modernism, so many people in the growing cities watching each other but never knowing each other as people become more estranged and lonely the closer they are pushed together.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Did anyone else feel that they are having difficulty developing an emotional connection to the characters in the novel, especially Lucy?

I cannot help but compare Villette to Jane Eyre, however in the latter novel, right from the beginning the reader is privy to the atrocities that Jane has to contend with during her childhood. Since the reader knows very little about Lucy's background, I believe that it is much more difficult to feel much empathy for her.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Lisa Ann wrote: "Did anyone else feel that they are having difficulty developing an emotional connection to the characters in the novel, especially Lucy?

I cannot help but compare Villette to Jane Eyre, however i..."


I definitely had that issue. Her secretiveness frustrates me


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for sharing Deborah. This is a frustrating read for myself as well, especially since I would like to feel some compassion for Lucy.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Lisa Ann wrote: "Thanks for sharing Deborah. This is a frustrating read for myself as well, especially since I would like to feel some compassion for Lucy."

Truth be told, this read has been frustrating from a plot perspective as well. I love a strong plot, and feel that this one is choppy at best. I'm still waiting to really connect with the book.


message 38: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cindy Newton | 296 comments Mod
Lisa Ann wrote: "Did anyone else feel that they are having difficulty developing an emotional connection to the characters in the novel, especially Lucy?

I cannot help but compare Villette to Jane Eyre, however i..."


I agree with you, Lisa Ann. I'm having trouble connecting with Lucy and trusting her version of events. It's been about ten years since I last read Jane Eyre, but I seem to remember Jane as a more spirited character. She too was poor and surrounded by people of a higher social class, but I just seem to remember her as more self-assured, more confident about defending herself. Lucy seems to more readily allow disrespect shown to herself, such as with Madame Beck, M. Emanuel, and even Ginevra, on occasion. On the rare occasion, she does manage to speak up for herself, but more often she either stays quiet or is unable to articulate properly. Jane had no trouble voicing her objections--unless my memory of Jane Eyre is faulty, which is extremely likely!


Peter Lisa Ann wrote: "Did anyone else feel that they are having difficulty developing an emotional connection to the characters in the novel, especially Lucy?

I cannot help but compare Villette to Jane Eyre, however i..."


I add my agreement to the above comments. Perhaps I ( we?) have been spoiled by the energy, the openness and the shared personal struggle that Jane goes through in JE. Lucy is so enclosed that I cannot engage with her. Villette has a very academic, detached feel to it.


message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

Cindy- I do believe your recollection of Jane Eyre is correct. In the case of Lucy, I am not really certain who she is or what she truly believes. My experience (as a reader) with discerning the real feelings and beliefs of Jane, was the complete opposite.

Deborah- I am finding the plot to be disjointed as well.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Lisa Ann wrote: "Did anyone else feel that they are having difficulty developing an emotional connection to the characters in the novel, especially Lucy?

I cannot help but compare Villette to Jane Eyre, however i..."


I took the name 'Lucy Snowe' as an indication that she would be cold. I might be totally wrong but my guess is that she'll undergo some transformation that will open her heart.
At the moment I can't imagine she's someone you'd want to share a light evening of fun with, but I read into her someone who is without family or anyone she feels she can befriend, who is mostly ignored as beneath interest and notice, who has put this protective wall around herself.


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