I am finally revisiting Charlotte Bronte. Villette is another book which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for (ahem!) about five years, so when Wallace of Unputdownables suggested the read-along, I knew that participating would inspire me to finally pick it up . It's been years since I read Jane Eyre, one of the first classics I really loved; strangely, I have yet to reread it. (Might be a perfect choice for an audiobook -- I love rereads in the car because I don't feel pressured to finish them quickly since I already know the endings). All I knew about this novel was that it is loosely autobiographical and has something to do with a teacher and Brussels or some such thing. Sometimes, it's best not to know too much about a novel before you start it, so as not to have preconceived notions, right?
I've actually finished more than 100 pages but am technically not supposed to comment on more than the first five chapters. It seems okay so far. Basically, this is the story of Lucy Snowe, a young lady with some sort of family difficulties -- I assume later on that she will have financial difficulties and love problems as well, because isn't that what most young ladies faced during the Victorian era? Well, in Victorian literature, anyway.
However, the first five chapters have very little information about Lucy, and this puzzled me. In the first chapter, we learn that young Lucy is having some sort of family issues and has been sent off to visit her godmother, a widow with a teenaged son, Graham. During her visit, a child of a relative has come to stay with the godmother, a little girl named Polly. Polly's mother died recently and her father is bereft, so Polly has come to stay while he gets his act together. He is traveling to France for business of some sort. Polly is naturally sad at having lost her mother and misses her father terribly, so she's kind of withdrawn and sad. The only one she really becomes attached to is Graham, who is about sixteen.
Basically, the entire first three chapters of this book is about Graham and Polly and their friendship as observed by Lucy -- we learn virtually nothing our narrator. I didn't even know how old she was but I'm going to assume she's in her early teens. I couldn't even figure out how old Polly was, but from the way she talked, I assumed she was about 10 -- until the book mentioned she's only six! Either Polly was incredibly precocious, or six-year-olds were much more mature back then. Or else Charlotte Bronte didn't know squat about six-year-olds. I have two daughters who are now older than six, and they never talked like Polly at that age. Well, Villette was written about 150 years ago, and times change, right?
Anyway, Polly finally leaves to join her father and the action shifts back to Lucy. I can only assume that Graham and Polly are going to resurface later in the book, or their relationship is somehow symbolic of something else that's going to happen. In chapter four Lucy is a destitute young lady working as a companion, and her life is a little bleak. She has to go and make her own way in this world. I was surprised that there was so little background about Lucy and her family.
The next few chapters do pick up a little and it's all about Lucy, but I'll save that for next week's post. I was a little bored with Polly but I'm optimistic about the rest of the book, and wondering if Polly and Graham show up again. If nothing else, this is a fairly fast read for a Victorian novel. Who knows, maybe I'll love this and I'll take a chance with Bronte's other two novels, The Professor and Shirley.
Has anyone else read this? Are you participating in the readalong? How do you like it so far? And what about the other Bronte sisters' works? I hated Wuthering Heights, liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I still haven't touched Agnes Grey, which is waiting patiently on the TBR shelf. It might be next!
The part at the beginning with Polly and Graham was the only part (of the half I read) that had any action or events at all. I really liked it during that part, but after that section it's all downhill from there...ReplyDelete
I've gotten to the part when Lucy goes to France and gets a job, but I like it so far. At least we're getting a little insight into Lucy's character. I'm intrigued to see what will happen.ReplyDelete
I used the word precocious to describe Polly, too. And I completely agree with you; what six year old uses the vocabulary and 'charms' that Polly does? Is it just a gap in eras, or is she that incrediably mature?ReplyDelete
I also agree with you that it's best not to know too much about a novel before reading it. Just like with the children I teach, I never look at their files until I've met them in person. I don't want my opinion to be formed by someone else's (often mistaken) point of view.
I read Villette at university as part of my dissertation (I wrote it on the Brontes) and I was blown away by it. It's such an emotional, powerful book. It's also very much about being on the sides of life and watching others - Lucy is always on the outside, looking in - which is why the first chapters focus on how Lucy is perceiving others rather than on Lucy herself. This will become more evident as you get further in. I do hope you enjoy it. As I said to Bellezza, I think it's actually a much better written and crafted book than Jane Eyre, but it's not a happy book, so it doesn't occupy the same place in my heart. It's a real emotional investment, but oh - is it worth it.ReplyDelete
I thought Polly was like a 40 year old walking around in a 6 year old's body. Her character really added some entertainment for me.ReplyDelete
I've never read Villette before, but in Jane Eyre there are several characters that seemed of very little consequence that reemerged later in the story, so we may see Polly and Graham again.
It's okay so far, for me. I do like Charlotte's writing style and the subtle supernatural elements she slips into the novel. I think I'll end up liking Lucy, but for now she is a mystery.ReplyDelete
If this had been on my shelf, I would have joined in (that pesky tbr dare!). My next Bronte will be The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Hope you enjoy Villette.ReplyDelete
I've never read this one, and have not had much success with the Brontes...maybe I'll need to join a read-along next time one comes up.ReplyDelete
Bellezza -- I found Polly a little obnoxious. If she reappears I hope she's a little easier to take. I have heard a little more about the book from other's reactions, but I'm trying not to let it affect my perception. I guess it's impossible to have some preconceived notions since I'd already read other Bronte books and I've read other Victorian authors as well.ReplyDelete
Booksnob -- I'm trying not to compare it too much to Jane Eyre. I do like it so far though, and I don't think I'm going to take the entire nine weeks to finish it. I'll have to write my updates as I go along and save them so I don't forget.
Whitney -- She DID seem like a 40 year old!! I was very surprised when the author mentioned she was only six! That's one of my pet peeves, when child characters talk like adults.
Anbolyn - I haven't noticed the supernatural elements so far, I think I need to pay closer attention. It doesn't strike me as Gothic as Jane Eyre but we shall see.
JoAnn -- If it hadn't been on my shelf already I'd have kept putting off the Brontes -- if I like this one I'll have to wait for Shirley or the Professor. I quite liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, it addresses some pretty surprising themes for a Victorian female writer. It's a serious book but it's well worth reading.
Jane Eyre is good as an audiobook. I have it read by Flo Gibson, whose kind-of-elderly voice doesn't capture Rochester, especially, but who reads it well in general.ReplyDelete
I read this a few years ago and was completely absorbed by the end. It has its ups and downs but I thought it was a fantastic novel overall.ReplyDelete
While I ended up enjoying Vilette, it wasn't because it was an awesome book, more because it felt so close to the author - I learned alot about C Bronte from it. I did like Shirley (though Amanda hated it!), though, so I recommend it if this one is flat for you. By the end, to me, this book just feels so bitter!ReplyDelete
Jeanne -- I've tried audiobooks by Flo Gibson and her voice just doesn't do it for me -- I think I need an English accent for British books. It's probably silly of me but I can't help it. I haven't done any Brontes on audio so maybe I should try Jane Eyre in the car since it's been so long since I read it.ReplyDelete
Kristen -- I like it so far. People seem to love it or hate it. I'm going to reserve judgment since I'm only about 1/4 of the way in.
Jason -- I would like to learn more about the Brontes. I might try Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte this year as well. I think I'm going to give Shirley or The Professor a try as well.
Just wait, Villette takes its time to gather emotional speed but when it does...! It has stayed in my mind ever since and I think I may like it more than Jane Eyre now. Not that they are the same though, it's more mature and sad. Also, from what I've heard, The Professor was Bronte's first novel and not that good. I'd go for Shirley next.ReplyDelete
Actually perhaps I need to rephrase that, it doesn't become a fast read, but while the beginning is rather emotionally flat, it gathers a lot of emotional depth as it goes along.ReplyDelete
I'd agree with that comment above, Villette takes time to get rolling - but before you know it you're totally involved. I've read it before and it truly is stunning - not as instant nor does it have the suspenseful hooks of Jane Eyre, but its power is undeniable.ReplyDelete
For my money, The Professor is a very underrated little book - and I found it very funny; Charlotte writes as a man really well I thought. Shirley on the other hand can be a tough cookie, although it has some strong characters to make it worthwhile.
I'm very surprised at just how many commenters in the readalong talk about Polly's precociousness. I've never thought about it before. Charlotte does discuss a little about how Polly mangles her language in trying to talk like an adult, but she doesn't write Polly's dialogue specifically like this all the time. Maybe that's the reason. Or maybe it's that the Victorian speech patterns were so very different to now. Either way, it's very intriguing...