Wow–so many thoughts, so few conclusions. Volume II sees Lucy entering into a new phase of her life in Villette. After suffering an illness at the end of Volume I, she is taken under the wing of a former acquaintance and nursed back to health. I couldn’t help but think that having companionship and people in her life who genuinely care about her made more of a difference to Lucy’s state than anything else could. She is a woman who is desperately independent and yet needs affection just as anyone does. Thus she finds herself in a struggle between wanting for someone to pay attention to her and wanting to remain stoic and unaffected by the actions (or non-actions) or others. I can’t help but feel that she’s this way as a result of her sad upbringing, which must have been quite lacking in affection.
Old acquaintances are renewed and new ones are made in Volume II, and we get to know some of the other characters at Madame Beck’s better. M. Paul (or M. Emmanuel, depending on Brontë’s mood, evidently. Is it confusing to anyone else that she calls everyone by several different names?) features largely in these chapters. Lucy runs into him at the museum and again at a public event at which he is speaking. He’s a funny little man, with very decided ideas about the place of women in society and Lucy’s place in particular, and I couldn’t help but think that he has a vested interest in her.
Two things stood out very clearly to me in this part of the book. One is that Brontë is using the book as a vehicle for trying to express her feelings about the role of women, and she does so particularly through the medium of art, which allows women to express themselves in ways that they might not be able to otherwise. The other is that she is using the character of Lucy, mysterious and unknown to us in many ways even as she shares her thoughts and feelings quite freely, as a way to show how women are much more complicated than the common view may allow for. Lucy is different things to different people, and none of them see her in exactly the same way. She doesn’t fit into a neat box, and I think that Brontë does this very deliberately.
As we head into the last third of the book, I still have no idea how it will all end, but I can’t wait to see what Brontë has in store for us next.
Other thoughts on Volume II: