Tuesday, March 06, 2018
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Posted by JaneGS
Villette was a solid four-star novel, a classic, but reader, it was no Jane Eyre.
I've read a lot about Charlotte Bronte's life and work although until Villette, I had only actually read Jane Eyre...multiple times. I knew that it was her last novel and that once again she tried to tell the story of her life in Brussels as a young woman and her unrequited passion for her teacher, Monsieur Heger, and her jealous rage against his wife, Madame Heger.
The writing in Villette is better than the plot, which is filled with coincidences and, apart from the two main characters, Lucy Snowe and Paul Emmanuel, peopled by rather two-dimensional characters. The story Charlotte Bronte wanted to tell required plot gymnastics because, I believe, her real motivation was catharsis rather than the need to tell a story of the human condition. She needed to rewrite her own personal history in such a way to prove to herself that she was loved by the man she loved, she had been chosen and not rejected.
I've been reading Hemingway lately and so top of mind for me is that Villette is not a honest story. Charlotte Bronte created a story of star-crossed lovers, thwarted first by Paul's cousin, Madame Beck, by Catholicism (not just the fact that Lucy is Protestant and Paul is Catholic, but personified by Pere Silas), by misplaced family obligation (Paul is sent to save the family fortunes in the Caribbean), and finally by Nature herself. All this to explain away the fact that she (Charlotte Bronte) fell in love with a married man--actually I think it was more transference and infatuation than love.
I am glad I read Villette. It shows Charlotte Bronte's skill as a writer, but it suffers from a lack of honesty, something that shines through in Jane Eyre.
Book 2 in the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge!