Picturing Lucy

Monday, 22 October 2012


: : (Above) Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Dress (1919) by Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley : :

Last night I was restless and couldn’t get to sleep. So I reached for a familiar book, and it happened to be Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. As is often the case when you read a certain book before sleeping, Villette infiltrated my dreams. I saw the novel in my dreams through colours: yellow, black, dark grey, bluish grey, brown. These are the colours I associate with the novel’s heroine, Lucy Snowe. Although, I feel it’s inaccurate to call her a ‘heroine’ as she presents herself as a non-protagonist right from the first page. Still, she is a heroine to me. Although many reviewers and critics view her name as a reference to her ‘cool’ exterior, I view it as a reference to her opaqueness: she is a character whose psychology is fascinating, complex and impregnable. As you reach the last page of the book, you know Lucy remains opaque and evasive.

I also ‘see’ Lucy through the novel’s many symbols: keys, doorways, gothic ghosts, Catholic and Christian iconography, letters, a pair of spectacles. These objects and this symbolism have a psychology too in Villette. Through Lucy’s intelligence, Brontë displays how sophisticated a novel can be. And I have a fondness for Lucy as a character; I like her as much as I like Jane Eyre. This post is a visual homage to my dreams last night, and to Lucy.


: : (Top to bottom, left to right) Vilhelm Hammershøi, Sunbeams or Sunshine. Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams (1900) : : Screen captures from Possession : : Screen capture from Bright Star : :


: : (Left to right) Girl Reading in a Sunlit Room by Carl Holsoe : : My own photo of a yellow rose : :



: : (Top to bottom) The Garden of the Pensionnat Heger (where Charlotte and Emily Brontë taught) : : The Allée Défendue : :


: : (Top to bottom) Venetian Interior by John Singer Sargent : : Screen capture from The Secret Garden : : My own photo from Oxford, UK : :


: : The ghost of Bernadette Soubirous (1890) : :

Before I leave, I promised a blog reader I would spread the word about his project. Gerald Llorence is a graphic design student in Austin, Texas. He’s currently working on a project exploring the value of letter writing, and he’s keen to get as many responses as he can. He’s looking for people to send him their thoughts on letters/mail or any stories they have on this subject. All material should be sent to: P.O. Box 41624, Austin TX 78704, by 5 November. The stories will be collected and shown at St. Edward’s University’s Graphic Design Senior Show to be held from 15 February to 8 March, 2013.


rooth said...

The letter writing project sounds really intriguing, I wonder what his thesis on letter writing is...

Jane Flanagan said...

Beautiful - such delightful imagery to wake up to this morning.

It's too long since I've read Villette and this is the second reference I've see to it this weekend, so I think all signs are pointing to me picking it up again.

Nit said...

I've always *always* had problems picturing Lucy in my mind, even when, for some reason I didn't feel her as opaque as you say, maybe because I read her in a time where I was as evasive and closed up as her. But your imaginery (and your mention of iconography) makes her more complex and real. That's a pretty interesting way of picturing a character!

Karolina said...

Geat! I must re-read Villette. It's funny - for me Villette is also blueish and grayish (also greenish -- but maybe because of my synesthesia -- L is dark blue-green, "V" is dark purple-blue).

Great post.

I'll try to participate in the letter writing project!

domesticated_desk said...

beautiful post. lovely images that capture your words and I am sure, the story perfectly. must go get a copy, and of course write a letter.

Looking Glass said...

Books infiltrate my dreams constantly as well. As I was reading "Wuthering Heights" last week I had the wildest of dreams...

Oh, Jane Eyre, my favourite! I actually haven't read "Villette" but I most certainly will now.

~ Clare x

Joanna said...

Dreamy post + writing + illustrations. Bookmarking....

Danielle P. said...

I admit to not finding Lucy very sympathetic at all, but then I've only read "Villette" once. Perhaps, like all durable friendships, this one is off to a slow start...

Gabriela said...

The first picture is so amazing! On the other hand, I'm sure the ghost photo will infiltrate my dreams now.

Hila said...

Rooth: I thought so too, which is why I agreed to spread the word about this project. I hope he gets some good responses.

Jane: Yes, you should definitely listen to those signs!

Nit: I never really have a 'clear' picture of characters in my head, but I can point to things that relate to my hazy image.

Karolina: oh good, I'm sure he'd appreciate your contribution.

domesticated_desk: I'm sure there are better ways of conveying this story, but thank you.

Clare: Villette is often overlooked, and it's a shame because it's a really good book.

Joanna: Thanks.

Danielle: She's a difficult character to like. I guess because I'm quite 'difficult' myself, I can relate to her. I don't know what that says about me!

Gabriela: I love that first image too.

mariel said...

So glad to see you post about Villette as I was beginning to feel like I was the only one who'd read it! Thanks, Internet. :)

Per some of the reviews I'd read about it beforehand (i.e., "this is a depressing"), I was concerned it would be a difficult book to get through. And in a lot of respects it was: I was reading this on my honeymoon of all times! What hit me to the core was knowing so much of Lucy's journey was Bronte's journey. When Lucy is desperate and alone, I felt it more acutely knowing the words came from a very real place of grief in the author's life.

Rooting for the underdog is a hard thing as typical life "success" for them is elusive (and that's its own discussion). But I felt stronger after finishing Villette. Bronte's tone is gentle, and I was reminded that even through such difficult life events, you can go on.

Hila said...

Mariel: I sometimes feel that way too. Poor Lucy is not as popular as Jane :) I don't find it a depressing book at all - no more than Jane Eyre is. It's written from a place of grief, but that doesn't necessarily make it depressing. So I agree with you, there is a strength in Villette.