Villette was the Classics Spin #2 pick for me back in the summer, which means that I read it a while back so everything that happened (or didn't happen) in the book is not that fresh in my mind anymore; however, as this is a remarkable book in several ways, I want to write about it nevertheless.
This is not a happy book. Nor is it a particularly easy piece to read. But it is a good book and the kind that sucks you in if you manage to switch off everything around yourself and dedicate your time and energy to the text on the pages. If you know French a bit I'd say you are in a good place, there is a lot of French used in the book and it can be a bit distracting to keep browsing to the notes in the back of the book all the time. I speak no French at all.
Lucy Snowe is a character of the kind I have not met before in a book, I think. Her life is kind of sad; she is not blessed with wealth nor looks and she does not have much of family or friends. She is a governess, and an intelligent woman and with wise views, with curiousity towards the world and her own inner self. There are plenty of battles shown, of what is going on inside Lucy's head although if you would be looking from outside, you would probably not describe her as a passionate person. Lucy is very independent in her thinking and she does not want to rely on anyone or expect anything from anyone. In ways she can be very strict in her views (the whole topic of religion), but on the other hand she accepts the diversity and differences that the life creates (or does she sigh sadly and just take it as inevitability?) in a very mature way:
Religious reader, you will preach to me a long sermon about what I have just written, and so will you, moralist, and you, stern sage: you, stoic, will frown; you, cynic, sneer; you, epicure, laugh. Well, each and all, take it your own way. I accept the sermon, frown, sneer and laugh; perhaps you are all right: and perhaps, circumstanced like me, you would have been, like me, wrong.
The longer we live, the more our experience widens; the less prone are we to judge our neighbour's conduct, to question the world's wisdom: [...]
Lucy does not come off the kind of dreaming, romatic woman that is often encountered in literature. She can be rather snarky and blunt in her narrative:
Independently of romantic rubbish, however, that old garden has its charms.
I got the impression that she is a very sensitive person, but at the same time quite defensive towards the world. She is very self-reflective, but also, as a narrator, not completely reliable because she does not reveal everything at once.
The ending of Villette is controversial and although I would like to talk about it, I better not because, well, spoiling. It's the kind of ending that makes some people angry because perhaps they do not get what they were after when reading this book, but I personally loved it. I think it is the type of ending that respects the intelligence of the reader.
If you read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and loved it, I would encourage you to pick up Villette, but whether and how much you would enjoy it is unknown. It is a very different book, much deeper and darker, and more difficult to follow; if you like Jane Eyre mainly because of romance, then I am not sure you will get the exact same thing from Villette; however, if you like well-written and deeply character-driven books then this one is an excellent choice.
Ah, French, I hate it when it's abundant in books. I remember how nearly impossible it was to read some chapters of War and Peace, where footnotes with translations took half of the page... I love the citations you've highlighted! When I was little, I enjoyed only the romance in Jane Eyre, but this year I re-read it and saw so much more there that romance was just overshadowed. I guess Vilette will be quite enjoyable!ReplyDelete
Ah yes, from browsing the beginning of War and Peace I remember the horror of long passages in language I didn't understand *shudder*Delete
I had exactly the same experience with the re-read of Jane Eyre in the beginning of this year. Villette is very different though and shows so much more of Bronte's abilities.
This book is quite possibly my favourite book, ever. I saw a lot of myself in Lucy and so I really connected with how secretive and defensive she can be at times. I'm glad that you liked it.ReplyDelete
Lucy was quite relatable for me as well, especially in the way that she seemed to live everything through inside and not outwardly. I was so happy to read from the viewpoint of such a unique and different character.Delete
You know, I kind of hate Jane Eyre.... but I wonder if I should give Charlotte another chance. You make it sound so interesting!ReplyDelete
It would be interesting to see what you think of Villette- it's so different from Jane Eyre!Delete
I'm always glad whenever I see this book mentioned! Although I love Jane Eyre, I like Villette because it's completely different. It's so wonderfully dark and intense.ReplyDelete
I completely agree. I like both books but for very different reasons.Delete
I love this book. It is so fascinating - I have no other word for it, it's just unlike anything else I read (and unlike anything I expected from it). I think large part of it was Lucy's voice. Like you, I don't think I've met a character quite like that before.ReplyDelete
Yes, I think Villette was all about Lucy. Very strong characterisation by Charlotte Bronte.Delete