It’s getting exciting folks! Lucilla can see, and now she can find new ways of troubling Mme P’s careful plans.
What did you make of the moment when our protagonist first takes off her bandages? First, before she can even make any plot-changing decisions, Mme P has the chance to see her eyes. They’re different, to be sure, but this “new life of sight” isn’t necessarily a positive addition to her face. Mme P describes the change as irradiating her face with “an awful and unearthly light.” Earlier in the novel, we get multiple characters comparing Lucilla’s perceptive abilities to superhuman or unearthly powers, but now her ability to see is also something other than human? Which is it? What is it about the change from blindness to vision that so transfigures her face for our narrator?
Another trend that I noticed in this particular group of chapters was a concern about Lucilla’s potential intimacy with her German doctor. Herr Grosse, we learn is not a man who follows strict medical boundaries. He does everything “by impulse,” which sounds quite a bit like our Lucilla, and then, when he comes back from London, Mme P finds them together in a suspicious position. He sits, “gloating” over the tools of his trade, while she stoops over his body, one hand placed “familiarly on his shoulder” and the other “deftly fingering one of his horrid instruments.” Scandalous, no?
I haven’t seen any implications that Herr Grosse and Lucilla could or would do anything to seriously damage her virtue, but Mme P isn’t the only one disturbed by implications of their intimacy. Later, we see Oscar irritable over the fact that the doctor can sit on a couch and speak quietly with his ladylove, while he’s forced to wait elsewhere. Even as Mme P insists, “it was plainly impossible” for Oscar to be jealous of a man “of Grosse’s age and personal appearance,” the very fact that she has to say so renders the threat oddly real.
We might also consider connecting the Herr Grosse threat with the central sexual duplicity of the novel. For Lucilla, Oscar and Nugent trade places, which means that a woman with unusually low physical boundaries could place herself in a sexual context with a man who isn’t her fiancé. At this point, we don’t know how the switch will play out. Perhaps it will all be resolved before Nugent and Lucilla have any opportunities for hanky panky, but for now, the threat remains. What are we to make not only of the fact that Lucilla is in constant sexual danger, but that the danger seems to increase when she gains her sight?
For next week: chapters 36-38. I’m looking forward to a bumpy ride!