Saturday, February 12, 2011

Villette read-a-long : Week 1 (Chapters 1-5)

It struck me, upon reading Villette again, just how much our narrator Lucy Snowe is so very much the silent ghost, (the "noncom observer" for any Marillion fans out there haha), the watcher who digests the reactions and interactions of the characters we meet. Read any biography of Charlotte and you will discover the tragic conditions under which Villette was written; the despairing grief of the still recent losses of Branwell, Emily and Anne surrounds the writing, and Charlotte's ability to express those feelings so hauntingly is part of what makes this book so beautiful.

Miss Marchmont in chapter IV is very much a stand-in for those beloved siblings. Lucy/Charlotte discusses here what has just passed and what is possibly to come as she faced life as the only remaining child of an increasingly dependent father:

"I reflected. Of course it ought to appear tolerable, I argued inwardly; but somehow, by some strange fatality, it would not. To live here, in this close room, the watcher of suffering—sometimes, perhaps, the butt of temper—through all that was to come of my youth".

Polly's childish liveliness in chaper 3, in addition to being viewed by Lucy in a most dispassionate fashion, as if deliberately stripping away the excitement being described, is also barbed with a grief-stricken bitterness:

"How will she get through this world, or battle with this life? How will she bear the shocks and repulses, the humiliations and desolations, which books, and my own reason, tell me are prepared for all flesh?"

These early chapters of Villette are the sombre launchpad of the experiences to come. There is pain here to be sure, but it is tinged with the most delicate tendrils of hope, springing from a cautiously optimist mind. So deep is Lucy/Charlotte in her grief, that this delicacy can only be expressed by Miss Marchmont:

"I love Memory to-night," she said: "I prize her as my best friend. She is just now giving me a deep delight: she is bringing back to my heart, in warm and beautiful life, realities—not mere empty ideas, but what were once realities, and that I long have thought decayed, dissolved, mixed in with grave-mould. I possess just now the hours, the thoughts, the hopes of my youth."

4 comments:

Tahleen said...

This is great—I didn't even make the connection of the Bronte's losing Branwell. It's nice to have the perspective of someone who's already read it, and you did it without any spoilers. :)

Btw I love your picture up top.

Charlie said...

Thank you for your comment. I'll always try very hard not to put in any spoilers, or even allude to any. :)

Alexandra said...

Do you know if Charlotte ever admited that Lucy was the character she created closer to her own personality? I think it might be.

I like your comment about “optimist mind” – very right, she’s strong, but she’s resilient in her hope. Her risky move to London might be as far as that hope has taken her, a sort of risky deal with Destiny.

Charlie said...

And i think you might be right. One thing we do know about Charlotte was the worlds she created to escape from the day to day mundanities were based on her limited experience of the world. She'd attempted to escape writing about direct experiences with her historical novel 'Shirley', with uneven success, and the strength and power of 'Villette' surely comes directly from her again channelling those direct experiences with all her genius. Villette very closesly follows her own path in life - I don't want to give much away so I won't say much more...