In Chapter 14 of Villette, what is the significance of Lucy's acting?

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Lucy's acting is entirely appropriate to her character, as she spends much of the story playing several different, often competing, roles as part of her ceaseless attempt to forge a distinct identity for herself. As Lucy herself notes:

I seemed to hold two lives—the life of thought, and that of...

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Lucy's acting is entirely appropriate to her character, as she spends much of the story playing several different, often competing, roles as part of her ceaseless attempt to forge a distinct identity for herself. As Lucy herself notes:

I seemed to hold two lives—the life of thought, and that of reality; and, provided the former was nourished with a sufficiency of the strange necromantic joys of fancy, the privileges of the latter might remain limited to daily bread, hourly work, and a roof of shelter.

Lucy's role-playing in the story, both as spectator and participant, is a way for her to escape the psychological repression that she has been subjected to throughout her whole life. Acting the part, both literally and figuratively, allows Lucy to explore in greater depth her fractured self as a prelude to the construction of a new, distinctively feminine self that transcends the stultifying social conventions of nineteenth-century society.

In her stage role, Lucy gets to express herself and her true feelings with a degree of frankness and honesty that would be unthinkable in the world beyond the stage. On this reading, the theater provides a haven from the repressive social world. Here, women like Lucy can subvert the established conventions and norms and free themselves, albeit temporarily, from the patriarchal structures and values to which they are subjected in their daily lives and expected to internalize.

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Chapter 14 explains how Lucy Snowe is drafted in last minute to replace an actress who was going to perform but was unable to because of illness. Once Lucy gets on the stage, she begins to settle into her role and to become aware of the other actors around her and of the audience. She becomes increasingly aware that Ginevra Fanshawe is acting and delivering her lines as a coquette to someone in the crowd: Dr. John, whom Lucy herself loves and has feelings for. In response to this, Lucy is "animated" with jealousy and throws the energy and emotions that she feels into her "role" on the stage of wooking the character of Ginevera. Note how Lucy tries to "outdo" Ginevra with regard to Dr. John:

In the "Ours," or sincer lover, I saw Dr. John. Did I pity him, as erst? No, I hardened my heart, rivalled and out-rivalled him. I knew myself but a fop, but where he was outcast I could please. Now I acted as if wishful and resolute to win and conquer.

In her longing to "eclipse" Dr. John and the way that he intrudes into the performance through the rival jealousies of Lucy Snow and Ginevra Fanshawe, Lucy gives an excellent performance that surprises even the demanding theatre master, M. Paul.

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