Sunday, May 24, 2009

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Caution – longest review of all time, and some awesome girl fighting ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

Jane Eyre vs. Lucy Snowe – Which one was more like Charlotte Bronte?

Round One – Personality

“Who would love me?” asked Jane Eyre. “I am poor and little and plain.” That is Jane in a tiny little nutshell. She’s young and insecure, soft and pliable, untouched by love but from a rare friend. She’s an excellent teacher. People are drawn to her. On the surface she’s shy and unsure of herself, often naive – Hellooo, a psycho lady lived in her house how many months and she never figured it out? But still I was able to forgive her faults because almost immediately she lets you in. She was strong yet meek at the same time. Bad things happen to her, yet still she trusts; she hopes. Her heart is open.

Lucy Snowe is quite the opposite of Miss Jane Eyre. An older, street-wise version if you will. She’s generally friendless, an orphan with no living family whatsoever; she would rather be alone than pressed for company. Teaching is something she does because she must. By going to London and then to France all by herself, she shows us she’s able to swallow her fear and be brave. She’s wise, sarcastic and has caustic whit, barely able to contain her biting tongue, admitting “a disclaimer burned on my lips, but I extinguished the flame.” To stop it was “a hard submission.” Unlike Jane’s tiny nutshell, Lucy’s heart is locked within a giant clam, and like a stubborn mollusk, must be pried open with a big stick until finally the contents are revealed, and a tasty treat lies within for those that get to witness it.

Winner: Lucy by a swing to the nose. Perhaps Jane Eyre represents a younger, more naïve version of herself, but having written Villette towards the end of her life and right after the death of her last two sisters, Charlotte was definitely more melancholy and reflective. It shows in her writing. Having said it was her hardest book to finish, she was more honest I think, and I believed revealed more of herself through her pen than in Jane Eyre. Such poetry and deeply personal verse I shall probably never read again. It took a toll on me physically it was so heart felt and real.

Round Two - Taste in men

Cranky Mr. Rochester vs. the robot, St. John:
Do I love Mr. Rochester because he’s young and handsome, always happy, and makes his intentions known from the start? Does Jane? Seriously, there has rarely been a more difficult man inked in literature. He’s old and cranky, and according to Jane, not at all handsome. He refuses to coddle her, yet he teases her beyond reproach, toys with her as he tries to draw her out, grabs her and shakes her until finally she succumbs with a violent cry, “Do you think I am a machine with no feelings?” Mr. Rochester is unlike St. John in every way, the latter a handsome but cold, serious man who only needed a wife for his church work. He was hardly a hero to Jane’s heroine. In the end, she chose not the face, money or superior intellect. She chose those now infamous words, “Jane–my hope–my love–my life!”

The hot-tempered Monsieur Paul Emanuel vs. the conceited Dr. John Graham Bretton:
Lucy falls for the handsome doctor almost immediately, although she quickly talks herself out of it. His initial kindness when she was alone and friendless in a foreign country eventually does her in, but in the end he considers her a sister more than a love interest; a sister who always speaks truth. Her broken heart can only be mended when an unlikely, unfriendly savior appears in the form of a short, bald, fellow professor, by the name of Monsieur Emanuel. They fight almost every time they come in contact with each other. He frowns and scolds her more than he smiles. Yet, finally in the end she finds him more a kindred spirit than anything else. He doesn’t win her with words like Mr. Rochester does with Jane. He wins her with actions.

Winner: Sorry, but Mr. Rochester still reigns victorious. The passion, the fire within! Ah, be still my beating heart I love that man. Let us gaze upon him a brief moment...hmm.
But who would’ve Charlotte chosen?
It is generally known she fell in love with her French professor while attending his school in Brussels. But he already came attached with an unfortunate wife – whom Charlotte clearly makes fun of by mimicking her in a most unflattering main character in Villette. The woman quickly ended their relationship by supposedly tearing apart their letters in a jealous rage. Charlotte’s taste in men – she declined several marriage proposals - like her strong female characters clearly lacked in some areas. Perhaps Mr. Rochester was a combination of all the men in her life, and as an impossible standard, could never truly exist.

Charlotte did not decide to finally marry until after she was quite famous, to a poor curate in a country village, who persisted even though she kept rejecting him, and besides the fact that her father thought him beneath her intellectually. Based on how unattractive her male leads always were, I doubt he was much to look at. But he proved he loved her, and that was enough. She died within six months of their marriage while pregnant with her first child.

So after reading these two fantastic books, I’m convinced that Patrick Bronte had magical powers. He was a wizard, a sorcerer perhaps; something beyond this Earth, because only someone with special unworldly abilities could produce so many offspring with such astounding gifts, and outlive them all. Of course the Bronte children died young. God rarely suffers greatness of mind to leave His presence for long. They leave their mark, and then move forward without us; all the while our hearts pine for more. I count Villette among those left wanting. A must read for anyone who likes these outstanding women. 5 stars


TheBlackSheep said...

"Perhaps Mr. Rochester was a combination of all the men in her life, and as an impossible standard, could never truly exist."

Nooooooooooo! Don't say that! Hopes dashed, dreams ruined...

Seriously, I think she fell in love with the French prof because he was there. Had you put a Mr. Rochester next to said French prof, I'm sure the case would have been clear.

I didn't care for Villette as much as you did. It felt very dreary and hopeless to me, like happiness had been removed from the world. It might just be that I'm superimposing my general impression of Belgium onto the book though. I was there for a week once and it seemed as though everything in the country were grey.

However, I do agree that Villette has more of Charlotte in it than Jane Eyre does. Jane Eyre seems to me to be more of an ideal, while Villette sticks to reality. What we'd all love to have in comparison with what most people wind up with.

Good review!

Lula O said...

Between the two books, I definitely like Jane Eyre better. I liked the mysteriousness of it, and Mr. Rochester wins hands down of course.

But I liked Villette for different reasons entirely. It's more of an adult book, and I think because I'm getting older I appreciate it more. What you say about Jane Eyre being more of an ideal, while Villette sticks to reality, is a perfect way to describe the different writing styles. I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse into Bronte's life, however sad it may have been while she wrote this book. It was sad and satisying at the same time - if that makes any sense.
Thanks for commenting! And wow, you've been to Belgium? Kewlness!

Stephanie said...

I think your totally onto something here. You should make literary death matches a regular feature here. Next up: Mr. Rochester vs. Mr. Darcy perhaps? :)

Lula O said...

Ah, I should create a poll! Good idea. But who will I vote for?Hmm..super tough one. Both are hotties!

Anonymous said...

I adore Villette and I completely agree with you! The more I read the clearer it became and the more awe I felt. Lucy Snowe is such an interesting character in my mind. So intrinsically focused...

The dream of my heart: to write and achieve a standard that may represent our generation and inspire others as I have been! A steep goal, but a noble one I think. Bring back true literature! Bring back style and elegance and wit! Bring it all back!