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Archived Group Reads 2015 > Villette - Week 3 -Chapters 14 thru 17

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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments The colors of gray and white continue through these chapters. Also Lucy has referred to herself (several times) as a shadow, and has now been described as such by Dr. John (aka Graham). We did get to see a bit of emotion from Lucy in these chapters, but there is much we still don't know.

Questions to get us thinking:

1. There's been a bit of gothic atmosphere running through the story. What have you noticed?

2. In Chapter 14, Ginevra talks about the power of beauty. Are beautiful women more powerful? more vulnerable? Your thoughts please.

3. There is a description of the emotional fever of Lucy. While we don't know the cause per se, it appears to be attributed to isolation. What's the difference between the emotional fever and depression? Is Bronte bringing her depression into the story on purpose or is it spilling over?

4. What do you think about Lucy's confession in the Catholic church?

And that should get us starting on these chapters.


message 2: by Peter (last edited Aug 16, 2015 05:12PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Peter Elements of the Gothic run deep in this novel and certainly in this chapter. Lucy's repressed emotions, her habit of watching others and be acted upon rather than acting tend to enslave her personality. She sees and is aware of the feelings and desires of others for each other but, to this point in the novel, her own desires remain hidden, almost it seems, forbidden.

Her school building certainly reflects the Gothic tradition of a physical structure, and comes with its own supposed ghostly nun. Many events and settings are at night, happen in enclosed places or places that are locked or secured.

Chapter 14, "The Fete" offers many Gothic points of interest. "I might have had companions, and I chose solitude" comments Lucy. This self-alienation is interrupted by M. Paul who is rather like the Byronic hero. Moody, darky handsome, brilliant and demanding, M. Paul, needing an actor for the fete, sweeps Lucy up 3 flights of stairs "to the solitary and lofy [sic] attic ... locked in ... and that key he took with him and vanished." This is the room where the ghostly nun had once been seen and "was said to issue." Lucy practices her part in front of the "garret-vermin."

Later she is released by M. Paul and obliged to dress somewhat like a man. Later in the chapter Miss Fanshawe convinces Lucy to stand in front of a mirror. Fanshawe delightfully exclaiming "I am beautiful" says to Lucy "there is a great looking- glass in the dressing room, where I can view my shape from head to foot. Will you come with me now, and let us two stand before it." Here we have the concept of the doppelganger played out. Lucy, plain, withdrawn and shy beside Fanshawe, flirty, vivacious and attractive. After admiring herself in the mirror Fanshawe comments to Lucy "I would not be you for a kingdom" to which Lucy responds "You are but a poor creature."

Yes, lots of Gothic touches. Also, the presence and symbolism of mirrors is further developed in this chapter. The end of the chapter was delightfully Cinderella-like. The fete ends as "The clocks struck and the bells tolled midnight." Lucy's day of being locked in a garret by a Byronic male, obliged to dress in a manly fashion for a play, and then forced to see herself in comparison to a beautiful female extrovert comes to an end, but not before clearly establishing Lucy's doppelganger and having Lucy comment that "it was not easy to sleep after a day of such excitement."


Peter Jane Eyre Spoiler Alert

This chapter reminded me of many similar incidents and events in Jane Eyre. Rochester's physical appearance and early personality is much like M. Paul. M.Paul locks Lucy in the upstairs garret as Rochester does Bertha. The developed doppelganger of Bertha and Jane is played out with Lucy and Fanshawe, and the party/fete at Rochester's home where he assumes the clothes of a gypsy and tells Jane's fortune is similar to Lucy assuming a role as well.

Is anyone else seeing much of the novel Jane Eyre in Villette?


Brit | 88 comments Yes Peter, I see similarities with Jane Eyre. We get insights into Lucy's thoughts, feelings and emotions just like we did for Jane Eyre. I enjoyed the Jane Eyre movie, but it left a lot of questions as you needed Jane's thought life to understand her actions. I think the same is true for Lucy. Lucy's thoughts are even more laid out, with the caveat that her own background is shrouded in mystery. When she describes other people and what is "safe" we get clear statements.

I also see similarities between M. Paul and Mr. Rochester. They are both dark and repulsive as they first appear on the scene.


message 5: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Unreliable! Unreliable! What a weird trick to play on the reader! If, in fact, she actually did recognize Graham in the good doctor all along. But I'm suspicious of this claim and of her reasons for keeping the knowledge from her recounting. Is this more of the mindset that kept her past unexplained by her?

It is certainly cozy to be with Mrs. Breton again. Aren't she and Graham charming? This bit of cheery company seems to be so good for Lucy. She so often chooses isolation as any introvert might, but yet seems to be made miserable by her loneliness. Perhaps it is the unrelieved isolation. Certainly there seem to be unpleasant memories in her past, and the cruelty of Ginevra Fanshaw (vain, heartless little bitch) in her present. That's a lot of yuck to be left stewing over. Especially for someone of a sensitive nature.

The confession scene and the aftermath is in keeping with those religious elements I noticed earlier. Although, I don't buy that the religious themes tie in with the gothic elements (not that anyone suggested so) as has been done in other got his tales. But rather another layer to the tale. Do we have any evidence of Charlotte having a religious epiphany at this time. Or of her being especially anti-papist?

Paul is intriguing. He has certainly pushed Lucy into a performance she might otherwise have been unable to give. Is he bringing out unexplored aspects of her personality?

And what of the nun? In many ways Charlotte seems to be playing with the gothic elements. Yes, the elements are definitely on display but are they real and dangerous or merely the stuff of fantasy? If fantasy, does that present a different kind of danger?

Yes, I've thrown in a lot more questions but that's where my brain is at this point in the novel. I'm exploring possibilities. And there are so many as the story unfolds.


message 6: by Frances (last edited Aug 17, 2015 06:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Frances (francesab) | 312 comments I find Ginevra Fanshawe puzzling. She appears to be so casually cruel and heartless-can women truly be so beautiful that not only do men fall in love with them, but also come to believe that they are everything pure and good? Dr John/Graham seems neither a fool nor overly romantic, and yet he seems completely deluded in her. While I know that he will have had little direct exposure to her, he knows she is playing him off against another, less worthy man.

Lucie's illness is another puzzle-I can't believe that she would become so ill from depression alone, although it appears she hadn't eaten in many days so that could explain the fainting. However wasn't she feverish as well?

Why would M Paul lock her into the attic and apparently leave her there in the hot room for an entire day? I didn't get the sense that he was attractive at all other than from the force of his personality.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Renee wrote: "Unreliable! Unreliable! What a weird trick to play on the reader! If, in fact, she actually did recognize Graham in the good doctor all along. But I'm suspicious of this claim and of her reasons fo..."

And if she's had an ephod you, can we trust it?


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Great observations. Keep them coming.


Peter Tingles of the Gothic continue to run through this section. The stress and strain of the fete seem to carry over into the next chapter where Lucy has a nightmare, and hallucinates that she sees "the ghastly white beds [turn] into spectres - the coronal of each [becoming] a death's head." She becomes lost in the city and ends up pitching "headlong down an abyss. I remember no more."

From her swoon Lucy regains consciousness to perceive "a white-washed chamber" where she sees "a toilette-table dressed, like a lady for a ball, in a white robe over a pink skirt."

The power of this scene is further intensified when Lucy recalls the mirror. What a wonderful use of the mirror Bronte incorporates! In Chapter 10' "Dr. John" there is a scene where Lucy observes and puzzles over Dr. John's appearance, and Lucy realizes that "Dr. John had caught my movement in a clear little oval mirror" which made him "ill at ease under a direct, inquiring gaze." This event is discussed with Dr. John near the end of Chapter 16. The mirror thus links Lucy to her past, and reflects her back into the present. Time has been reflected and brought them to a new place but linked them to a common previous place and memory.


message 10: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments What shall we say about Dr. John Graham Bretton? He first appears as Graham, though we get his full name in the beginning chapters. He next appears on the scene as Dr. John, but is not identified as the Graham Lucy knew before. It is not until chapter XVI that she reveals this, though Lucy had recognized him earlier, but without clearly stating it.

Lucy's failure to reveal everything does not bother me. I figure that is artistic liberty by Charlotte Bronte. It makes Lucy a more interesting person.

The details we get about Dr. John makes me wonder if he is a shallow person. His infatuation with Ginevra Fanshawe seems like silly. Also, I am surprised he never recognized Lucy. Since they are both English in a foreign country,you would think they would take enough interest to discover their previous connection.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Brit wrote: "What shall we say about Dr. John Graham Bretton? He first appears as Graham, though we get his full name in the beginning chapters. He next appears on the scene as Dr. John, but is not identified a..."

Some times we don't recognize people when they are in a different context than typical.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments I have to say Lucy is making me crazy with her secrets and unreliability.


message 13: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Yes! It will be interesting to see if we feel the confusing bits are explained by the end... And how many of them seem murky because if Lucy's narration.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Peter wrote: "The power of this scene is further intensified when Lucy recalls the mirror. What a wonderful use of the mirror Bronte incorporates! In Chapter 10' "Dr. John" there is a scene where Lucy observes and puzzles over Dr. John's appearance..."

Interesting connections with the mirrors and time, Peter. What I noticed about that scene was Lucy's comparison of Dr. John to a "golden image", contrasting her belief that he gives her no more notice than the furniture. In retrospect, Grahame is described by his golden hair as a youth in the opening pages. I thought she might admit the nature of her attraction to him, but she sidesteps it, very effectively. When she takes pleasure in his misconstruction of her stare, I wonder if she enjoys puzzling the reader too...

In these chapters, I'm noticing the continuing contrasts of colour to her generally grey world. Colour is associated with both men who interest her -- Grahame (including his home) and M. Paul (violet azure eyes!) -- and also with nature. The moon is golden, and she associates it with both romance, and previously, childhood, when she 'could feel'. Nature's storms pull her out of her black & white convent-life, threatening also to bring out her suppressed feelings. At times it's as though she suddenly steps into a colour picture.


Peter Vanessa wrote: "Peter wrote: "The power of this scene is further intensified when Lucy recalls the mirror. What a wonderful use of the mirror Bronte incorporates! In Chapter 10' "Dr. John" there is a scene where L..."

Vanessa: Thanks. I found Bronte's use of the mirror was very telling. Mirrors allow us to see ourselves, see what is behind us and yet they also reflect our image back upon ourselves with a reverse image. So far, many of our posts have circled around the question of how reliable a narrator Lucy is. This question of reliability is, I think, heightened and enhanced by our "reflecting" on Lucy as we read on. Something tells me Bronte is not finished using mirrors yet.

I think your comment about Bronte's use of colour within a rather grey world is right on the mark. Lucy does seem to step into a colour picture at times, which serves to heighten her otherwise grey existence.

Now you have me wondering if Bronte's heroine Agnes Grey carries that name for the same reason.


message 16: by Dee (last edited Aug 21, 2015 05:06PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee | 129 comments I can't locate it now, but there's a remarkable passage somewhere where Lucy mentions bursting into tears in bed and crying herself to sleep at the end of a chapter where she didn't seem to feel many emotions at all.

She's deeply sensitive, but forcing herself to keep it all inside because she learned in the past that loving someone can only bring pain... I only wonder when we'll ever find out about her past, and if.


message 17: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments Deb, are you thinking of this passage in chapter 13:

"I cried hot tears: not because Madame mistrusted me—I did not care twopence 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 Snowe.”

Or the end of chapter 16:

“Still repeating this word, I turned to my pillow; and still repeating it, I steeped that pillow with tears.”

In chapter 16 Lucy has reconnected with her godmother and Graham, her son Dr. John. Lucy is starving for friendship and relationship, but does not trust that is possible or likely to be for her.


Odette (odman) I am not sure about the fourth point of discussion - the confession in the Catholic Church. I thought that Lucy was looking for someone to talk to (a sympathetic ear) without affecting her present position and relationships. She does seem very self contained to me, so perhaps it could be something in her past that she was seeking forgiveness for.


Peter Dee, Brit

The episodes of Lucy crying certainly suggest that she holds strong emotions within her. The use of the phrases "hot tears" and "steeped that pillow with tears" which appear in two separate places in the novel, as you point out, suggest to me that within her rather stoic exterior resides a very powerful individual yearning to escape her present role and circumstances.

I am beginning to see Lucy much like a kettle on the stove. The water is bubbling, the steam is building up ... When will all that energy escape?


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Peter wrote: "Dee, Brit

The episodes of Lucy crying certainly suggest that she holds strong emotions within her. The use of the phrases "hot tears" and "steeped that pillow with tears" which appear in two sep..."


Very good question.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Odette wrote: "I am not sure about the fourth point of discussion - the confession in the Catholic Church. I thought that Lucy was looking for someone to talk to (a sympathetic ear) without affecting her present..."

The confession is just one more thing we don't know about. I found it strange, her choice to to do, after so many negative comments about catholics


message 22: by Rut (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rut | 55 comments Dr. John reminded me from the very beginning of that unknown hero who had helped Lucy the night she arrived to Villette.
At the same time, Ginevra reminds me of Miss Murray in “Agnes Grey”. And as in the case of Agnes, I detect what seems to be like a little bit of jealousy among the rather severe remarks the protagonist (Lucy) makes about Ginevra. I mean, she is obviously shallow and selfish and Lucy is right in not having a great respect for her. But I feel like Ginevra is honest with Lucy, and it is not fair from her to just judge her and not to appreciate or correspond to that confidence. On the other hand, as some of you have mentioned Lucy is so secretive and reserve, like you said to feel her feelings seem to be forbidden to her which is touching, for it is a protection from suffering, but at the same time it is tiring.
I think Lucy considers herself superior to Ginevra and even to Graham in one way or the other but she is blind about her own faults. Moreover, she thinks she is making a great sacrifice by not mentioning to Graham what she knows of Ginevra's double game but she does not admit that this sacrifice is harder because of her own solitude and because she admires Graham so much...


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Rut wrote: "Dr. John reminded me from the very beginning of that unknown hero who had helped Lucy the night she arrived to Villette.
At the same time, Ginevra reminds me of Miss Murray in “Agnes Grey”. And as..."


Great comments


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments One quick note: Bronte chose a cold name, Lucy Snowe, to reflect her cold exterior yet gave her a tumultuous emotional life.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Regarding Lucy's unreliability as a narrator, I found the scene in "Auld Lang Syne", where Lucy wakes up to see the portrait of Graham as a youth, quite telling. She remembers, in Bretton, taking it down to admire it and pondering "How it was that what charmed so much, could at the same time so keenly pain?" She also recalls testing the portrait with Polly, who had a similar reaction to it. Lucy gave a very different perspective in the early chapter, when she would only admit to Polly that she like Graham "a little". Her "nervous fever" at least appears to have opened up some of her feelings.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Rut wrote: "I detect what seems to be like a little bit of jealousy among the rather severe remarks the protagonist (Lucy) makes about Ginevra. I mean, she is obviously shallow and selfish and Lucy is right in not having a great respect for her. But I feel like Ginevra is honest with Lucy, and it is not fair from her to just judge her and not to appreciate or correspond to that confidence...."

While I agree Lucy may have some jealous toward Ginevra, I don't think Ginevra, after demonstrating such inconsideration, deserves her confidence. Lucy is openly honest about Ginevra's vanity. I found Lucy's sarcastic comments about de Hamal, especially keeping his broken heart in a scent-vial of roses, and the convenience of their being able to share the same gloves, quite funny, and gave some comic relief to Ginevra's cruel gloating.

I also noticed Lucy described Ginevra's vanity in terms of gluttony: she "let her self-love have its feast and triumph: curious to see how much it could swallow -- whether it was possible it could feed to satiety..." Perhaps her sense of superiority is also a form of protection.


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

We all know at this point that Lucy is an unreliable narrator. So I'm curious to know what she really thinks about Ginevra. I'm detecting a small bit of admiration. During the long vacation, she fantasizes about where Ginevra is and what she's currently doing and builds up this image of her as a "heroine."

In another part, Ginevra is listing off all of Lucy's drawbacks. Instead of getting angry, Lucy says that there must be some good in her to speak so honestly. I think Lucy is torn between liking and disliking Ginevra. She has the comfortable life that Lucy wishes she had, but she still wouldn't be Ginevra "for a kingdom" because of her shallowness.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Jaq-Lin wrote: "We all know at this point that Lucy is an unreliable narrator. So I'm curious to know what she really thinks about Ginevra. I'm detecting a small bit of admiration. During the long vacation, she fa..."

I agree. There is definitely some type of admiration.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Deborah, Jaq-Lin,
I'm curious about what type of admiration you see in Lucy? She shows no respect or warmth for Ginevra; Lucy recognizes she is pretty, but takes no pleasure in it. To me, it appears more like resentment. Perhaps this touches on your question about the power of beauty, Deborah. When Lucy questions who gave Ginevra her power, I'm wondering if there's a spiritual aspect to her question, in the seeming unfairness of Ginevra not appreciating or caring for Graham. While we might see her beauty as genetic luck, Lucy might perceive it coming from God.

I saw Lucy's fantasy of Ginevra (as a heroine) as an attempt to reconcile her interior flaws with her outward beauty, and possibly a projection of her own qualities/values onto Ginevra. Lucy's recognition of the illusion, became a recognition that she was suffering a mental breakdown. Her thoughts about Fate, Hope, and God also suggested aspects of a spiritual crisis, and another explanation of her seeking comfort in the church -- any church.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Vanessa wrote: "Deborah, Jaq-Lin,
I'm curious about what type of admiration you see in Lucy? She shows no respect or warmth for Ginevra; Lucy recognizes she is pretty, but takes no pleasure in it. To me, it appe..."


I think Lucy admires the way Ginevra seems to get her way, and I do believe she sees her as powerful. Beauty holds a certain power in this time period, and Ginevra has no qualms about playing games with herd. I think Lucy also admires how Ginevra manages things like extent trips with friends when she has no money.


message 31: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I'm enjoying Lucy's sometimes rather shocking and sharp-edged evaluations and observations of people. With everyone who comes under her gaze, we get a full dose of their flaws, but also of their charms. Lucy seems to have a very good grasp of the psychology of the people around her, and she does a lot of self-reflecting. But there is something that always seems to rein her in from pleasure and happiness.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Deborah wrote: "I think Lucy admires the way Ginevra seems to get her way, and I do believe she sees her as powerful. Beauty holds a certain power in this time period..."

Although I see Lucy's feelings toward Ginevra differently, I agree she sees her beauty as a type of power, albeit possibly fleeting. Like other commodities it could lose its value. The question of money (or lack of) is interesting, too. Ginevra seems confident of her 'expectations' from her uncle, but earlier she had suggested her parents expected her to marry money.


message 33: by Trudy (last edited Aug 30, 2015 04:46PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trudy Brasure | 93 comments I couldn't help comparing Ginevra with the heartless beauty, Blanche, in Jane Eyre. (And note the name - devoid of color.) Both Blanche and Ginevra obviously act as a foil to the more plain-looking heroine, who lacks the exterior charms so lauded in that era but has the deep feelings and superior intellect that vault her above the shallow shadow of traditional female-hood of the day.

How gut-wrenching it must be to watch the man you admire be toyed with by such a self-seeking, vain creature like Ginevra. I loved Lucy's rather scathingly honest replies to Ginevra's gloating.

Lucy does honestly admire her cleverness. Ginevra is adroit at what she does - flirt and contrive to appear everything she's not.

Lucy's open admiration for the painting of Graham I take as a safe substitute for what she feels for the living model.

I don't think there's anything terribly unusual about Lucy's nervous fever in Victorian literature. A collapse of some kind happens often to these extremely repressed heroines when they've truly reached the brink of endurance. Here, her isolation seems to have born down on her with an oppression that hinted a bleak future. And her blacking out occurs right after she confesses what is most troubling to her. That's easy to guess...

And I noted that when Graham mentions the confession to the priest, Lucy perked up with great alarm! Seems she was afraid to think Graham might have gained a hint about the general subject of her confession.

Her secret seems to be safe ... for now.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Nice comparison.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments I found these chapters so dense with so much to think about. I'm really not sure what I think of Lucy or the novel as a whole.

I don't know if there are any Freudian analysis of this book, but I imagine a psychologist would have great fun pulling it apart. As people are commenting above, there is the symbolism of the mirrors, seeing yourself, but not seeing yourself. Layers and layers of repression. The disturbing dream. The fever, or hypochondria as Dr John calls it.
I am in confusion about the John/Graham reveal. Did Lucy recognise him and not tell the reader? Did she only realise that she recognised him subconsciously when her situation at her godmother's becomes apparent? Why did she not introduce herself straight away? I had been thinking that she was secretly in love with Dr John, hence her ambiguous relationship with Ginevra (although now I think M Paul is going to be her love match).

Lucy in the narrative openly talks about the desirability of repressing emotions but there appears to behind all the stoicism and religious certainty a passionate creature desperate to live.

What kind of woman submits to being locked without food all day in an attic, is genuinely grateful when her jailor finally gives her some food, but then shows the will to resist being dressed as a man? She is not a simple passive creature but full of contradictions, and in that sense more like a living person than a fictional character.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Continuing my Freudian sense of repression in my above comment, I was intrigued by the reference to Abel and Cain in the fete chapter. Lucy explicitly mentions it in the narrative with her conversation with Ginevra. Then when Dr John asks Ginevra's whereabouts Lucy wants to answer 'Am I her keeper?' which alludes to Cain's reply when asked where Abel is. Despite all her Protestant certainties and superiorities, Lucy identifies with Cain, the one exiled from God's kingdom.
It also implies that at some level she has murderous thoughts towards Ginevra, which would fit in perhaps with her jealousies, and desire for Ginevra's beauty and freedom.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Maybe this is discussed in later threads, but are there any thoughts on the autobiographical content being weaved into what people are saying is a Gothic novel?

Lucy's loneliness in the summer holiday, her fever, and her visit to the Catholic confessional all echo Bronte's own experiences in Brussels.

When Lucy is speaking about religion I always imagine Charlotte Bronte's voice, just as I identify Agnes Grey strongly with Anne.
I find this disconcerting as it takes you out of the fiction, but also interesting as it adds another layer to the narrative.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Clari wrote: "Maybe this is discussed in later threads, but are there any thoughts on the autobiographical content being weaved into what people are saying is a Gothic novel?

Lucy's loneliness in the summer hol..."


She wrote this while battling depression. In theses chapters, Lucy is what appears to be depressed. There are definite autobiographical details. Re Lucy recognizing Dr. Johm, Bronte wants you to believe Lucy just didn't share the information with anybody.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Deborah wrote: "She wrote this while battling depression. In theses chapters, Lucy is what appears to be depressed. There are definite autobiographical details. Re Lucy recognizing Dr. Johm, Bronte wants you to believe Lucy just didn't share the information with anybody.."

Do you know if Charlotte Bronte diagnosed herself as depressed, or did she have a doctor similar to Dr John advising her? I always think of depression as something that was officially labelled in the 20th century and before that it was looked upon as a sort of melancholy to be defeated by grit and stoicism.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Clari wrote: "Deborah wrote: "She wrote this while battling depression. In theses chapters, Lucy is what appears to be depressed. There are definite autobiographical details. Re Lucy recognizing Dr. Johm, Bronte..."

She had lost all her siblings and was depressed and alone. I believe she was diagnosed by doc. Whether it was labeled melancholy or not, it was what we now term depression


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