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15 February 2009 @ 09:09 pm
Villette, Charlotte Bronte

Especially for parthenia14. I will totally read books just for someone else’s vicarious pleasure when I bash them - provided the library has them in stock, that is.

George Eliot liked this book. WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED. After all, for every ten pages written, four were useless, pointless, annoying crap. Geegee can empathise; for every ten pages SHE wrote, nine and three-quarters were useless, pointless, annoying crap. And that's being generous.

Of course, I only say Lucy is a whiny little bitch because she reminds me so much of myself (and that's definitely one of my more notable characteristics, there).

This book is an AWFUL PITY. That's all I can say about it. I think it's an acknowledged autobiography because there's nothing else to be done with it; too, too clearly it was Bronte's way of expunging her devils and reconciling herself with her past. Observe how the actual plot points - her affection for Graham, not even noticed by him; the gradual bloom of her relationship with Paul, NOT EVEN SHOWN - were brushed aside to make room for those serpentine, baffling passages about religion and metaphysics. (Note that they were not, of themselves, baffling to me - it's just that they required far too much concentration for a work of fiction, or in the context of the story. I had to use my medical textbook level of concentration with those parts. Ew.)

If Bronte could have stepped back just a little - divorced herself even slightly from Lucy Snowe - this would have been a fine story. I don't think I've ever read a book so skilled at evoking the feelings of inadequacy and unloveableness that I lived with for most of my life. Even the way Lucy feels triumph and freedom when she (apparently) discovers that Paul's affections are engaged elsewhere, soon followed by a crashing fall to the depths of misery - HI, I KNOW THAT SO WELL. When Lucy works with every fibre to conceal, put away, stamp on her feelings for Graham, yet still retains a kernel of hope - she wrote my LIFE, here.

What was so disheartening was that Bronte didn't alleviate this one jot. How much more the book would have been if Paul's supplantation of Graham in Bronte's affections, and the growth of their regard, was presented as the most important part of the book - as opposed to her mental grapplings and that hilarious religious controversy. Imagine thinking of Jesuits as sneaky spies! How times have changed.

The other huge shame is that Bronte never indulged her superlative talent for caustic humour. Lucy Snowe could have been a second Lizzie Bennet, had Bronte not been so navel-gazing with Lucy’s characterisation. I mean, read these quotes!

"How do I look - how do I look tonight?" she demanded.
"As usual," said I; "preposterously vain."

I have had a continental education, and though I can't spell, I have abundant accomplishments.

She lay half-reclined on a couch; why, it would be difficult to say; broad daylight blazed round her; she appeared in hearty health, strong enough to do the work of two plain cooks; she could not plead a weak spine; she ought to have been standing, or at least sitting bolt upright. [...] out of an abundance of material - seven-and-twenty yards, I should say, of drapery - she managed to make inefficient raiment.

[...] being paired with Ginevra Fanshawe, bearing on my arm the dear pressure of that angel's not insubstantial limb - (she continued in excellent case, and I can assure the reader it was no trifling business to bear the burden of her loveliness; many a time in the course of that warm day I wished to goodness there had been less of the charming commodity)

"I black my boots," pursued he, savagely, "I brush my paletot -"
"No, monsieur, it is too plain you never do that," was my parenthesis.

Now for some other randomness.

"Very likely. Wise people say it is folly to think anybody perfect; and as to likes and dislikes, we should be friendly to all, and worship none."

This is where Lucy Snowe and I are one. We would both love not to fall prey to these insanely captivating bonds, but we are. We worship, too much and too heavily, and envy those who tread the world more lightly. (If Lucy thinks she worships no one, she's a bit DELUSIONAL.)

No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.

YES YES YES. Poor Charlotte. I would love to go back in time and stuff her full of fluoxetine.

He believed in his soul that lovely, placid, and passive female mediocrity was the only pillow on which manly thought and sense alone could find rest for its aching temples;

Don't think much of her taste, mind.

These may not seem pleasant hypotheses; yet, by comparison, they were welcome. The vision of a ghostly troubler hovering in the background, was as nothing, matched with the fear of the spontaneous change arising in M. Paul himself.

Of course I had to stop at this point and yell gleefully, "HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU!" Some things never change, chiz.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope
The Bostonians, Henry James
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger
The Outsider, Albert Camus
The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot
The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope
Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans
Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: sit down // james
Online I'm a Giantparthenia14 on February 15th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)

more later
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: In ur bedscoradh on February 15th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
I was wondering if any of our opinions converged! All I remember is you saying that some passages were unreadable, which, YES.
No Apologiesaidenfire on February 15th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
I am taking a Brontes class this semester and...hmm, so far, it is not my favorite class ever. :/
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Japanese bluescoradh on February 15th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
omg, keep me updated. I'm reading this - and all these books, lol - from a realm of utter plebdom. I'd love to hear what proper academics say about it.
Merit: Disney Proud to be Fairiesmeritjubet on February 16th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
Most of the all Bronte books usually make me feel depressed about relationships. Even the 'happy ending' ones.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Austen with a bookscoradh on February 16th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I can't even remember what happened in Agnes Grey, but speaking of the rest ... the Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that kept me in suspense; I hated Jane Eyre for years because the start freaked me out, but it has a happy enough ending (also with OMG DEATH, it is true), Wuthering Heights ... Jane Eyre is more of a triumph of will over circumstance rather than true romance. I admire Jane for that, at least.

I'm not sure how they make me feel. They're not really love stories at all. They epitomise bleak. Their names are a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something.
Blindmouse: Alice readingblindmouse on February 16th, 2009 10:38 am (UTC)
Lolol, I will not lie, I love Villette to bits. The ending is a lot of different kinds of fail, but I love Lucy, M. Paul, and Lucy's ridiculous friendship with Ginevra - the fact that Ginevra voluntarily hangs around with the only person who doesn't like her makes her at least twice as interesting as she would otherwise have been - and ... kind of everything, actually. It could have done with a lot of trimming, and the anti-continental patriotism is sort of hilarious (even the continental schoolgirls are inferior to the English schoolgirls Jane Eyre teaches), and the anti-Catholicism is even worse ... but seriously, Lucy Snowe is awesome. She's so bad at being a romantic heroine, she's such an interesting mix of utterly emotionally stunted and illogically passionate. And M. Paul is so not ANYONE'S idea of a romantic hero, but he manages to be utterly captivating anyway.

I thought he and their relationship were the focus, at least once she got over Graham, but maybe I was just good at skimming over the metaphysical passages I wasn't interested in :-)

But the ending. Is kind of my personal template on how not to do an open ending. Because, seriously ... if your publisher won't let you write a tragic ending, you write a different one, you don't write the same one with curtains over it.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: bands PATD Ryroscoradh on February 16th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
OMG I LOVE GINEVRA. I forgot to mention that. I wanted her story, not wimpy Paulina's (wtf kind of name is that anyway, oops I wanted a boy?) or even Lucy's. Or, well, I wanted Lucy's, but not the way it was told. emilyray said recently that she often feels she wants to return books with a note saying 'Get a better beta.' This is how I feel about Villette. It has all the makings of a classic in the true sense of the word - characterisation, plot and development - but it's held back by its own thumping deficiencies.

But in the sense that ... we find out things like BOOM, he's a gardener, BOOM, he leaves her presents, BOOM, it's been six months since they started hanging out in 'tutorials'. Would it have killed her to actually show some of this, and what she does show, in a timely fashion? I think it should have been written in third person and Bronte forced to limit her POV. Then it would have been EXCELLENT.

I thought it was her father pushing for the happy ending? But she stubbornly clung to it because SHE didn't get her man irl. Clearly, Lucy and Paul were supposed to end up together; at some point Lucy did become, or tried to become, a separate entity from Charlotte. Charlotte refused to let go, and the end result weakens the entire story.

Edited at 2009-02-16 02:27 pm (UTC)
Blindmouseblindmouse on February 16th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
Was it her father? I don't remember. Still, you either push for your own ending or you write a different one, hers was just a cop-out.

Mm ... the development of the friendship with M. Paul was very oddly told, because Lucy's so secretive. I thought that worked, but then I first read this when I was twelve and a pretty forgiving reader. I know that that secretive first person narration was something which drove me crazy when I read Robyn McKinley's Sunshine, so it might not have worked for Villette for me either if I'd read it for the first time as an adult.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Converse kissscoradh on February 16th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
Wow, I can't imagine ploughing through this as a kid. Go you. :D

I guess I like my romance really obvious? But with real seriousness, my literary criticism in this case is that she had sudden leaps of inspiration - OH YES NOW WE'LL DO THIS - and never went back in edits to smooth them over. Pity, pity, pity.
karorumetallium: wtfkarorumetallium on February 16th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Bands PATD Ryan and Bden onstagescoradh on February 16th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
Not a fan, I take it? :D
Liz_eliza_b on February 18th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Of course I had to stop at this point and yell gleefully, "HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU!" Some things never change, chiz.

...and M. Paul isn't that much of a catch anyway. I HATED how he went around bossing Lucy. And for some reason, I imagine him as some goofy little French dude, like Toulouse Lautrec in Moulin Rougue...anyway, I totally didn't see it coming when he turned out to be the love interest. wat.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fashion: lift your hems from the grassscoradh on February 18th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
The only reason I wasn't as shocked as you was that is flagged in the book's blurb. Even at that, I thought there had to be another Paul - I kept flicking forwards to see if there were any new names.

I also pictured him as TL! However, it could have worked for me if Graham was more obviously a red herring and Paul's affections were shown a bit earlier than when Graham conveniently didn't fancy Lucy back.