Charlotte Brontë: The Novels by Mike Edwards (auth.)

By Mike Edwards (auth.)

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Jane is a prominent character in every scene in the earlier novel, whereas in Villette Lucy most often presents herself as an observer, of the action as of life. It is only by degrees that we become aware that she is to be the focus of the action, and that it is her development that we are witnessing. Villette is in large measure the account of the thawing of this icy narrator. Her emotions are brought to life by force, and chiefly by tragic force. During the course of the novel, she is made to pass through just such partings as enervate Polly in this extract; she has to suffer the pain and bitterness of loss; she must be thwarted in love; in the end, she may emerge refined.

Pp. 40-1) As before, we will consider the general nature of the extract before proceeding to more particular points of interest. To begin with, we need to think about the social background which frames this passage, and about the ways in which it is rendered unique: that is, about those elements in it which we may consider ordinary, and those which are extraordinary. Of course, we should remember that this novel is set in Victorian England. Children are not, in this social context, to be accorded the respect which they may command nowadays.

Although these are not trivial characters - there are many other, minor figures who pass before us - it is their impact on Jane, rather than their individual qualities, which matters. There is dear evidence of this in an episode at the end of Volume 1, Chapter 2 when Mrs Reed, Abbot and Bessie react in sequence to Jane's hysterical behaviour when she is brought out of the red room. Bessie is the least hostile, simply inquiring the cause of Jane's panic; Abbot appears to believe that Jane is merely being naughty, and deplores the noise she is making; Mrs Reed, peremptory and dominating, expresses her detestation of Jane in her characteristic formal style, accusing her of 'artifice' and 'violence', and demanding 'perfect submission and stillness'.

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