Villette or That Time I Swore at a Bronte

So I just finished Villette. I kid you not when I read the last page and closed the book I yelled out “what the f*ck?” to a thankfully empty lunchroom.

It took me a while to get through Villette. It’s a shade under 600 pages but mostly I just couldn’t get into it. I wasn’t attached to Lucy Snowe or Madame Beck or even Paulina Bassompierre. Certainly not to Ginevra Fanshawe (but that’s a great name).

After something happens to wipe out her entire family, friendless Lucy Snowe takes a chance and travels to Belgium where she finds work as a nanny for the children of the directrice of a school for girls. Soon she becomes the English teacher and so she passes her days, mostly really sad because she has no home and no friends. During the vacation she ends up wandering around the streets of Villette and passes out. She wakes up in the house of her godmother (who we’d met at the beginning of the book). She thinks she’s gone mad but finds out that no, her godmother and her son moved to Villette and brought all their things with them.

So things get better because now she has some friends that take her out every once in a while. She thinks she’s in love with the son (a doctor!) but he’s interested in her little friend Ginevra. Who is a little flirt and is using the doctor to make a colonel jealous and vice versa. Then an old acquaintance comes to town and the doctor falls in love with her.

Where does this leave our Lucy Snowe?

With the professor, M. Paul Emmanuel. He’s a strange little man, always picking fights with her but it turns out that he’s in love with her.

I’m basically going to ruin the whole thing for you, so if you haven’t read the book and you still want to, you might want to stop reading this now.

M. Paul Emmanuel is the cousin of the woman who runs the school and she doesn’t want Lucy to marry him. So first she makes up this story that she thinks will convince Lucy to leave him alone. But that only makes Lucy love him more. So then she comes up with a way to send Paul away for three years. He leaves, believing that he will be able to make his fortune which would allow him to marry (he’s a teacher so he makes no money) but before he goes he sets up a school for Lucy so that she can be her own mistress.

She spends 3 awesome years, teaching and writing to him and reading his letters and being happy and then prepares for him to come home after 3 years. And then there’s a storm. And the whole thing ends with Lucy telling us no more because she thinks it would be better for us all to imagine a happy ending.

One that clearly did not happen.

I can’t decide if I’m more upset that he possibly died or that I don’t know for sure. I mean, I’m 98% sure that he died in the storm, right before he was supposed to arrive. But what about that 2%? She does say that the 3 years before he comes back are the happiest, which is a weird thing to say if you marry the man of your dreams after all. So I guess he dies. Which is still the worst ending ever.

Jane Austen would never pull this sh*t.


Austen vs. Bronte

I’m working my way through Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. I’m not sure that I’m completely invested, truth be told. I read somewhere that upon reading Villette, George Eliot wrote to a friend that it was better than Jane Eyre. I was pretty excited by this because a) I think highly of George Eliot and b) I love Jane Eyre.

So far I think I am underwhelmed. But you never know what will happen with these Brontes. They are sneaky like that.

Earlier this year, on the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice’s being published, the old Austen vs. Bronte feud seemed to flare up again. Given the chance to reread Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, I honestly don’t know what I would choose. I don’t want to be painted with that brush – Austen or Bronte. All their books are terrific!

I don’t know why we can’t all get along and enjoy Austen and Bronte side by side?

I don’t really know why Jane Austen’s work has to compete with the work of Anne, Charlotte and Emily actually. They didn’t live at the same time – in fact only Charlotte had been born (in 1816) before Jane Austen died (in 1817). They don’t have particularly similar styles – Austen tends more to satire while the Brontes are really very dark. Like really dark. There really isn’t that much humour to be found in the work of the Brontes (though I did laugh at the explanation of a line that women shouldn’t think too much as it would make them lightheaded since thinking would take the blood away from the reproductive organs, thereby making a woman barren).

That said, I always find myself surprised at how insightful and modern the Bronte books can be. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has a woman fleeing an abusive, alcoholic husband; Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights tackle extreme forms of mental illness; and Villette’s Lucy Snowe is pretty clearly depressed.

Then there are those that disparage Jane Austen’s work as little more than chick lit (which also? Is awesome). People actually exist that think Austen’s work is fluffy and silly.

Is their work compared because none of them ever married? Is that it? It’s said that Austen refused marriage and apparently Charlotte Bronte did the same. Did she eventually marry? No idea.

Or is it that in the end, most of their characters get married? It can’t be that their stories centre around women because that’s way too broad a framework on which to base any comparison.

Then again, I only read them for the fun of it. I have virtually no background in literature and I’m probably missing the point.

I just like to read them. Bronte or Austen. They are equal in my world.