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Archived Group Reads 2015 > Villette - Week 4 - Chapters 18 thru 22

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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments We are just about halfway through our story. Lucy remains a bit of an mystery. Her cool exterior doesn't match her emotional interior. As many have mentioned, it is as if she doesn't allow herself to feel or is afraid to feel. In addition, we know her narration can't be trusted.

Lucy seems to admire aspects of Ginevra. And Lucy sees the nun for the first time.

Our discussion thought questions:

1. On what does Lucy base her admiration of Ginevra? Her beauty? Her control over her own life? Her manipulation skills?

2. In chapter 18, Lucy seems to assure Dr. John Ginevra will be his. Why would she do this?

3. Is Lucy in love with Dr. John?

4. What is it about the pink dress that Lucy dislikes?

5. Why does Reason request Lucy not to hope or smile? Why does she feel it wants to crush her? (Chapter 21)

6. Do you think the nun is something truly seen or just Lucy's imagination running wild?

And we're off to another week of great discussions.


message 2: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
1) If Lucy admires Ginevra, perhaps it is because the young woman is able to do things which Lucy cannot or does not allow herself. Ginevra certainly expresses herself emotionally. She is confident in her looks and appeal. She is determined to exact from life all the things which she finds enjoyable. Perhaps it is admiration tinged with jealousy, not for the things which a Ginevra would expect but for the freedom and the temperament to enjoy, to express.

3) I do think Lucy is in love with Dr. John. I think she has been for a long time, even if she is unwilling to admit more than friendship. It's as though she views herself as having nothing to attract him or as being undeserving or, perhaps because of her past misfortune, too damned to warrant a romantic relationship with this man she finds so admirable.

4) I see the dress as not just pink but pink with ruffles. Lucy seems to avoid anything which might call attention to herself, especially anything which might be interpreted as vanity of any kind. I don't know if this is the introvert in her or a lack of self esteem or pragmatism in her position. Certainly she has expressed interest in keeping herself above rebuke. Perhaps she recognizes that she would be especially sensitive to humiliation.


message 3: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
6) I believe she definitely saw something although I'm not sure what it was. Perhaps there's a madwoman in the attic... Oh, no, wrong heroine. ;-) But wouldn't that be a funny twist. Yes, yes, Charlotte's always got a crazy woman in the attic.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Renee wrote: "6) I believe she definitely saw something although I'm not sure what it was. Perhaps there's a madwoman in the attic... Oh, no, wrong heroine. ;-) But wouldn't that be a funny twist. Yes, yes, Cha..."

I enjoyed this thought


message 5: by Peter (last edited Aug 23, 2015 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Peter Lucy's visit to the art gallery was interesting. With both Dr. John and M. Paul in attendance Lucy is seen considering "the queen of the collection" a portrait of Cleopatra. Here, I believe, we see another portrayal of Lucy looking at her opposite self, her doppelgänger. In the portrait, Cleopatra is everything that Lucy is not. The portrait of Cleopatra has a cushioned bench in front of it "for the accommodation of worshipping connoisseurs."
Lucy, is, of course, endlessly portrayed as being indistinguishable from her surroundings. Cleopatra appears "extremely well fed" lays "half-reclined on a bench" immodestly wore a garment of an "abundance of material" which still looked to be " inefficient raiment." Scattered about Cleoparta in the portrait were "pots and pans ... Vases and goblets as well as "a perfect rubbish of flowers."

Lucy, is, in contrast, sickly, pale and plain. What I think is most telling is the unstated fact of Cleoparta's portrait. Cleoparta was beloved by powerful, stately men. She ruled an empire and commanded the respect of an entire nation. Lucy, in contrast, is found alone in front of the portrait. In the gallery are two men who she knows, one at least she has deep feels for, and yet it is the portrait that commands the attention of all who see it. Lucy is a mere footnote to the scene. Bronte has designed here a very telling scene, full of symbolism and suggestive of foreshadowing.


Peter The chapter "The Concert" presents us with yet more references to white clothes and a curious win in which Lucy wins a cigar box and Dr. John wins a lady's "blue and silver turban." Lucy refuses to exchange their winnings. Is it because she does not want to assume a piece of woman's apparel that is colourful, is it because she has hopes of one day giving her winning to a man, or is it that she simply wants any item that links her to a man, albeit in a very tenuous way? The last option seems very weak, and yet she tells us ( in the voice of the narrator after her story has been completed) that "it serves, when I look at it, to remind me of the old times, and one happy evening."


Peter "You think ... she came out of my brain ..." Lucy's encounter with the supposed nun, with "a white cloth over her face" and eyes that were "[c]old and fixed" is a central point of the novel. As readers we must try and decide whether the ghost is real, a "spectral illusion" or some event that has another explanation.

What we do know as readers from these past few chapters is that Lucy's emotions towards men, especially Dr. John, are slowing emerging on the surface of her personality, that the colour white continues to lightly and repeatedly resonate in various forms, that the attic scenes are highly charged with emotion, and that Lucy has been faced with a doppelgänger in the form of Cleopatra's portrait and a human person, in the form of Ginerva, of women of power, seductive powers and allurement. Lucy's carefully crafted veneers of withdrawal and placidity are showing cracks.


message 8: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I think Lucy has fallen in love with Dr. John, but I also suspect Polly is going to re-enter (who was the beauty in satin at the concert?), in which case Dr. John will be swept away.

On the other hand, the tension between Lucy and M. Paul is very interesting... I'll bet anything he is sweet on her, and whether she knows it or not, he appeals to another side of her.


Frances (francesab) | 313 comments I think part of Ginevra's appeal for Lucy is that Ginevra has been kind and friendly towards her and in fact seems to prefer her company to most others-I think it is always hard to resist someone attractive who wants to be our friend.

I think that Ginevra, despite her protestations to the contrary, does in fact prefer Dr John and is going to be sorely disappointed if he has fallen out of love with her. I think that she has gone to far in trying to prove her power over him and will be crushed when she realizes that she has lost him.

I think that Lucy is in some part in love with Dr John, principally because I think we are all made to fall in love with someone, and there are very few options presented to her at present.

In my view, the pink dress represents hope and a desire to be treated like other single young women, and for some reason Lucy is convinced that she has no chance of ever finding love or happiness. She feels that Reason would support her lack of any hope of happiness, and that reason will crush any dreams or desires of love and even of friendship.

The nun? No idea!


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Frances wrote: "I think part of Ginevra's appeal for Lucy is that Ginevra has been kind and friendly towards her and in fact seems to prefer her company to most others-I think it is always hard to resist someone a..."

I enjoyed your viewpoint on the dress. For me, it made her uncomfortable because she could not be a shadow in that color.


message 11: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Deborah wrote: "I enjoyed your viewpoint on the dress. For me, it made her uncomfortable because she could not be a shadow in that color ..."

Yes, and I also suspect it made her uncomfortable because she liked it, and she is afraid to find joy in anything.


message 12: by Rut (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rut | 55 comments Me too Janice, this M. Paul keeping an eye on Lucy whenever they are together is keeping ME hooked.
I liked Peter’s explanation of what the portrait of Cleopatra shows about Lucy’s personality.
As for the nun, I think in the book it is stated to be a popular rumour, I mean, the notion of a nun wandering around Madame Beck’s school did not come from Lucy’s fancy. However, Lucy dwelling on the subject made me think that she thought of “the nun” as a shadow or a reflection of what she was becoming herself. A solitary, sometimes seeming inexistent presence which for a lot of people could be nothing more than a rumour while she strolls alone in the school’s gardens.
About the dress, like you said Frances, I can only add that when I read Lucy’s reaction after her godmother gets it for her I thought: “Oh, come on dear, wear it! It is a gift and that way you will look young and less grave for a change!”


message 13: by Dee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee | 129 comments I don't think Lucy admires Ginevra that much... I think she finds her annoying, as she says, and is so lonely that she tolerates her more than she would in any other situation.

Do average-looking women always have to admire a more beautiful woman?


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Dee wrote: "I don't think Lucy admires Ginevra that much... I think she finds her annoying, as she says, and is so lonely that she tolerates her more than she would in any other situation.

Do average-looking..."


Great question. What do all of you think?


message 15: by Brit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brit | 88 comments Average looking women admiring beautiful women:

No I do not think the average looking woman necessarily admirers the beautiful one. It takes maturity to admire and not be jealous.


Frances (francesab) | 313 comments I don't think that Lucy admires Ginevra, however she finds her intriguing, sometimes entertaining, and certainly she is a conduit for receiving news, at least in the early days, about Dr John.

In general, do average-looking women admire beautiful women? I think that beauty in itself attracts people, so that beautiful women have an early advantage in winning friends and admirers. Beautiful women often lead very interesting lives-their looks often win them entree into elevated social circles-and so they can often relate their experiences to their plainer friends, or even at times get their friends included in the elevated social circles.Beautiful women who are also good and/or kind and/or interesting will always find admirers among both men and women, more so (unfairly) than their plainer counterparts.


message 17: by Dee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee | 129 comments I don't think this is necessarily a spoiler, but I found as I went on in this book that Lucy's sheer annoyance with Ginevra became more obvious and a certain other beautiful woman in the book who also had a beautiful character *did* win Lucy's admiration in a way the annoying Ginevra did not.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments https://beckylindroos.files.wordpress...

According to the notes in my edition the Cleopatra painting is based on 'Une Almee' (A dancing girl)


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_G...

And the portraits Lucy is made to look at are based on La vie d'une femme by Fanny Geefs.


message 20: by Clarissa (last edited Sep 11, 2015 06:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Peter wrote: "Lucy's visit to the art gallery was interesting. With both Dr. John and M. Paul in attendance Lucy is seen considering "the queen of the collection" a portrait of Cleopatra. Here, I believe, we s..."

I think as you are picking up on, the scene in the gallery is significant on many levels.

There is Charlotte Bronte speaking through Lucy of her ideal about what art should be like, they should be as lifelike as possible and with aesthetic merit.

Mirrors have been mentioned before and here again the focus is on the gaze (and again in the chapter set in the theatre), there is a difference between the male and female gaze, men crowd around the picture, Lucy is taken away and put in a corner as the picture is unsuitable for her.

And there is a lot of possibilities for gender politics. Cleopatra is probably the most famous female ruler, and here she is pictured as a voluptuous creature to be judged on how she is attractive or shocking to the viewer. Lucy is shown pictures representing the life of a woman, young girl, wife, young mother and widow. She feels as estranged from these as she does from Cleopatra.

The other thing I felt reading here is the orientalism and otherness of how the portraits are described, Cleopatra is a 'dark-complexioned gipsy-queen' a 'dusky and portly Venus of the Nile' and 'mulatto'. In this period it was apparently common to associate freedom and sexuality with Africa and the East, in a way that would have been unacceptable if it was attributed to European ladies. Charlotte also doesn't seem to like fat women!


Peter Clari wrote: "Peter wrote: "Lucy's visit to the art gallery was interesting. With both Dr. John and M. Paul in attendance Lucy is seen considering "the queen of the collection" a portrait of Cleopatra. Here, I..."

Clari: I enjoyed reading your observations and analysis very much. The concept of "gazing" is something I had not considered. Certainly, being an "observer," as we have discovered in the novel, is clearly present, but the connotation of "gazing" is different, separate and very interesting.

The references to Cleopatra's description is also of interest. I think it also reflects on the description and background of Bertha, Rochester's wife. Both the portrait of Cleopatra and Bertha have associations with a more unrestrained and different background and personality than the more traditional Victorian lady.


Trudy Brasure | 93 comments Lucy seems to be in love with Dr John, but he only sees the surface of her. He doesn't know the depths that course within. His attitude of life seems rather carefree and pleasant. There's a quiet soberness in Lucy that contrasts with his nature. I don't think he could ever really comprehend her. He's not really looking to, either. He thinks he knows her and he's satisfied with their relation as friends.

I imagine that Lucy is embarrassed by the pink dress because it calls attention to her, when she much prefers to be the unobserved observer. It's what other girls wear, and she doesn't count herself as one of the many, but set apart.

M. Paul seems very observant of Lucy. Especially so whenever Graham is around.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Trudy wrote: "
M. Paul seems very observant of Lucy. Especially so whenever Graham is around.
."


M. Paul did lock her in the attic though, and forbid her from looking at Cleopatra painting, so maybe a little bit too controlling?


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Clari wrote: "Trudy wrote: "
M. Paul seems very observant of Lucy. Especially so whenever Graham is around.
."

M. Paul did lock her in the attic though, and forbid her from looking at Cleopatra painting, so ma..."


This came to my mind too


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments I found the contrast between Cleopatra in the gallery, and the King & Queen of Labassecour at the concert, very interesting. The excesses in the painting (both of affluence and eating) that offend Lucy reminded me of her description of Ginerva feasting on her own vanity. The abundance of both women emphasizes Lucy's emotional hunger. In contrast she is struck by the King's 'constitutional melancholy' and the shadow it casts over his slender young Queen, to which their subjects are oblivious. Lucy so easily recognizes their suffering, that I'm wondering if Bronte suffered from depression before her siblings died?

Lucy enjoys sparring with M. Paul, and although he doesn't provoke her anger, he does prompt her tears and gives her some emotional relief. I'm finding it ironic that she is so fixed on Dr. John, she doesn't appear to notice that perhaps there is someone who is interested in her after all...


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Vanessa wrote: "Lucy enjoys sparring with M. Paul, and although he doesn't provoke her anger, he does prompt her tears and gives her some emotional relief. I'm finding it ironic that she is so fixed on Dr. John, she doesn't appear to notice that perhaps there is someone who is interested in her after all..."

It would be in the character of Lucy at this point that she prefers the man she doesn't expect to obtain, the one that is too good looking and obsessed with younger girls (I know times were different but a man in his late twenties making overtures to a 17 year old schoolgirl does seem predatory).


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 922 comments Clari wrote: "Vanessa wrote: "Lucy enjoys sparring with M. Paul, and although he doesn't provoke her anger, he does prompt her tears and gives her some emotional relief. I'm finding it ironic that she is so fixe..."

It may seem predatory today, but women were married very young. Also many times their grooms were much older men. I think it wouldn't have seemed strange to the Victorian reader.


Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Deborah wrote: "Clari wrote: "Vanessa wrote: "Lucy enjoys sparring with M. Paul, and although he doesn't provoke her anger, he does prompt her tears and gives her some emotional relief. I'm finding it ironic that ..."

I recall in one of the Gaskell's novel a man (aroung 18 I think) being in love with a 12 year old, which seemed extreme.

Can you take on the Victorian way of viewing it or do you read it with a modern mind?
I see Dr John as not being able to cope with a mature woman, he wants an innocent thing to worship, by the way he misinterprets Lucy and also the half reveal at the end of one of the chapters that he is aware that Ginevra is toying with him but he prefers to idolise her image than deal with her as a real flawed person.


Peter Vanessa wrote: "I found the contrast between Cleopatra in the gallery, and the King & Queen of Labassecour at the concert, very interesting. The excesses in the painting (both of affluence and eating) that offend..."

I enjoyed and agree with your comments on the many ways and forms we see feasting portrayed in the novel. Lucy is attuned to other peoples' suffering. Her own suffering tends to be very stoic in nature which tends to make it all the more intense.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Clari wrote: "I see Dr John as not being able to cope with a mature woman, he wants an innocent thing to worship, by the way he misinterprets Lucy and also the half reveal at the end of one of the chapters that he is aware that Ginevra is toying with him but he prefers to idolise her image than deal with her as a real flawed person. ..."

His realization that Ginevra was toying with him, made Graham's subsequent toying with Lucy, over his lost letter in the garret, more surprising. Despite seeing "a new sort of smile playing about his lips" etc., it's interesting that Lucy prefers to remember him heroic.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Peter wrote: "Vanessa wrote: "I found the contrast between Cleopatra in the gallery, and the King & Queen of Labassecour at the concert, very interesting. The excesses in the painting (both of affluence and eat..."

Yes, I'm appreciating that M. Paul, although volatile, is the only one (besides the priest, perhaps) who seems to see the degree of Lucy's suffering.


Peter Clari wrote: "Deborah wrote: "Clari wrote: "Vanessa wrote: "Lucy enjoys sparring with M. Paul, and although he doesn't provoke her anger, he does prompt her tears and gives her some emotional relief. I'm finding..."

You pose one of the great questions of those of us who enjoy reading Victorian novels who live in the 21C. What the Victorians took as commonplace, normal and natural often conflicts with our 21C sensibilities, not to mention today's morals and laws. The age gap between Victorian females and males was often great, and the reasons for marriage often not for love.

I have never successfully resolved in my own mind how to read a Victorian novel accurately to be in concert with both its own time period of and our world today.

The closest I seem to be able to come is to look at the broad Western concerns of evolving humanity, social accountability and human dignity. If an author touches on these themes then the book (to me, at least) takes on a dignity that I can value.


message 33: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Peter wrote: "You pose one of the great questions of those of us who enjoy reading Victorian novels who live in the 21C. What the Victorians took as commonplace, normal and natural often conflicts with our 21C sensibilities, not to mention today's morals and laws. The age gap between Victorian females and males was often great, and the reasons for marriage often not for love..."

I always thought there were so many Victorian novels of romance because real life marriage had so much to do with commodity and security and so little to do with love.


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