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Gay Quaker Parrots
Literary Slash
Where on earth did Bronte get "St. Pierre sneered again, in her cold snaky manner" from? 
23rd-Jul-2005 09:19 pm
Beech leaves
Quite a long extract, I'm afraid, but it's trickier with novels which have complex webs of desire and cross-dressing. Oof, where do we begin with this one?

Right. Lucy Snowe, an Englishwoman, is teaching at a girls' school in Brussels. Ginevra Fanshawe is a student there, and carries on a sort of flirtation with Lucy. Dr. John, a local English doctor, is currently after Ginevra and desired by both Ginevra and Lucy, and M. Paul, a Belgian teacher at the school, is probably after Lucy but I'm not sure if we know this yet (Lucy's a fab narrator, she lies to her readers). Zelie St. Pierre is another teacher, and she used to be after M. Paul but gave up. A play is being put on for a fete, and due to another student's suddenly falling ill, Lucy has been roped in to play a male part.


Having surveyed and criticised the whole troop, he turned to me.

'You, too, must be dressed for your part.'

'Dressed - dressed like a man!' exclaimed Zélie St. Pierre, darting forwards; adding with officiousness, 'I will dress her myself.'

To be dressed like a man did not please, and would not suit me. I had consented to take a man's name and part; as to his dress - halte là! No. I would keep my own dress, come what might. M. Paul might storm, might rage: I would keep my own dress. I said so, with a voice as resolute in intent, as it was low, and perhaps unsteady, in utterance.

He did not immediately storm or rage, as I fully thought he would: he stood silent. But Zélie again interposed.

'She will make a capital petit-maître. Here are the garments, all - all complete: somewhat too large, but I will arrange all that. Come, chère amie - belle Anglaise!'

And she sneered, for I was not 'belle.' She seized my hand, she was drawing me away. M. Paul stood impassible - neutral.

'You must not resist', pursued St. Pierre - for resist I did. 'You will spoil all, destroy the mirth of the piece, the enjoyment of the company, sacrifice everything to your amour-propre. This would be too bad - monsieur will never permit this?'

She sought his eye. I watched, likewise, for a glance. He gave her one, and then he gave me one. 'Stop!' he said slowly, arresting St. Pierre, who continued her efforts to drag me after her. Everybody awaited the decision. He was not angry, not irritated; I perceived that, and took heart.

'You do not like these clothes?' he asked, pointing to the masculine vestments.

'I don't object to some of them, but I won't have them all.'

'How must it be, then? How, accept a man's part, and go on the stage dressed as a woman? This is an amateur affair, it is true - a vaudeville de pensionnat; certain modifications I might sanction, yet something you must have to announce you as of the nobler sex.'

'And I will, monsieur; but it must be arranged in my own way: nobody must meddle; the things must not be forced upon me. Just let me dress myself.'

Monsieur; without another word, took the costume from St. Pierre, gave it to me, and permitted me to pass into the dressing-room. Once alone, I grew calm, and collectedly went to work. Retaining my woman's garb without the slightest retrenchment, I merely assumed, in addition, a little vest, a collar, and cravat, and a paletôt of small dimensions; the whole being the costume of a brother of one of the pupils. Having loosened my hair out of its braid, made up the long back hair close, and brushed the front hair to one side, I took my hat and gloves in my hand and came out. M. Paul was waiting, and so were the others. He looked at me. 'That may pass in a pensionnat', he pronounced. Then added, not unkindly, 'Courage, mon ami! Un peu de sang froid - un peu d'aplomb, M. Lucien, et tout ira bien.'

St. Pierre sneered again, in her cold snaky manner.

I was irritable, because excited, and I could not help turning upon her and saying, that if she were not a lady and I a gentleman, I should feel disposed to call her out.

'After the play, after the play', said M. Paul. 'I will then divide my pair of pistols between you, and we will settle the dispute according to form: it will only be the old quarrel of France and England.'

But now the moment approached for the performance to commence [...] When my tongue once got free, and my voice took its true pitch, and found its natural tone, I thought of nothing but the personage I represented - and of M. Paul, who was listening, watching, prompting in the side scenes.

By-and-by, feeling the right power come - the spring demanded gush and rise inwardly - I became sufficiently composed to notice my fellow actors. Some of them played very well; especially Ginevra Fanshawe, who had to coquette between two suitors, and managed admirably: in fact she was in her element. I observed that she once or twice threw a certain marked fondness and pointed partiality into her manner towards me - the fop. With such emphasis and animation did she favour me, such glances did she dart out into the listening and applauding crowd, that to me - who knew her - it presently became evident she was acting at some one; and I followed her eye, her smile, her gesture, and ere long discovered that she had at least singled out a handsome and distinguished aim for her shafts; full in the path of those arrows - taller than other spectators, and therefore more sure to receive them - stood, in attitude quiet but intent, a well-known form - that of Dr. John.

The spectacle seemed somehow suggestive. There was language in Dr. John's look, though I cannot tell what he said; it animated me: I drew out of it a history; I put my idea into the part I performed; I threw it into my wooing of Ginevra. In the 'Ours', or sincere lover, I saw Dr. John. Did I pity him, as erst? No, I hardened my heart, rivalled and outrivalled him. I knew myself but a fop, but where he was outcast I could please. Now I know I acted as if wishful and resolute to win and conquer. Ginevra seconded me; between us we half changed the nature of the rôle, gilding it from top to toe. Between the acts M. Paul told us he knew not what possessed us, and half expostulated, 'C'est peut être plus beau que votre modèle', said he, 'mais ce n'est pas juste.' I know not what possessed me either; but somehow, my longing was to eclipse the 'Ours', i.e., Dr. John. Ginevra was tender; how could I be otherwise than chivalric? Retaining the letter, I recklessly altered the spirit of the rôle. Without heart, without interest, I could not play it at all. It must be played - in went the yearned-for seasoning - thus flavoured, I played it with relish.

What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven. Cold, reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself. Yet the next day, when I thought it over, I quite disapproved of these amateur performances; and though glad that I had obliged M. Paul and tried my own strength for once, I took a firm resolution never to be drawn into a similar affair. A keen relish for dramatic expression had revealed itself as part of my nature; to cherish and exercise this new-found faculty might gift me with a world of delight, but it would not do for a mere looker-on at life: the strength and longing must be put by; and I put them by, and fastened them in with the lock of a resolution which neither Time nor Temptation has since picked.

[And then they flirt after the play and the dancing.]

Charlotte Bronte, Villette, from here, Chapter 14.
23rd-Jul-2005 09:25 pm (UTC)
What a catty catty comment! *aghast*
24th-Jul-2005 04:00 pm (UTC)
Ginevra's boyfriend is also fairly effeminate, and he dresses up as a girl to visit her, more cross-dressing... Maybe Dr. John was just too "manly" for her (we do get hit over the head repeatedly by descriptions of how masculine he is).
24th-Jul-2005 06:43 pm (UTC)
Not to mention that he's teamed up with a suitably fragile, feminine creature.

It's rather half-hearted, all this cross-dressing. Bit like when Jessica dresses up as a boy to elope, she hates doing it and she's recognised on the spot, unlike any other Shakespearean heroines I can think of.
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