Picturing Paulina

Friday, 8 February 2013


: : (Above) Untitled by Valeria Heine (I wrote a post about her a while back) : :

I don’t think I’ve moved on from my revived fascination with Charlotte Brontë’s Villette since I did a post on picturing Lucy. In my third year as an undergraduate, I wrote an essay about Lucy and Paulina and the imagery associated with both. In Paulina’s case, I was drawn to imagery of a lock of her hair being entwined with her husband’s and her father’s in an image of domestic ‘harmony’ (this seemed morbid or grotesque to me, rather than beautiful or sweet as I suspect it was meant to be understood); and imagery of her “smooth” eyelids as she sits quietly and sews while her future husband glances at her quick needle and “pretty golden thimble” moving like “some bright moth on a wing, or the golden head of some darting little yellow serpent”. I’ve always thought such imagery represented the subsuming of her distinctive character into her future husband, moving from her deep dark browns to his straightforward goldenness.

Paulina is one of Brontë’s underappreciated characters. When I first read the book, I felt she had so much potential. She is physically described much more than Lucy, betraying Brontë’s lifelong fascination with physical beauty. But rather than a physical image forming of Paulina, I ‘see’ her in my head through certain images that dissolve into deep colours like brown, dark rich red bordering on black, golds and dark yellows that melt into orange. These colours represent for me what Lucy refers to as Paulina’s “glow from the soul outward”, describing her as “a lamp” and “a flame vital and vestal”. Clever, beautiful, but more interestingly, underdeveloped and full of depth and promise, Paulina disappointingly collapses into a conventional Victorian tale of domestic disappearance. Even Brontë admitted in a letter to her friend that although she meant to make Paulina “the most beautiful”, she ended up becoming a diminished character – a type of ‘ideal’ woman who doesn’t really exist, a persona of a domestic goddess rather than a complex character full of depth.

There is so much potential to rewrite Paulina, and I keep wondering if some author will take up that challenge one day ... hmm, that gives me an idea. In the meantime, there is the undeniable pleasure of formulating my response to her through images.


: : (Top to bottom, left to right) Twenty Minutes Past Three (1886) by Tom Roberts : : A Sunlit Interior by Carl Vilhelm Holsøe : : Still Life with Sewing Basket (1897-1899) by Claude Raguet Hirst : :


: : (Above) Untitled by Valeria Heine : :


: : (Top to bottom, left to right) Screen captures from The Piano (1993) : : Still Life with Pipe and Tobacco (1891) by Claude Raguet Hirst : :


: : (Above) Across the Room (1899) by Edmund Tarbell : :


: : (Top to bottom) Screen capture from I am Love (2009) : : The White Tablecloth (1886) by Paul Gauguin : :


: : (Top to bottom, left to right) Screen capture from The Phantom of the Opera (2004) : : Still Life with Roses (1890) by Abbott Fuller Graves : : Glimmer by Sundari Carmody (whose exhibition I wrote about) : : Screen capture from I Capture the Castle (2003) : :

One final note: Julia Callon, the artist I wrote about here, has asked me if I would share a link to her profile on Wondereur: an arts publisher and ipad/web app that features weekly stories about artists, offering prints of their work for sale through the site. Of course I said yes, I love her work. I’m sorry I forgot to share this last week Julia, but it’s better late than never!


Sally said...

It's supposed to snow here this weekend; now I'm tempted to spend the day curled up and revisiting my Bronte collection. Thanks!

Jane Flanagan said...

Such a beautiful post!

Teresa said...

I've only read Villette the once and I adored it. Thank you for this beautiful reminder that I should read it again.

Hila said...

Sally: I have a feeling reading the Bronte collection snuggled up inside during a snowstorm is way better than boiling to death in extreme heat while trying to read (which is what my weather was like on my side of the world).

Jane: Thank you Jane, I knew you would appreciate it!

Teresa: I've read it too many times, I keep thinking I should move on already. But not as many times as Wuthering Heights ...