Tensions in Villette

1692 Words Apr 11th, 2010 7 Pages
Tensions in Villette
Villette is a narrative that seems constantly at war with itself, fraught with tensions of reason versus feeling, nature versus art and reality versus imagination, as I will attempt to illustrate. Lucy is anything but a one dimensional character and it throughout the novel, her emotional growth is charted. The important elements in the narrative seem to resist a one-sided reading. Read in context, perhaps Bronte recognizes that in the Victorian world, tensions of the aforementioned impinge upon and are all shaped by one another.[1]

Reason/ Feeling In chapter 23, Lucy Snowe penned two replies to Graham’s letter, one under “the dry stinting check of Reason” and another “according to the full, liberal impulse
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Nature/ Art The three couples in the story are all described differently and represent different values with regard to nature and art. Although we hear most about Lucy and M. Paul, what we are told about the other two pairs make Lucy’s tale even more tragic, given that Lucy suffers the most by the end of the novel.

Ginevra and Colonel de Hamal, who is tiny in stature and looks like a doll to Lucy, are conceived as almost pseudo art objects. Ginevra is depicted as a butterfly flitting through life, having neither sense nor substance and quite happily so. Most of what we hear about Ginevra is about her outward appearance, thus making her primarily an object of beauty. We hear about her blonde curls, rouge, spangles and sashes, and her habit of often gazing at gaudy polished mirrors. Colonel de Hamal is figured as a dandy, “so nicely curled, so booted, gloved and crafted” (163). At one point, Polly and Ginevra are even contrasted as works of art or figures in a painting- “nature having traced all these details slightly, and with a careless hand, in Miss Fanshawe's case; and in Miss de Bassompierre's, wrought them to a high and delicate finish” (346).

On the other hand, Graham and Polly are depicted as nature cultivated by art[3], something between nature and art that Robert Colby likens to sheltered greenhouse plants. Dr John’s features are said to be “though well cut they were not so chiselled, so
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