Academic journal article
By Forsyth, Beverly
Studies in the Novel , Vol. 29, No. 1
Who are you, Miss Snowe?. . .
Who am I indeed? Perhaps a
personage in disguise.(1)
Lucy's flip answer doesn't begin to untangle the mystery of who is Lucy Snowe. Is Villete a quaint nineteenth-century Gothic novel of lost love or a "terrifying account of female deprivation"?(2) Hidden within the layers of subtext, Charlotte Bronte explores human motivation in its bleakest and most frightening form. Lucy Snowe is to the outside world an independent, confident teacher, yet to the reader she embodies pain in the form of woman. Instead of asking who is Lucy Snowe, perhaps it is more important to ask how did Lucy become the woman she is? Since Lucy refuses to speak of her childhood, the reader can only speculate about Lucy's formative years. Michelle A. Masse, who explores the topic of female pain in In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism, and the Gothic, states, "When a woman is hurt, as she is throughout the Gothic, the damage is not originally self-imposed: we must acknowledge that someone else strikes the first blow."(3) Who struck the first blow? Was it an individual or society? A traditional reading dramatically limits the novel's scope. Villette is a revealing glimpse into social and sexual deviancies subtly interwoman throughout the text that create a subtext of repressed sexuality, voyeurism, and sadomasochistic behavior. These deviant tendencies give the modern reader a peek into the darker nature of female Gothic. By examining motivation at the subliminal level, the reader can gain an insight into the characters, their world, and perhaps even into the self. Masse states, "Feminism, which insists that we cannot look away from the body or face of a woman in pain, demands its own reconsideration of the narratives psychoanalysis and fiction offer."(4) Unless the reader is willing to look into the face of pain, there is no way to know the real Lucy Snowe. And by taking time to know the woman behind the mask, we just may learn something about ourselves. Lucy's fiery heart lies imprisoned beneath years of frozen pain. Bronte's own words echo with haunting familiarity: The prisoner in solitary confinement--the toad in the block of marble--all in time shape themselves to their lot."(5) Both Lucy and M. Paul have been confined and repressed by their environment. Although M. Paul and Lucy have serious problems, the unfolding relationship between the two lays a solid foundation for their love; because M. Paul accepts Lucy for the woman she is, Lucy finds the love she so desperately craves, which ultimately leads to her own self-acceptance. It would be easy to view Lucy Snowe as a quiet, submissive woman in search of an identity; however, I believe Lucy is a sadomasochistic personality with strong tendencies toward voyeurism and exhibitionism.
As a result of repression, a pattern of sadomasochistic behavior is established consistently throughout Lucy's life. Lucy's repression of information indicates sadistic tendencies. Lucy has already established herself as an unreliable narrator by suppressing information she should have readily--not grudgingly--shared with the reader. Although she recognizes Dr. John as Graham, she doesn't tell the reader until she is ready. Since Lucy tells this story as an old woman, she plays with the reader's emotions. Did M. Paul drown, or did he return to fulfill his marriage vow? Lucy knows, but the reader can only guess. She leaves the reader dangling in sadistic suspense. By repressing this information she exerts power over the reader. Lucy represses her memory, feelings, and actions as a "powerful aggressive weapon"(6) to control herself; thus, it is only reasonable she would use this weapon to control the reader. Repression also disguises Lucy's sexual desires: "[T]he rebellious and the passionate reemerge as powerful subversive forces, warring against the . . . official surface of acquiescence . . . Passion becomes a kind of caged animal."(7) Lucy's self-inflicted martyrdom produces a type of painful euphoria--an acceptable outlet for Lucy's frustrated desires: the lightning storm "woke the being I was always lulling, and stirred up a craving cry I could not satisfy" (p. …