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Spectral narration and the houses of desire in Charlotte Bronte's Villette.

A formal peculiarity in the narration of Charlotte Bronte's Villette is undoubtedly the characterization of Lucy Snowe, the novel's purported protagonist, heroine, and first-person narrator, as almost a spectral presence. Lucy narrates as she sees, observes, and emotes in relation to the events that take place around her; yet, at times she seems completely removed from the world of momentous action, as if she were hopelessly shut down or voluntarily took refuge in her own inferiority. Oddly, the persistent first-person perspective at times appears to be superfluous and readily replaceable with a third-person narration. In the first few chapters of the narrative, for instance, Lucy seems to disappear as a character when she narrates the interactions between the young Graham and the infant Paulina as if she were a mere spectator. (1) Caught in the ambiguous space between third-person spectatorship and first-person emplotment, Lucy frequently appears to be a ghostly or spectral presence.

Several literary studies relate the renowned stylistic complexities of Villette to the novel's curious characterization of Lucy. Helen H. Davis, for instance, classifies the narrative's "active resistance to presenting important narrative information and the further manipulation of replacing direct narration with metaphor" as a species of "circumlocution" (2013, 199) and understands the text's "omissions and elisions" as "a protective act that allows Lucy to carefully control access to her story and to protect herself from condemnation as being improper" (203). According to Nancy Mayer, who deems Lucy's evasiveness "a vital sign" (2013, 92), "Lucy conjures a fully self-conscious presence that cannot be fathomed in the way that characters in a novel typically are; she instead retains a willfully inaccessible privacy" (75). (2) In an essay that complicates the relationship between the private realm of consciousness and externalized, public performances of inferiority, Leila S. May stresses "the secret inferiority and spirituality in Bronte's conception of selfhood" (2013, 48) intimating a layer of consciousness in Lucy's subjectivity that may be "inaccessible to components of the conscious self" (47) and speculating on the "illusory status" of such "deep inferiority" (54).

It would be an oversimplification, however, to view Villette's intriguing, evasive, illusory, secretive subject of "circumlocution" merely as an unreliable first-person narrator. The complexities of the narration in the novel would be better understood if they were thought to derive from the positing of Lucy as a ghost-narrator that hovers between absence and presence, interiority and exteriority, the private and the public. The various observations made in relation to the curious narrator and narration in the novel may then be brought under the notion of what I would like to call "spectral narration." By "spectral narration," I mean the abundant use of the rhetoric of the ghost or the specter in the novel, as well as the intricate ways in which Lucy narrates the events as if she herself were a ghost. Lucy's spectral narration reinforces the relation between the novel and the Gothic, and it enables an understanding of this relation beyond the mere extraction and listing of the novel's "Gothic elements" such as the novel's famed specter of the Catholic nun. Indeed, the diffuse rhetoric of spectrality may be said to pervade all aspects of narration in the novel.

One such aspect is the question of national and religious identity. Not enough has been said on the relationship between the novel's spectral narration and the question of identity, which this essay explores through an analysis of the novel's narration of Lucy's quest for a house that could accommodate her ghostly self. I attempt to show how the spectral narration of Lucy's quest for a house complicates and undermines the question of national and religious identity, which is as puzzling and elusive as the novel's narrative techniques. Lucy's relation to nation and religion, namely, to Englishness, Catholicism, and Protestantism, is mediated through her spectral relation to the various houses of the novel.

The question of identity in Villette, which is addressed through the spectral narration of Lucy's quest for a house, subtly relates to the mid-nineteenth-century discourse on national and religious identity in England. Starting from the beginning of the nineteenth century, there emerged an ideological need for a more exclusive definition of Englishness based on purportedly essential English characteristics. The imperial definition of Englishness, which sought to differentiate the authentic, truly "English" subjects of the empire from its colonial and peripheral ones, was closely related to a more "nationalistic" definition that marked the difference of the English nation from the nations of the Continent. (3) This latter definition in turn deployed elements of the popular discourse on religious difference that emphasized Protestantism and harbored a strong anti-Catholic bias. (4) The difference between England and its imperial/national enemy France, for instance, was largely conceived in terms of the difference between the essential Protestantism of the one and the essential Catholicism of the other. Bronte's work was directly implicated in the imperial, nationalistic, and religious conceptions of Englishness, which were continuous and intermingled with each other. But the question of national and religious identity in the same work was rendered problematic by the prominence of impoverished female protagonists (such as the poor, orphaned, self-taught yet precociously sophisticated governess), which resulted in a fictional rewriting of identity from the position of the marginal and the oppressed. The anti-Catholic and anti-Continental sentiments in Bronte's novels were further complicated by the protagonists' intense admiration for the French language as well as their ambivalent fascination with the exotic appeal of French culture. (5)

It is possible to find narrative instances in all the major works of Bronte in which national and religious differences are sharpened. Jane Eyre (1847), for instance, contains various expressions of prejudice against the Creole Bertha Antoinetta Mason, the French Adele Varens, and the overly Frenchized Blanche Ingram. It is equally possible to find other instances, however, where such differences are blurred and rendered inessential. In the restrained realism of Shirley (1849), there is no question about the Englishness of the French-speaking Moores, honorable and industrious middle-class subjects of the empire originating from the Continent (Antwerp).

In The Professor (1857), which follows a similar thematic trajectory to that in Villette, we meet William Crimsworth, an English professor at a Belgian school who despises his Catholic work environment but is romantically drawn to the Catholic headmistress. The end of the romantic plot reaffirms the primacy of Protestant Englishness: Crimsworth eventually falls in love with the Protestant Frances Evans Henri, who is half-Swiss and, more importantly, half-English. In ViUette, first published in 1853, Lucy Snowe follows the opposite romantic route: initially infatuated by John Graham Bretton, a Protestant Englishman, she ends up falling in love with and marrying the Catholic schoolmaster Paul Emanuel. It is hence impossible to argue that Protestant and English nationalism is given free rein in Bronte's work; to the contrary, the explicit claims of national and religious identity are often countered and mitigated by the more implicit and subtle strains of cosmopolitanism.

ViUette stands out as Bronte's most explicit novel on the issue of national and religious identity and on cross-cultural conflict. Based partially on Bronte's own experiences in Belgium, the novel may also be understood as the most direct expression of its author's actual position on the question of identity, and Lucy, the novel's protagonist, may be said to perform as a stand-in for Bronte herself. The notion of Englishness in the novel seems to be inextricably intertwined with that of Protestantism: unlike Catholicism, which the novel represents through its associations with the external and public observance of religious rituals, Protestantism is rendered as an interior, invisible and almost secular quality; as such it might be said to reflect ViUette's idea and ideal of Englishness. (6) Any representation of Englishness in the novel is motivated by an implicit national and religious discourse even when the Protestant God of England is not made explicit. (7) I therefore agree with Julia D. Kent's observation that "in contrast with the forms of theatricality attributed to Continental actors.... Lucy's way of inhabiting her national identity is strongly associated with Protestant interpretations of the Bible and a secularized version of the belief in predestination" (2010, 330).

As I have hinted previously, however, the question of Lucy's national and religious identity is far from settled. While Lucy resolutely resists the considerable charms of Catholicism, it is not clear to what extent she is invested in her native Englishness or Protestantism. Kate Lawson and Lynn Shakinovsky's contention that "Lucy gradually loosens the stranglehold of English national identification and the web of fantasy and invention in which she has been enmeshed" (2009, 926) is largely justified, and the amorous union between Lucy and M. Paul Emanuel, who is a Catholic, at the end of the novel does point toward the overcoming of national and religious difference. (8)

An emphasis on spectral narration may provide a novel way to approach the intricate ways in which Villette addresses the question of identity. This essay connects the spectral texture of the novel with the question of identity, shifting the focus from the novel's specter of the Catholic nun, who is perhaps too easily associated with anti-Catholicism, to the novel's use of spectral narration that intimately displays how Lucy organizes, acknowledges, and negotiates her ambivalent desires regarding nation and religion. Being uprooted from her native environment, in which she seems hardly ever to have taken root, Lucy often seems to stick vehemently to her Protestantism, defending it against the incursions of the Catholic environment in which she lives and works. But this is ultimately a surface opposition which has more to do with the public performance of identity, largely at odds with the much more fluid field of identity determined by processes of varying and unstable identifications and speculations, in which Lucy enters as a ghost-narrator. Indeed, the spectral narration in the novel places Lucy's desires beyond any strict definition of national and religious identity. As Lawson and Shakinovsky further note, "while Villette could be read as a xenophobic novel about the virtues of England and the manifold vices of Continental life, its most compelling phobia is that of not belonging, of having no place, of the state of being 'placeless'" (2009, 932).

While exploring the connection between Lucy's spectral narration and the question of identity, I focus on a fundamental topos, which underlies the surface opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism in the novel: the house. It is indeed possible to understand Lucy's phobia of placeless-ness, pointed out by Lawson and Shakinovsky, in terms of her quest for a house, which complicates her commitment to any strict dichotomy between Catholicism and Protestantism, England and the Continent. I argue that the overcoming of national and religious difference in the novel is predicated upon a fantasy of belonging that originates in the idea of a house. In my close reading of the passages pertaining to the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two, I show how the question of national and religious identity is intertwined with Lucy's ambivalent project of finding a house for her ghostly self. In their rough outline, the passages depict Lucy's visit of a Catholic church, where a priest wants to proselytize her, her subsequent nightmarish swoon, and her magic-like awakening in the house of her English godmother. In both the passage of the dreadful visit to the church and that of the hopeful awakening in an uncannily familiar house, Lucy is using a spectral mode of narration, that is, relating the events as if she were a ghost. These passages also contain a plethora of other ghosts, reflecting a richly textured specter-world where ghosts reflect other ghosts in intricate entanglement. Lucy appears to be haunting different houses: the house of Madame Beck's pensionnat, the house of Bretton in Bretton, England, and the house of Bretton in Villette (also referred to as La Terrasse). At a more metaphorical level, she is also seen to haunt the house of God (the Catholic church), the house of True Love, and the house of literature. We often see Lucy work out her desires and fears by way of an intense engagement with household objects, such as the bed, toilet table, mirror, portrait, miniatures, and handscreen. The different houses, and at times their articles of furniture, function as imaginary sites of desire, which allow Lucy to step beyond a strict definition of identity based on nation and religion. In their totality, the passages illustrate that the underlying question of Villette is not what nation or religion one must follow, but what house one must inhabit.


Lucy's ruminations on the question of religious and national identity start at the end of the first volume, where we find her wandering off from the boarding school and drifting in the streets of Villette after she is relieved of the task of taking care of a disabled child during the long and lonely semester break (Bronte 2008, 158). The task ends up reinforcing the sense of imprisonment that Lucy already experiences, living and working within the confines of Madame Beck's school, which is also her temporary house. Lucy's flanerie in the open air after the disabled child is finally taken away, however, seems hardly a respite from such imprisonment:
The cretin being gone, I was free to walk out. At first I lacked
courage to venture very far from the Rue Fossette, but by degrees I
sought the city gates, and passed them, and then wandering, and passed
them, and then wandering away from along chaussees, through fields,
beyond cemeteries, Catholic and Protestant, beyond farmheads, to lanes
and little woods, and I know not where. A goad thrust me on, a fever
forbade me to rest; a want of companionship maintained in my soul the
cravings of a mostly deadly famine. (Bronte 2008, 158)

The passage describes Lucy as a wandering ghost who desperately craves to have company but can have none. Despite passing beyond the city gates to the open fields, she cannot cast off her endless stock of melancholy. Lucy's perceptual separation of the two kinds of cemeteries (Catholic and Protestant) belies a fundamental anxiety, which also foreshadows the theme of her subsequent wanderings in the following pages: as long as she lives in the predominantly Catholic city of Villette, Lucy, a Protestant, runs the risk of giving up that essential part of her that she has carried all the way from her purported homeland, that is, her religion. It is presumably her Protestantism that gives Lucy her pith, her character, her own vaunted sense of difference.

The sight of the cemeteries implies a sectarian separation even in death; yet, Lucy's desperate "want of companionship" and "deadly famine" imply that such separations may not be that significant for survival. The scene in the countryside spotted by Catholic and Protestant cemeteries results in various speculations: Lucy begins to "picture the probable position" of those others that she identifies with and envies (Bronte 2008, 158). Her constitutional pride prevents her from fully confessing her need to identify with any other; yet, there is perhaps not a single character in this lengthy novel that does not bear the imprint of Lucy's own desires. (9) Villette's ghostly narrator may indeed be characterized by her "deadly famine" or voracious appetite for imaginary identification. Her picturing speculations reveal that she considers the possibility of becoming Catholic at the same time when she wants to preserve her Protestantism in a predominantly Catholic environment. Not surprisingly, Lucy first pictures Madame Beck, who, more than any other character in the narrative, is the most similar to Lucy despite the differences in their religious affiliation and social status. (10) Madame Beck is the successful Catholic owner and schoolmaster of the school where Lucy is a subordinate teacher. Lucy's representation of Madame Beck is predominantly a negative one: throughout Villette, she is described as a stealthy, spying professional who pursues a mechanical life devoid of love, as if she were, like Lucy, a ghost herself. It is Ginevra Fan-shawe, the second position pictured by Lucy, who is a much more exciting site of desiring speculation in comparison with the spiritless schoolmaster. At this point in the narrative, the coquettish and overly materialistic Ginevra is seen to be the love interest of Dr. Paul, with whom Lucy is silently and desperately in love; yet, Ginevra seems to be more interested in Alfred de Hamal, her continental suitor of aristocratic origins. Despite being English and most probably a Protestant by birth, Ginevra does not seem to be interested in the fraught questions of identity in the matters of love; it is even implied that she would not mind converting to Catholicism if she ever married a Catholic. (11) Lucy's speculations on "the probable position" of Ginevra, who represents a position of national and religious indeterminacy, may be thought of as a reflection on the nature of love, and indirectly, on the nature of religion:
The best of the good genii that guard humanity curtained [Ginevra] with
his wings, and canopied her head with his bending form. By True Love
was Ginevra followed: never could she be alone.... I conceived an
electric chord of sympathy between [Ginevra and her lover], a fine
chain of mutual understanding, sustaining union through a separation of
a hundred leagues--carrying across mound and hollow, communication by
prayer and wish, Ginevra gradually became with me a sort of heroine.
(Bronte 2008, 158-59)

Seemingly speculating on Ginevra, Lucy is effectively reenacting her own desire: shaking off her ghostliness, she desires to be blessed with "True Love," which is personified by a winged male genie who sensuously gestures toward her from above, "canop[ying] her head with his bending form." Like Ginevra, Lucy wants to become "a sort of heroine" not just of her own life but also of the romance novel that she has hitherto been writing as a speculating specter. True Love, which from this point on in my essay will be capitalized and referred to without quotation marks as in the novel, has the appearance of a pagan religion with its protective genie, telepathic expansion ("an electric chord of sympathy"), and telegraphic prayer ("union through a separation of a hundred leagues"). The sustenance of "union through separation.... carrying across mound and hollow" suggests that True Love may overcome all the artificial divisions created by institutional religions. It is possible to imagine that Lucy would not be oversensitive about the issue of differences in religion as long as she subscribes to the powerful religion of True Love. The scene may perhaps be thought to point to Lucy's search for a house of True Love already foreshadowed in the references to the figurative canopy and curtains. A possible conversion to another religion would not be out of question if such a home could be thereby attained.

Lucy's implicit desire for a house of True Love, however, is sharply negated by Lucy's present house: she precariously lives in Madame Beck's oppressive Catholic school and dormitory, where she works as an employee. Desperately envying Ginevra and recognizing her own unfulfillable desires, Lucy falls ill and "takes perforce to [her] bed" (Bronte 2008, 159). After nine stormy days of illness and insomnia at Madame Beck's school, sleep finally comes accompanied by an avenging dream: "a nameless experience that had the hue, the mien, the very tone of a visitation from eternity" (159). In an excessive use of prosopopoeia, which is one of the most prominent stylistic features of Villette, the dream is given the "mien" of an angry ghost much like the benevolent genie of True Love. Prosopopoeia now extends to the figure of death: in the absence of love and hope, Lucy is fast becoming reclaimed by Death, personified through a "pitiless and haughty voice" full of terrors (160). A curious sentence stages Lucy's death-like ghostliness: "Methought the well-loved dead, who had loved me well in life, met me elsewhere, alienated: galled was my inmost spirit with an unutterable sense of despair about the future" (160). The emphasized "me," enwrapped by a symmetrical repetition ("well-loved" and "loved me well") and opposition ("dead" and "life"), seems to already place Lucy in the liminal space between life and death in a way that befits her ghostliness. The use of prosopopoeia does not stop there: it extends to actual space and transforms it into a most Gothic image:
The solitude and the stillness of the long dormitory could not be borne
any longer; the ghastly white beds were turning into specters--the
coronal of each became a death's head, huge and sun-bleached--dead
dreams of an elder world and mightier race lay frozen in their wide
gaping eye-holes. (Bronte 2008, 160)

The bed here is figured as a striking synecdoche for an unwanted house. This is not just a bed of dreamt specters; it is a specter itself with its ghastly whiteness and coronals that are said to be "death's heads." The odd metaphorization, which substitutes the bed with the ghost, fortifies the metonymical relation between the two. In fact, the association is retained until the end of the narrative: the reference to a bed consistently connotes the possibility of a ghost residing in it. Given that it is Lucy's "me" who is the bed's dreaming and ailing inhabitant, the bed and the specter combine to refer to Lucy's own ghostly self, who is often reduced to lifeless speculation in the peripheries of life, unparticipating, paralyzed and deadlike. The diction is curious, which perhaps stems from the excessive use of personification: the coronal of the bed is referred to as "a death's head." One feels as if the personification were yet incomplete and must be given a more adequate face than that of a coronal or a bed. Perhaps, "a death's head" must become a woman's head: the swirling consonances and alliterations ("a death's head, huge and sun-bleached--dead dreams of an elder world") pave the way from a death's head to "wide gaping eye-holes" which may well be Lucy's own. The "elder world" seems to be a reference to the world that Lucy left behind when she moved to the continent, but in this extreme weakening of her spirit, it may also refer to her Protestantism and Englishness, made more explicit in the reference to the "mightier race." Another slight surge of the spirit and temporary respite from the ghost makes Lucy seek a way out:
The weight of my dreadful dream became alleviated--that insufferable
thought of being no more loved, no more owned, half yielded to hope of
the contrary--I was sure this hope would shine clearer if I got out
from under this house-roof, which was crushing as the slab of a tomb.
(Bronte 2008, 160)

Being "no more owned" relates to Lucy's acute sense of alienation from her "elder world and mightier race." The lines reiterate another classical image of the gothic: this house, which is not a proper house but the school where Lucy works and boards, is a tomb in which she is buried alive. We have been told earlier that Madame Beck's school used to be a convent that has now become a site of legend and superstition, supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Catholic nun. To get out of the school, for Lucy, would imply the escape from dreadful dreams, ghastly beds, sepulchral homes, and Catholic superstitions. Ironically, however, Lucy ends up visiting a Catholic church, which in this context may be thought of as another house, that is, the house of God:
Covered with a cloak (I could not be delirious, for I had the sense and
recollection to put on warm clothing), forth I set. The bells of a
church arrested me in passing: they seemed to call me in to the salut,
and I went in. Any solemn rite, any spectacle of sincere worship, any
opening for appeal to God was as welcome to me then as bread to one in
extremity of want. I knelt down with others on the stone pavement.
(Bronte 2008, 160-61)

In search of a home for her desires, Lucy is now moving from one Catholic house to another that is said to be inhabited by God. If speculating on the life of others is the usual way in which Lucy inhabits others' houses, she now seems to be trying another method for the same end: role-playing. Indeed, there is something already Catholic about Lucy in the way she drifts into the church "covered with a cloak"; the long parenthetical explanation seems to be there to drive away the suggestion that she has intentionally dressed up as a Catholic. When, at the end of the scene, she takes leave from the priest, who tries to convert her, we catch a glimpse of her veil: "I only bowed; and pulling down my veil, and gathering round me my cloak, I glided away" (162). Such remarks suggest that Lucy already blends perfectly with the other Catholics at the church, kneeling down with them. One suspects that Lucy is pretending to be a Catholic before she meets the priest: both the cloak and the veil hint at an act of disguise and subterfuge. Lucy seems to be unconsciously flirting with the idea of becoming a Catholic, but her conscious mind also appears to be receptive to the appeal of "solemn rite" that is amply provided by the Catholic church. Going to the confessional, she professes herself to be ignorant of "the formula of confession.... instead of commencing, then, with the prelude usual, I said: 'Mon pere, je suis Protestante'" (161).

At first sight, the statement "Mon pere, je suis Protestante," does not appear out-of-place in a narrative where the dialogue is often bilingual; it becomes rather peculiar, however, in view of the following dialogue, in which the priest's words, whose native tongue is French, are rendered in English or in the English translation. The first words of the wondering priest, who has listened to the confessional intention of Lucy, are rendered as a question in English: "Was it a sin, a crime?" (Bronte 2008, 161). It is possible to view Lucy's statement as performative, more significant in the way it formulates its sense, rather than its sense taken alone. The statement might be taken as an indication that Lucy is mimicking the French-speaking and Catholic native in more than one way. She acknowledges the priest as "mon pere" as if she were a Catholic who willingly accepted his spiritual leadership. The shocking declaration of her Protestantism is framed as the first statement of her confession, giving the impression that she is already implicated in the solemn rite. Admittedly, Lucy is not in the church to be proselytized into Catholicism; she is there to seek "a word of advice or an accent of comfort" that could come from the mouth of the priest (161).

Following the statement concerning her Protestantism, Lucy begins to talk to the priest about her loneliness, ailment, affliction and, upon the priest's question ("Was it a sin, a crime?"), she "show[s] him the mere outline of her experience." The narrator, however, refrains from showing this "mere outline" to the reader and the experience that Lucy communicates to the priest remains elusive. One may only conjecture that she is talking about the outline of her suicidal propensity or her platonic feelings toward John Graham. In retrospect, the declaration of her Protestantism seems to be the only concrete part of her confession, which could count as a sin in the eyes of the priest, who, on that account, might be partially forgiven for his proselytizing zeal. His observation that "Protestantism is altogether too dry, cold, prosaic for [Lucy]" is followed by his proposal that they meet again, presumably to complete the work of conversion (Bronte 2008, 161-162). The presumably well-intended proposal, however, seems excessively strange and even debauched: '"You must not come to this church' said he: 'I see you are ill, and this church is too cold; you must come to my house: I live--' (and he gave me his address). Be there to-morrow morning at ten" (162). This is yet another Catholic house: the house of the priest whose address is known but which will never be visited. Obviously, this is a scene of religious and sexual seduction; we have indeed been alerted to the possibility of the sexual undertone of the scene in the preceding pages when Lucy, having made the confession regarding her Protestantism, sees the priest for the first time: "He was not a native priest; of that class, the cast of physiognomy is, almost invariably, groveling: I saw by his profile and brow that he was a Frenchman; though gray and advanced in years, he did not, I think, lack either feeling or intelligence" (161). With Lucy seemingly offended by the proposal of the French priest, whose physique is infinitely more attractive than the average native (or "Labassecourien"), we have the impression of an abrupt ending of a potentially sexual tryst that has gone terribly wrong in the way she hastily "pulls down" her veil and "gathers round [her]" cloak (162). Reflecting on the scene in the subsequent passage, Lucy wonders what could happen if she met the priest again, and speculates on the horrifying possibilities using a language that is explicitly sensual and even erotic:
Did I, do you suppose, reader, contemplate venturing again within that
worthy priest's reach? As soon should I have thought of walking into a
Babylonish furnace. That priest had arms which could influence me; he
was naturally kind, with a sentimental French kindness, to whose
softness I knew myself not wholly impervious.... Had I gone to him, he
would have shown me all that was tender, and comforting, and gentle, in
the honest popish superstition. Then he would have tried to kindle,
blow and stir up in me the zeal of good works. I know not how it would
have ended. (Bronte 2008, 162-63)

The arms of the priest represent the sensual lure of Catholicism and Catholic hospitality, rendered through the use of tactile adjectives (kind, soft, tender, comforting, and gentle) and of verbs that may be thought to relate to pneumatic movement and pressure (kindle, blow, and stir up). But Lucy does not allow the smothered flames of her spirit to be rekindled by the works of Catholicism, since there is nothing but deception and fraud in this lure insofar as it is grounded in the oxymoron of "the honest popish superstition." The reference to the decadent Babylon functions as a reminder of a heathenish time under the reign of the "popish superstition," of the luxurious-ness of its "solemn rite" and of the sensual arms of the French priest. Far from rekindling the spirit, the conversion to Catholicism, which Lucy sees as tantamount to "walking into a Babylonish furnace," would surely result in its total combustion.

But there is more in this indecent proposal, especially in the way it impudently substitutes the church with the house. The house functions as the teleological end of the narrative; yet, in keeping with the conventions of the romance, the much longed-for house must be a place of True Love. In the course of the passages that I have been examining, we have already seen two houses: the house/school of Madame Beck and the house/church of the Catholic priest. Both of these houses are uncanny: although Lucy unconsciously recognizes them as the projections of her desire--there is financial stability in being like the successful schoolmistress Madame Beck and spiritual stability in belonging to the Catholic church--neither house is adequate to realize the ideal of the house that could comfortably accommodate Lucy's "me" and must therefore be rejected. In fact, as another plot twist in a later narrative section reveals, the house of Madame Beck is intricately connected to that of the priest by familial connection. The commingling of these various houses (house/ school/ church) is a primal source of anxiety for Lucy, and the Catholic house is figured as a site of infinite horrors, which could easily exterminate Lucy's very little sense of "me." The lines that immediately follow give the impression that Lucy indeed knows the consequences of falling into the lure of Catholicism. After having declared that "[she] knows not how it would all have ended," Lucy continues with her speculations:
We all think ourselves strong in some points; we all know ourselves
weak in many, the probabilities are that had I visited Numero 10, Rue
des Mages, at the hour and day appointed, I might instead of writing
this narrative, be counting my beads in the cell of a certain convent
on the Boulevard of Crecy in Villette. (Bronte 2008, 163)

These supposedly ironic lines, in which Lucy playfully imagines herself as a Catholic nun at the same time when she seems to ridicule such fancifulness, barely hide the very real horrors she experiences in relation to the possibility of becoming a Catholic, which connotes the possibility of being immured in a house without True Love. Lucy speculates that she could have ended in a convent/house, but, the irony (and this might indeed be the real irony) is that the convent is, in a sense, where she is already: a convent that has been converted into Madame Beck's school. In the nightmarish fantasy that Lucy sketches for herself and for the reader, it is significant that she becomes eventually rerouted from one fanciful address ("Numero 10, Rue des Mages") to one that seems less fanciful ("a certain convent on the Boulevard of Crecy in Villette"). Listening to the words of the attractive priest and joining the church of the popish superstition would not have resulted in the attainment of the house of True Love; rather, Lucy would have been displaced from one uncanny house to another, which is just like the present house/convent where she feels imprisoned, and even worse, buried alive under "the house-roof, which crush[es] as the slab of a tomb." In a circular movement of unspeakable terrors, Lucy would have followed a frightening career from a house in which she is like a nun (as a teacher at a convent converted into a school) to one in which she is a nun. (12)

The love of the Catholic God, therefore, would not have led to any improvement in her dismal situation; the house of the attractive priest, whose sensual arms might have converted Lucy into a type of God's bride, is a place of chimerical love which would only have added to her already acute sense of alienation, displacement, and inaction vis-a-vis the material world. Unlike True Love, which stalks Ginevra and transforms her into a heroine, religious love would have immured her in a convent where Lucy would have been "counting [her] beads in the cell of a certain convent," having become an insignificant and marginal victim who is unworthy of a narrative.

The implication is that the reader should owe the existence of this narrative to her rejection of the priest's offer; otherwise, "instead of writing this narrative," Lucy would have been counting beads. This curious statement foreshadows the trajectory of the narrative, which proceeds in the direction guided by the prospect of True Love and by the partial adherence to the romance genre, whereby the ghostly, nun-like Lucy might somehow be reinstated as a heroine of sorts with a proper house-roof over her. But it also performs as a subtle moment of self-reflexivity, which draws an implicit analogy between the act of writing and heroism. To be able to write, the specter of the Catholic nun must be overcome and a proper house of True Love must be found either in death or life. The passage also foreshadows a constitutive but implicit desire that underlies Lucy's search for a house of True Love: her desire to find a house for her writing.


This scene of intense horrors naturally ends with the intimation of an impending ailment that is akin to death, heralded by an uncontrollable nightly storm, "cold and piercting to the vitals" (Bronte 2008, 163). One suspects that Lucy is finally making the much-expected passage after her prolonged but inconsequential visitation of the material world to an immaterial world, riding a calamitous storm, which, as typical, is expressive of Lucy's rending inner turmoil: "I only wished that I had wings and could ascend the gale, spread and repose my pinions on its strength, career in its course, sweep where it swept" (163-64). Lucy's career toward death, however, is interrupted by yet another swoon that happens at a most indefinite place: "the porch of a great building" defined obscurely with references to its "mass of frontage" and "its giant-spire" that are vaguely reminiscent of a piece of gothic architecture and possibly a church (164). Only after several pages do we get a clearer sense of the exact locale, when Lucy tells us that she was gathered "from the church steps" (167). While reflecting on her swoon, Lucy appears to engage in metaphysical speculation:
Where my soul went during that swoon I cannot tell. Whatever she saw,
or wherever she travelled in her trance on that strange night, she kept
her own secret, never whispering a word to Memory, and baffling
Imagination by an indissoluble silence. She may have gone upward, and
come in sight with of her eternal home, hoping for leave to rest now,
and deeming her painful union with matter was at least dissolved.
(Bronte 2008, 165)

This is the beginning of the second volume where Lucy is awakening or has already awakened from her swoon. This passage may also be characterized by another excessive use of prosopopoeia, in which Lucy's soul refuses to talk with her metaphysical company of personified Memory and personified Imagination. Indeed, the swoon reveals Lucy's "me" to be a site of haunting that is alien and unknowable. In utter alienation, Lucy conjectures that she or her ghost/spirit might have "come in sight" with another house or haunted the "eternal home" of death with the intention to return to it after a painful affair with the world of matter. The "eternal home" mentioned here hints at the thematic makeup of the following scene that takes place at a magical house.

Lucy's awakening is also a moment of hope and romance, which may be understood as an awakening into a region of fantasy, into the remote time of "an elder world and mightier race" (Bronte 2008, 160); not coincidentally, this first chapter of the second volume is titled "Auld Lang Syne." But this transference into the world of romance happens only slowly and by way of a gradual union between spirit and matter:
I sat up appalled, wondering into what region, amongst what strange
beings I was waking. At first I knew nothing I looked on: a wall was
not a wall--a lamp not a lamp. I should have understood what we call a
ghost, as well as I did the commonest object; which is another way of
intimating that all my eye rested on struck me as spectral. (Bronte
2008, 165)

The question is whether this is indeed the real world or a paradisiacal afterlife that is reminiscent of all that was best in the world left behind. Lucy's consciousness still oscillates between what is and what is not in the narrative's characteristic mode of spectral narration: "a wall was not a wall--a lamp not a lamp." The spectral narration in this awakening, however, is different from that in the preceding instances: here, we observe a ghost gradually taking in the material world, recognizing it, owning it, and being owned by it. A magical transformation takes place when the ghost of Lucy awakens not in the Catholic school dormitory/convent where the white beds are specters, but in a proper house that is both familiar and unfamiliar. In perhaps the most luxurious description in the narrative, Lucy begins to explore the furniture in the curious house:
My eye fell on an easy chair covered with blue damask.... I took in the
complete fact of a pleasant parlour, with a woodfire on a clear-shining
hearth, a carpet where arabesques of bright blue relieved a ground of
shaded fawn; pale walls over which a slight but endless garland of
azure forget-me-nots ran mazed and bewildered amongst myriad gold
leaves and tendrils. A gilded mirror filled up the space between the
two windows, curtain amply with the blue damask. (Bronte 2008, 166)

Lucy is now subject to an influx of matter, object, house, to a rush of unexpected abundance and excess. Notably, the scene does not contain any bed, which is formerly represented as the breeding site of dreaming superstition and is associated with the spectral dormitory of the Catholic school/convent: it is substituted with a sofa on which the wondering Lucy lies. The parlor, with its woodfire and hearth, bears all the marks of luxurious homeliness, but is perhaps a bit too luxurious with its arabesqued carpets, its wall-papers with azure forget-me-nots and, most significantly, its gilded mirror which reflects Lucy lying on a sofa and "lookin[ing] spectral" (166).

We must bear in mind that Lucy does not give up her spectrality for a considerable time after she awakens in this strangely magical house. Even after being served by a native bonne, who bathes her temples and forehead "with perfume," she cannot overcome the impression that the house is a phantasm, and wonders whether "it was a mistake, a dream, a fever-fit" (Bronte 2008, 167). After she sleeps and awakens, this time in a bed, she feels like having been reinstated in the ghostly reality of Madame Beck's dormitory, which is the house of her virtual entombment: she momentarily becomes alarmed by "'the wuther' of the wind amongst the trees, denoting a garden outside" and "the chill, the whiteness, the solitude, amidst which I lay. I say whiteness--for the dimity curtains dropped before a French bed, bounded my view" (168). It is only when her eyes begin to pass through one item of furniture to another in the room, seemingly taking delight in every minute detail, that she finally realizes that she might be in a tiny bedroom of a different house where the walls are pleasantly white-washed. Despite the tininess of the room, the description of the furniture therein still gives the impression of luxury and abundance, especially in comparison with Madame Beck's white and stark pensionnat:
Instead of two dozen little stands of painted wood [in the school
dormitory], each holding a basin and ewer, there was a toilette table
dressed, like a lady for a ball, in a white robe over a pink skirt; a
polished and large glass crowned, and a pretty pincushion frilled
with lace adorned it. (Bronte 2008, 168)

Through this strange personification, which metaphorically substitutes the toilette table in the bedroom with the image of "a lady for a ball," Lucy intimates her desire to become a lady, and perhaps, the lady of the house. The metaphorization is so fanciful that it is hard to decide whether the descriptive lines are to be attributed to the lady or to the table. The polished and large glass that "crowns" the table seems to reflect the image of a ghostly lady, who performs as an indirect apparition of Lucy's veiled desire, removed from more direct expression by a reflective surface and fanciful personification. In the mirror of the tiny bedchamber, Lucy seems to have found a better vehicle for the expression of her domestic desires than the gilded mirror of the more luxurious parlor that reflects her in the ill-fitting position of lying on a sofa like an overly sensuous Cleopatra. In a later section during a visit to an art gallery, Lucy encounters this Cleopatra in the form of a pictorial representation, which results in her making an equally sarcastic and prudish remark: "[Cleopatra] had no business to lounge away the noon on a sofa" (200). But the Lucy of this tiny chamber is not and cannot be such an inadequately luxuriant figure. Not surprisingly, we are told that she "look[s] spectral" in the parlor mirror: "my eyes larger and more hollow; my hair darker than was natural, by contrast with my thin and ashen face" (166). Despite its potential horrors, Lucy's ghostliness in this instance proves to be a resourceful narrative strategy, which she deploys in order to veil her more material desires.

Significantly, Lucy continues to project a sense of ghostliness onto the articles of furniture of this magical house around her as if she were intentionally trying to defer the recognition of their materiality: "These articles of furniture could not be real, solid arm-chairs, looking-glasses, and wash-stands--they must be the ghosts of such articles" (Bronte 2008, 168). If the recognition of the materiality of the furniture is improbably delayed, this is because Lucy is in the process of negotiating her desires in relation to the spectral house that she is in. Her own ghostliness, mirrored in the ghostliness of the articles of furniture around her, provides her with the necessary distance through which such negotiation may take place. (13 )The resolution does follow: it is not the materiality of these articles that Lucy desires--that would be a desire that is too crudely materialistic; rather, it is the mark of nostalgia and memory of the same articles that endows them with their desirable quality, and Lucy finally recognizes this magical place to be the house of "auld lang syne":
Strange to say, old acquaintance were all around me, and "auld lang
syne" smiled out of every nook. There were two oval miniatures over
the mantelpiece, of which I knew by heart about the high and powdered
"heads," the velvets circling the white throats; the swell of the
full muslin kerchiefs; the pattern of the lace sleeve-ruffles.... Of
all these things I could have told the peculiarities, numbered the
flaws or cracks, like any clairvoyante. (Bronte 2008, 166)

At the end of this passage, which I will revisit shortly, we have the impression that the mystery is partially resolved: these are articles of furniture which belong to the house of Lucy's godmother, Mrs. Bretton, in the English town of Bretton. We later find out that the furniture has been moved to this apartment in Villette where Mrs. Bretton and her son currently live as expatriates. The spectral return of "auld lang syne" suggests a return to the beginning of the novel and perhaps to the very first lines, which evoke stability, wealth and history through the image of an ancestral English house: "My godmother lived in the handsome house in the clean and ancient town of Bretton. Her husband's family had been there for generations, and bore, indeed, the name of their birthplace--Bretton of Bretton" (5). These initial lines intimate the aristocratic lineage of the Brettons, which is never made explicit, and the doubling of the family name ("Bretton of Bretton") reinforces the impression of a charmingly solid origin that is entirely English, Protestant, and a more than adequate representative of Britain, whose consonance with Bretton must be less than coincidental. In the first pages of the narrative, Lucy describes the Bretton house, which she visits twice a year through her young adulthood, with measured and unsentimental brevity, as if the house stood for itself without needing any additional coloring or embellishment provided by the imagination:
The large peaceful rooms, the well-arranged furniture, the clear wide
windows, the balcony outside, looking down on a fine antique street,
where Sundays and holidays seemed always to abide--so quiet was its
atmosphere, so clean its pavement--these things pleased me well.
(Bronte 2008, 5)

This is a most insipid description of the house of Bretton rendered through some rather trite adjectives: large, peaceful, clear, fine, quiet and the doubly and senselessly repeated "clean" used to describe the clean town of Bretton and the clean pavement of the Breton home's street. "The well-arranged furniture" is all we get about the interior of the Bretton house from this first description. In comparison, the description of the same furniture in the scene of Lucy's awakening appears almost baroque in the way it infuses each article of furniture with resonant memory and desire. The beginning chapters then offer no cue whatsoever regarding Lucy's intense emotional investment in the "well-arranged furniture."

Of course, Lucy has just awakened from the terrible nightmare of becoming/ being (like) the ghost of a Catholic nun in a convent to which she must eternally belong; hence, it is somewhat natural that she would latch onto the personal memory of Protestant England inherent in these articles of furniture with the unprecedented zeal of nostalgia. In fact, unlike the Catholic priest with the sensual arms, who invites her to the uncanny house of a Catholic god, sensual memory does seem to be able to "kindle, blow and stir up in [her] the zeal of good works" if by "good works," we understand the articles of furniture of a proper house in England left behind, which is "an object of the narrator's unquiet idealization and longing" (Bad-owska 2005, 1519). It seems that Lucy's ghostliness may now be given up with the return of a nostalgic house that affords a sense of material abundance and she may perhaps start her career toward a life of spirit harmoniously united with actual matter. The miracle is nothing short of an eastern tale from The Arabian Nights:
I thought of Bedriddin Hassan, transported in his sleep from Cairo to
the gates of Damascus. Had a Genius stooped his dark wing down the
storm to whose stress I had succumbed, and gathering me from the
church-steps, and "rising high into the air," as the eastern tale said,
had he borne me over land and ocean, and laid me quietly down beside a
hearth of Old England? But no; I knew the fire of that hearth burned
before its Lares no more--it went out long ago, and the household gods
had been carried elsewhere. (Bronte 2008, 167)

The rhetoric in this passage recalls the earlier passage where True Love was represented in the ghostly form of "the best of the good genii that guard humanity" that favored and protected Ginevra and not Lucy (159). The "genius" in this passage, who collects Lucy from the church-steps and saves her from the horrors of converting to the "popish superstition," may be interpreted as another fantastic figure of True Love. The paganism of the superstition of True Love, represented here by the genii, is somewhat concealed in the form of the eastern tale; yet, Lucy cannot help making the relation more explicit, alluding to "the household gods" once facing the fire of the hearth of an English house. The question is whether those gods are still there; despite the enthusiasm generated by the fantasy of the eastern tale, Lucy remains skeptical. Her remark that those household gods, whose principal figure is Lares, "had been carried elsewhere" evokes an immediate sense of loss and melancholy, which pervades the entire scene and checks the overzealous leaps of fantasy. Those privileged sites of True Love, that is, the fire, hearth, and house, seem available only to nostalgic memory.

The superstition of the house of True Love with its pagan household gods complicates the overall impression that Lucy is reverting to her essential Protestantism, an impression facilitated by the sequence of the events in the narrative, in which Lucy is gathered from the steps of a Catholic church (and hence, saved from her Catholic ghost) and brought to the Protestant house of her English godmother. In fact, at least initially, we do get the sense that the "dreams of an elder world and mightier race" might come alive with the conjuration of Old England that bears the double sign of Protestantism and the "mighty" English race. The later events in the narrative reveal that Lucy can become fervent about defending her religion, but fundamentally, Lucy's Protestantism seems to be significant only to the extent that it may accommodate the paganism of True Love. The fantastic nature of the passage further raises the suspicion that there may indeed be other houses, not necessarily Protestant or English, which may better host True Love. This suspicion is reinforced through the memory of Old England whose oldness suggests a time much before the time of Protestantism, that is, the time of a truly "elder world and mightier race," a heathen England of houses of True Love where household gods protect the fire of the hearth.

This good Old England, however, was never truly there and has been nothing but a fantasy as amply demonstrated by Lucy's spectral narration of her awakening. Besides, it is only available as the fantasy of an unnerving ghost, who creeps around the house, secretly speculating on the various items of furniture, ceaselessly projecting her desires. This ghost seems to have an eye for those articles of furniture that are representations, like the miniatures: "There were two oval miniatures over the mantelpiece, of which I knew by heart about the high and powdered 'heads,' the velvets circling the white throats; the swell of the full muslin kerchiefs; the pattern of the lace sleeve-ruffles" (Bronte 2008, 166). Lucy seems to have cognitively devoured all the aspects of the figures, who seem to be old time aristocrats, not necessarily English, enacting perhaps her desire for higher social status. Speculating on the figures and reflecting upon their luxury in desiring perception and imagination, Lucy relates to Old England through the form of a distant representation. The medium of representation imparts on the objects of her desire a sense of unreality, which largely characterizes Lucy's relation to Old England. So, when Lucy later remarks that "these articles of furniture could not be real, solid arm-chairs, looking-glasses, and wash-stands--they must be the ghosts of such articles," she also hints that their ghostliness does not stem from their not being real, but from their not having ever been real (168). The articles have never been materially used by Lucy, who cannot possess them; her possession only happens spectrally through the eerie figure of a ghost who knows these objects by heart: "of all these things I could have told the peculiarities, numbered the flaws or cracks, like any clairvoyante" (166).

Not a connoisseur, but a clairvoyante, perhaps because such uncanny knowing takes place without the knowledge of anyone, with the stealth of a crafty ghost who hid her sensual interest in those articles from us readers, giving us instead the stark picture of well-arranged furniture in a handsome English house facing clean pavements in the clean town of Bretton. It must be remembered that Lucy, the narrator, seems to have completely effaced herself in the first three chapters of the narrative, which take place in Bretton, describing mostly the relationship between the young Graham Bretton and the child Paulina Home, who is given to the temporary care of the Bretton family by her aristocratic father. In these first chapters, we do not hear any intimation regarding Lucy's love of the articles of furniture (Lucy the narrator often appears to be hiding), nor do we ever find any direct hint regarding the passionate love that she feels toward Graham. The most direct expression of her love happens in the scene of her awakening in some ten years, when she sees another representation, much like the oval miniatures on the mantelpiece, a portrait in a "gilded picture-frame" (Bronte 2008, 170):
It was drawn--well drawn, though but a sketch--in water colours; a head,
a boy's head, fresh, life-like, speaking, and animated. It seemed a
youth of sixteen, fair-complexioned, with sanguine health in his cheek;
hair long, not dark, and with a sunny sheen; penetrating eyes, an arch
mouth, and a gay smile. On the whole a most pleasant face to look at,
especially for those claiming a right to that youth's
affection--parents, for instance, or sisters. Any romantic little
schoolgirl might almost have loved it in its frame. (Bronte 2008, 170)

The gilded picture-frame, like the gilded mirror or the mirror of the toilette paper, is a site of haunting desire, which can only be represented (but also expressed or reflected) by way of other representations. The narrator of the first chapters does not provide us with any description of the young Graham in flesh and blood in the same sensual way that she does in the present instance where she describes his likeness. Lucy's earlier love for Graham may be retrieved not just in the sensuality of the description, but in the reflection afforded by Lucy's speculation on the possible spectators of the portrait: parents, sisters and finally romantic school girls. This speculation offers various positions that Lucy might occupy in relation to Graham and the sites of his affection. One may even identify Lucy's desire to be Graham in her reference to the pleasant way he is looked at (and after) by his family, but Lucy's more prominent desire is to be the address of Graham's affection. Lucy, however, cannot claim this position despite the somewhat familial tie between her and the family of her godmother; her position is akin not to the sister directly looking at the real Graham and enjoying rightfully his natural affection, but to a romantic school-girl who is removed from the real Graham and the right to his affection, enjoying his portrait only "in its frame." Lucy's reluctance to state openly that she is that romantic little-girl is so extreme that even when she relates the instance of her own looking at the portrait, she has to frame it in the indirectness of a quoted soliloquy:
Striving to take each new discovery as quietly as I could, I whispered
to myself: "Ah! that portrait used to hang in the breakfast-room, over
the mantel-place: somewhat too high, as I thought. I well remember how
I used to mount a music-stool for the purpose of unhooking it, holding
it in my hand, and searching into those bonny wells of eyes, whose
glance under their hazel lashes seemed like a pencilled laugh; and well
I liked to note the colouring of the cheek, and the expression of the
mouth." I hardly believed fancy could improve on the curve of that
mouth, or of the chin. (Bronte 2008, 170)

The insertion of the soliloquy is truly peculiar: Lucy interrupts the flow of her narration to whisper to herself the memory of herself holding the portrait. When the whispering ceases and the quotation marks are removed, however, one feels that there has been no need for such a quotation: the separation of the quoted phrase ("I like the colouring of the cheek") from the following phrase ("I hardly believed fancy could improve on the curve of that mouth") does seem arbitrary and artificial. If Lucy suddenly feels the need to narrate in the mode of putting her narration in the frame of a self-quotation, it is perhaps because she desires to relate to her memory by way of amplifying the indirectness of representation and acting as a ghost-narrator that hovers between being there and not being there. (14) As Katherine J. Kim observes, "Lucy resists much direct self-disclosure by providing oblique glances of herself through descriptions of others.... We therefore witness Lucy attempting to regulate what we know of her, and thus how we comprehend her, from the commencement of her story" (2011, 412). Lucy's ghostly relation to herself may then be seen as a ruse that enables narrative regulation and control, creating a distance between the narrator in the present time of narration and the narrator in the time of memory, a distance that helps Lucy speculate on her affection toward Graham. We, as the readers, do feel that Lucy still loves Graham when she meets him in Villette ten years after their last meeting in Bretton. But this ghostly love can only be mediated through the medium of representation (the portrait) just like Lucy's love for Old England is mediated through the articles of furniture of the house of the Brettons.

The surge of familiar matter in Lucy's awakening and its attendant sensuality, then, do not result in the much-expected union of matter with Lucy's spirit. The English/Protestant house of "auld lang syne" turns out not to be the much-desired house of True Love. Lucy's narration suggests that those things that surge in this time of the awakening (house, England, Graham) have always been the ghosts of themselves, marked by unreality and imbued with a sense of alienating representation and speculation. (15) There is ultimately something distant and cold in all the English/Protestant houses, haunts and homes of the novel, which remain indifferent to Lucy's desire to be haunted by True Love. Consequently, no True Love will ever materialize between the two Protestant and English characters, Lucy and Graham. We will indeed have to wait for another episode until Lucy's ghost will be haunted by True Love in the form of a Catholic school teacher, who, Joseph Boone avers, will not "overlook [Lucy's] (in)visibility" (1992, 35) or her ghostliness. Even then, it might be foreseen, Lucy will not give up her ghostliness, (16) perhaps because the ghost is fundamentally (in) the spirit of writing. Lucy sketches a perfect metaphor for this, when she looks at the hand-screens on the mantel-shelf upon her awakening:
There was a pair of handscreens, with elaborate pencil-drawings
finished like line-engravings; these, my very eyes ached at beholding
again, recalling hours when they had followed, stroke by stroke and
touch by touch, a tedious, feeble, finical, school-girl pencil held in
these fingers, now so skeleton-like. (Bronte 2008, 166)

These handscreens discernibly function as metaphors for literature, doubling the work of writing by the work of depicting: "pencil-drawings" and "line-engravings" intimate the "tedious" and "feeble" act of writing. The handscreens' engraved lines point to the lines that are being drawn with words through the reverberating movements of a "school-girl pencil" held in the same hand that is at once unfamiliar and familiar, dead and alive. Once again, Lucy is describing herself indirectly through a self-distancing device that now takes the form of a handscreen, screening herself through the strokes of her handwriting against an indifferent world. The "skeleton-like" fingers are surely those fingers of the evasive ghost that chooses to be present only by way of the reminiscence not of some halcyon, facile memory, but of the memory of hard work, a memory that immediately translates into the present: the tedious, feeble, finical work of drawing then and of writing now. The handscreens may then be thought to point toward a final house, and perhaps the only house that is hospitable to Lucy's ghost-narrator within the long list of Villette's houses: the house of literature. This may not be the house of any stable identity, of any sect, religion or nation; it might also not be a house crowned by the visitation of True Love. The house of literature, this wonderful passage intimates, is the house of hard, but ultimately satisfactory work of a speculating ghost, a house in which Lucy strives to inhabit and represent the meandering complexities of a life that is never fully present or fully absent "stroke by stroke and touch by touch."


(1) As Jessica Brent perceptively notes, "although these chapters are related in the first-person, Lucy might as well be addressing us in the third, so little does she divulge of her subjectivity or origins" (2003, 93). Brent states that such oddity in the first chapters create a larger "pattern... that will repeat itself throughout the novel: the displacement of interpretive, interiorized first-person narration by Lucy's un-glossed, exteriorized visual observations" (94).

(2) For other comments on the strangeness of the narrative technique of Villette, see John Hughes (2000, 718) and Gregory S. O'Dea (1998, 51). For investigations of Lucy's consciousness, see Elisha Cohn (2012, 850) and Gretchen Braun (2011, 190-94). Cohn particularly emphasizes the "attenuated consciousness" (2012, 850) of Lucy, which may perhaps be understood as a manifestation of her ghostliness, whereas Braun underscores the theme of trauma and claims that "the narrative structures attendant on traumatic experience provide a model for understanding Lucy Snowe's silences, repetitions, and obfuscations" (2011, 190).

(3) For extended discussions of the imperial and national understandings of Englishness in the mid-nineteenth-century, see David Armitage (2000) and Linda Colley (2005).

(4) For detailed discussions of the Anti-Catholic discourse of the era, see Norman (1968), Paz (1992), Colley (2005), and Griffin (2004).

(5) See, for instance, Eells (2013) who discusses how Bronte's diction in Jane Eyre was greatly influenced by the French language.

(6) For an insightful and informative perspective on Villette's position regarding the opposition between Catholicism and Protestantism, see Clarke, who, commenting on the state of anti-Catholicism in mid-nineteenth-century England, quotes Julie Melnyk's 2008 Victorian Religion: Faith and Life in Britain: "to be Protestant had become an essential element of Britishness" (quoted in Clarke 2011, 974).

(7) One may even claim that the novel derives its idea of nationalism more from the idea of Protestantism than that of any racial or ethnic purity. See Kent (2010, 329) for a discussion of the hybrid origins of the novel's English characters. What unites all the English characters in Villette is unquestionably their Protestantism which is implicitly understood as a national characteristic.

(8) Rosemary Clark-Beattie also notes that "the novel cannot sustain" any "tidy distinction[s]" between Catholicism and Protestantism (1986, 823); "what gives the novel its power is the extent to which it.... returns Lucy to the paralyzing indeterminacy of her relation to English culture" (829). Clarke similarly avers that "rather than being merely rhetorical devices to signal anti-Catholic prejudice, Villette's Gothic elements enable Bronte to explore fundamental religious and theological oppositions between the Protestant and Catholic faiths" (2011, 975).

(9) As Janice Carlisle observes, "Villette is less a narrative in which other characters are granted an autonomous existence than a hall of mirrors in which they are allowed to appear because they serve as facets reflecting the affective truth of Lucy's life" (1979, 279). Similarly, Christina Crosby notes that "signification [in Villette]--the making and reading of identity and of all meaning--is as much a matter of specular play as it is of unveiling proper meanings, particularly for a woman" (1984, 713). It must be borne in mind that such identifications do not necessarily reflect Lucy's desire to become another; they may well reflect her fear or anxiety to turn into or become this "other."

(10) See Davis (2013, 208-09) for Lucy's speculative relationship with Madame Beck. On the similarities between Madame Beck and Lucy, see Margaret L. Shaw (1994, 816-18) and Boone (1992, 25).

" See Kent (2010, 330) for a discussion of the ambiguities in Ginevra's relationship with "her national culture," and Clarke (2011, 976), Robert Newsom (1991, 62) for a discussion of her indefinite affiliation with Protestantism. See also Crosby (1984, 712-13) for an interesting analysis of mirroring identification of Lucy with Ginevra.

(12) It is possible to view the specter of the Catholic nun, who is Villette's famed Gothic specter, in this context as Lucy's own self, her own ghost. For other comments on the Gothic doubling implied by the figure of the nun, see Toni Wein (1999, 136), Newsom (1991, 59), E.D.H. Johnson (1966, 326-29), and particularly Crosby (1984, 703-04).

(13) For a discussion of Lucy's awakening in the parlor and slow cognizance of the objects around her, see Michael Klotz (2005, 22-23). I agree with Klotz's observation that the surge of the perceptual aspect of the objects does not just reflect Lucy's passivity; rather, Lucy is actively negotiating her ghostly identity through them, particularly through the "handscreens."

(14) While analyzing a similar scene, in which Lucy "describ[es] herself in first and then in third person," Emily Heady interprets such oddity in narration as a source of "alienation" which opens "a chasm that makes it impossible for [Lucy] to access the word 'I' when she describes her feelings" (2006, 350). I believe it is precisely this form of alienation and the consequent doubling of different "I"s that properly characterizes the ghostly narrator's relation to herself: Lucy's relation to herself is not direct, and she oscillates between a ghostly and "real" self within her own consciousness.

(15) Lawson and Shakinovsky aptly remark that for Lucy, "La Terrasse must be a miniature but perfectly transported English world. This is the ideal that the Brettons represent for [Lucy], the complete portability and permanence of national identifications; and yet the scene's strongly phantasmic nature announces it as just that, a fantasy" (2009, 937).

(16) Perhaps, Lucy's ghostliness is not a fateful predicament, but a neutral modus vivendi, and quite often, as this section demonstrates, a position of power. Karen Lawrence is therefore right in criticizing those readings of the novel which stress "Lucy's development" in the narrative by pointing out "her willingness to play a central role in her story and to abandon her status as pure observer" (1998, 448). Lucy, according to Lawrence, "displays dual impulses to be overlooked and to signify" (449); "[her] 'invisibility' is not wholly wished away in the course of the narrative, for it affords a sense of power related to her skills as narrator" (451). See Brent (2003, 95) for a discussion of the question and a predominantly negative interpretation of Lucy's invisibility.


Armitage, David. 2000. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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AHMET SUNER is an Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature at Yasar University, Izmir, Turkey. His research interests are Gothic literature, philosophy of the mind and language, and film. His recent publications include essays on the work of Wittgenstein (Acta Philosophica), Heidegger (Oxford German Studies), Godard (Studies in French Cinema), and Matthew Lewis (Journal of Yasar University).
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Author:Suner, Ahmet
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Date:Jun 22, 2017
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