Saturday, January 12, 2013

What I really thought about Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Villette was written by Charlotte Brontë at an important juncture in her life. It was written at a time when she lost everything, most notably her mother. She was also the only one of her siblings to survive until adulthood. Charlotte was very affected by these deaths, as shown in the sullen mood that settles throughout the book that surely must have been written as a kind of catharsis.

Charlotte and her sister Emily once taught together at a boarding school, where she is said to have fallen in love with a professor, presumably much like M. Emanuel. Her publisher, and at one point suitor, is said to very probably have been portrayed in the novel as Dr. John Bretton. She writes heavily about these characters, maybe even more so than her protagonist. The novel is very, very much a story of these characters, and sometimes it just feels as though Lucy is telling us all about them and nothing about herself. Charlotte came back alone after the death of her mother to teach, and her stay was full of loneliness and unhappiness.

Villette is not an easy novel. The tone is almost always gloomy, yet Charlotte is very deliberate in this. I noticed while reading that you can easily see that she means exactly what she is saying. She is putting so much emotions into the words she chooses it is palpable. A great example is shown here:

"...the negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness
I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives - the life of thought, and that of reality."

Main character, Lucy Snowe, says this and I felt the pain. The only life Lucy can imagine that is not miserable is not to be happy, but to just be not in suffering. Even more, she can only imagine this life, never reach it. It was just plain sad, for me, as I truly liked and empathized with Lucy from the beginning. I was still waiting for this dark cloud to be lifted.

This was the part that left me just putting down the Kindle and having to think for awhile. "Finally, finally!" I thought. I was dangerously approaching the very end of the book, and Lucy and M. Emanuel have begun relationship, to which I was thrilled. This happiness was quickly shot down when Lucy waits for M. Emanuel for years while he is at sea, and he never returns. Although Lucy allows the reader an out, to imagine a happier ending, I couldn't help but know it, as much as I didn't want to, that M. Emanuel had died.

This was the hardest for me. To see Lucy first love the likable and kind Dr. Bretton, a man she has known for so much of her life, and watching him marry another woman. Then Lucy falls in love with M. Emanuel, and he leaves her too, in death. It was very depressing to also know that this is how Charlotte must have really felt while writing such a novel, only to have it end in despair.

Villette took me a long time to read, and in return I gave the story a long time to mull over in my mind. For me, it wasn't a book I was completely hooked on, it was a book that was something I totally did not expect in terms of mood, and it was just not capturing my attention. I read a lot of books in between  but I didn't give up on it. I'm glad that I didn't, too.

No, Villette was not the book that my all time favorite Jane Eyre was (but, knowing myself, it was likely because of the less-than-happy ending and lack of marriage that I was way too hopeful for). However, that doesn't mean that I don't classify Villette as one of the greatest books I have ever read. Reading it right around the time I was working on my NaNoWriMo, I was constantly appreciating the symbolism, the imagery, and the structure and style of the novel. I enjoyed it monumentally from that perspective. But, I mean, come on, how could you not be hoping for a Mr. Rochester?

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