Narrative Surveillance and Social Control in Villette

by Margaret L. Shaw
Narrative Surveillance and Social Control in Villette
Margaret L. Shaw
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
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SEL 34 (1994) ISSN 0039-3657

Narrative Surveillance and Social
Control in Villette


In his 185'7 review of Elizabeth Gaskell's The L.qe of Charlotte Bronte, W.C. Roscoe compared Bronte's work to the "dark, somewhat disproportioned and forbidding aspect of a daguerreotype," the "hard" and "dark" qualities of which she was unaware. Particularly disturbing to the reviewer was Bronte's unrelenting pursuit of human character, an activity he continues to describe in terms of intense observation: "[M'ith] intent and resolute eyes she sits gazing into the human heart. Darkness shades its penetralia; but her keen vision shall pierce the veil; she will compel its secrets to the light."' In part, his complaint repeats charges of coarseness in speech and subject matter found in other reviews of Bronte's work, which commented on Bronte's "laxity of tone" or her "manifest pleasure in dwelling even on the purely repulsive in human ~haracter."~

But for Roscoe, what is particularly annoying is this refusal to look away when confronted with the unpleasant: "What she has that jars on us often in her writings is not so much these [violations of conventiorlal proprieties] as a certain harshness, a love of the naked fact too unsparing, and a tendency to believe that what is attractive scarcely can be true."'

At one point in Villette, Bronte has Lucy Snowe express a similar "love of the naked fact," but with a quite different and positive valuation of it:

Margaret L. Shaw is an assistant professor at Kent State University where she is finishing a book on Charlotte BrontP and cultural politics.

I always, through my whole life, liked to penetrate to the real truth; I like seeking the goddess in her temple, and handling the veil, and daring the dread glance. 0 Titaness amongst deities! The covered outline of thine aspect sickens often through its uncertainty, but define to us one trait, show us one lineament, clear in awful sincerity; we may gasp in untold terror, but with that gasp we drink in a breath of thy divinity; our heart shakes, and its currents sway like rivers lifted by earthquake, but we have swallowed strength. To see and know the worst is to take from fear her main advantage."

To see is to know, and to know is to have power-particularly, as the novel implies throughout, the power to reform.

This emphasis on "looking" and close observation, both as theme and technique, is repeated so often in Villette that it suggests the text has a special investment in the power of reading visual detail, not only as a way to diagnose social and psychological problems and "argue for" reform, but also as a way to constitute the object of knowledge itself. In fact, discourses about "looking" form one of the crucial nodal points where the domains of art and science intersect in the midcentury. I would like to examine a particular set of intersections within the larger cultural debates about observation as a way of knowing. The practices of phrenological reading and psychiatric photography-although Bronte had no special or direct knowledge of most of them-came to bear pervasively on the cultural sphere within which lier novels were produced. The weight of such scientific and technological determinants, integrated under a dominating rationality and in the interests of social and political control, necessitated particular forms of resistance and negotiation for novelists, themselves bound up by the very nature of their tasks in the acts of framing and surveillance. For Bronte, as we shall see, negotiation meant the production of a narrative perspective that could observe surfaces closely, a fictional exploration of ways of knowing analogous to the techniques of phrenological reading and psychiatric photography. At the same time, the development of such a perspective allowed her to preserve an interior for lier central character that resisted representation and (male) control-a resistance that also inadvertently engaged her in a kind of cultural imperialism.

A concern with ways of seeing as ways of knowing and thus as acts of power appears in all of Bronte's novels, but it is most


marked in Villette and, in nascent form, in The Professor, her first full noveL5 In The Professor, Hunsden's conversation with Frances in chapter 24 typically stresses the power of seeing "up close" and the way such power is linked to scientific knowledge and social critique: "Come to England and see. Come to Birmingham and Manchester; come to St. Giles' in London, and get a practical notion of how our system works. Examine the footprints of our august aristocracy; see how they walk in blood, crushing hearts as they go. Just put your head in at English cottage doors; get a glimpse of Famine crouched torpid on black hearthstones; of Disease lying bare on beds with coverlets, of Infamy wantoning viciously with Ignorance" (p. 196, my italics). When Frances objects to this way of seeing as ignoring the "faculty of association" or poetic sentiment, Hunsden replies that her own view is limited by education, class, and, by implication, gender: "you can not appreciate the efforts of science: narrowness of education, and obscurity of position quite incapacitate you from understanding these points" (p. 196). For Bronte, the task in both novels was to revise the gendered marking and disciplinary separateness of such ways of knowing so that both close observation and felt intuition could combine in a "moral sight" that could derive the power but escape the prying "malignity" of the penetrating gaze (p. 22)especially when it comes to studying not just one's country but the secrets of the "female character."

In Villette, these issues are foregrounded most consistently in Lucy's concerns about surveillance, a form of observation about which she is ambivalent and conflicted. At first, her reaction to Madame Beck's method of management through close observation (that is, "spying") is a begrudging admiration. Even as the woman rifles through Lucy's belongings unaware that she herself is being watched, Lucy does not mind much; she understands the wisdom of trying to determine a person's moral character through the reading of surface detail: "I divined her motive for this proceeding, viz., the wish to form from the garments a judgment respecting the wearer, her station, means, neatness, etc. The end was not bad, but the means were hardly fair or justifiable" (p. 131). What Lucy objects to is the secretive nature of such observation, not the observation itself, since she engages in a similar practice with Mrs. Sweeney. But there is another explanation for this acceptance: Lucy does not mind Madame Beck's spying because she feels she has nothing to hide. Her character is good, but more importantly, she has no personal life to invade; she is outside the circuit of desire. Once she does have something to hide-her letters from Dr. John, for instance-she cares very much indeed. Moving beneath the surface to the usually invisible interior comes close to treating people too analytically. Lucy recognizes Madame Beck's "looking" as cold and unfeeling: "Madame contemplated this remarkable tableau [of Mrs. Sweeney, drunk] with great calm; she neither smiled nor scowled: no impress of anger, disgust, or surprise, ruffled the equality of her grave aspect; she did not even wake the woman" (p. 131). While such looking is efficient, Lucy points out that "neither sympathy, nor congeniality, nor submission, were the emotions it awakened" (p. 141).It is the gaze produced by the scientific perspective, which she directly characterizes as male.

M. Paul and de Hamal also "spy" into the secret interior of women by watching from windows in the nearby college. M. Paul tells Lucy about his "post of observation" behind a convenient lattice: "There I sit and read for hours together: it is my way-my taste. My book is this garden; its contents are human nature- female human nature. I know you all by heart" (p. 453). For him, as for Madame Beck, the close observation is intentional, a way to acquire power over women by learning to "read them like a book." The phrase echoes William's in The Professor when he says he "perused the fair page" of his brother's wife's face (p. 8),met the examining eye of Mlle Reuter (pp. 70-71), and opened the pages of his portfolio to show his demystifying sketches of young womanhood (p. 7'7).Unlike William, however, M. Paul even admits going so far as to use a spy glass and argues that such knowledge helps him defend the women and girls in his charge-as a "guardian angel" watching for sexual intrigue. Lucy reacts indignantly: "I tell you every glance you cast from that lattice is a wrong done to the best part of your own nature. To study the human heart thus, is to banquet secretly and sacreligiously [sic] on Eve's apples" (pp. 45556). The only control on such observation, as Lucy points out, is the character of the observer-good in the case of M. Paul, but not so good in the case of de Hamal, who does engage in sexual intrigue. And once Lucy knows that her secret-and now eroticized-allee' dqendue in the garden has been observed from the college, she finds herself resisting her former walks there: "My alley, and, indeed, all the walks and shrubs in the garden, had acquired a new, but not a pleasant interest; their seclusion was now become precarious; their calm-insecure. That casement which rained billets, had vulgarized the once dear nook it overlooked; and elsewhere, the eyes of the flowers had gained vision, and the knots in the tree-boles listened like secret ears" (p. 183). What Lucy is afraid of is not moral criticism, but the visual appropriation


and representation of her most private self, especially by M. Paul; so she begins to secrete the letters written by Dr. John.

In fact, much of what motivates Lucy's action is the desire to regulate for herself the close observations of others. In particular, the really private interior must be protected from the "common gaze." As she says after her near breakdown: "These struggles with the natural character, the strong native bent of the heart, may seem futile and fruitless, but in the end they do good. They tend, however slightly, to give the actions, the conduct, that turn which Reason approves, and which Feeling, perhaps, too often opposes: they certainly make a difference in the general tenor of a life, and enable it to be better regulated, more equable, quieter on the surface; and it is on the surface only the common gaze will fall. As to what lies below, leave that with God" (p. 252). What Lucy wants to keep invisible to the "common gaze" is desire, what she describes as her "natural" character and "native bent." Reason approves the disciplined and regulated conduct that results from her struggle with her natural inclination, and, although the implication is that some desire (to resist confinement, to express passion) still exists, it remains visible only to God. Here, repression serves a desirable function for Lucy, since it prevents the exposure of her privacy as an object of knowledge for the "common gaze." Likewise, when Mrs. Bretton asks her about her illness, Lucy says she does not know what it was, reluctant to foreground the details even for her godmother (p. 254).

This concern to regulate the visible is another reason why the text seems to move inconsistently between allegorical elements and realistic detail. Whenever Lucy discovers or broaches very private aspects of her life, she either suppresses information or uses allegory. Reminiscent of Bronte's unexplained inclusion of William's hypochondria in The Professor, in Villette she has Lucy allude to a family tragedy the details of which she immediately suppresses; rather than explain what happened, Lucy "permits" the reader to imagine, instead, the conventional narrative of a young woman's homelife: "It will be conjectured that I was of course glad to return to the bosom of my kindred. Well the amiable conjecture does no harm, and may therefore be safely left uncontradicted. Far from saying nay, indeed, I will permit the reader to picture me, for the next eight years, as a bark slumbering through halcyon weather, in a harbour still as glass. . . . A great many women and girls are supposed to pass their lives something in that fashion; why not I with the rest?" (p. 94). Here, the framing and distancing of the simile protects her from public display. The use of realistic detail is reserved for the nonpersonal and the domestic exterior, safe areas of representation. At the same time, when Lucy chooses to break such narrative frames by exposing them as sentimental fictions, even then she resorts to the extended simile rather than "naked facts": "However, it cannot be concealed that . . . I must somehow have fallen over-board, or that there must have been wreck at last. . . . For many days and nights neither sun nor stars appeared; we cast with our own hands the tackling out of the ship; a heavy tempest lay on us; all hope that we should be saved was taken away. In fine, the ship was lost, the crew perished" (p. 94).'j

But Lucy is also telling stories about other people as well as herself, and part of what it means to narrate is to use close observation, especially of human character. It is true the use of distance and of framing both functions as a way to understand others as well as to check Lucy's imagination and the excesses of surveillance. But not all of her observing has an innocent function. For example, she keeps her identity secret from Dr. John in part because she likes the same position of power that Madame Beck enjoys: "I liked entering his presence covered with a cloud he had not seen through, while he stood before me under a ray of special illumination" (p. 248). In part, the secret of Lucy's power as an observer is that she, like Madame Beck, is not fully observable; she is not readable. In fact, she is amused that no one seems able to survey, with his limited point of view, the totality of her character:

What contradictory attributes of character we sometimes find ascribed to us, according to the eye with which we are viewed! Madame Beck esteemed me learned and blue; Miss Fanshawe, caustic, ironic, and cynical; Mr. Home, a model teacher, the essence of the sedate and discreet: somewhat conventional, perhaps, too strict, limited, and scrupulous, but still the pink and pattern of governess-correctness; whilst another person, Professor Paul Emmanuel to wit, never lost an opportunity of intimating his opinion that mine was rather a fiery and rash nature-adventurous, indocile, and audacious. I smiled at them all.

(p. 386)

Moreover, in the museum episode, it is clear that Lucy is consciously aware of the power implicit in controlling representations. There, she observes several paintings of women and judges them on their likeness to nature. Revealing herself fully capable of judging and evaluating the representations


available, Lucy still finds herself taken in hand by M. Paul, who insists the painting of the voluptuous Cleopatra is not for her to look at. He objects in particular to her direct gaze, marked by the "self-possession of a gar~on" (p. 277). Instead, he chooses a series of four paintings for her to look at, very sentimental portraits of "La vie d'une femme." Lucy submits out of amusement at M. Paul but has no difficulty rejecting the paintings as ludicrous: "All these four 'Anges' were grim and gray as burglars, and cold and vapid as ghosts. What women to live with! insincere, ill-humored, bloodless, brainless non-entities!" (p. 278). M. Paul is portrayed as the exaggerated figure of male censorship, trying to determine Lucy's field of perceptions and her models of sexual identity. But the ease with which Lucy consciously "reframes" the dominant image of the "angel of the house" suggests her awareness of how images and perceptions can be constructed, and by herself as well. In fact, as long as people-like events in her private life-can be "framed" and read from afar, Lucy feels it is all right for them to be observed; they become like objects of art-observable because they are distanced from the viewer and separated from life.

It is at this point that phrenological and physiognomic readings become particularly useful for Lucy-and for Bronte.' The Rev. John Lavater, widely read in England and elsewhere in the nineteenth century, defined physiognomy in a compelling way as "the science of discovering the relation between the exterior and the interior-between the visible surface and the invisible spirit which it covers-between the animated, perceptible matter, and the imperceptible principle which impresses this character of life upon it." Consequently, to be a successful reader, one must cultivate "a distinguished eye" since physiognomy is, in brief, 'tjudgment reduced to practice . . . the Logic of corporeal

difference^."^ Bronte's interest in such a way of reading and in the ability to use such a "distinguished eye" is evident in all of her novels, but in Villette, the description of the king of Labassecour is typical:

Well do I recall that king-a inan of fifty, a little bowed, a little gray: there was no face in all that assembly which resembled his. I had never read, never been told anything of his nature or his habits; and at first the strong hieroglyphics graven as with iron stylet on his brow, round his eyes beside his mouth, puzzled and baffled instinct. Ere long, however, if I did not know, at least Ifelt, the meaning of those characters written without hand. There sat a silent sufferer-a nervous, melancholy man. Those eyes had looked on the visits of a certain ghost-had long waited the comings and goings of

that strangest spectre, Hypochondria. Perhaps he saw her

now on that stage, over against him, amidst all that brilliant

throng. Hypochondria has that wont, to rise in the midst of

thousands--dark as Doom, pale as Malady, and well nigh

strong as Death. Her comrade and victim thinks to be happy

one moment-'Not so,' says she; 'I come.' And she freezes the

blood in his heart, and beclouds the light in his eye.

(pp. 289-90)

The reading shows Lucy's characteristic gesture: based on a close observation of a character's face, she writes him into a story, puts him in a frame. 'And like the real-life disciples of Lavater, Franz

Joseph Gall, and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, she claims special access into the truth of character-claims, in fact, a specifically diagnostic expertise-through her skilled interpretation of observable "facts."

In this respect, Bronte's method of reading seems to repeat paradigms of meaning/making already existing in the phrenological and physiognomic readings of contemporary alienists. In the psychological diagnosis of mental illness, doctors and asylum directors like John Conolly promoted the value of physiognomic and phrenological readings of patients' photographs, taking up a specialized "way of looking" that had its general forms in the culture at large. He and other followers of Gall, like George and Andrew Combe, felt they could, through the practice of phrenology and physiognomy, impose a logic upon ~nadness.~

In an 1858 study of religious melancholy, Conolly argued for the value of photographs in psychiatric diagnoses, and in doing so reinforced the notion of two ways of looking at such images: "[The photograph's ability to capture muscular agitation] gives . . . peculiar value when, as in the portraits of the insane, the object is to give the singular expression arising from morbid movements of the mind; and thus, instead of giving pictures which are merely looked at with idle curiosity, furnishes such as may be studied with advantage." Looking, which is an act of intentional study, as opposed to "idle curiosity," had its obvious appeal for the psychiatric diagnostician; for John Conolly, this specialized way of reading the "daily journal of the patient's condition" in her face and her attitude provided a refinement over earlier methods that could not easily penetrate often deceptive and misleading external behavior.1° With the addition of cranioscopy, or the study of the skull itself, doctors were given even greater control over details. Andrew Combe was delighted, for example, with the increased


ability to know "what are the probable points of attack in the mental constitution; when to be on his guard against counterfeit and subterfuge; and what class of motives or line of mental discipline is likely to be attended with the best effects in subduing excitement, and promoting the return of reason."" Such an ability kept the observer, whether doctor or writer, in a position of power and control over an otherwise unstable object of study.

In Conolly's study of religious melancholy, for instance, we see the expert making those "more refined distinctions" he claimed were possible with phrenology and photography. Examining an engraving of a patient's photograph, he says,

This portrait . . . does not reflect the figure of patients so often recognized in asylums, sitting on benches by the lonely walls, the hands clasped on the bosom, the leaden eye bent on the ground, and then unvarying gloom excluding variety of reflection. It represents an affliction more defined. We discover the outward marks of a mind which . . . is now overshadowed by despair. The high and wide forehead, generally indicative of intelligence and imagination; their deep orbits and the long characteristic eyebi-ows; all seem painfully to indicate the present mood and general temperament of the patient.

Conolly is careful to stress that details of expression are crucial; while extremely hard to define and often overlooked, these details must be detected early for proper diagnosis. Phrenology and photography assist the expert in this early detection, photography because it fixes "the form and fabric of material things" with a "fidelity scarcely attainable by graphic skill."

And yet, while claiming a greater scientific stance for the observer, Conolly's method allowed him to add impressions to his descriptions, narrating the object into stories as interested as Bronte's own. Just as Bronte describes the king of Labassecour as having eyes that "had looked on the visits of a certain ghost-had long waited the coming and going of that strangest spectre, Hypochondria," Conolly adds his own subjective musings about his patient: "[Tlhe womanly figure, the somewhat ample chest and pelvis . . . belong to a general constitutio~l out of which, in health and vigour, may have grown up some self-accusing thoughts in an innocent and devout, but passionate heart. For this perverting malady makes even the natural instincts appear sinful. . . . Soon, perhaps, the scruples themselves will appear crimes. To escape future punishment, bodily mortifications must be endured; severe fasts, or some self-inflicted pain."I2 Even though the photographs provided greater detail and thus the basis for a more individuated view of insanity, the method of reading and the technology did not prevent but in fact may have promoted Conolly's tendency to write his subjects into a narrative often mediated by the conventional iconography of insanity and his own interpretation of female sexuality.

As a way of describing and controlling character, the method was particularly valuable to a writer like Bronte, who was also distrustful of outward behavior, conscious of how her social isolation limited her ability to read social signs, and protective of her own privacy and her at times disturbing mental distress.I3 In The Professor, where the central characters engage in staring contests designed to see who can penetrate to the secret center of one another's nature,14 William Crimsworth discusses his incursions into the study of women's nature in terms much like Conolly's, an intersection of discourses Bronte would continue to adopt in Villette. In chapter 12, for instance, the narrative is structured around three framed sketches of William's female students, pulled from his portfolio and "pencilled after nature." Designed to expose idealized images of women, the passage moves, like readings of clinical photographs, from the "general view" of the "genus 'jeune fille"' that belongs to the "class bourgeois" to several "selected specimens." As a genus, the group of Europeans is exposed as coarse, indifferent to the needs of others, able to "lie with audacity," driven by a desire to backbite and tell tales, and capable of "bold, impudent flirtation" (p. 78). The more specific case studies that follow are full of physiognomic and phrenological detail: Mlle Loslow is an "unnatural-looking being. . . . Suspicion, sullen ill-temper were on her forehead, vicious propensities in her eyes, envy and panther-like deceit about her rnouthn(p. 79).Juanna Trista is immediately suspicious because "her organs of benevolence, veneration, conscientiousness, adhesiveness, were singularly small, those of self-esteem, firmness, destructiveness, combativeness, preposterously large" (p. 80). After running tllrough a similar analysis of British girls and their teachers, William ends with a comparison to the healthy specimen, Mlle Reuter, who "shone like a steady star over a marsh full of Jack-o- lanthorns" (p. 83).

In Villette, Lucy's description of the king sinlilarly utilizes while revising this claim to (male) scientific authority by basing her observations on her own experiences as a woman as well as her understanding of mental distress and phrenological signs. (The


face is graven with "hieroglyphics" that she reads intuitively, producing a "felt" experience rather than an intellectual one.) The result is a method, much like Conolly's, that suggests both the rigor of detailed reading and the insight of imaginative perception.

But the method, whether used for literary or diagnostic purposes, carries with it the dangers of all typing and classifying- of turning people into objects. While Bronte represents such activity as harmless because Lucy does it from a distance and with no evil intent, the effect is still to turn the king and the Belgian students into spectacles-to use them, to repeat Roscoe's word, as daguerrotypes and the objects of someone else's control. Lucy herself describes the king as an object of perception whose meaning is made visible only to the observer who controls and selects the details to foreground: "Full mournful and significant was that spectacle! Not the less so because, both for the aristocracy and the honest bourgeoisie of Labassecour, its peculiarity seemed to be wholly invisible: I could not discover that one soul present was either struck or touched" (p. 291). Since she can see what the "common gaze" cannot, Lucy can claim a privileged position for her observations.

Bronte's textual treatment of this contradiction over the uses of narrative power is a mystification of Lucy's role as a framer. She depicts Lucy's observing as accidental and unconscious, or when intentional, at least honest and with a reform function in mind. This way of looking closely is revised from the factual (male) gaze of science into the gaze of the woman that, while it has the power to penetrate to the "naked facts," is still marked as innocent. When Lucy "unmasks" Madame Beck by discovering her inner secret, she says she does not know how she did it: "[Madame Beck] did not love but she wanted to marry, that she might bind [M. Paul] to her interest. Deep into some of Madame's secrets I had entered-I know not how; by an intuition or an inspiration which came to me-I know not whence" (p. 544). Lucy's ambiguous position as nanny/governess/teacher and her manner of dress and general behavior keep her invisible around others, and as such she often "overhears" what others say or amuses herself with speculation. During one of Dr. John's early visits to the pensionnat, Lucy remarks that she couldn't avoid observing him, invisible as she was by virtue of her literal and figurative position in the household:

It was not perhaps my business to observe the mystery of his beai-ing, or search out its origin or aim; but, placed as I was, I could hardly help it. He laid himself open to my observation, according to my presence in the room just that degree of notice and consequence a person of my exterior habitually expects: that is to say, about what is given to unobtrusive articles of furniture, chairs of ordinary joiner's work, and carpets of no striking pattern. Often, while waiting for madame, he would muse, smile, watch, or listen like a man who thinks himself alone. I, meantime, was free to puzzle over his countenance and movements, and wonder what could be the meaning of that peculiar interest and attachment-all mixed up with doubt and strangeness, and inexplicably ruled by some presiding spell-which wedded him to this demi- convent, secluded in the built-up core of a capital. He, I believe, never remembered that I had eyes in my head; much less a brain behind them.

(pp. 162-63)

This gaze is marked as significantly different from the male gaze. It reads only what is "laid open" for it to read and is therefore not guilty of spying. In contrast to an emphasis on factuality, this gaze "puzzles" and "wonders"; it moves in the realm of the imagination, made possible by the invisibility of the woman whom no one regards. And it is a power made available to her, not by her.

Moreover, Lucy's gaze is justified because it appears to make reform possible. To this end, the novel appropriates and revises another form of observation given scientific authority by phrenologists and interested alienists, who traditionally juxtaposed illustrations and photographs of the "normal" with the "sick" as a way to teach people to see and read through contrast.I5 One of the most influential proponents of this form of therapy was Dr. Hugh Welsh Diamond, the resident superintendent of the Female Department of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum and founder of clinical photography.16 Throughout his career, Diamond was interested in the medical uses of photography and did a great deal to disseminate information on the photographic process, and therefore, especially after the calotype process made cheap photographic reproduction possible, to popularize its use. Diamond's belief in the photograph's unmediatecl reflection of reality allowed him, like Conolly, to make striking therapeutic claims for psychiatric photography. By freezing his patient's features in a photographic image, Diamond argued, he could turn the insane woman herself into a reader of her own illness. The purpose was not necessarily to give a voice to the patient, or to


suggest the insane image could "mesh" in any way with conventional images, but to shock her into "normalcy" by realizing how far her appearance deviated from the "proper." Diamond cites one such case, a woman suffering from "mania," who was shown photographs of the stages of her recovery to insure her "perfect cure"; the pictures represent her gradual physical transformation from the disarray of illness to the Victorian neatness of sanity. The doctor reports the woman "could scarcely believe that her last portrait, representing her as clothed and in her right mind, would even have been preceded by anything so fearful; and she will never cease, with these faithful monitors in her hand, to express the most lively feelings of gratitude for a recovery so marked and unexpected." Thus, the treatment was based not on an objective representation of the patient so much as on an interpretation of the images shaped by cultural values. In this case, conventional notions of womanhood were reinforced as indicators of a "cure." As Diamond puts it, "illness" is a "state in which no man could tame her [the patient]" whereas the "perfect cure" is a state of total docility or "perfect calm.""

As long as insanity was defined in this way-as a state in excess of male control-then the power of the photog.~.apher to frame, fix, and therefore maintain control over the insane through representation was bound to remain attractive to the male medical practitioner. Diamond attributed this power to the influence of religion on the patient as she "reads" her image-an accurate assessment in its awareness of cultural and social effects on the ill but, again, not entirely ingenuous about the role of the photographer or the While the patients were invested to read their own images, it was finally the "practiced eye of the physician" that determined the final reading, or diagnosis, of the photograph. Whether by directing the patient's response to the photograph or by directing the patient's treatment and classification, it was still the trained professional who was invested with final authority, particularly the professional trained in physiognomic and phrenological reading.

Bronte's employment of a similar strategy of comparative observation empowers the reader as authority and defines illness in radically different terms. As we have seen, she had already used a similar device in The Professor. In Jane Ey?,e, Rochester contrasts

Jane's appearance with that of the "bestial" and foreign Bertha Mason, suggesting that one need only look at the two to see the spiritual, moral, and psychological difference. In Wllette, Lucy is placed alone in the pensionnat with a cretin, a woman whose total isolation and dependency suggest not just a contrast but also a continuum along which Lucy herself is placed. We are to read her own degree of sanity in relation to this woman, much as the women treated in nineteenth-century asylums were taught to read their own extent of lunacy or "cure" in photographs of themselves. This visual juxtaposition of the "normal" and the "abnormal" in Bronte's text exposes the inner life of women in a way that, presumably, would shock readers as well, making it possible for them to "see" the dangers faced by single'women in a culture that ignores them or gives them nothing productive to do. By insisting that Lucy's behavior is rational and therefore different from the cretin's, Bronte is able to make her critique a cultural rather than purely psychological one; Lucy's "craziness" becomes the "logical" outcome of her social and cultural position. But the suggestion that both women exist on the same continuum implies psychological damage may well be the result for all single women if social reform does not take place.

But to claim such observing is accidental, in the case of Lucy's spying, or morally justifiable, in the case of Bronte's rhetorical juxtapositions of images, does not adequately explain the contradictions of her text; she is not, finally, able to displace the dominant way of seeing. Lucy turns others into types and emblems under the justification that she does so with compassion, but her use of the foreign (of Villette and Catholicism), for example, comes close to territorializing-a way of consolidating the self through what Gayatri Spivak has called the "epistemic violence of imperialism."1g What began as an attempt to look at the "truth" about the lives of single women without resorting to spying ends by exposing the social control inherent in any act of representation within the specular economy of the text. This is so because the frames Lucy chooses for her own observations are as predetermined by cultural representations as are those she resists. While Lucy is constantly resisting others' attempts to observe her closely, to frame or tell her into a story (she breaks the frame of both the conventional romance plot with Dr. John as well as the less conventional version of that plot with M. Paul), she uses representations of the foreign as a way of establishing how she finally wants to be seen: as a "free," rational, and independent Englishwoman whose "love of the naked fact" is tempered by the imagination and sympathy, but also aroused to ruthlessness by a moral cause. To illustrate how this happens moves us to a discussion of how the narrative functions ideologically, rather than thematically, and demonstrates the difficulties Bronte faced as she


tried to re-see the position of the single wornan in bourgeois society.

Brontc's decision to set her novel in ;I foreig~l country was crucial to a project that sought to resolve the gcndered spIit between factt~al/scientific/public and fictional,/imaginative/ domestic ways of looking. The foreign offt.retl the distance on one's own situation that promised new ways of seeing it. It also provided the crucial element of difference that wo111tl allow Bronte to consolidate the identity of her character, an identity that would- in its way-contribute to the consolidation of the national identity as well. This "framing" and "representing" of English won~anhood through Lucy necessitates using the foreign characters as types or emblems of what Lucy is not.

Bronte's project depends, then, on the construction of VilIette as the geographical site of difference for Lucy, tlie place to which she goes to "turn over a new leaf' after slit. has lost fatnily, home, and econornic security. Bretton, her godnlother's home, which Lucy recalls most often by describing the furiiiturr Mrs. Bretton owned, is the symbolic expression of the posi~ive, m~teria1 benefits for middle-class women made possible by a capitalist economy; for Lucy, the Bretton home is marked especially as a calm 11ave11, a domestic space sheltered from the crises of life but :rlso associated with a life that is past (pp. 61-62). ]+'hen the Krcttons turn up again later in the novel, transported now to foreign soil and La Terrasse, Lucy describes her reemergence into a "submarine home" as cotrlforting for a lonely person, but clearly a withdrawal from life: At La Terrasse, the predominant color of 1-\icy's room is white; there is little of life in it, and Lucy spcr~dc most of her time sleeping, cut off from the world. The Brettons live the "sunny life" and. ideologically, represent the temptation or uyornen's sphere and a life of dependence. It is into tltis lik that Paulina is interjected as the ideal middle-class wife, the voung girl and, eventually, young woman Lucy would have hec.11 had her economic situation (Bronte says "Fate") been different. But L,licy sees this difference-and her expulsion as the legitimate resident of La Terrasse-as an advantage, redefining her homelessr~ess as a chance to be free and to escape her "natural" tendency totvard inertia and a life that der~ies progress.

Villette starts out, then, as the opposing-and ~nitially positive- term to Bretton/La Terrasse. But it Yery quickly bt-cotnes evident that the pensionnat is the symbolic expression of the disciplinary society upon which Mrs. Bretton's life depends but that it essentially denies. Madame Beck's (and M. Paul's) surveying eye provides the policing function for bourgeois society, especially for female society, since it spies out and controls female sexuality-the unspoken, unseen, and potentially disruptive element of Mrs. Bretton's calm, "underwater" life. The narrative of Bronte's story is generated, then, out of the tension and interplay between these two poles: one, the English/Protestant/middle-class Brettons, Ginevra, and-to some extent-the Homes/deBassompierre family; and the other, the foreign/Catholic/bou~~eoiscapitalist Madame Beck, M. Paul, Pere Silas, and its parasitic, aristocratic Walravens family. Lucy's task is to negotiate between these poles until, through revision and appropriation of the other, she can establish her own family, which transcends the limits of both the pensionnat prison and La Terrasse, the submarine home. As such, the ideological movement is initially toward a merging of the two cultures, religions, and spheres of influence for women by the recognition of their mutual dependence on one another-a displaced movement toward the consolidation of an individual identity for Lucy and a national identity for England.

But the dualism of Lucy's perception becomes increasingly more rigid; rather than being the disinterested observations of a "looker- on" in life, her representations of the foreign become increasingly the deprivileged term in favor of the English. .4s a teacher, she finds herself lamenting that the Labassecourienne girls are not capable of real mastery as are their English counterparts: "Imprimis-it was clear as the day that this swinish multitude were not to be driven by force. . . . Severe or continuous mental application they could not, or would not, bear: heavy demand on the memory, the reason, the attention, they rejected point-blank. Where an English girl of not more than average capacity and docility, would quietly take a theme and bind herself to the task of comprehension and mastery, a Labassecourienne ~\rould laugh in your face" (p. 146).

Once Bronte decides to discard the romance narrative between Lucy and Dr. John, she reduces the complexity of the foreign drastically. Lucy and Dr. John are clearly not going to be the family Lucy is looking for, since there are differences of class and money. Lucy's actual family is determined to include M. Paul as her husband, a union that seems to include the promise of both domestic security and the independence of self-mastery. But first, Bronte must find a way to dissolve Paul's spiritual family, composed


of Madame Beck, the Walravens family, and Pere Silas. While M. Paul has been portrayed as not bound legally to another, he is clearly bound by a moral obligation to the memory of Justine Marie. The most he can do is try to establish a brother-and-sister friendship with Lucy, which in its own right threatens the spiritual family. Bronte's solution is to make the "spiritual" family actually immoral and therefore deserving of dissolution. She does this by displacing Lucy's independent nature onto her religion and national origin (her English Protestantism) and transforming the conflict between self-reliance and dependence for women into a conflict of religious ideology. The effect is to reduce the field of interpretative possibilities for the foreign so it is easier to overturn. 'Thus, the story of the Walravens family becomes a fairy tale, with Madame Walravens a virtual wicked stepmother/witch who has entrapped Paul by exploiting his natural goodness and sense of honor. And Pere Silas's account of Paul's relationship with Justine Maria is equally reduced as a gothic romance tale, "The Priest's Pupil," which Lucy has no difficulty satirizing.

An examination of these final scenes is instructive. In order for Paul to enter into a marriage with Lucy, he too must be altered; the tyrant master must be domesticated into the feminized and loving equal. Thus, attention shifts from Paul's blustering censorship to his shy offer of friendship and his concern over Lucy's spiritual well-being. He is defined now as himself a victim of the unholy "junta" because of his "innocent heart." He cultivates his garden and is a kindly master to a spaniel who adores him. In all respects, he is ready to be matched with Lucy, whose "feistiness" he enjoys. But before Lucy can unite with Paul, she has to prove her self-mastery and control by resisting the efforts of the Rornan church to convert her to Catholicism and of Madame Beck to oust her as a rival for Paul's affection. The Church appears in various guises, the first as an envious mother who watches Paul's every action: "Rome watched jealously her son through that mystic lattice at which she [Lucy] knelt once, and to which M. Emanuel [sic] drew nigh month by month-the sliding panel of the confessional"

(p. 503). The "mystic lattice" reminds us of Paul's own observation post behind the window lattice of the college, suggesting the alignment of the church with the head of the family and their shared surveillance and regulation of female sexuality. The second mask the Church wears is that of the kindly mother who seeks to advise Lucy and win her over to Catholicism through the comforting words of a pamphlet Paul has put in Lucy's desk. But Lucy easily sees through this false piety, calling the pamphlet an "unlicked wolf-cub muffled in the fleece" but whose "cloven hoof' was showing. Thus, the obstacle to Lucy and Paul's union is made into a deceptive and self-serving "tyrant Church" that attacks Lucy's self-reliance as the "wild, careless daring" of both the English and Protestants. Lucy is put in the position of defending her faith and her country, then, and not her own questionable self-assertion and claims for independence. Her "love of the naked fact" is justified here as the unveiling of corruption. She concludes that "doubtless there were errors in every Church, but I now perceived by contrast how severely pure was my own, compared with her whose painted and meretricious face had been unveiled for my admiration" (p. 516).

Bronte's use of simplification continues when Madame Beck reveals herself as Lucy's rival, now transformed from the spying but admirable headmistress into a one-dimensional gorgon: "[Her] habitual disguise, her mask and her domino, were to me a mere network reticulated with holes; and I saw underneath a being heartless, self-indulgent, and ignoble" (p. 544). Lucy must face her own sexual interest in Paul and deny the role of nun fostered by the Church and her own extreme self-discipline. This is made acceptable by the drugs Madame Beck gives her to keep her locked in the pensionnat. Ironically, the drugs have the opposite effect, of course, and Lucy is allowed to break out of the disciplinary prison to confront her sexual jealousy and desire for Paul. She is able to expose the nun as an illusion and trickery and speak out her affection for Paul. He, in turn, strikes Madame Beck and effectively wipes out any more resistance to the relationship.

But, as we have already seen, the union of Paul and Lucy is impossible for Bronte to effect without continued reductions to antinomies of this kind. Once Paul agrees that Lucy should remain an English Protestant, the way seems clear for a construction of them both as free subjects: "Remain a Protestant. My little English Puritan, I love Protestantism in you. I own its severe charm. There is something in its ritual I cannot receive myself, but it is the sole creed for 'Lucy"' (pp. 594-95). The union can take place only because Paul has refused to make an issue of their difference any longer, a gesture Lucy interprets as the expression of his freedom from the slavery of propaganda: "All Rome could not put into him bigotry, nor the Propaganda itself make him a real Jesuit. He was born honest, and not false-artless, and not cunning-a freeman, and not a slave" (p. 595). Thus, she reinforces the ideological belief in the undetermined, free self, born into nature an innocent and only later corrupted by an enslaving culture. Their future


marriage is prefigured in the construction of Lucy's own school tucked away in an Edenic spot somewhere within, but safe from, the disciplinary society of Villette.

But the Edenic description of the school suggests the extent to which Bronte no longer believed in the ability to make such a space available for women. Lucy's construction as a free subject necessitates the death of M. Paul, since the roles of independent woman and wife cannot coexist, even in Bronte's imagination; it is what remains unrepresentable within this spectral economy. Lucy claims her work in her own school was really done just because she was acting as Paul's steward, but were he to return, the job would end and Lucy's independence would be seriously compromised. To avoid the disciplinary aspects of her own society, which seeks to regulate female sexuality (and, for Bronte, women's writing), Lucy has not revised the foreign so much as marginalized it; she has used it to define her own free space-and free self-as a difference in the midst of an enslaving society. But that space is Edenic, ambiguous, and ultimately open to crisis, as the end of the novel attests.

For Bronte, this retreat to the binary oppositio~ls of English nationalism and its implications for the construction of female sexuality likewise threaten to trap her in the heart of the linguistic structures of social power-master/pupil, English/French, Catholic/Protestant-that she originally sought to revise. While she has managed to consolidate the individual identity of her character by making "English Womanhood" incorporate "independence" as a term, she is not able, finally, to do it while escaping the controlling and objectifying aspects of a masculine gaze. The discourses of looking are already dominated by the discourses of science; Bronte is not able to represent a new way of looking that doesn't simply invert the hierarchy produced by the original oppositions of male/female, reason/imagination, and close observation/theoretical speculation.

Even so, Bronte's attempt to revise the central categories of scientific observation and literary realism does produce gaps in her narration that disrupt the apparent seamlessness of these discourses. The desire to break all frames that we see everywhere in the text is also an oppositional desire that, if fostered, can use discursive struggle as an opportunity. Lucy does, after all, escape the pensionnat (the old convent), and she does find a "gap" in the fence to the park; like the reticulated mask of the Church and Madame Beck, the ideological network within which the text operates is not seamless. Moreover, Bronte's ow11 "failure" to finally fix Lucy's identity in a satisfactory way, to end the narrative with conviction, suggests the existence, at any rate, of other possibilities not yet articulated within her culture. The problematic ending of her novel is encouraging; other mobilizations of the text are possible, including one that can demonstrate how Villette undercuts and exposes its own ideological underpinnings. In such a reading, we can "see" Lucy as the subject who refuses to be represented even in her own narrative; she is the subject who turns her back on the asylum photographers and refuses to be fixed by the male, empirical gaze. This is not yet the transformation that diffuses difference, and the space, in Bronte's view, is still contained by the domestic sphere; but it has exposed the "naked fact" that no facts are truly naked, but radically constituted by the eye that helps make them.


'W.C. Roscoe, review of The Life of Charlotte Bronte, in iVationa1 Review 5 (June 1857): 127-64; quoted in Miriam Allott, The Brontes: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), pp. 355, 354.

2See Elizabeth Rigby, "Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, and Governesses," Quarterly Review 84, 162 (December 1848): 153-85, 163, 176; and Albany Fonblanque, review of Shirley, in Examiner, 3 November 1849, pp. 692-94, 692.

'Roscoe, quoted in Allott, p. 357.

'Charlotte Bronte, Villette, ed. Mark Lilly (New York: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 564. All further parenthetical citations to the text are from this edition.

'All parenthetical citations to The Professor are from The Professor and Emma: A Fragment (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1969).

6RuthD.Johnston argues that this device allows Bronte simultaneously to avoid and include melodrama ("Re Professor: Charlotte Bronte's Hysterical Text, or Realistic Narrative and the Ideology of the Subject from a Feminist Perspective," DSA 18 [New York: AMS Press, 19891: 353-80). In her dis- cussion of the rhetorical and often violent language in The Professor, she claims the narrator's denial of the melodramatic is just an attempt to control the speaker's own fear and desire to expose what lies beneath the surface. The tension suggests a distrust of language that requires a higlrly formal, oratorical or dramatic idiom just to give speeches sufficient emotional coloration.

'For an earlier discussion of Bronte's use of phrenology in hel- novels, see Ian Jack, "Physiognomy, Phrenology and Characterization in the Novels of Charlotte Bronte," Bronte Society Transactions 15, 5 (Keighley, England: Keighley Printer, 1970): 377-91. For an excellent discussion of phrenology and psychology during the period, see Roger Cooter, "Phrenology and British Alienists, ca. 1825-1845," in Madhouses, itlad-Doctors, and i%dmen: The Social


Histoly ofpsychiatly in the Victorian Era, ed. Andrew Scull (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), pp. 58-104. 'Rev. John Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy: Designed to Plamnote the Knowledge

and the Love ofMankind, 3 vols. (London: J. Murray, 1789-98), 1:120.

'Cooter, p. 75.

"John Conolly, "The Physiognomy of Insanity," Medical Times and Gazette 17 (2 January 1858): 2-4, 3. "Andrew Combe, Observations on Mental Derangement (Edinburgh: John Anderson, 1831), p. 354.

12Conolly, p. 3.

''For a full portrait of such personal traits, see Winifred Gkrin, Charlotte Bronte: The Evolution of Genius (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967).

"See, for example, William's interchange with Zoraide after he has found out her true intentions toward M. Pelet (p. 91); in this case, the act of looking becomes as powerful as a gunshot.

''A favorite method of Lavater's was to place together an image of Plato and one of a cretin to suggest physiognomic differences as a key to mental and intellectual health (Sander L. Gilman, Seeing the Insane [New York: John Wiley and Sons, 19821, p. 65).

I6For the facts concerning Dr. Diamond and his career in clinical photography, I am indebted throughout this discussion to Sander L. Gilman's

The Face ofiWadness: Hugh W.Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatlic Photography (Secaucus NJ: Citadel Press, 1977), and his Seeing the Insa~ze, pp. 164-78.

"Hugh W. Diamond,"On the Applications of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity," paper presented to the Royal Society of Medicine, 22 May 1856; published in Gilman, The Face of Madness, pp. 19-24.

''Diamond, p. 22. ''See Gayatri Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism," CI 12, 1 (Autumn 1985): 243-61, 251.

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