Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The “Surveillance of Désirée”: Freud, Foucault, and Villette


Like many other seventeen-year-olds, Miss Ginevra Fanshawe in Charlotte Bronte's Villette (1853) practices self-reflexive, generic word play as she characteristically “substituted this word ‘chose’ in temporary oblivion of the real name. It was a habit she had: ‘chose’ came in at every turn in her conversation — the convenient substitute for any missing word in any language she might chance at the time to be speaking” (115–16; ch. 6). Ginevra's word choice appears by no means accidental in this text riddled with (often bilingual) word-play substitutions, what Mary Pollack in a different context terms the novel's “rich matrix of conflicting insights about the nature of language” (54). In fact, chose seems a repeated code word for the enigmatic x, or thing itself, “the thing, the spirit, and the secret itself” (557; ch. 38), which Lucy sees in Paul and which lovers, metaphysicians, and literary theorists alike nostalgically, if not narcissistically, long to re-present. The word most often substituted for “thing” in the text is “shape,” like the “dark, usurping shape” (569; ch. 39) of the spectral nun, the problem being, however, that every such double or “daemonic shape” (Freud 143) uncannily either erases itself or serially forks into other metonymic representations which problematize any homesick quest for origins. Even the “shapes” of the “paving-stones,” which Lucy pointedly re-members a year later at the “very threshold” (305; ch. 21) of the entrance of Madame Beck's Pensionnat, only provide a kind of liminal entrancement, another abyssal signifier uncannily signifying uncertain values.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Ali Behdad . “Visibility, Secrecy, and the Novel: Narrative Power in Brontë and Zola.Literature, Interpretation, Theory 1 (1990): 253–64.

Christina Crosby . “Charlotte Brontë's Haunted Text.” Studies in English Literature 24 (1984): 701–15.

Luann McCracken Fletcher . “Manufactured Marvels, Heretic Narratives, and the Process of Interpretation in Villette.” Studies in English Literature 32 (1992): 723–46.

Mark Hennelly . “‘In a State Between’: A Reading of Liminality in Jane Eyre.” Victorian Literature and Culture 22 (1995): 103–27.

Rosemary Jackson . Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. New York: Methuen, 1981.

Karen Lawrence . “The Cypher: Disclosure and Reticence in Villette.” Nineteenth-Century Literature. 42 (1988): 448–66.

Joseph Litvak . “Charlotte Brontë and the Scene of Instruction: Authority and Subversion in Villette.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 42 (1988): 467–89.

David B. Morris Gothic Sublimity.” New Literary History 16 (1985): 299319.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 50 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 464 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.