Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Villette-along Week 5: "I never offer flowers to those I love."

You have to give CB credit for writing a love story that is simultaneously predictable and bizarre. At this point, it seems pretty inevitable that M. Paul and Lucy will end up legally bound, but the way they're getting to that conclusion is so gradual that I almost didn't notice it was happening. Lucy's attitude toward M. Paul has been evolving almost imperceptibly, largely because even though she's narrating, she's not really telegraphing her mind-set at specific points in time. Our latest sign post was, "I did not dislike Professor Emanuel." And that, from Lucy, is as good as a declaration of love.

M. Paul is not a clear-cut romantic hero. That is to say, if CB tells us one good thing about him, she immediately balances it out with something negative.

  • He tutors Lucy one-on-one and challenges her to stretch herself mentally because he believes in her intelligence even if she doesn't. (HURRAY!)
  • He's a jerk to her when her hard work pays off and she finally starts excelling in her studies. (BOO!)
  • But "when M. Paul sneered at me, I wanted to possess them more fully; his injustice stirred in me ambitious wishes---it imparted a strong stimulus---it gave wings to aspiration." (Excellent use of reverse psychology, M. Paul.)
  • He rifles through her personal effects. (Not cool, man.)
  • He leaves her chocolates and books he knows she'll enjoy, and she does. (Oh, well played I guess?)
  • He censors those books by literally cutting portions out. (What, are you her dad?)
  • He validates Lucy's Ghost Nun sightings. (ABOUT DAMN TIME.)
  • The only reason he's seen Ghost Nun is because he's been rear-windowing from his private rented room over the garden. (There is nothing okay about this, and thank goodness Lucy voices as much.)
  • He exhibits actual childlike glee when Lucy presents him with his birthday present. "This object is all mine?"

In the end, my opinion of M. Paul's actions has to be informed by Lucy's reactions to them. She's clearly charmed by his habit of going through her things. The more worked up and unruly he gets, the more content she feels ("It seemed as if the presence of a nature so restless, chafing, thorny as that of M. Paul, absorbed all feverish and unsettling influences like a magnet, and left me none but such as were placid and harmonious"). And while I would not find it endearing if a man commented on my choice of clothing, because it's a woman's personal business if she wants to wear a ribbon, yo, this is how Lucy receives M. Paul's criticism of her "gay fashions":
You are well habituated to be passed by as a shadow in Life's sunshine: it is a new thing to see one testily lifting his hand to screen his eyes, because you tease him with an obtrusive ray.
Under the guise of criticism, M. Paul gives Lucy permission to see herself as "volatile and versatile," as a blaze instead of a shadow. He is the literal antithesis to John Graham Bretton, just as Lucy is to Paulina.

And every scene Lucy and M. Paul share in this section (which is a section mainly of scenes with Lucy and M. Paul) veers into the territory of quirky rom-com. I know some of us are wishing for sexual tension (because obviously), but if I was in a room with these two people I would definitely think they were about to bone:
As for me, I took it with entire coolness. There I sat, isolated and cut off from human intercourse; I sat and minded my work, and was quiet, and not at all unhappy.
"Is that far enough away?" he demanded.
"Monsieur is responsible for it," said I.
"You know very well that it is not so. It is you who have created this immense void: I had nothing to do with it."

Not touching can be sexy, too.

And THIS, this is like a description of an alternate universe wherein Casaubon was actually worthy of Dorothea Brooke:
There were few bound and printed volumes that did not weary me . . . but his tomes of thought were collyrium to the spirit's eyes; over their contents, inward sight grew clear and strong. I used to think what a delight it would be for one who loved him better than he loved himself to gather and store up those handfuls of gold dust, so recklessly flung to heaven's reckless winds.
CB seems to be providing an honest portrayal of a romance between flawed people whose flaws perfectly dovetail to make each a better person. And is that not kind of beautiful, at the end of the day?

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