Storms of Providence

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Storms of Providence

      In Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Villette, Brontë strategically uses the brutality and magnitude of  thunder storms to propel her narrator, Lucy Snowe, into unchartered social territories of friendship and love. In her most devious act, the fate of Lucy and M. Paul is clouded at the end of the novel by an ominous and malicious storm. By examining Brontë’s manipulation of two earlier storms which echo the scope and foreboding of this last storm — the storm Lucy encounters during her sickness after visiting confession and the storm which detains her at Madame Walravens’ abode — the reader is provided with a way in which to understand the vague and despairing ending.

            A long vacation from school precedes the first storm and it is during this vacation, where Lucy is left predominately alone, that the reader feels the full depth and emptiness of Lucy’s solitude. She says, “But all this was nothing; I too felt those autumn suns and saw those harvest moons, and I almost wished to be covered in with earth and turf, deep out of their influence; for I could not live in their light, nor make them comrades, nor yield them affection” (230). After a resulting fit of delirium and depression, Lucy attends confession at a Catholic church solely in order to receive kind words from another human being. It is at this low, after her leaving the church, that the first storm takes shape. Caught without shelter, Lucy falls victim to the storm’s brute force. She remembers that she “…bent [her] head to meet it, but it beat [her] back” (236). However, though appearing destructive, this overpowering force serves to deliver her into the hands of Dr. John and his mother, Mrs. Bretton, Lucy’s godmother from youth. Mrs. Bretton’s subsequent revelation of Lucy’s identity opens the door to a much needed intimacy for Lucy. Because of this new companionship, Lucy is able to say that she “…had been satisfied with friendship — with its calm comfort and modest hope” (304). Without Lucy’s time spent at La Terrasse because of falling victim to the storm, this intimacy may never have been reclaimed and the check to Lucy’s loneliness may never have occurred.

            After many months a second tempestuous storm ravages Villette and draws Lucy into another intimate, yet unexpected bond. Throughout most of the novel, Lucy finds M. Paul to be moody and unreasonable. She states, even after their friendship appears tighter following the delivery of her watchguard to him, “In a shameless disregard of magnanimity, he resembled the great Emperor [Napoleon]” (436). It is not until Pčre Silas details M. Paul’s history to Lucy that she can begin to truly understand M Paul’s peculiar character. After this explanation, Lucy’s view of M. Paul is transformed. She comments, “They showed me how good he was; they made of my dear little man a stainless little hero…What means had I, before this day, of being certain whether he could love at all or not? I had known him jealous, suspicious; I had seen about him certain tendernesses, fitfulnesses… this  was all I had seen…And they, Pčre Silas and Modeste Maria Beck…opened up the adytum of his heart” (491).

            However, Lucy would have easily escaped without the knowledge of M. Paul’s humanity had a large storm not occurred detaining her at the home of Madame Walravens. Lucy narrates, “Down washed the rain, deep lowered the welkin; the clouds, ruddy a while ago, had now through all their blackness, turned deadly pale, as if in terror. Notwithstanding my late boast about not fearing a shower, I hardly liked to go out under this waterspout” (482). Consequently, the old priest, Silas, finds Lucy waiting out the storm on the staircase and invites her back into the house. From him and through the painting on the wall of Justine Marie, M. Paul’s lost love, Lucy learns of M. Paul’s tragic history. Again, the occurrence of a violent and seemingly victimizing storm transforms Lucy’s life by leading her into a state of deeper intimation with a man she may otherwise never truly have known. 

            Therefore, by examining the similar consequences of the ravaging storms mentioned in the novel before the storm which shrouds the fate of Lucy and M. Paul, one can see that Brontë may have created a precedent for how the reader should understand the meaning of such a storm in the context of her novel. In both examples, the storms have appeared dreadful and limiting to Lucy, pushing her down or keeping her in from the move she wished to make. Yet neither have dreadful or limiting consequences. Instead, they lead Lucy into closer unions, with others as well as with herself. The storms lead her to people with whom she will come to love. They allow her to release her own stormy passions and to give them life. As Lucy says of M. Paul after falling in love with his true character, “He was roused, and I loved him in his wrath with a passion beyond what I had yet felt” (581). Hence, when Lucy speaks of the last storm with words such as, “Not till the destroying angel of tempest had achieved his perfect work, would he fold the wings whose waft was thunder — the tremor of whose plumes was storm”, the description seems to imply a violent and ominous outcome (596). What good can come from destruction? Yet, notice the words “angel” and “perfect” in this last quote as well. We have seen ‘what good’ can come from a destructive tempest for Lucy and in such fashion, we can only assume that this good will come again. Lucy will be further united to her dear M. Paul and to herself. Brontë has outlined this as the form to be followed and as readers, we must optimistically obey.