The Manifestation of Neurosis in Bronte’s Villette

Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, first published in 1853, tells of the life of its protagonist, Lucy Snowe.

  Set in England and Villette during the middle part of 1800’s, it tells of the struggles of Ms. Snowe, who was born into the upper middle strata of society, and who, during the course of her life was forced to work manual labors to meet her needs, and in the process, meeting people and relatives that had become special in her life.  Later to become one of Madam Beck’s trusted and most competent teachers in her exclusive girls’ school, the story enters its conflict stage, focusing primarily with the mental and emotional tensions that Lucy Snowe was forced to endure and the coping-up mechanisms her persona had utilized in dealing with them.Doctor Arthur JanovDoctor Arthur Janov is one of the leading psychologist-psychiatrists of the modern age.  He has authored numerous books dealing mainly with the abnormalities and irregularities of the human psyche.  Some of them are: The Janov Solution: Lifting Depression through Primal Fear; Primal Therapy; Why You Get Sick, How You Get Well; The Biology of Love; and La Guerison Primale, among others (Janov, 1).During the course of this paper, we shall try to employ Dr. Janov’s teachings in assessing Ms.

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Snowe’s seeming psychological predicaments, especially on what seemed to be visions or haunting of an ethereal nun.According to Dr. Janov, neurosis may be termed as, “the defense against catastrophic reality in order to protect the development and psychophysical integrity of the organism” (Janov, 1).  In his books, he teaches that humans are primarily creatures of need.  In our infancy, we express our Primal Needs by reaching up when we need to be carried, kicked our legs, and cried when we want our needs to be addressed.

  When his needs are continued to be ignored, either by chance or otherwise, a reflexive move occurs, known as Split; it is the deliberate separation from one’s needs in order to block too much pain (Janov, 1).Each time a child fails to do what his parents expects of him, such as getting straight A’s in school, or in excelling in various fields in order for his parents to have a gifted child, and each realization that he needs to be what he is not to be loved, tensions in his persona occurs, in forms of deep emotional pains, or Primal Pain (Janov, 1).  The eventual accumulation of Primal Pains, often too much for the child’s mental propensity to carry, and usually lasting for decades, is known as the Primal Pool, and it results in a child’s being unreal, thus being neurotic.The continued denial of Primal Needs, and as the persistent tension to his system accumulates, an impending Major Primal Scene occurs.  Arthur Janov terms this as:A time in a young child’s life when all past humiliations, negations, and depravations accumulate into an inchoate realization, it shifts the balance between real and unreal and render the child neurotic.

  He acts unreal—in a short time the neurotic behavior becomes automatic. (1)The prevalence of this characteristic, as stressed by Janov, does not have to be traumatic.  It may be triggered by something as common as the previous-thousand rejections.

  It is also not a conscious or deliberate mechanism, yet is in fact detectable when the child starts acting-out, initially when with his parents, and later elsewhere, in the way what is wanted of him, and not in the way he really wanted to (Janov, 1).VilletteIn Charlotte Bronte’s book, Villette, the protagonist, Ms. Snowe, had shown within her character symptoms of the presence of neurosis.  Particular instances seem to provide more than hints of the existence of such a case, which had clearly shown of her seeming perception of living in two worlds: one imaginary and one that is real; and of the sessions of disorientations of her senses and thoughts on the real world, resulting in hallucinations and sessions of visions of a phantom nun in her waking hours.However, her state of neurosis would seem to prove temporary, or at the very least the author opted not to divulge upon her readers additional solid proofs of a permanent case.

  However impermanent her neurosis seemed to last, flashes of its manifestations within the novel would suffice for us to delve deeper, and through the assistance and guidance of Doctor Janov’s neurosis tenets, we shall try to expound on the reasons and the relative desires associated with each occasion of neurosis—this being the phantom of a nun-ghost.One such instance can be found in chapter 15 of the novel, wherein, as if in a trance or in a half-dead state, Lucy had ventured out of the school, not fully knowing where she is heading, and seemed to have had lost all her senses of reality.  This happened after she had been left alone with a cretin, a cripple, mute, inutile girl who could not even attend to her own personal toiletries.  As was resultant with the long period of time she had been trapped to live with the cretin, her desire for freedom had manifested only after she had been freed of the arduous task of caring for the cretin.  This incident may be taken as a prelude to her bout with neurosis, which only now has started to manifest its symptoms.

  As was mentioned in the earlier page, the Primal Need for love and acceptance coupled with her desire for these, would seem to have been the main factors in Lucy’s predicament, as she had stated, “that insufferable thought of being no more loved—no more owned, half-yielding to hope of the contrary—I was sure this hope would shine clearer if I got out from under this house-roof (Bronte, ch. 15).  Based on the events preceding this prelude to Lucy’s neurosis, it would seem to be clear that the hardships, plus the loneliness in her being trapped with the cretin was the Major Primal Scene, the last straw, so to speak, that instigated the instability of her sanity.

Also worth noting in chapter15 would be the church scene, wherein Lucy, seeming very confused and insensible for no apparent reason at all, had managed to drag herself to a Catholic Church and ask for a priestly advice in a confessionary, despite her being a Protestant.  Father Silas, the priest, did not fail to take notice of Lucy’s state, describing her as being sick (Bronte, ch. 15), and later, whence after deciding on following her outside the church, proved himself correct by seeing her fall unconscious before the staircase.  The intensity of Lucy’s incoherence and bewildered state in this scene would be, to be most conservative, tantamount to lunacy.In chapter 22, Lucy Snowe, while reading the mail given her, was in a dark room, alone, and exceedingly excited in finally able to read the letter of her much-loved, Doctor John.  The tension and excitement built by this incident was preceded by an altercation with the very feisty M. Paul, her superior-teacher who had publicly reprimanded and humiliated her in front of her class because of the letter, causing her to break down unashamedly.  The sudden apparition of the phantom nun in the very room where Lucy was secretly reading her letter had caused her tremendous mortal fear, causing her to scamper from the room.

This would seem to insinuate that because of the pressure of having to be dealt with humiliation in front of her class by M. Paul, her already-feeble state of mind had to recourse to certain imaginations in order to escape the painful emotions caused by the incident, here taking the form of a phantom nun.  As such, the Primal Pain of debasement witnessed by many had overshadowed the joy, which is a Primal Need, brought forth by her receiving the letter, adding yet again an unwarranted experience to her baggage of sad experiences, or Primal Pool.  Ms. Lucy’s decision to retreat to a dark room, to secretly and privately savor the moment, may be considered as nothing unusual to her persona; that it was typical of her to result to such actions whenever giggly moments such as this come her way, a typical Major Primal Scene.During the scene where Dr.

John is comforting Lucy as a result of the apparition of the nun in chapter 22, one is inclined to question the manner in which John, being a doctor, had used words as his tool for appeasing the terror in Lucy’s mind.  It would seem as though the doctor was not conversing with a woman of 24 years old, but to a child.  Perhaps the doctor was aware of the true condition of the mental state of Lucy Snowe as being near, if not already positive of neurosis.  Dr. John seemed to be trying to control, and was in fact successful, Lucy’s mortal fear which manifested in a form of a nun-ghost, by lessening the strength of fear overwhelming her and at the same time supplementing Lucy’s Primal Need for love, in the form of kind words, assurances, and promises of more love letters to come.Another clear manifestation of Lucy Snowe’s apparent neurosis may be found in chapter 26. Here, Lucy decides on burying the letters of her beloved John, in order to stop Madam Beck’s spying on her letters.

  She then accomplishes the feat, and soon afterwards the phantom nun appears again to her in the shrubs within school grounds, her chosen burial site.  This time, Lucy was not afraid and proceeded to confront the nun-ghost.  The ghost however, disappeared from her sight, leaving Lucy perplexed at the incident.Here, being annoyed at Madam Beck’s intrusion into her personal effects, Lucy decides on doing away with her beloved treasure, the five letters from John.  Reason would seem to have pushed Lucy into doing what she didn’t really want—to part ways with one of her sources of Primal Ned for love.  This act may have proved to be the psychological basis for the reappearance of the nun-ghost; a manifestation of her imagination, resultant from her conscious decision to act in defiance of her true self.

In all of the acts of Lucy Snowe in this novel manifesting of neurosis, the burial and the succeeding apparition of the nun-ghost best confirms the case.  The conflict within her persona, and the seeming dénouement, as witnessed in her confronting the phantom resulting in its disappearance, would clearly suggest the phenomena as purely existing only in her mind, hence psychological in nature.  As we have witnessed, in no other circumstance in this novel had the phantom reappeared itself after Lucy had decided on directly confronting her fear, perhaps unawares even to herself, that she had succeeded in remedying her temporary mental ailment, brought about by the accumulation of the traumas and rejections she had experienced in her life, and stimulated further by the challenges her recent job has taxed upon her.  Her apparent achievement of mental/emotional stability has been backed up by her strong demeanor on the prank played on her by Ms.

Fanshawe in chapter 39, wherein Ms. Fanshawe had deliberately made a replica nun-ghost to scare Lucy, resulting in the latter’s reaction of assaulting the replica head-on (Bronte, ch. 39).ConclusionAfter learning the principles pertaining to the teachings of Doctor Janov on psychology, with special emphasis on neurosis, we have become more aware of the possible conditions and the relative interconnectivity of reason and imagination/desire with a person’s primal factors such as needs, pain, and fear, to name a few, and the possible actions a person may involuntarily or automatically make in order to secure his survival.

Miss Lucy Snowe’s case in the novel Villette, filled with scant manifestations of neurosis, yet discernible enough for a student’s eye to detect, comes as a perfect piece for this lecture on neurosis.  The manifestations presented prove to be backed up with various possible causes for such instances of mental and emotional instabilities, and the dénouement after the conflict adds assurances of a predicament being ultimately resolved.Such was the case with Lucy and her apparitions of a nun-ghost, whose usual timing of appearances seemed to be preceded by a primal deficiency or a combination of them, and often times unknown to Lucy herself.  As with the first case in chapter 15, the cretin, where Lucy’s submerged over-fatigue on the chore of attending to the every need of the cretin manifested in the perceived initial symptoms of neurosis.  As with the case also in chapter 22, wherein Lucy had first seen the apparition of the nun-ghost, after being dealt with a traumatizing experience with the letter from Dr. John.  Here, a direct relation with reason and imagination was witnessed, aroused perhaps by the prolonged accumulation of Primal Pain, and resulting in Lucy’s Primal Pool to be filled to the brim, thus resulting in a Major Primal Scene, which, according to Dr. Janov, is most often involuntary; a instinctual response by an individual to shield himself from enormous suffering, that otherwise may result in fatal consequences (Janov, 1).

Works CitedBronte, Charlotte. Villette.

2009. 7 June 2009 <>Janov, Arthur.

Neurosis. 1991. 7 June, 2009 <>  



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