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Evasive Subjects: Emily Dickinson and Charlotte Brontë's Lucy Snowe
The Emily Dickinson Journal
Volume 22, Number 1, 2013 pp. 74-94
Like the speakers in many Dickinson poems, Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Charlotte Brontë’s final novel Villette, teases her readers with a provoking tendency to withhold information while inviting them to share an unsettling intimacy. Dickinson, when read against Villette, tends to elevate Lucy’s chronic, embattled loneliness to an existential condition, woven into human consciousness and available to all. In Trying to Think with Emily Dickinson, Jed Deppman places many of Dickinson’s poems within an ongoing conversation that begins with the Romantic German philosophy of consciousness that American transcendentalists, especially Emerson, read and transformed.
“I seemed to hold two lives”: Disclosing Circumnarration in Villette and The Picture of Dorian Gray
Helen H. Davis
Volume 21, Number 2, May 2013 pp. 198-220
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
You say that [Lucy Snowe] may be thought morbid and weak unless the history of her life be more fully given. . . . I might explain away a few other points but it would be too much like drawing a picture and then writing underneath the name of the object intended to be represented. (Charlotte Brontë, in a letter to her publisher's reader, W. S. Williams)In the first of 44 direct addresses to the reader (the narratee), Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Charlotte Brontë's Villette, says, I betook myself home, having been absent six months. It will be conjectured that I was of course glad to return to the bosom of my kindred. Well! The amiable conjecture does no harm, and may therefore be safely left uncontradicted. Far from saying nay, indeed, I will permit the reader to picture me, for the next eight years, as a bark slumbering through halcyon weather, in a harbour still as glass. . . . A great many women and girls are supposed to pass their lives something in that fashion; why not I with the rest? In this passage the narrator returns to a home about which the reader knows nothing, yet refuses to directly narrate her home experience. Instead of narrating any direct information about the eight years in which she comes of age, she suggests a conjecture that will be made by the implied reader and then permits the implied reader to picture her in a peaceful existence that conforms to how women and girls are supposed to pass their lives. She then immediately undermines this picture with the following:
Picture me then idle, basking, plump, and happy, stretched on a cushioned deck, warmed with constant sunshine, rocked by breezes indolently soft. However, it cannot be concealed that, in that case, I must somehow have fallen over-board, or that there must have been a wreck at last. I too well remember a time a long time, of cold, of danger, of contention. To this hour, when I have the nightmare, it repeats the rush and saltness of briny waves in my throat, and their icy pressure on my lungs. I even know there was a storm, and that not of one hour nor one day. For many days and nights neither sun nor stars appeared; we cast with our own hands the tackling out of the ship; a heavy tempest lay on us; all hope that we should be saved was taken away. In fine, the ship was lost, the crew perished.In this passage, an acceptable, comforting image of an idle, happy woman is presented and immediately undermined, not with directly narrated contradictory events, but by substituted metaphors of danger and hardship. How should narrative theorists classify this active resistance to presenting important narrative information and the further manipulation of replacing direct narration with metaphor, substituted, or diversionary narrative in the place of explicitly refused narration? These instances clearly fall into the broader classification of the unnarratable as defined by Gerald Prince and clarified by Robyn Warhol, but do not fit into the classifications of disnarration or unnarration. I propose a new classification, circumnarration, which is a narrative act that functions alongside disnarration and unnarration as part of the unnarratable. While disnarration explicitly states what did/does not happen and unnarration refuses to tell what did happen/is happening, circumnarration either evades the report of what actually happened/is happening through various means substituted narratives, metalepses, misdirections, etc. or only obliquely or indirectly reports it. In effect, circumnarration talks around a subject or event rather than directly narrating it.