Monday, February 21, 2011

Villette by Charlotte Bronte Read-a-long: Week Two

This is Week Two of the Villette by Charlotte Bronte read-a-long hosted by Wallace at her blog, Unputdownables. I’m very behind in posting this summary with my thoughts for week two and apologize for that.

Last week we left Lucy Snowe in London having just arrived at a respectable inn. Lucy has no source of income since her employer, Ms. Marchmont has died but, fortunately, she has a week‘s wages in her pocket. She's come to London to “shake off” the place that hasn't brought her much joy for many years.

Lucy spends the day walking around London admiring the city, visiting various shops and St. Paul's. Feeling adventurous and daring, as well as having no home to call her own and nothing to lose, she decides she’ll sail to the port of Boue-Marine. Rather than wait until morning and, possibly miss the ship, she wants to board that evening. This isn‘t the safest course of action for a young woman alone, but, fortunately, Lucy gets on the boat safely.

The other passengers arrive the following morning and soon the boat sets sail. Lucy meets Miss Ginevra Fanshawe, a dramatic, entertaining, pretty young girl of 17 who attends school in Villette. When the boat arrives at Boue-Marine, Lucy goes right to a quiet inn for a good long sleep, exhausted, unnerved and seasick from the journey. In the morning, Lucy remembers Miss Fanshawe telling her that a Madame Beck needed an English governess for her children. Lucy doesn't know who Madame Beck is or where she lives but assumes Villette, which Miss Fanshawe mentioned, must be her residence. So Lucy decides to go there. Lucy’s aware she’s grasping at straws but with no other prospects, she continues to make things up as she goes along.

Lucy travels to Villette and, once there, with the help of an English gentleman, gets directions to a quiet inn. She becomes hopelessly lost on her way. Desperate for someplace to go, she stops at a large house with a light on outside. The brass plaque beside the door reads, "Pensionnat de Demoiselles" and beneath this "Madame Beck"!

Lucy meets Madame Beck and, after an interesting interview of sorts and some shrewd negotiating on Lucy‘s part, she secures, at least, a temporary governess job to begin immediately.

Lucy settles in quickly at Villette. There are several interesting pages about Lucy’s early days at Villette and her observations. Madame Beck turns out to be an interesting, somewhat eccentric character with three fascinating children, Desiree, Fifine and the baby, Georgette, Desiree being a bit of a spoiled brat.

Lucy is summoned by Madame Beck one day because she needs someone to teach an English class. She challenges Lucy, asking her "Will you go backward or forward?". From that day forward, Lucy is an English teacher

Ginevra Fanshawe visits Lucy frequently. She’s spoiled and manipulative, charming and entertaining. Lucy is very good at dealing with her. Lucy doesn’t like how Ginevra treats some of the young men who fancy her and tells her honestly what she thinks of Ginevra’s behavior. Of course Ginevra doesn‘t listen to Lucy.

Dr Pillule is Madame Beck's friend, family doctor and the school’s doctor. He isn’t unavailable one day when Fifine fell down some stairs. His colleague, young Dr. John came instead. Lucy recognizes Dr. John to be the gentleman who helped gave her directions to an inn the day she arrived in Villette, the directions that ended her at Madame Beck's door. He continued coming to Villette because Madame Beck seems interested in him!

My Thoughts:
These chapters give more insight into Lucy's character and show us that she is a strong, resilient and capable young woman. I very impressed with her attitude towards making something of her life, doing something productive although she's alone. In fact, she doesn't let that get down or unnerve her except when she's very tired and worn out. (or seasick!) I also think that sometimes she's very excited about seeing where life will take her. She's using the fact of not having a home base because all her family have died as an opportunity to explore the world a bit and live somewhere else. That shows she has courage and a bit of a taste for adventure.

Lucy is also quite good at negotiating when she wants to, such as with Madame Beck when she needs employment and wants it to start immediately so she does not have to go back outside into the night. But Lucy also knows when it's not worth it to negotiate which we see when the rower of her rowboat charges her too much.Rather than fight him on it and cause herself a lot of difficulty, she gives the rower his price. Lucy realizes it's not important enought to fight. Lucy is smart, shrewd and, as we also saw last week, very observant. She is more clever than I initially thought. The scene in which she has to teach an English class of young girls is a daunting experience. Lucy is certainly smart enough. We read how she teaches herself French. But gaining the respect of these young girls is a different matter. It’s quite fun reading about how Lucy manages the girls. Madame Beck has a new found admiration for Lucy as well.

I really enjoy Charlotte Bronte’s sense of humor and fun. I think she enjoyed writing the character of Madame Beck, who I imagine was a lot of fun to create. The same with the personalities of her children. Lucy's first day teaching the girls and gaining their respect also has some humor and fun in it.

The gothic theme continues in these chapters. When Lucy decides to board the ship it’s late at night when she arrives at the dock alone and it's very dark, too. She’s harassed by some of the watermen and also by the man who rows her to the boat she will sail on. It’s a harrowing few pages and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a bit! When Lucy arrives in Villette it’s also dark. She tries to find the inn but, on her way, she becomes spooked by two men who come out from behind some pillars. They walk next to Lucy for a while, talking unpleasantly, causing her to become distracted and lose her way. When the men turn off, Lucy doesn’t know where she is. She walks down a flight of stairs into a dark, narrow street, no inn in sight. Again this is a little creepy! Fortunately, this street brings her to Madame Beck’s door.

1 comment:

  1. Adding to the gothic elements, storms really seem to play a big role in Lucy's life-- whether as a harbinger of fate or simply as an inconvenience. I also thought it was interesting how stoic and clam Lucy seemed during most of the journey, particularly considering how frightening and dangerous even such a journey would have been for a woman at that time. It's almost like she wants to limit the amount of weakness she shows to the reader.