Sunday, July 10, 2011
My Year of Seclusion and Charlotte Bronte's Villette
Over three years ago, I lost my father. This had a huge impact on my tolerance for the stumble stones of life. Prior to his passing, though I could not have named it, I felt a sense of confidence in my choice of vocation as an artist. Like so many things in life, only when his day-to-day presence was withdrawn, did I understand thoroughly what he had given me. He was, among many other things, my emotional patron. You see, as an artist, I could do without many things; I could live on a modest income; I could squeeze blood from a rock, if I had to. So I wasn't really on a search for a patron of the arts, in the usual sense of the word. Yet, with him gone, I came to the realization that he was and always had been, my emotional patron. And with him gone, and that emotional patronage removed from my life, I experienced a serious loss in confidence. Why had I chosen this artistic path? What made me think I could or would succeed at something which, for many, is viewed as a triviality. My reaction to this loss of confidence was to seclude myself. And though I continued to create art daily, I shared it with no one. I made no motion towards offering my supposed gifts to the world. This may seem, by some, to be a selfish act; to create but not share. But at the time, I just could not conceive of doing it any other way. I had to create; this kept me from drowning in my own grief. But there was no law to force me to share what I created. This self imposed privacy began eventually to impact, not only my artistic career, but also my personal life. I had no wish to see people, beyond the necessity of being in the work force during the perfunctory nine to five window. (With the exception of those few people nearest and dearest to me.) But most every night, at least six nights out of seven, were spent in isolation as I wrote, or hand sewed, or cooked, or tidied up the house or watched another episode of The Gilmor Girls. My husband works nights and his schedule suited me quite perfectly. I began to feel awkward and strangely out of place whenever I did occasionally find myself in social situations. I began to feel that I had no social graces, no eloquence, nothing of value to add to the conversation.
Something eventually came along to catapult me out of this hermitage. And that is all well and good but until reading Charlotte Bronte's Villette, I thought of myself as flawed. Otherwise, I would have not let this happen. How could I have let myself go so far and so long in isolation? I would have picked myself up by the bootstraps and embraced life, the way it is meant to be embraced.
Thank goodness for my friend Alanna (who is herself an artist and creates exquisite paintings), who recommended that I read Villette. How could she have known the impact that book would have on me? In the novel, the narrator is the voice of Lucy Snowe, a young woman who struggles with her own dark corners and her own depression. She is also wise, this Lucy Snowe. She observes and writes her interior world with a ruthlessly honest pen. Lucy Snowe has given me a fresh view into my own year where I closed the windows and bolted the doors to the bustle and business of life.
I admit, somewhat reluctantly did I begin to read Villette. I thought nothing could ever or would ever compare to Jane Eyre and I was prepared for disappointment. Villette drew me in slowly but ultimately, with just as much force and depth as Jane Eyre. Allow me to share one small excerpt from Bronte's novel Villette; the excerpt that helped me view my year of being a hermit in a new light.
“Those....whose lives have fallen amid the seclusion of schools or of other walled-in and guarded dwellings, are liable to be suddenly and for a long while dropped out of the memory of their friends, the denizens of a freer world..... The letter, the message once frequent, are cut off; the visit, formerly periodical, ceases to occur; the book, paper, or other token that indicated remembrance, comes no more. Always there are excellent reasons for these lapses, if the hermit but knew them. Though he is stagnant in his cell, his connections without are whirling in the very vortex of life. That void interval which passes for him so slowly that the very clocks seem at a stand and the wingless hours plod by in the likeness of tired tramps prone to rest at milestones- that same interval, perhaps, teems with events, and pants with hurry for his friends. The hermit- if he be a sensible hermit- will swallow his own thoughts, and lock up his own emotions during these weeks of inward winter. He will know that Destiny designed him to imitate, on occasion, the dormouse, and he will be comfortable; make a tidy ball of himself, creep into a hole of life's wall, and submit decently to the drift which blows in and soon blocks him up, preserving him in ice for the season. Let him say, “It is quite right; it ought to be so, since so it is.” And, perhaps, one day his snow-sepulchre will open, spring's softness will return, the sun and south-wind will reach him; the budding of hedges, and carolling of birds and singing of liberated streams will call him to kindly resurrection.”