PDA

View Full Version : Charlotte Bronte's Villette



Claire Copeland
05-24-2005, 06:07 PM
Villette is truly a great novel. Although underestimated like the author herself, Villette is one of the greatest portraits of love, loss and longing in all of English literature. What is more poignant than Lucy saying, "Good night, Dr. John. You are good, you are beautiful but you are not mine. Good night and God bless you." And what is more touching in its simple sweetness to watch as Lucy finds her true match in love, the crusty professor, whom we have known loved her all along. Villette is a masterpiece of emotion and Charlotte Bronte was a true master of emotion. Unlike Jane Austen, who always so unfairly overshadows Charlotte, Charlotte Bronte was not afraid of her feelings. Too often Charlotte is overlooked as her characters were overlooked because they were too plain, too poor and perhaps too wise for society. Too often even today far too much emphasis is placed on beauty and carefully manufactured charm. Anyone who has ever felt heartbreak, anyone who has ever felt out of place and overlooked and especially, anyone unafraid of emotion can identify with Lucy. Knowing something of Charlotte Bronte's tragically sad life gives anyone reading Villette the idea that Charlotte's heart was very close to Lucy's. Villette is a book that is no doubt too long and too depressing for the emotionally and mentally immature. But for anyone who has ever shed a tear for things that can never be and things that must be endured whatever they may be, Villette will always be treasured. Villette is certainly a treasure on my book shelves as Charlotte Bronte's words are a treasure in my heart.

angelgate
03-30-2007, 01:46 PM
I have just spent many sleepness nights & weary days (in bed with a most wretched Bronchitis!) hour upon hour following line after line of my poor Lucy Snowe, to arrive finally at the end of the tale, and oh poor miserable thing she was, indeed it is not fair!!! I had every hope of their lovely life together, he in his little library, and she with a heart finally filled with fruition of dreams and hopes seated lovely at near distance, perhaps with a tiny baby in her lap... One could hope the most for this couple after all they had been through,,, everyone else had happiness, even wretched Ginevra! It is too unfair, toooo cruel, and how can one argue with those long gone? The ending is the ending, whether I like it or not!!! I loved the book nonetheless, it brought me to tears, and I loved it... Life seems a little odd & empty,on putting it down with such sadness... Must be my fever returning.
PS Oh, on a much happier note, has anyone had the pleasure of viewing Masterpiece Theatures' new "Jane Eyre", indeed a wonderful thing! Jane was simply perfect & Mr. Rochester!!!!

crookshanks
04-04-2007, 04:02 PM
I couldn't agree more that it is unfair how Charlotte Bronte is often overshadowed by Austen. Villette is a wonderfully written book showing you don't need to be beautifull to find love for as plain as Lucy was M. Paul still loved her and vice versa.

laddiebuck
05-26-2007, 09:57 PM
I couldn't agree with all you said more, Claire. Villette has recently become my favourite book for that reason, dubious honour as that may be. :)

Angelgate: I rather felt that the ending was... irrelevant. I think Bronte understood it would be a shame if the novel were remembered superficially and pre-judged by a shallow plotline. How could a few lines of conclusion ever change anything about the preceding hundreds of pages of pure masterpiece? I am quite certain she left it purposely ambiguous, just to avoid this tendency to pre-judge.

And can you imagine what Villette would be as a motion picture? Thankfully nobody has attempted the project, it would be so easy to ruin, and so difficult to do justice to, if it were at all possible.

Oblomov
03-14-2008, 07:59 PM
I'm having the pleasure of reading "Villette" for the first time. When I got to the following passage not too long after starting, I was reminded of that beautiful sense of chez soi:

"Inadventurous, unstirred by impulses of practical ambition, I was capable of sitting twenty years teaching infants the hornbook, turning silk dresses, and making children’s frocks. Not that true contentment dignified this infatuated resignation: my work had neither charm for my taste, nor hold on my interest; but it seemed to me a great thing to be without heavy anxiety, and relieved from intimate trial: the negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives—the life of thought, and that of reality; and, provided the former was nourished with a sufficiency of the strange necromantic joys of fancy, the privileges of the latter might remain limited to daily bread, hourly work, and a roof of shelter."

Time is transcended. What could be better?

Quark
03-21-2008, 03:10 PM
I'm having the pleasure of reading "Villette" for the first time. When I got to the following passage not too long after starting, I was reminded of that beautiful sense of chez soi:

"Inadventurous, unstirred by impulses of practical ambition, I was capable of sitting twenty years teaching infants the hornbook, turning silk dresses, and making children’s frocks. Not that true contentment dignified this infatuated resignation: my work had neither charm for my taste, nor hold on my interest; but it seemed to me a great thing to be without heavy anxiety, and relieved from intimate trial: the negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives—the life of thought, and that of reality; and, provided the former was nourished with a sufficiency of the strange necromantic joys of fancy, the privileges of the latter might remain limited to daily bread, hourly work, and a roof of shelter."

Time is transcended. What could be better?

You feel chez soi about her stifling environment. Hopefully, you're just referring to her contentment and can-do attitude, or else I'll start to feel sorry for you.

I have to admit that I kind of liked Villette, too. I was sort of partial to Victorian prose before even reading it, so paragraphs like the one you quoted with the long, over-punctuated sentences are what I like to read. When I first got the book I was hoping for a warm, Victorian novel with lots of characters, but it was actually quite dark with few people or locales. Somehow it actually made a positive impression on me outside of just the style of writing. Maybe I liked the characters or the plot pulled me in--I'm really not sure. The best I can say is that I vaguely enjoyed it. It's sounds like you had a bigger reaction to it than I did.

dystom
04-06-2008, 06:19 PM
I didn't like Villette, at all!, for the first several chapters, but now I find it one of the greatest novels ever. It's a sad, fun house. Do you realize that Justine Marie S. is M. Paul's daughter--a bit of a DaVinci Code but ten times better!? I'ld say more but you're better off discovering how so on your own.

sttudy
05-05-2008, 11:03 AM
hi, i didn't pick up on this fact..... but really loved the book, i cant stop going on about it to everyone. Does anyone know where i can get a copy in french please.

Judy0802
06-05-2008, 05:05 PM
sttudy, one of my friends is also looking for the French version of Villette but in vain. Isn't it odd that there isn't any translations of this brilliant novel? I prefer Villette than Jane Eyre.

Lucy Snowe
08-15-2008, 07:19 PM
I loved Villette, even though loving such a book involves a bit of emotional self harm, what with all the suffering endured by the protagonist. I felt it transcended time too; especially what you said about her little lament to Doctor John. I said pretty much the same about an individual I knew a few months back (but without the 'God bless you' part) and then picked the book up months later and felt Charlotte had taken the words right out of my mouth. And it does raise the timeless question-is there bliss in beautiful, asethetic ignorance?

cricketsong
09-06-2008, 12:16 PM
The lament concerning Dr. John is one that I have felt, too.

The lament always touches those deeply have already felt it. One does not say a lament like that without much pain, thought, suffering, observation, and pain! That is why we are touched by it so much.

I feel the reason we love Villette is because Bronte manages to take the underprivileged, the untalented, and the unnoticed from their supposedly deserved place as wallflowers, and placed them in a seat of quiet honor where one can love them and respect them and joy with them.

mona amon
09-09-2008, 10:34 PM
I love Vilette! It's one of my most favourite books, and I've now re-read it more times than I can count.

Does anyone other than me feel that Lucy never quite gets over her infatuation with Dr. John, even after she falls in love with Paul?

Dystom, how is Justine Marie S. the daughter of M. Paul?

sinskeep
01-12-2009, 09:58 AM
Charlotte Bronte is amazing, and I too despise the fact that Jane Austen is considered superior

ksotikoula
02-18-2009, 06:12 PM
I have grown to love Villette very much. The first time I read it I was half-way through the book and I was suffering from the agonizing lack of plot so much, that although I like Charlotte Bronte's writing, I stopped to ask myself "Why am I reading this?". And then it was, as if I had felt a tip in my shoulder from Charlotte herself and I knew the answer. She seemed to say to me "If you who are just a reader can't bear Lucy Snowe's life, how is she to bear it that has to live it?". And I hastened to read what became of her. It is a very clever and deep book and I like it's heroine no matter how secretive she becomes sometimes. It is her story to tell and I will listen to it as she wants to tell it.

About the ending Charlotte had decided to be a sad one (and how else should it be if Lucy is a heroine that is born to the wrong side of the moon and destined never to share the happiness other people have?- "I never meant to appoint her happy lines" Charlotte writes to her "Graham" and editor, George Smith), but her father requested that it should have a happy ending. But she could not lie. Her hero was drawn, so she decided to leave it ambiguous.

I was fascinated to learn the parallel story behind Villette and between Charlotte herself and George Smith. Yes she never really overcomes that but I will come back and relate it tomorrow.

I believe too that although Austen is considered a realist, Charlotte was more so. In Austen's books almost everybody gets happily married to the person they love, but this is not so in true life. Charlotte had the courage to look deep into the darkest and brightest regions of the heart and was brave enough to make her introspection and bring to life certain aspects of her personal life. So superficially, Austen's novels are realistic in their occurrences, but not so in their depth, while Charlotte's imaginative one's have far more depth and psychological truth.

Peripatetics
03-06-2009, 05:34 PM
'Truth lies in the eye of the beholder' is very applicable to Villette, especially if 'eye' is replaced by 'memory'. But as you said on a previous occasion – You have your facts and I have mine – not implying that the discussion is at an end, rather just at the very beginning, I hope.



The fact that Charlotte did not just gave an intellectual exercise with Villette can be proved by its reception: Miss Martineau said it was “unbearably painful”, Thackeray termed it a plaguy book but very clever and Arnold Mathews termed it disagreeable, convulsive, oppressive and said that her mind is full of hunger, rebellion, rage. These may be thought negative reviews but they prove that they brought out strong feelings.

My reaction to Villette was as Janice Carlisle in Villette and the Conventions of Autbiography stated: “and here I speak for myself and my students – wonder if its power is not the result of emotions profoundly confused and confusing.” If we take into concideration that ”though Jane Eyrte had been called upon to recount her past experiences, only in Villette and one sketch that preceded it does Bronte treat memory as a problematic function. Henry Esmond, a novel that Bronte read in manuscript as she was writing Villette, testifies to the predominance of the same concerns: for the first time in Thackeray's career, memory itself becomes the subject of analysis and description.”, then the subject matter – memory, the description and analysis – reasonably suggest that in Villette, Charlotte's composition process was intellectual and influenced by Thackeray's manuscript and Charlotte's stated desire for a broader intellectual canvas than of Jane Eyre.

ksotikoula
03-07-2009, 07:22 AM
I wonder if its power is not the result of emotions profoundly confused and confusing...Charlotte's composition process was intellectual and influenced by Thackeray's manuscript and Charlotte's stated desire for a broader intellectual canvas than of Jane Eyre.

I don't see why this would make Villette only an intellectual exercise. Feelings and thoughts can co-exist. She has put some of her most painful experiences in this book. I don't think that she stands apart and watches her heroine getting depressed. This was a very painful book for Charlotte to write because it was so self-revealing at a time of her life that she was generally known. Mr Williams told her that her heroine was morbid and she agreed that it was no healthy feeling that urged Lucy to the confessional (something Charlotte had done herself, so in a way realized how she would appear in the world) but she claimed that anyone living in her conditions would not be healthy. That was the point and tone of her book. Gaskell too told her she disliked Lucy Snowe and it is ironic how she could not see that in a way Charlotte was similar to her despite the fact that she herself professed that she didn't like her.

And don't forget that she was simultaneously treating in that book her current relationship with George Smith who was greatly shocked when Charlotte's heroine rejects him and leaves him with the touching words: "Good-night, Dr. John; you are good, you are beautiful; but you are
not mine." to turn her attention to the professor. She always had to be careful not to say to much but yet deliver her message to him. And I believe he understood that from his reaction. :p

Peripatetics
03-07-2009, 09:27 AM
Thank you for engaging into a discussion, as a start l wish to say that I am using Janice Carlisle's analysis of Villette. Not hiding behind them, only that my initial response of 10 years ago was confusion and I should reread before agreeing or disagreeing. Also that the novel was difficult and reading an academic study gives me sort of a road-map.


I don't see why this would make Villette only an intellectual exercise. Feelings and thoughts can co-exist. She has put some of her most painful experiences in this book. :p

I agree that 'Feelings and thoughts can co-exist.' but am cautious that she wrote from a personal perspective. “Villette, the result of this process, is indeed a private document, but its privacy is a function of Lucy Snow's life and character, not its authors.”
“Even she seemed at least partially unaware of the implications of her novel. Like Lucy naively suggesting that her cold exterior represent her true identity, Bronte commented soon after finishing Villette, “Unless I am mistaken the emotion of the book will be found to be kept throughout in tolerable subjection.” She was of course mistaken, and one might say of Charlotte's Villette what Charlotte said of Emily and Wuthering Heights, “having formed these beings, she did not what she had done.” Charlotte Bronte firmly believed that writers are mastered by a force that they themselves do not comprehend - “something that at times strangely wills and works for itself” - but even the powers of unconscious creative agency do not explain the questions the novel raises.”

It seems to me that with Villette we are entering into a non linear perspective. Like the concurrent 19th. century change in visual arts from realism to impressionism and expressionism. We are used to it but to the contemporary viewers accustomed to realistic representation the change must have been unsettling. Even now we see many museum goers with with ipods in their ears as if they are using someones else eyes and mind to interpret what they are seeing.
This change from a linear chronology of story-telling, to a style of “autobiography is almost by definition, a form that strives to accommodate fact and desire. Circumstances as they actually occurred and the longing that they – or oneself – had been somehow different.” And when non chronological memory is the vehicle of story-telling we are in Plato's cave not sure whether we are mistaking shadows for reality.

ksotikoula
03-07-2009, 11:45 AM
I would love to read Janice Carlisle's analysis too, but in my country you can not find easily these kind of reviews even if your city has a university with an English department, and my city doesn't. I agree that Villette is a difficult book. I have read it thrice (the last time it was translated and I didn't like it at all). I intend to read it in the future, in the light of what I now know for Charlotte's and Smith's relationship (from Charlotte Bronte a passionate life, by Lyndall Gordon). I will give you some of the facts to have in mind while you read it again because some sentences appear to have a different meaning afterwards. If you are not interested just skip the part between the :idea:

:idea:When Charlotte Bronte met George Smith she was 32 and he 24. It was on the occasion of proving that she and Anne were two different persons and she didn't violate her contract giving her second work to another editor, as Newby made it appear, when claiming Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grace was works by Currer Bell. It seems that when he went through the first impression that she was plain, he found her extremely intelligent and she started to like him better when she saw him in the environment of his house and not in the Firm.

After the death of her sisters she was invited frequently in his house. They went visiting authors together, appeared in lectures, they disguised as brothers (Mr Alexander Fraser and Miss Fraser) to see a phrenologist, he took her to see her childhood hero Wellington, he convinced her to sit for that Richmond portrait, took her with him in Edinburgh to accompany his brother back home (she writes it was one of her happiest days) and even proposed her to go on a Rhine cruise. He frequently invited her in London again but Charlotte tried to resist him because she had difficulty every time getting back to her miserable life and wanted to be careful about entertaining false expectations.

There were many obstacles. Smith was 8 years younger than Charlotte, handsome, athletic and fast rising in his profession. He took in charge of the firm after his father's death, being only 20 years old and made the publishing house one of the most successful. Of course Charlotte helped him enormously on that, both with sharing her opinions about books with him, but mostly because after Jane Eyre's success Thackeray and Gaskell and Martineau jointed his firm. So he was younger, richer, better looking than her and he had a whole family of sisters to care for. His mother would like him to do better than to marry Charlotte (whom otherwise liked and was happy to see that was shy enough to persecute her son). Gaskell didn't help much when with her appetite for gossip spread the word that Charlotte had consumption as her two dead sisters. Charlotte didn't know who circulated the rumor but had great difficulty dispersing it and claiming she was well. Apart from these Smith was a cautious man with money and Charlotte knew he would like to make a good (e.g wealthy) marriage.

So when he proposed that she made Cornhill (his house) a setting for her next novel, she kind of did it with Villette. It was, I believe, a kind of an experiment to explore the possibilities of their relationship working in the end or just a friendly tap on his shoulder implying "I like our relationship and it has been fun, but I am getting attached to you and you don't seem anymore serious for that". So Lucy turns him down in the 3rd volume and Smith gets awfully shocked. For nearly a month he doesn't write to her and she writes to him commenting the fact that "he is struck mute" and that she feels there was something wrong with the manuscript. She only gets a paycheck of 500 p when she expected at least 700 (Thackeray took 1200p!). She was ready to go to London when a letter came from him mostly complaining for the abrupt transfer from a set of people to another. She tells him that she knows that in a romance a woman should remain in love with a supreme hero but this does not agree with life and reality. It will be disagreeable to the readers and they won't accept it well but it was compulsory upon the writer. Lyndall says that Charlotte was in fact telling him he could not be her hero. She was also testing him asking what did he think of Paulina. She says she herself consider Paulina a weak creation because she didn't had a model when writing her, but she meant her to be the most beautiful creature. She writes to Ellen Nussey:

On my arrival – I found no proof-sheets – but a letter from Mr. S which I would have enclosed – but so many words are scarce legible – you would have no pleasure in reading it: he continues to make a mystery of his “reason” – something in the 3rd vol sticks confoundedly in his throat – and as to the “female character” about which I asked – he responds crabbedly that “she is an odd, fascinating little puss” – but affirms that he is “not in love with her”. He tells me also that he will answer no more questions about “Villette”.

This morning I have a brief note from Mr Williams – intimating that he has “not yet been permitted to read the 3rd vol” – Also there is a note from Mrs S – very kind – I almost wish I could still look on that kindness as I used to do: it was very pleasant once.

She teases him again 2 months later about Villete in a letter:

On the whole the critique I like best yet is the one I got at an early stage of the work, before it had undergone the “Old Bailey”; being the observations of a respected amateur critic – one A. Frazer Esqre. I am bound to admit however that this gentleman confined his approving remarks on the 2 first vols, tacitly condemning the 3rd by the severity of a prolonged silence.

Margaret Smith (a Bronte scholar) believes that Smith was offended not only because he realized his literature portrait which presented him as a person worldly and shallow plus a little insensitive towards Lucy, but also because he could have perceived Paul's sending away to serve "Mammon" as an allusion to Smith's sending away to India James Taylor, an important man of the firm who was the third man to propose marriage to Charlotte. Charlotte mentions in a letter to Ellen that Taylor didn't mention once Smith's name.

To make the long story short Smith met in a dance a woman like Pauline, beautiful and quite rich and got engaged without telling Charlotte. She understood some change in his letters but she thought it was because of work (the firm was expanding and that's why they never went on that Rhine cruise) and she wrote to his mother asking her whether there was something that occupied him because his letter was kind of uneasy and she thought he was about to take grave decisions. She enlightened her of his engagement and told her George would write to her anyway. She sent a brief note of congratulations (2 lines only) saying that in great joys and great sorrows many words are unnecessary. She had warned him once:
"But though Currer Bell cannot do this – you are still to think him your friend – and you are still to be his friend. You are to keep a fraction of yourself – if it be only the end of your little finger – for him, and that fraction he will neither let gentleman or lady – author or artist...take possession of – or so much as meddle with. He reduces his claim to a minute point – and that point he monopolizes." [Gordon and Margaret Smith highlight the use of the masculine "Currer Bell" Charlotte used in order to not misunderstood her meaning sexually]

Smith thought that her note wasn't very kind but when he congratulated for her future wedding, she wrote him a better letter. In his biography 40 years after Charlotte's death he wrote that he didn't remember being in love with Charlotte although his mother was alarmed. [Barker and Helen Nussey thought too he that he was going to propose. Virginia Woolf as a child remembers her mother commending to Smith that she thought Charlotte was in love with him and he seemed proud of that.] He added that her personality interested him more than her books. He also believed that she was the most just woman he ever met and that she had a talent of reading men.

So after all that some sentences in Villette seem different:
"That goodly river on whose banks I had sojourned, of whose waves a few reviving drops had trickled to my lips, was bending to another course: it was leaving my little hut and field forlorn and sand-dry, pouring its wealth of waters far away. The change was right, just, natural; not a word could be said: but I loved my Rhine, my Nile; I had almost worshipped my Ganges, and I grieved that the grand tide should roll estranged, should vanish like a false mirage. Though stoical, I was not quite a stoic; drops streamed fast on my hands, on my desk: I wept one sultry shower, heavy and brief."
If you think that Smith proposed her to go on a cruise on Rhine this gets a double meaning.
Gordon also mentions that Charlotte instead of erasing the phrases that she wanted to omit she cut them off with a scissor. I guess that would sent him wondering what they were.:) :idea:

I am embarrassed here to say that the first time I read the book I didn't quite perceive Lucy's love for Graham and I merely took it for an ephemeral crush because of her loneliness. But after reading all this and also an essay that paid attention to how slyly Lucy presents her love for him through the eyes of others in the following passage, I had to admit I was blind:

"Ah! that portrait used to hang in the breakfast-room, over the
mantel-piece: somewhat too high, as I thought. I well remember how I
used to mount a music-stool for the purpose of unhooking it, holding
it in my hand, and searching into those bonny wells of eyes, whose
glance under their hazel lashes seemed like a pencilled laugh; and
well I liked to note the colouring of the cheek, and the expression of
the mouth." I hardly believed fancy could improve on the curve of that
mouth, or of the chin; even _my_ ignorance knew that both were
beautiful, and pondered perplexed over this doubt: "How it was that
what charmed so much, could at the same time so keenly pain?" Once, by
way of test, I took little Missy Home, and, lifting her in my arms,
told her to look at the picture.

"Do you like it, Polly?" I asked. She never answered, but gazed long,
and at last a darkness went trembling through her sensitive eye, as
she said, "Put me down." So I put her down, saying to myself: "The
child feels it too."

She introduces this text with the cool line:
"Any romantic little school-girl might almost have loved it in its frame."
"Any romantic little school-girl" but not she, not cool Lucy Snowe :crash: She is a sly girl that one :lol:

Another essay concentrated on the scene between Ginevra and Lucy in front of the mirror and the use of the terms "somebody" and "nobody". It is about the sense of self and how appearances can deceive. A woman beautiful outside but plain inside and an insignificant on appearance one, but with a depth of a character.

I have three introductory notes for Villette too and I can sent them to you if you give me an e-mail through a private message and I have also a radio discussion of the book in youtube (Diane's Rehm show)- you will find it simply be typing ksotikoula.


“Unless I am mistaken the emotion of the book will be found to be kept throughout in tolerable subjection.”
She also said that her palette has no brighter colors to offer. She obviously compares the book to Jane Eyre and certainly excitement and an interesting plot are not the characteristics of Villette. I have mentioned before that her publishers wanted more spectacular books.
Ellen Nussey had said about Charlotte that she thought that others didn't understand her and I believe this was true in a way. She often says to her publishers that her stories are of no public interest, Jane Eyre has no research. She was writing her personal experiences and she had no claims that it should interest many people. It seemed however that no matter how much she was misjudged her view held attraction for a lot of people. But she did know that Jane Eyre was attractive even to the people that criticized her.


Charlotte said of Emily and Wuthering Heights, “having formed these beings, she did not what she had done.” Charlotte Bronte firmly believed that writers are mastered by a force that they themselves do not comprehend - “something that at times strangely wills and works for itself” - but even the powers of unconscious creative agency do not explain the questions the novel raises.”
The first part about Emily was an effort of Charlotte's to justify her sister's works and show that she was no monster after all but "a simple girl". Of course this was not true and Charlotte knew it and was defending their whole Bronte reputation. It was difficult for those who did not know Emily to understand something of her nature. In a way she did for Emily, what Gaskell did for Charlotte: presented a more acceptable profile and thus she started according to Lucasta Miller and Lyndall Gordon the Bronte myth. The tale of three simple, isolated girls who spoke powerful tales of assertion through their novels.

I admit that I don't totally understand Charlotte's view of inspiration. It is truth that she presents it as a willful creature that some times takes over the writer. Her's was a romantic view of it. But in the case of Emily I believe that she on purpose exaggerated its role to justify the violence of her work. Of course Emily knew what she was doing with Wuthering Heights as well as Charlotte knew what she meant with her books. There must have been times when she had left herself to intuition of writing what seemed correct without being able to explain it, but that doesn't mean she was an unconscious writer. Some people tend to read too much in her novels (as I believe is the case with Bertha) and some others to not give her any credit at all for the deliberate depictions of situations and characters. I believe this is mostly due to the symbolic on her writings. She had mentioned to her publishers that she found that Jane Eyre produced different effects on different personalities. It is like the case with those personality tests where you project things from yourself.

Peripatetics
03-08-2009, 01:57 PM
"Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not match the expectation." - Charlotte Bronte (Villette)

Thank you for the extensive note on Charlotte Bronte a Passionate Life. I'm a bit troubled by it. As you are aware I'm adverse to ideological interpretations.
I have read on Google, a limited version of Charlotte Bronte a Passionate Life and formed an initial impression that Lyndall Gordon writes from an ideological bias and like Gaskell, she is more interested in recreating Charlotte as a person, than in an analysis of the creative process that lead to Villette.
To reduce the complexity of Villette to an infatuation of Charlotte with Smith seems to me banal.
In the Forum on Villette there are 19 threads, 70 posts, thousands of views of a specific thread and how many are significant? Most of the posts are by young women who have experienced some form of infatuation and by principle of Gestalt, would claim a personal resonance, an understanding of Villette. Yet how many could transform their infatuation into a work of art?
The reworking of daily experiences by imagination is neither rational nor a linear process. We do not understand the mind in sufficient detail to claim correspondence between memory and emotion. We can agree that there may be resonances, similarities without specifying the degree of congruence but to plot a linear development of Charlotte's infatuation with Sands to Lucy and Dr. John, would seem to be presumptions.
I tend to the view that in “Villette, the result of this process, is indeed a private document, but its privacy is a function of Lucy Snow's life and character, not its authors.”


Since you have read, carefully, and formed an opinion on Villette, will you allow a few questions?

How do you interpret the division of the novel into 3 parts and the recapitulation of events from the previous volume in the subsequent volumes? An example is that events in the first three chapters are recapitulated in volume 2 - “The incidents that occur when Lucy is fourteen are exactly reenacted when she is twenty-three.” And “What Lucy recognizes as the 'seeming inconsistency' of her treatment of John in volume 2 disappears when she comes to describe the hero of volume 3, Paul Emanuel.”
What do you make of Lucy fainting and recovering to view the household surroundings of the Bretton's when she was fourteen?

And the most provocative question - if we interpret Lucy's hallucinations in the present and not of emotions distorting the memory of the past, does this suggest that Lucy's inability to deal with ' heretic narrative' of the first two volumes be viewed as a mild form of schizophrenia, the hallucinations and delusions revolving around theme of of unrequited love. Is the the characterization by George Eliot of Villette, of “preternatural in it's powers” a recurrence of an image of madness, of Bertha in Jane Eyre and Lucy in Villette, an indication of obsession of a theme in Charlotte? Or is this a meditation on death so frequent in Charlotte's experience?
Charlotte's mother Maria Branwell Brontë died of cancer 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to the care of her sister Elizabeth Branwell. Followed by the deaths of her two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth 1826. Charlotte's brother, Branwell, died of chronic bronchitis and heavy drinking in September 1848. Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1848 and 1849, respectively.

According to Gaskell, Charlotte pregnant was attacked by "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness." Charlotte died, along with her unborn child, on 1855, at the young age of 38. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis (tuberculosis), but many biographers suggest she may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness. Even in 19th. century an necessary death.
Janice Carlisle makes the observation of Villette -”Bronte uses the freedom of her fictional autobiography to increase the complexity of interpreting and refracted images of self. Why she would need to do so seems clear. For neither Bronte nor Lucy Snowe can facts or circumstances of experience offer any satisfaction. Family is gone;suitors have disappeared; it is primarily a record of losses and humiliations.”
Therefore in contradiction to “Gordon gives us a rather different picture, of an outwardly meek but in actual fact very determined, steely woman who refused to be ground down by fate, the one who admitted that it would take a great deal to crush me.”, the ever present theme of death suggest a very vulnerable Charlotte. Does the novel reveal the view of a woman who accepts suffering as the dispensation of a just Providence?

And does the difficulty of Villette, “The novel is a mirror in which reality is transformed to grant the emotional and aesthetic satisfaction that life invariably withholds.”, partially lies in “Villette would seem to be a novel that must be read backwards or, at least, reread if one is to judge the narrator's perspective accurately.”

ksotikoula
03-12-2009, 03:12 PM
Lyndall Gordon writes from an ideological bias and like Gaskell, she is more interested in recreating Charlotte as a person, than in an analysis of the creative process that lead to Villette.
You may be right. I generally prefer to form my own conclusions about persons, based on the sources (in this case Charlotte's letters), exactly to avoid this bias. I have found from experience that sometimes even correct quoting can alter the meaning of a sentence if it is detached from the whole (f.e. I always thought that CB's comments about men that "do not understand making letters the vehicle of communication" was an angry comment, but reading her whole letter it is obvious that her husband is standing next to her reading what she writes and she is simply teasing and provoking him for looking "too serious now". She even admits that all this seems to her so funny and that she never would have thought the security of her letters).

I do not agree with Gordon in everything she says, even when it comes to Charlotte's personality. For example in the famous instance where her father gave his children to wear a mask and asked them questions that he thought they would answer more freely this way, Gordon says that Charlotte gave conventional answers, the answers that he expected her to give. I highly disagree. The question he put to Charlotte was "what is the best book in the world" and she answered "the bible". And he continued "and the second best?" and she said "the book of nature". Now religion and nature was in my opinion two characteristic poles in Charlotte's nature. She wrote when she was in her adolescence to Ellen that she "longed for a holiness she will never, never attain", because there was that infernal world and that imagination of her's that devoured her and made her think of society as it was insipid. The holiness, the religious path was something that idealistic Charlotte could devote to and also one course that women could take after excluding the possibility of a marriage as Charlotte had. But she could not follow that part because her passions were too strong. She was living in the "hot climate" of Angria that left her polluted. In a way she managed to reconciliate those two tendencies in her, that must have troubled her greatly in her Heger dilemma. I believe she came to see passion as something natural and religion not so stiff a concept that to be felt restraining.

Another thing that she claims and really bothers me is that Charlotte decided to marry Nicholls as a reaction to Smith's marriage. This is so very childish and vindictive and immature to be thought by Charlotte. Her marriage depended most on her father's attitude and her personal anxieties about the chances of being happy with a man she did not love but respected. Charlotte may have seen her prospects diminished every year as she was getting older and her father was aging too and she thought she would stay entirely alone after his death and her break up with the Smiths was in my opinion brought mostly due to their omitting of communicating to her his engagement. She thought they were friends, if they could be nothing else.

And finally I disagree with the biographers that claim that Charlotte chose personal life over her professional one. How do they know if she would continue to write after her marriage had she lived? How can they make conclusions so fast? She was married for 9 months. If you take out the 1,5 month she was in Ireland and the 3 months that she was sick and some weeks they went visiting or received friends in the parsonage you will see that she had very little time for anything. And she was newly married. And also she used to spend many months between her novels without writing at all because she had no inspiration or wanted to accumulate experiences. The fact only that her husband relates the instance where she read to him Emma and discussed it together shows that she had not left her profession for good and she intended to write. Nicholls said to her about the plot that she would be accused of repeating herself because she refers to a school and she answered "oh, I will change that" and explained that she always started three times before being contended with her work. The future tense shows everything. If with her bringing a child into the world she would find even less spare time to devote to her art it is a different matter and again you can not tell.

So, I am not a 100% sure about the infatuation you mention but from what I have seen from her letters she seems to really had feelings for Smith (although I have not seen the total of her letters to him). You will say that this may have nothing to do with Villette. And you may be right. I just mentioned it because the next time I will read Villette (and this will be after reading all her letters to him) I would like to observe at what extend I agree or disagree with Gordon's point of view. Probably it will not help me at all with Lucy's story :lol: . In Jane Eyre my learning about the Heger case had opposite effects: for a time I could not read the book with the same feeling. Jane's and Rochester's lines, and even St John's "sounded" different. Charlotte's personal story was disrupting the novel for me. I finally got over it thankfully. But it still pains me to think that this book came from a story so sad and hopeless. That is the real wonder for me: how a woman so hurt by love wrote a hymn for it. Ok I know about "sublimation", the conversion of inner struggles to art, and other defense mechanisms, but it was something extremely difficult to render, let alone write a happy alternative.


Most of the posts are by young women who have experienced some form of infatuation and by principle of Gestalt, would claim a personal resonance, an understanding of Villette. Yet how many could transform their infatuation into a work of art?
Not many :lol:.Literature would have a whole bunch of classic books and Jane Eyre would be less extraordinary, if anyone could write a book about every single disappointment of love that he/she had. It is exactly what irritates me when people blame Charlotte Bronte for "writing her life". Even if it was as simple as this, how many persons could make so many people interested in it?


Since you have read, carefully, and formed an opinion on Villette, will you allow a few questions?
Oh, God! I feel a heavy burden in my shoulders. I'm not an expert in Villette. I am much more confident about my opinions on Jane Eyre. The first time I read Villette I didn't grasp the significance/extent of Lucy's love for Graham, the second time was far better and the third reading (through translation this time) complicated the matter too much as the translator chose to use totally different words corresponding to the English ones than I had in mind. It didn't make half the impression the original language had made upon me.


How do you interpret the division of the novel into 3 parts and the recapitulation of events from the previous volume in the subsequent volumes?
My book doesn't mention where each volume ended. So I never noticed it too much. If you can write me the chapters where that happens, I will see if I can answer that. Someone in a forum said that the plot is that way because it mirrors Lucy's psychological journey. For me the book (which has been characterized as pre-Freudian) is referring to the Freudian belief that there are recurrent patterns of events in our lives, which makes kind of sense if you consider that each person makes his choice according to his personality and as far as this doesn't change we tend to repeat confronting situations that seem similar. On the other hand Bronte always in my opinion chooses to disregard whether a situation is all too probable in favor of illuminating different sides of her character's personality and development. Her characters tend to re-enact some situations and trying their different footing: like Jane Eyre returning to Gateshead, that makes her realize she is stronger now and doesn't need her cousins' approval or her gaining a fortune and cousins but her still missing Rochester. Lucy's life follows a pattern of losses and storms and loneliness and being the alien part in most situations. At first she tries to ignore its significance and forget. Her feelings come back stronger and delude her. After learning who she is, she may not become happier, as fate continues to wrong her, but she manages to survive and is stronger than before. She has loved and lost, but at least she has lived too. She is not a bright lady's shadow in the end and she stands on her feet.


And “What Lucy recognizes as the 'seeming inconsistency' of her treatment of John in volume 2 disappears when she comes to describe the hero of volume 3, Paul Emanuel.”
From where is that sentence?


if we interpret Lucy's hallucinations in the present and not of emotions distorting the memory of the past, does this suggest that Lucy's inability to deal with ' heretic narrative' of the first two volumes be viewed as a mild form of schizophrenia, the hallucinations and delusions revolving around theme of of unrequited love.
In what hallucinations are you referring to? This? "The solitude and the stillness of the long dormitory could not be borne any longer; the ghastly white beds were turning into spectres--the coronal of each became a death's-head, huge and sun-bleached--dead dreams of an elder world and mightier race lay frozen in their wide gaping eyeholes."
Please quote because I do not remember anything else except the nun (which was real). I don't think her state ever supports schizophrenia. It would be more probable to see hallucinations as symptoms of depression with psychotic elements. But I still think the part I quoted as powerful metaphors to show her state more vividly.


Is the characterization by George Eliot of Villette, of “preternatural in it's powers” a recurrence of an image of madness, of Bertha in Jane Eyre and Lucy in Villette, an indication of obsession of a theme in Charlotte? Or is this a meditation on death so frequent in Charlotte's experience?
Charlotte mentions in her letters to Heger that they may consider her mad but they could not suffer what she did for 6 months now, not even for a day. Catherine Earnshaw becomes mad out of grief. I believe it was a common belief of the era.
Meditation on death was unavoidable. In a way Lucy's conclusion that there are some people destined to live unhappy could be interpreted as a simple case of learned helplessness (which can be caused by recurrent patterns of misfortune as death was for Charlotte). Gaskell asked her if she believed what she had written and she answered in the affirmative. Gaskell then retorted that everybody should hope. Charlotte smiled sadly and said that it was a long time since she was trying to struggle hope (this dialogue was a repetition of the one that already existed in the book between Graham and Lucy when she claims that happiness is no potato to cultivate). Charlotte chose to face the grim reality and quit hoping, because when you do not hope you do not get disappointed. She reminds me of that saying that the good side of being pessimistic is that you are often found to be correct in your predictions and in the cases you are wrong you are pleasantly surprised :) .


For neither Bronte nor Lucy Snowe can facts or circumstances of experience offer any satisfaction. Family is gone;suitors have disappeared; it is primarily a record of losses and humiliations.”
Therefore in contradiction to “Gordon gives us a rather different picture, of an outwardly meek but in actual fact very determined, steely woman who refused to be ground down by fate, the one who admitted that it would take a great deal to crush me.”
Charlotte was in many ways a woman grieved, with a grim vision of the future that neither religious feeling could disperse. Life was unfair but she wouldn't just give up. The phrase "it will take a great deal to crush me" is a real phrase of hers from a letter to Mr Williams about a negative review of Jane Eyre. In Villette we also find the phrase: "If life be a war, it seemed my destiny to conduct it single-handed. I pondered now how to break up my winter-quarters--to leave an encampment where food and forage failed. Perhaps, to effect this change, another pitched battle must be fought with fortune; if so, I had a mind to the encounter: too poor to lose, God might destine me to gain."
Charlotte, Jane, Lucy are fighters (sometimes not because they chose to be so, but there are battles they have to give). They are survivors and have fought bravely. It took a great deal of courage (and-for some who dislike them-an amount of stubbornness) for all of them to defy what others saw in them as feminine/appropriate or not. Charlotte wrote despite Southey's advise, Jane grew to be a confident woman, even if she was told she was worse than the servants, Lucy wanted to compromise with fate, but in the middle of the way she chose not to be a bright lady's shadow. I believe that what we have here are two extreme images of Charlotte's that Gaskell and Gordon created. Charlotte was an ambitious, brave woman with many visions beyond her era and a great talent to impart those or at least her thought and her dilemma's. But she was human too and she had a very sad life and many disappointments that could not be re-compensated by success or fame. She was still lonely but she was not, on the other hand, simply a woman broken by grief, always grave and sad - a victim, as Gaskell presented her. The truth lies somewhere between those stereotypes.


Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis (tuberculosis), but many biographers suggest she may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness. Even in 19th. century an necessary death.
Her death certificate write "phisis" which is not even a word. As Charlotte was vomiting severely until she drew out blood it was supposed that it was consumption. The blood however could come from her stomach and not lungs.
Her husband in announcing her death to Ellen speaks of dehydration which of course was the effect of vomiting. We will never know the cause of her death. I wish it could be proved irrelevant with her pregnancy. So much guilt has been attributed to her husband and marriage and its outcomes...
"Even in 19th. century an necessary death." What do you mean by a necessary death?


And does the difficulty of Villette, “The novel is a mirror in which reality is transformed to grant the emotional and aesthetic satisfaction that life invariably withholds.”, partially lies in “Villette would seem to be a novel that must be read backwards or, at least, reread if one is to judge the narrator's perspective accurately."

Is this from the essay by Janice Carlisle?

kelby_lake
01-04-2013, 09:26 PM
I think that Villette is a very emotional book but that Charlotte didn't want it to come across as just sentimental.