At a crucial moment, in the final scene of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette
(1853), Lucy Snowe commands the readers to “pause at once” (Brontë 2008, p. 496
), deceitfully luring the readers to imagine a “sunny” ending1
. The pause challenges the idea of an ending, as it is unclear where the protagonist is, or what her end is. The only narration provided at the end is the following: “Madame Beck prospered all the days of her life; so did Père Silas; Madame Walravens fulfilled her ninetieth year before she died, farewell” (ibid.). Brontë crafts an ambiguous ending that refuses to conclude the novel in two ways; she uses a pause to avoid a direct confrontation of M. Paul’s death, and rather, shifts the reader’s attention to happy endings of other characters. In part, the strange ending may have originated from Brontë’s compromise with her father; the ambiguity resulted from her desire to end with M. Paul’s death and her father’s wish for a happy marital ending (Gaskell 1946, p. 366
This conciliatory measure was Brontë’s act of nomadic thinking, as an author. She formed a way for Lucy to escape the conventional marriage plot and pave a way for her to evade an ending altogether. My paper begins with these two ideas intertwined; the strange open-ended conclusion that makes readers ponder about Lucy’s place and the way that Brontë purposefully leaves the space ambiguous. The very statement that I focus on in Brontë’s biography regarding the ending, is “to leave the character and discernment of her readers to interpret her meaning” (Gaskell 1946, p. 366
). I read this statement as a sign of nomadic consciousness that was embedded in Brontë’s writing which was displaced onto Lucy’s narrative and character. I define nomadic consciousness in terms of a Deleuzian feminist, Rosi Braidotti. It is when a woman recognizes the limited position they are in, due to their social position in class, gender, and race, by positively emphasizing and accepting their multiple differences, and moves beyond negative circumstances by fracturing and recreating their momentary identity. Brontë, though she may have been unconscious of her intentions, used her writing to nomadically alter and escape the confinement that Lucy may have faced in marriage, and rather than limiting Lucy’s end with M. Paul’s death, allows readers to imagine the endless possibilities that Lucy may have, outside the novel. These two ideas which I have combined of Lucy’s nomadic state and Brontë’s writing, allowing Lucy’s infinite ends is what I deem as nomadic narrative. Nomadic narrative is when the subject is nomadically conscious of the world they are in and writes/re-writes their own narrative, using positive powers, to open new spaces of experience in emphasizing their own differences in gender, nationality, and class, obtaining solidity in the writing space, but having a constant fractured and re-created identity. Their writing proposes a way for the subject to be created and re-created. In a sense, it allows the writing space to become a narrative space of sustainability for the character to interact with different characters, in fracturing and re-creating their identity.
The concept I deem as nomadic narrative highly rests upon Braidotti’s concept of nomadic theory, and she does indeed speak of writing as a way in which a subject can form and be conscious of their nomadic subjectivity. She mentions that “writing is not only a process of constant translation but also of successive adaptations to different cultural realities” (Braidotti 2011, p. 45
). In a sense, writing allows different versions of one’s self, and it becomes a metaphysical location that allows the nomad to create and recreate themselves. The piece of writing becomes a map of their own fractured subjectivity, more specifically, Braidotti states that the nomad essentially becomes her own cartographer. Though Braidotti accentuates the act of writing in itself, she does not focus on the multiple aspects of narrative that formulate a nomadic subject, and in turn, the nomadic subject’s capability that constructs a nomadic narrative. That is to say, she focuses on the form of words and writing that destabilize “common sensical meaning, deconstructing established forms of consciousness” (Ibid., p. 44), a space that embodies a “strong connection of radical nonbelonging” (Ibid.), but she does not push further on the “form” of narrative that allows characters like Lucy to re-construct her narration to fracture her own subjectivity. In other words, she does not put emphasis on the novel’s narrative capabilities such as what Georg Lukács’s calls the “Inner form of the novel” in The Theory of the Novel.
He describes the novel form as a way for a “hero” to understand the fragility and abstractness of the world he is living in and must create his own “worlding” through his experiences, to maintain his equilibrium of the world. He is forming his own bildungsroman by consciously knowing that he must continue to develop within the novel to sustain the world he lives in. In a way, nomadic narrative embodies such aspects since Lucy becomes her own hero or heroine that must sustain the world she at least, temporarily lives in.
However, the starting point of a female bildungsroman differs from a male bildungsroman since the woman’s narrative was highly dependent on men and “what the world will make of them” (Fraiman 1993, p. 6
). In contrast, men’s narrative rested upon being able to create their own development by their capability to travel. Women, however, had difficulty with mobility itself, and their only dependence on development was the “dialectical relations to social structures and other people” (Ibid., p. 10). Fraiman does, however, mention there is no “uniform fiction of development” (Ibid., p. 13). In response to Braidotti’s idea of writing as a way for de-centralization of subjectivity, Lukács’s idea of the hero’s consciousness in narrative, and Fraiman’s description of female bildungsroman, I defy certain aspects of the influential theorists, to build the concept of nomadic narrative. Nomadic narrative proposes a differentiation from “nomadic writing,” by using Lucy’s narrative control that focuses on her narrative control, to shift and re-construct orderings of her narrative to create her nomadic subjectivity. As opposed to Georg Lukács’s hero which still has a linear form of the novel, nomadic narrative uses a non-linear form of narration. Nomadic narrative proposes a differentiation from “nomadic writing,” by using Lucy’s narrative control that focuses on her narrative control, to shift and re-construct orderings of her narrative to create her nomadic subjectivity. Finally, Lucy’s ability to travel and form a non-uniform fiction of development defies the nature of female bildungsroman. At the same time, subverts the conventional travel narrative, since she has no fixed return, further complicating and fracturing the idea of travel narrative itself.
Though Brontë is the one that initially births the beginnings of unconscious nomadic thinking, I read Lucy’s narrative control as a conscious choice in which she creates and re-creates her subjectivity. Through the control that she has in her narration to create and recreate her own “worldings,” she fractures the centralization of herself, as a protagonist. She creates a space that incorporates others, even without including herself. In a way, it is what Ezra Dan Feldman calls “nonhuman narration,” in which Lucy distances herself from the narrative, replacing objects and herself to make readers uncertain of where Lucy is. In the last scene when M. Paul’s death is subtly concealed, Feldman suggests that Lucy disappears from the narration, by displacing her own miserable emotions onto nonexistent and fictional subjects who mourn for M. Paul’s death such as “sleepless watchers” or “a thousand weepers” (Feldman 2016, p. 495
). Although Feldman mentions the non-human aspects of the narrative, she does not go far as regarding the narrative as a posthuman narrative. The nomadic narrative I propose examines the posthuman aspects that unbind the human from the narration by their own emphasis in de-centering themselves from the narrative. More specifically, the narrative space becomes a network that connects the human with nature, putting less emphasis on the human. I do so by analyzing the posthuman engagement that Lucy has with animals, weather, and death.
Feldman is one of the many critics that have read Lucy’s ambiguous ending as an escape of her negative ending by using non-human narration. Kate Lawson and Lynn Shakinovsky interpret this ending as a sign of Lucy’s independence from the English national narrative (Lawson and Shakinovsky 2009, p. 941
). They contend that, Lucy achieves a “hard won insight” (Ibid., p. 940) in being able to identify the “chains of national narrative” (Ibid., p. 950). Instead of being confined to the physical boundaries of England like Miss Marchmont, Lucy transcends the limitations imposed on her by England, she makes her own space: living in M. Paul’s house and expanding her school. Amanda Anderson writes: “Lucy strongly hints but will not state directly that M. Paul dies by shipwreck and Lucy teasingly offers a happy ending to those readers endowed with ‘sunny imaginations’” (Anderson 2001, p. 61
). Anderson argues that the ending becomes a pivotal moment in which Lucy refuses to close the novel in her story, thus obtaining a “detachment that she can call her own” (Ibid., p. 52). Various critics have analyzed Lucy’s ending as a sign of independence and autonomy, however, they tend to overlook the significance of the interrelationship of national narrative, female agency, and nonhuman objects/narration. I, however, emphasize the significance of all these factors into a term I coined called nomadic narrative. Nomadic narrative proposes a way in which it disengaged, de-centers with universalized and conventional methods of reading narrative in its travel narrative, female narrative, and non-human narrative methodologies.
2. Lucy’s Flight from a Travel Narrative into a Nomadic Narrative
Many critics have analyzed the different ways in which travel is used in Brontë’s novels to formulate the protagonist’s narrative,3
but I emphasize how Villette
is an unconventional travel narrative (or more precisely, nomadic narrative), since it has no fixed return. In examining Brontë’s travel novels, James Buzard hints at the plasticity of cultural identity and Anderson reaches towards a diverse range of professional identities through detachment. In Buzard’s influential auto-ethnographic reading of Brontë’s fiction, he analyzes her four-novels attention to foreign cultures to reflect upon the cultural identity of “Englishness.” He suggests that Brontë questions and redefines British identity but also achieves distance from the “warped” British identity. Through the “metallurgical metaphor,” (Buzard 2005, p. 161
) of culture displaced onto a physical location, Buzard portrays the malleability of cultural identity that questions the return to cultural identity. Though he closely examines culture within Brontë’s novels, he does not analyze the gendered aspects that are embedded within British culture. Amanda Anderson, on the other hand, focuses on gender and detachment at the expense of examining cultural differences. She applies the concept of detachment onto Lucy to emphasize the different professionalisms achieved by women to rehabilitate gender’s significance in the Victorian period. For instance, Lucy observes the various detachments of Mrs. Bretton’s “muted kindness” (Anderson 2001, p. 59
) as a mother and Madame Beck’s negative form of feminine detachment. Through these different models, Lucy creates a “detachment of her own” through her ambivalence in withholding information and eventually formulating her own agency.
In contrast to these two arguments, I argue through nomadic narrative that identity indeed contains differences4
in both culture and gender, but they are not separate entities. Nomadic narrative combines these different aspects of the novel, by putting more weight onto Lucy’s nomadic consciousness of all identities that can be potentially embodied. Through her travel, she records her own experiences with different women, she further forms her own nomadic subjectivity. Through her writing, she realizes and shows her consciousness of the various identities in her physical experiences in different countries. In Lucy’s travel narrative, she becomes a literal nomadic subject by her own realization of the multiple identities that she embodies. Borrowing the words of Braidotti, I define nomadic subject as “a subject [who] occupies a variety of possible positions of different times across a multiplicity of variables such as sex, race, class, age, lifestyle” (Braidotti 2011, p. 58
). That is to say, the differences subvert the notions of binary oppositions of categories and allow the process of becoming-minoritarian. By the subject acknowledging differences and their minor position which begins by becoming-women, they recognize their minor subjectivity that opens up their realization of their socially minor position in all categories (Braidotti 2002, p. 119
). Therefore, the subject does not have a monolithic identity, but forms nomadic subjectivity by their awareness in multiple becoming-minoritarian statuses. Lucy’s nomadic narration is enabled by the very fact that she realizes she is not rooted to one culture, gender identity, and remains free of it through her ability to narrate her own story. Using the frames/levels that Braidotti provides in explaining sexual differences that form nomadic subjectivity, I experiment the different ways Lucy experience various subjectivities in her non-linear narrative.
The first level emphasizes the sexual differences that destabilize the pseudo-universal presence of man in contrast to the “unrepresented” women, so that women can represent themselves by defining themselves against men (Braidotti 2011, p. 152
). I interpret this level as a portrayal of how Lucy indirectly relates herself to Miss Marchmont’s obsessive desire with her dead lover, Frank. Miss Marchmont is a “rheumatic cripple [with] impotent foot and hand […] for twenty years” (36), eternally bound to Frank. Similarly, Lucy also becomes immobile and almost a part of her non-progressive state. Lucy’s syntax of relating “her” (Miss Marchmont) to “my” (Lucy) shows the intimacy Lucy has with Miss Marchmont: “her service was my duty-her pain, my suffering—her relief, my hope—her anger, my punishment—her regard, my reward […] I forgot that there were fields […] I was almost content to forget it” (37). In this moment, the syntax reveals that Lucy has the potential to remain in the same position as Miss Marchmont. However, at the same time, when Lucy states, “I was almost content to forget it,” she is indicating she forgets about her surroundings, having the possibility to become an immobile woman like Miss Marchmont. Furthermore, Lucy is nomadically conscious that Miss Marchmont cannot think affirmatively of the pain she has been in of losing her lover, Frank, and remains “frozen in the image of the past” (Braidotti 2012, p. 153
). Lucy, instead, remembers her nomadic identity and describes it as “some new power; it seemed to bring, I drew in energy” (44). In the instance when Lucy loses her social position after Miss Marchmont’s death, Lucy affirmatively thinks of her situation by looking for another job.
The second level explores the “women of representation” to “women of experience” to acknowledge there are generalized representations of women, as opposed to women who have various experiences. To see the different ways in which Lucy formulates these different identities, I compare her to Paulina de Bassompierre, a representation of the angel-in-the-house, and Ginevra, a representation of a coquette. It is through experiencing these different women that Lucy is capable of entering upon the women of experience stage—to not be limited in a state of a “women of representation.” However, that is not to say Ginevra or Paulina do not withhold nomadic potentiality, since they portray national hybridity. However, that potentiality is obstructed due to their unwillingness to move further from their confined social position in which they define themselves, against men. For instance, Ginevra, even within the “happiness” that is achieved through marriage, her intent comes from envying Paulina, as she says that her marriage was “to show them that with all their airs, I could get married as well.” Her marriage conveys that because of social pressures, her narrative cannot accept her own subjectivity through the different experience she has as a woman, she only remains in the shadows of negativity, unaccepting of a different identity. On the other hand, Paulina serves as a better model for national hybridity. She is more English than Ginevra in that she is fit for an English-angel-in-the-house and speaks both English and French fluently. Lucy is “charmed with her French; it was faultless […] the accent pure; Ginevra, who had lived half her life on the continent, could do nothing like it” (Ibid., p. 313). Paulina’s national hybrid identity is indeed more satisfying than Ginevra’s, however, Paulina is trapped within the realm of patriarchal violence. Paulina remains rooted in her “husband’s love, she aided in his progress” (Ibid., p. 436). Although Ginevra and Paulina become cultural nomads, they fail to recognize their minoritarian position in society as women. In contrast, Lucy not only becomes a cultural nomad but also attains nomadic consciousness of her minoritarian status as a woman in the patriarchal society.
Finally, the third level of nomadic subjectivity compares different women of experience to each other. In this level, I would like to emphasize the ways in which Lucy gains more power in her narration by being able to acknowledge and identify differences through her various experiences. Many critics have discussed Lucy’s role as an actor in terms of gender performance, but they have downplayed the focus on culture.5
There are certain limitations, however, that can arise when only focusing on the performative aspects of gender. For instance, Braidotti critiques Butler’s notion of gender performance by indicating that “Butler develops hermeneutics of suspicion against the notion of ‘gender’—and more especially towards the category of ‘women’ as the foundation of feminist politics. Butler emphasizes both the normativity and the limitations of the category ‘women’ which fails to be exhaustive” (Braidotti 2002, p. 36
). Butler sees the emphasis on sexual difference as too limiting because it does not allow fluidity in gender identity. Nevertheless, I argue through nomadic narrative that it is not a limitation by emphasizing that the narrative is a mapping of differences that are continually created and recreated, allowing more emphasis in differences at the same time, having fluidity in identity. One can “perform” multiple identities at once in nomadic narrative by the narrative pointing towards the emphasis on the multiplicity of identity. For instance, rather than purely viewing Lucy’s performance as a mere gender performance, I see it as rather an embodiment of multiple categories being emphasized at once. Lucy performs a combination of multiple belongings in gender, race, and even language, using her quick, nomadic thinking to positively re-assess the negative and limiting circumstance.
In addition to Lucy’s combination of female and male clothing that many critics have discussed, Lucy’s French role is also an aspect of accepting her nomadic and minoritarian position. When M. Paul asks for “an English woman to rescue me” (Brontë 2008, p. 134
) because the original actor has fallen ill, Lucy states, “the foreign language, the limited time, the public display […] inclination recoiled, ability faltered” (Ibid., p. 134). Despite being placed in limited circumstances, Lucy does not think negatively but she affirmatively accepts her position, saying “oui.” By becoming French as an English foreigner, she is accepting her socially minor position in the land of Labassecour. And within her performance, she states, “[t]he first speech was the difficulty; it revealed to me this fact, that it was not the crowd I feared, so much as my own voice” (Ibid., p. 140). Already, she shows signs that she feels difficulty in her language, but still performs as she states, “foreigners and strangers, the crowd were nothing to me” (Ibid., p. 140). Gaining confidence, Lucy decisively woos Ginevra, and in the midst of performing the masculine Fop, she yet again plays a minoritarian position of being the gendered and a class “Other.” Lucy states, “I knew myself but a fop, but where he
was outcast I
could please” (Ibid., p. 141). Although her social status is lower than Dr. John by being a Fop, she still performs her minor position by using it to her advantage. In the end, her nomadic position in terms of affirmative powers is confirmed as she directly expresses, “I played it with relish” (Ibid.). The performance is an example among the many ways that Lucy portrays her nomadic position. As a whole, however, she is narrating her nomadic experiences that in itself shows the free-flowing, anachronistic, sporadic narration that allows her to map out different belongings. In the next section, I will further explain how Lucy gains power as a nomadic subject in creating multiple belongings through her narration.
3. Unevenness in Narrative
Returning to my initial point of unreliability and Lucy’s potential manipulation, it is the gaps and the anachronistic nature of her writing that allow the mapping of her multiple belongings. Unlike linear and full finished endings of John Graham, Lucy’s incomplete narration portrays her own narrative power that is not subsumed into a singular characterization. For instance, John Graham is a middle-class masculine figure who marries into an upper-class family by his marriage with Paulina De Bassompierre. Together, they achieve a “happy pair.” Although John travels like Lucy and speaks both French and English, he is not deemed as a hero in terms of the Theory of the Novel
. In Georg Lukács’s Theory of the Novel
, the hero recognizes “the self destruction of reality that is the unbridgeable chasm […] and the ideal [that represents] the essence of the outside world” (Lukács 1971, p. 78
). Although the novel never “completely capture[s] life and a life complex which can never attain completeness” (Ibid., p. 77), the hero’s experience is a “glimpse of meaning [that is] the highest that life has to offer” (Ibid., p. 80). In doing so, although still lacking in representing the outside world, “he creates an entire world through his experience and who must maintain that world in equilibrium” (Ibid., p. 83). In terms of this definition of a hero, John Graham is unable to create such a consciousness of the world, and rather becomes more subsumed into recreating his “Englishness,” and does not destruct his own world.
Contrary to John Graham, Lucy realizes the fragility and the abstractness of the world and thus, creates “worldings” of her own like the hero. She, however, differs from the conventional hero, since she fractures and recreates her world multiple times, and creates multiple worlds. This is due to the nature of her fractured subjectivity which is also exposed onto the worlds that she created. As opposed to the centralization of a male figure in the universalized world, a woman is a nomad from the beginning to the end of the narrative. The term, nomad, roots from a homeless and continual sojourner, much like the definition of nomadic subject, a woman, who naturally has no place in society6
. What the nomad does, Braidotti indicates, is a form of cartography in which the nomad creates their own maps that metaphysically locates them, since they have no location. Lucy, from Villette
, a woman who begins her journey without a home, continually re-constructs her identity, accepting differences within her, and creates her own cartography of these multiple belongings through the act of writing. Although Lucy’s position as a social minority, an English redundant woman7
, limits her from gaining access to privileged identities, economy, and mobility, I argue through nomadic narrative that she writes and re-writes her narrative to overcome these instances through positive energies. More specifically, I argue that Lucy uses two modes of voice in her narration (mimetic and autodiegetic voice) that allows her to not remain rooted in her negative circumstances, but rather, she gains energy from her split, multiple selves. Mimetic present voice is the voice that speaks from the future to the present situation she is in. The mimetic voice comes in the form of an “inner voice” that grants her confidence and gives her firmness in pursuing her narrative. Her autodiegietic voice is a voice from the future that distances Lucy, the present self, from M. Paul’s death. Although Lucy knows that M. Paul will die at the end, she places him at a distance, by never directly references his death. Instead, the autodiegietic voice gives energy to Lucy, by placing distance from M. Paul’s death. Hints of his death come upon the narrative, but it serves a way for Lucy to empower her narration by the surge of energy that accompanies such painful memories. Through these two different types of narrations, she re-writes and re-codes her narrative, making the narrative non-linear and uneven in its gaps and changes.
Many critics have discussed how pain and trauma function in the novel. Rachel Ablow disagrees to past concepts of sympathy in analyzing Lucy’s pain, but instead, argues that pain is a way that something can be felt that “makes the reader feel something […] offer[ing] a way to think about one’s own pain in reading as if it testified both to tone’s ineradicable solitude and also […] to the existence of another whose presence, absence, or suffering can be understood to cause it” (Ablow 2017, p. 74
). Gretchen Braun, states that through traumatic loss, Lucy develops as an individual by destabilizing a commonly known narrative, but it is only experiencing trauma by encountering many different characters that she achieves growth as an individual (Braun 2011, p. 208
). However, unlike Rachel Ablow, I use the powers of affirmation to analyze how trauma and pain form another function in the novel. Lucy uses pain as a driving force that brings positive energy which forms her nomadic narrative. The very reason why she could disassociate herself from different identities was due to the future self that places a distance to M. Paul’s traumatic event that empowers her to write her story. Unlike Braun’s analysis of Villette
that argues that loss allows linear growth in character, I argue that nomadic narrative uses positive energy from pain, for a nonlinear growth in character by the constant fracturing of subjectivity through narration. For instance, although she is met with painful circumstances, she uses mimetic voice (a different self from the future) to guide her to more positive circumstances, and using the autodiegetic future tense, she uses the distance from pain, to re-write about her recollections to create her own mapping of her identity and life. Instead of being rooted in the physical identity that may sustain this negative circumstance, her narrative techniques allow an individual to shift their identity to a site of multiple belongings. Moreover, Lucy reinvents herself by fragmenting and recreating her “worlding” through nomadic narrative.
Even from the beginning, we see the inner voice already guiding her to different physical locations. Lucy uses positive energies in the present tense to record her current thoughts and actions. After Miss Marchmont’s death, Lucy calls upon her “inner voice” to guide her, which eventually leads her to become a teacher at Madame Beck’s school. For example, Lucy uses her nomadic consciousness when she moves from Miss Marchmont’s house to London, she states, “some new power; it seemed to bring, I drew in energy” (Brontë 2008, p. 44
). It is from this point on that there is always an inner voice (mimetic) within Lucy that speaks instead of her. By speaking to herself, she seems to bring out energy and guidance. When she realizes that she has a possible opportunity in Villette, she again decides to physically move to Villette. With her physical movement, she states, “I must again move—in what direction? ‘Go to Villette,’ said an inward voice” (Ibid., p. 60). After the inner voice tells her to move to Villette, through her nomadic memory, she remembers what Ginevra had told her: “the slight sentence uttered carelessly and at random by Miss Fanshawe, as she bid me goodbye: I wish you would come to Madame Beck’s […] she wants an English gouvernante” (Ibid.). Lucy, in her mimetic present voice, narrates her own story through positive thinking and memory, which eventually allows her a stable social position.
Lucy also has an autodiegetic voice that re-creates the novel to form her own narrative and her own sense of the world. When the narrative contains gaps, Lucy supplements the narrative with examples that rather hint at the shipwreck of M. Paul. Instead of truly expressing her sexual repression caused by the loss of M. Paul, she puts M. Paul at a distance that gives her sexual energy that empowers her to write her narrative. For example, when Lucy has a term of respite between staying in the Bretton’s house and relocating as Miss Marchmont’s companion, Lucy alludes to a storm. She writes, “to this hour, when I have the nightmare, it repeats the rush and saltiness of briny waves in my throat, and their icy pressure on my lungs. I even know there was a storm, and that not of one hour nor one day” (Ibid., p. 35). The imagery of water being pushed down her throat is erotically violent, but what causes this storm is never stated. Instead, the shipwreck substitutes for the incidence that may have caused her pain and allows her to be in the position of Miss Marchmont’s companion. The surge of energy seems to resonate throughout the novel in instances like when she is staying at Madame Beck’s school. Lucy remembers, “Oh, my childhood! I had feelings: passive as I lived, little as I spoke, cold as I looked, when I thought of past days, I could feel. About the present, it was better to be stoical; about the future—such a future as mine—to be dead. And in catalepsy and a dead trance, I studiously held the quick of my nature” (Ibid., p. 109). She describes her current situation from the past voice, dictating that she could feel in the past, but not now, because the feelings are dead. After narrating this, Lucy alludes yet again to emotions and the shipwreck within her language such as, “at that time, I well remember whatever could excite—certain accidents of the weather, for instance, were almost dreaded by me, because they woke the being I was always lulling, and stirred up a craving cry I could not satisfy”. Within her diction of words such as “woke” and “stirred,” we can see certain repressed emotions surfacing which is followed by, “one night a thunder-storm broke; a sort of hurricane shook us in our beds” (Ibid.). The image that Lucy alludes to is one that seems to repress her inner desires, followed by the storm that releases her sexual energy. It is only in the end that we, as readers, understand that throughout the narrative, she was alluding to M. Paul’s storm in connection to her sexual energy. By re-writing her memory in this form, she places a distance to M. Paul’s traumatic event that empowers her to write her story. As Lucy erotically states, with many moments of “he is coming” to “Peace, be still! Oh! a thousand weepers praying in agony on waiting shores, listened for that voice, but it was not uttered—not uttered til, when the hush came, some could not feel it” (Ibid., p. 495). By using the mimetic present voice, Lucy positively narrates her story. On the other hand, she uses autodiegetic future voice to place M. Paul at a distance to empower her narrative.
4. Posthuman Aspects of Nomadic Narrative
The last and most radical aspect of nomadic narrative is the posthumanist elements of the novel in which the narrative fractures and de-centers the protagonist. The nomadic narrative that Lucy has created is almost like a Frankensteinian creation of her own. She has fractured and recreated a narrative that solely relies on her own narration. It is interesting to see the control she has on her own narrative, while allowing different aspects of the narration to be highlighted. In contrast to the equilibrium that the hero tries to sustain, the sustainability that Lucy wishes for in nomadic narrative is quite different. While her behavior may be unconscious, she is nomadically conscious in breaking down the barriers of viewing her world in bringing different subjects into light by de-centering herself as a character. The acceptance of her nomadic subjectivity, and re-creation of her worlding allows a sustainable environment for different characters (human and non-human) to be illuminated. In connection to the Lukács’ world making through narrative, I extend this notion of world to a posthuman one by discussing Braidotti’s “becoming-world.” The purpose of becoming-world is due to what Braidotti calls, the process of “defamiliarization” (Braidotti et al. 2013, p. 20
) which unbinds the past knowledges of the Eurocentric and universal man world. To become-world is to destabilize the centralization of figure and become a world that is “chasomos—the becoming world of subjectivity itself—as an open ended, interrelational, multi-sexed, and trans-species flows of becoming by interaction with multiple other” (Ibid.). Moreover, to become-world is to account for the fractured identities which include humans and nonhumans. Thus, in becoming-world, Lucy’s writing births the creation of a nonhuman space.
The world that is created by “nomadic narrative” is one that goes beyond the human centered narration, as the narration itself is opened and fractured, in its non-linearity, and can be translated into the concept of “becoming-world.” Instead of the mere concept of transnational narrative in which borders are crossed, nomadic theory’s powers of affirmation use its positive energy that works towards a world that is less centered on “atrocities as well as the contradiction of colonialism, fascism” (Braidotti 2012, p. 12
). Within the contemporary world, “becoming-world” becomes a skeptical concept because humans fear the arbitrariness of the boundaries between humans and nonhumans. It brings “new forms of wanted and unwanted intimacy” (Braidotti 2013, p. 107
). In connection to this fear, I explain how novels such as Jane Eyre
portray how humans equally fear being objectified as nonhumans and want to create boundaries against the “Others.” Gayatri Spivak asserts that the “axiomatics of imperialism” of the nineteenth century is embedded within cultural texts. According to Spivak, Jane Eyre
premises the notion of “the third world as distant cultures, exploited but with rich intact literary heritages waiting to be recovered” (Spivak 1985, p. 243
). For example, Spivak argues that Bertha is exploited as a third world woman who is seen almost as an animal, to highlight the human-ness of Jane (Ibid., p. 247). Through Kant’s concept of categorical imperative, she indicates that colonialism makes the “heathen into a human so that he can be treated as an end in himself” (Ibid., p. 248). That is to say, it produces a “terrorism of categorical imperative” that is masked under the concept of “universal moral law” (Ibid.). For instance, in Jane Eyre
, Spivak states, “Bertha’s function […] is to render indeterminate the boundary between human and animal and thereby to weaken her entitlement […] if not the letter of the Law” (Ibid., p. 249). The law is masked by this notion of universal moral law but, it is in fact, trying to control the individual. In Jean Rhys’ reinterpretation, however, Bertha fights back against the word “legally” because she is aware of the violence within the word that embodies imperialism. In the same way, I argue that Lucy in Villette
embodies these qualities of “terrorism of the categorical imperative” (Ibid., p. 248). Lucy, while teaching, comes across a student named Dolores, a Catalonian student, “who was sort of character at once dreaded and hated by all her associates” (Brontë 2008, p. 80
). Under the impression that she is a threat to all students with “broad strong eyebrows, decided features, dark, mutinous, sinister eye” (Ibid., p. 80). The way that Lucy locks Dolores into a closet to discipline her portrays aspects of imperialism embedded in the “terrorism of the categorical imperative.”
In my interpretation of Villette, I read the novel as a nomadic narrative by analyzing how the narrative contains different belongings of nonhuman others such as animals, weather, and even death. For example, Lucy is decentralized in the novel whereas her authorship creates a network for different types of nonhumans. There is evidence from the beginning of the novel that shows the human centered narrative shifting in focus to a posthuman one. Lucy in Volume 1 of Villette holds a shadowy presence that is almost non-human as she floats around, narrating other people’s stories, rather than her own. Dr. John describes Lucy, as “‘quiet Lucy’—‘a creature inoffensive as a shadow’” (Ibid., p. 317). It is no surprise when the ghostly form of Lucy comes out in a physical form as she wears a grey dress that she phrases “gown of shadow” (Ibid., p. 131). Continuously, she is represented as other people’s shadows as she observes and detaches from other people, rather than speaking about herself. In the beginning of the novel, Lucy narrates, “My godmother lives in a handsome house in the clean and ancient town of Bretton” (Ibid., p. 5). It is not until many sentences later that we get introduced to the personal pronoun “I” and the protagonist’s name, Lucy Snowe. Strangely, however, as Lucy gains various experiences from being a lady’s companion and a school mistress, she later on becomes a strong narrator of her own story. In the second volume, contrary to the detached narrative of the first volume, Lucy starts with, “Where my soul went during the swoon I cannot tell” (Ibid., p. 168) in which she directly confronts her own emotions after the storm. As she awakens from the storm, Lucy is met with “my calm little room seemed somehow like a cave in the sea” (Ibid., p. 181). Contrary to how she narrates her story as “the house and its inmates suited me” (Ibid., p. 5) in the beginning of the novel, she uses the personal pronoun “my.” For example, when she describes her own space as “my room,” in the Bretton’s house, she effectively shows the possession of her narrative. In parallel to her slowly acquiring presence, it is not a coincidence when she wears her pink dress that radically opposes the “shadow” dress she has worn before. Although she is not entirely comfortable with the pink dress and being identified as a coquette, Lucy’s presence shifting from a “shadow” to “pink,” portrays the shift from a “human” centered narrative to “non-human” figures like Lucy, able to have a narrative.
The decentralization on human characters becomes literal when animals are incorporated as the center object. Sylvie, M. Paul’s dog is one of the nonhuman subjects that Lucy identifies with, but also feels repulsed by. Lucy becomes a non-human, as she makes connection and multiple belongings with animals. Similar to how Lucy competes with Ginevra and Paulina for Dr. John’s love, Lucy must compete with a dog for M. Paul’s love. Within this competition, Lucy feels a repulsive uncanniness towards the dog. For instance, she feels fear because of the human-like qualities that she sees within the dog, and she must reject them, to identify herself as both more human and less coquettish. Lucy displaces human-like qualities onto the dog when she describes: “A delicate, silky, loving, and loveable little doggie she was, trotting at his side, looking with expressive, attached eyes into his face” (Ibid., p. 411). She describes Sylvie like a woman peering into the eyes of a man. She almost describes the dog as an angel-in-the-house whose sole purpose is to please a man. Lucy even goes to the extent of matching Sylvie as Paulina De Bassompierre: “She was very tiny, and had the prettiest little innocent face, the silkiest long ears, the finest dark eyes in the world. I never saw her, but I thought of Paulina de Bassompierre: forgive the association, reader, it would occur” (Ibid., p. 415). Lucy’s eerie uncanniness, in the words of Sigmund Freud
) is explained as, “[uncanniness] is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self” (Freud 1959, p. 235
). In this sense, Lucy feels a sense of uncanniness because she sees parts of Paulina in her, but she also fears that she may also come to identify with both Paulina and the dog. The situation itself is foremost, posthuman—in the sense that the dog becomes similar to the Lucy by attaining a narrative. Because Lucy sees Sylvie, the dog, as a rival, she feels jealous of M. Paul’s attention to Sylvie: “M. Paul patted and patted her; the endearments she received were not to be wondered at; she invited affection by her beauty and the vivacious life […] What! Had he promised never to address me more?” (Ibid., p. 416). The fear and anxiety Lucy embody come from the fear of becoming an “angel” like Sylvie who is modeled after Paulina. Lucy fears the patriarchal powers that may subsume her as also becoming nonhuman. Within this competition, Lucy feels a sense of abjection towards the dog. In Julia Kristeva’s terms “[t]he abject has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I” (Kristeva 1982, p. 1
). Abjection is when one feels repulsed or rejects something, to identify one’s self. But in this analysis of Lucy’s uncanniness and abjection in reading Sylvie to have human qualities, there is a danger to merely read this analysis as anthropomorphic. To view this narrative nomadically, I analyze how Lucy realizes her own minoritarian position by relating herself to the dog, thereby creating sustainability for both the human and nonhuman. For instance, after the jealousy imposed onto the dog, Lucy shares with Sylvie “the contents of a bonbonniere, which pleased him to see even a small matter from his hand duly appreciated. He looked at me and the spaniel while we shared the spoil” (Brontë 2008, p. 417
). By Lucy and Sylvie both being fed from the hand, Lucy accepts her dog-like, minoritarian position and becomes a cyborg, by embodying multiple belongings. In a sense, Villette
potentially shows the possibility of a network that allows a communal spirit by surpassing negativity of non-humans. In this way, although not completely, the novel starts to imagine a space that is sustainable for both humans and nonhumans.
Another way in which Villette
imagines a posthuman world is through weather. At a glance, the human and nature connection can be somewhat related to romanticism in works like Wordsworth and Coleridge. However, the posthuman vision of the world that I interpret through Villette
differs from the romanticist visions of the human and nature. Influential romanticists in the nineteenth century such as Wordsworth spoke of nature as a portrayal of the “privileged interiority of the mind” (Ron 2017, p. 29
), in which the “inside of the mind is turned through poetry” (Ibid., p. 30). Contrary to the de-centralization of Lucy in Villette,
Wordsworth speaks of the experiences that he has in the world around him. His engagement with nature differs from Villette
, since it is focuses on the recollections of the “youthful, innocent engagement” (Ibid., p. 30). Furthermore, nature became a source of nostalgic recollections that man experienced. W. J. T. Mitchell notes that romanticism also was interrelated with the countryside and nature in which the landscapes were considered as “‘beauteous forms’ of unchanging nature objects” (Mitchell 2009, p. 247
) in which the “‘spread out’ ... horizontal display as countryside” was viewed as a feminized counterpart that was “untouched and further called ‘virgin country’” (Ibid., p. 248). Villette
’s positioning of the woman within the actively deconstructs the means of man and nature by her gender identity, by not being a flat, passive landscape that men may have gazed at. Lucy’s narration is conscious of her marginalization and further allows the “other” marginal subjects and objects to be included, unbinding the male-centric vision of a universalistic world. For instance, instead of the centralization of a man experiencing weather, weather gives energy to Lucy, and in turn, Lucy influences the weather.
In the case of Jane Eyre
, Justine Pizzo re-interprets feeling through weather as a way of subversion against patriarchy. Through weather wisdom, Jane comes to “know the world by knowing its weather informs her transition from the predominantly female kinship structures in the early portion of her Bildung
” (Pizzo 2016, p. 90
). Jane uses weather to achieve a female kinship that allows her to escape situations when she is in danger. Moreover, Jane foresees situations by the moon watching over Helen and Jane, foreseeing how Miss Temple enters to comfort them. At the same time, however, the weather also brings out her inner emotions and the movement she makes also changes the weather accordingly. Pizzo argues that in contrast to a masculine sphere that forbids the feeling of emotions, being able to feel and control weather helps women achieve female agency in novels such as Jane Eyre
. For Lucy, the way environment functions differ. Weather gives energy to Lucy, but it does not work as a foresight. Rather, weather acts as an energizing force that has more presence than Lucy. Charlotte Matheison argues that, by Lucy exposing herself to the environment, she receives energy from the natural environment and becomes a part of the landscape. Matheison contends that Lucy’s mobility in the city is connected to her own body. Her body also “moves through, interacts, and feels the space around it” (Matheison 2017, p. 2017
). She states that Lucy’s mobility in the city “provides a variety of sensory stimuli which are seen, tasted, touched, and above all, felt through Lucy’s senses, which are heightened and stimulated by the city” (Ibid., p. 9). Matheison further mentions that Lucy moves within the environment, the environment is also influenced by her touch, as she states: “touch is noticed too when she feels a ‘chilly wind blowing in my face, and midnight-clouds dropping rain above my head (p. 56), introducing the natural environment as permeating through the city and into her bodily space” (Ibid.). Through Lucy’s mobility and sensory stimuli, she both feels energy through the environment and becomes a part of the environment. Furthermore, I would like to elaborate on Matheison’s argument of body by stating that weather influences Lucy the same way that Lucy influences weather.
In the instance when Lucy is in the forbidden alley (l’alle defendue
) the repression of her desires and emotion is set free. Initially, she is attracted to the place because she identifies her emotions with the gloomy atmosphere. She literally becomes part of the atmosphere when her repressed emotions are displaced onto the weather. The atmosphere excites the repressed emotions she had within her. What was once repressed comes out into the open as Lucy’s emotions are connected to the weather. For example, she describes how the weather was “wet and wild, pitch dark” (Brontë 2008, p. 109
)—but it is molded within her emotions. As she states the weather “woke the being I was always lulling” (Ibid.). And it is through the mixture of the weather and her emotions that her repressed anxieties are released. As the release is portrayed through the thunder bolts that were “too terribly glorious, the spectacles of clouds split, and pierced by white, and blinding blots” (Ibid.). It is then that she feels satisfaction that is directly reflected onto the weather. She states, “the cool peace and dewy sweetness of the night filled me with a mood of hope: not hope on any definite point, but a general sense of encouragement and heart’s-ease” (Ibid., p. 110). Through her release of anxiety onto the weather, we see her inner emotions being released. Such an interpretation correlates to a posthumanist environment where Lucy does not embody her own emotions but displaces them onto the environment.
Finally, in Villette
, death is an important factor within the posthuman aspects of nomadic narrative. Death is significant in distinguishing the human world and the posthuman world because death in the human world is an end, while in the posthuman world, it is not. To borrow the words of Braidotti, facing death within a posthumanist environment requires a “self-styling” of death in a positive manner (Braidotti 2013, p. 135
). To approach one’s life must be the same way as to approach death. Thus, Miss Marchmont’s inability to accept her lover’s death eventually results in her own death, resulting in a failure to “self-style” her own death. In contrast to Miss Marchmont’s failed “self-styled” death, Lucy’s acceptance of the death of M. Paul is different. Lucy is similar to her in still commemorating M. Paul’s death, but she does not let his death stop her from moving forward in life. Her acceptance of his death can be summarized as the following: “My school flourishes, my house is ready: I have made him a little library, filled its shelves with the books he left in my care” (Brontë 2008, p. 495
). Moreover, I read this instance as “becoming-world,” in the sense that M. Paul’s death also becomes part of Labassecour in his spirituality being part of Lucy’s library. She incorporates his presence by his spirituality, rather than viewing the physical death as the end of his presence. Such interpretation of death within Villette
helps to create a nomadic narrative. Because M. Paul’s presence still looms within Villette in a new manner, death is not a means of ending in Villette
; it is a beginning to new narratives. Lucy, although on the surface level may seem like Miss Marchmont, differs from her because she creates her own sense of community in the presence of death. She acquires her independence but does not dispose of her past altogether by creating a network of the different belongings she is combining all the experiences she has had onto this space of Villette. Finally, the hint upon the death of M. Paul fully summarizes Lucy’s nomadic narrative because she does not have to end
her own narrative. She does not have to explain her never resulting marriage, nor mark the end of her narrative, but she leaves the space for readers to continue to imagine her nomadic narrative.