The brevity of this review is based on the length of the work itself, often termed a short story, but I think it is more or less a novella due to its division into chapters.
“Lizzie Leigh,” like Mary Barton, involves a fallen woman who is, believe it or not, the title character. Like Esther (the fallen woman of Mary Barton), Lizzie is marginalized for most of her narrative and is referred to only in name. She makes her first appearance in the present in Chapter III, at which point she is referred to simply as “the shadow” and “the mother.” In Chapter IV, she experiences a slight gain in her social standing. In terms of the narrative, she enjoys being addressed in the exposition by her name while she is present rather than as a non-entity. She is “redeemed” by the tragic death of her child and allowed to live. Yes, that’s right… I said live. She neither dies nor marries but occupies a small secluded cottage praying for forgiveness and emerges when tragedy strikes others. (Dare I say she is a bit like the patron saint of sorrow?) So, I suppose she is also a little bit like Helen Huntingdon sans the death of the child and the reentry into society as a happily married woman, but I have already discussed her in a previous post.
This is a VAST improvement from the utterly tragic ending of Mary Barton, also discussed in a previous post. Lizzie demonstrates her duality in possessing two names (she is called “Bessy” by her coworkers). Otherwise, she is relatively singular. Still, the possession of an alias creates a double of sorts, and I think she will make it into the thesis.
Now, to begin an arduous journey through the 704-page beast that is Wives and Daughters. I noted on GoodReads.com that the novel’s average rating is somewhere around 4.10, so I’m hoping that the page length is worth it. Aside from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Bible, it will be the longest book I have ever read (all my non-English major friends mocked me for it… I am ashamed…)
Having gotten to the 253rd page of Villette, I feel an additional progress report is necessary. There is still heavy interplay between the duality of hot (M. Paul) and cold (Lucy Snowe, who at times herself experiences warmth and thereby embodies a quasi-dual self), and the plot, like many Victorian novels, relies heavily on coincidence. I will make it a point not to spoil this particular device, but suffice to say that characters thought absent for many pages may return in a different guise than initially introduced. Rather than making the plot contrived, I feel it only augments my gradually growing appreciation for this work, as does the constant utilization of secrecy by both the narrator and by other characters, which contributes to the overall suspense generated by the novel. Such is the case particularly with Ginevra, whom I suspect of some transgressive behavior and have resolved to keep an eye on as I continue progressing through the novel.
Located between the two extremes is Dr. John, who possesses neither fire nor ice but simply “warmth.” He appears to be more temperate and is constantly cheery. With each passing page, I grow to envy his optimism due to circumstances in my own life that will likely wind up in a rant on my other blog. In the words of Dr. John,
“Happiness is the cure–a cheerful mind the preventative. Cultivate both” (Bronte 250).
In giving Lucy the agency to correct her own health, as indicated by the word “cultivate,” Dr. John in some sense deviates from the traditional Victorian view of women, or my recollection of it, in that he asserts his belief that Lucy can indeed control herself and passions (and she does in most instances). The quote also unveils the book’s psychological nature, as Lucy attains a sort of “brain fever” and constantly provides readers with glimpses of her psychology. Phrenology also functions to enhance this in that it provides an outlet for the speculation of another character’s temperament. Unfortunately, that little relates to the great Victorian Female Dual Self project as it now stands.
It goes without saying that the amount of French passages in the novel is still appalling, but one adjusts to them with the correct amount of patience. Nonetheless, I find myself longing to return to Villette despite the linguistic barriers that exist between us.
I am in the middle of reading Charlotte Bronte’s Villete, which thus far centers on the first-person narrator Lucy Snowe and her travels in the fictional metropolis from which the novel gets its title. I just recently finished Shirley, which was very much a slow read for the first 200 pages but which soon picked up and became (in my eyes) a relatively good piece of work.
I am hoping that the same is the case for this novel, as it has yet to pick up and has a vexing amount of French passages that require me to give constant attention to the annotations at the back of the edition. Also mildly irritating is the fact that, thus far, I have seen little of the female dual self as transgression, although I have seen some character inconsistencies that could be considered transgressive, particularly Madame Beck’s androgyny and Lucy’s extreme coldness (which, according to a note in the back of the edition, counters what her first name is supposed to connote). The startling lack of post-its I have used in the first 100 pages leads me to believe that I will likely not use this novel in the great thesis of doom but will instead be nothing more than a pleasure read in the end of things. Nonetheless, I have resolved to enjoy it and all of its Victorian splendor to my utmost and will continue moving towards its conclusion with as much vigor as exam week can spare.