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“I seemed to hold two lives”: Disclosing Circumnarration in Villette and The Picture of Dorian Gray
Helen H. Davis
Narrative, Volume 21, Number 2, May 2013
pp. 198-220 | 10.1353/nar.2013.0009
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.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.
—Charlotte Brontë, in a letter to her publisher’s reader, W. S. Williams
Charlotte Brontë's Villette and the Possibilities of a Postsecular Cosmopolitan Critique
Journal of Victorian Culture, Volume 18, Issue 1, 2013, pages 1-16
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs …. (Genesis, Chapter 15)In Imagined Communities (1983), Benedict Anderson posits a trajectory from communities of religious and dynastic rule to the modern nation-state. He proclaims in no uncertain terms that ‘in Western Europe the eighteenth century marks not only the dawn of the age of nationalism but the dusk of religious modes of thought […]. What was then required was a secular transformation of fatality into continuity, contingency into meaning’. While careful to deny that the advent of nationalism was produced by waning religious faith, Anderson plots a course of modernity in which the ‘decomposition’ of religion paves the way for a new conception of community-formation based on the nation-state. Anderson's influential account thus parallels that of the traditional secularization thesis, which, as Charles Taylor has put it, conflates modernity with ‘the dissipation of certain unsupported religious and metaphysical beliefs’.
Circular Evolutions of Imaginative Maturation in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette
The Ohio State University. Department of English Honors Theses; 2013
An exploration into the complex underpinnings of an evolving mind, Jane Eyre is both a literal and metacognitive inquiry into the implications of imagination. Principally dealing with the title character's stepwise assumption of identity, from a reticent orphan to a self-assured and socially empowered woman, Jane's is first and foremost a quest for love and community. However, underlying her linear search for the elusive domestic cornerstones of "family" and "home" is a relentless struggle between reality and imagination. Characterized by two consecutive arcs of imaginative maturation, Jane is presented first as an innocent, reveling immoderately in the novelty of uncharted conceptual possibility, then socialized into a form of self-imposed repression, and finally reintroduced into a subdued, cultivated imaginative landscape. Ultimately, although other Victorian intellects considered love to be the civilizing aspect unifying "intelligence and instinct," Jane Eyre asserts that imagination is yet another definitive inner governor that, able to traverse both extremes, must be similarly reconciled. As such, Jane's recursive travails through the spectrum of imaginative frenzy and suppression are transformed by her romantic indulgence. When requited, Jane and Mr. Rochester's love for one another combines the wish-fulfillment of romantic desires with the realism of a practicable union, thereby effectively distilling imagination into its more productive, governable, and expansive components. On the other hand, Lucy Snowe is a protagonist haunted by the incongruities between imagination and reason. Predisposed to thrive in a realm in which she is both arbitress and editor of these two, inherently contradictory, spheres, she chooses to craft a narrative in which she preferentially favors the real over the ideal, and excises any information that compromises her emotional anonymity, or her self-image as a fully prudent, circumspect, and proper Protestant lady. The account that results is likewise characterized, particularly in its beginnings, by a frustratingly scarce and occasionally incomplete tale that relies heavily upon accounts of the dramas of other characters rather than Lucy's own perspectives. As such, Lucy willfully manufactures the initial narrative so that she is a centrifugal player, interacting crucially with each supporting character, and utilizing the trajectories of their more central stories to reflectively reveal aspects of her own personality. As the story progresses, however, Lucy's imagination begins to increasingly collide with her carefully constructed reality. Her maturation during the course of the book is characterized by three distinct imaginative arcs. Each of these sequences is catalyzed by the intrusion of a particular emotional excess, the surfeit of which causes her to, however briefly, immoderately succumb to the lure of intemperate imagination. In an attempt to compensate, she subsequently reconstructs her psychological boundaries, undergoing a period of self-imposed normativity in which she either symbolically suppresses her desires, or replaces them with domestic pursuits. However, as the sources of her distress begin to increasingly reflect on the incongruities between her expanding desires and the limited social, romantic, and emotional requirements of her gender, she is forced to use the mitigating platform of the arts to safely explore alternatives to conventional womanhood. Ultimately, Lucy uses the guise of performativity to safely fuse the realms of realism and imagination, and manufacture a liminal space in which she can safely reconcile social stricture, independent ambition, and romantic fulfillment.