Friday, February 20, 2015

Villete by Charlotte Bronte

Author:  Charlotte Bronte
Published:  1853
This book was a long and difficult read, much like the long and difficult life of Lucy Snow, the protagonist in Villette.  It took me about three weeks to read this book.  The pages have a very small print and include page upon page of details to describe a single event.

I had not read a book like this in quite a long time - perhaps even years.  It was not easy, and I wonder if this was made difficult to help the reader feel for Lucy.

Lucy Snow at the end of the book must only be in her twenties, but her life was so difficult.   Initially, I did not like her.  I could not imagine her having friends or wanting to be friends with her.  She seemed judgmental and extremely rigid in her views.  As the book progressed, I felt sorry for her and only wished that she would allow herself to feel happiness.

Lucy was originally from England and would visit her godmother, Mrs. Bretton and her son, Graham, each year for several months.  Lucy was a very serious person and spent a lot of time analyzing Graham.  While visiting her godmother, another visitor came to the Bretton home, little Polly who would only be in the beginning of the story for a very short time and then return later in the book.  Polly seemed spoiled and very young, but Lucy tolerated her while Graham formed a very close relationship with her. Soon after Polly left the Bretton residence to move back with her father, Lucy returned to her family.  We really do not know anything about Lucy's family or how she came to form the relationship with the Brettons.  What we do know is that she suffered and was alone.  She likened her experience to falling off a ship during a storm.
...there must have been a wreck at last.  I too well remember a time, a long time, of cold, or danger, of contention.  To this hour, when I have the nightmare, it repeats the rush and saltness of briny waves in my throat, and their icy pressure on my lungs.  I even know there was a storm, and that not of one hour or one day.  For many days and nights neither sun not starts appeared; we cast with our own hands the tackling out of the ship; a heavy tempest lay on us; all hope that we should be saved was taken away.  In fine, the ship was lost, the crew perished.
 Lucy then worked for Mrs. Marchmont until her death, when Lucy decides to take a ship to France. While on the ship, Lucy meets Genevra Fanshaw.  She was a young girl going to a boarding school in Villete and she is the one who puts the idea of Villette in Lucy's head.  Lucy arrived in France and is unable to speak French.  Luckily, she runs into an Englishman who directs her to someone who can help her find a place to stay.  It was late, but with much trouble, Lucy finds her way to a boarding school, we learn it is Genevra's same destination.

The boarding house is run by Mrs. Beck.  She runs a very strict school and decides to employ Lucy as a governess for her daughters.  Lucy cares for the girls for only a short time before she is needed in the school to teach English.  While she has the opportunity to meet the other teachers and develop friendships, Lucy decides against their friendships.  The only relationships she has are with Mrs. Beck, who is very nosy, Genevra, who is very shallow, M. Paul Emmanuel, another teacher who has a quick temper and feels that he must protect Lucy, and Dr. John.  It turns out that Dr. John is the same Englishman who had helped Lucy find a place to stay upon arriving in France and he is the doctor that is called to the boarding house when anyone is sick.

Dr. John is extremely handsome and I imagine a man with light hair, a well defined face, and a strong chin.  Lucy seems to find Dr. John handsome, but she does not really interact with him other than to make sharp comments to him.  It seems that she knows Dr. John, but does not let the reader know until several chapters later.  I found it interesting that Lucy keeps facts from the reader.  The book is written in the first person, but we are not really allowed into Lucy's head to really know what she feels and thinks until she is ready to tell us.  If only Lucy would share what she knows with the reader and with the others in the book, her life could be so much happier.

There is a period of time, and it is during this time, that I, as a reader, start to feel for Lucy and want her to be happy.  This is when I start noticing a change in her, she loosens up, but never enough.  She is left in the boarding house alone while everyone else goes on holiday.  During this time, Lucy is sad and lonely.  Although she is a Protestant, she leaves the boarding house and enters a Catholic church to make a confession to a priest.  Really, she is just in desperate need of companionship.  The priest feels very sorry for her and watches her leave the church.  It is during a terrible storm and Lucy collapses.  The priest picks her up as an Englishman, yes, Dr. John, happens to be passing by.  The priest tells Dr. John that this is someone from Dr. John's country and she needs help.  Of course, Dr. John recognizes Lucy as the teacher at the boarding school and carries her to his home.

Lucy wakes up in a room that looks familiar to her.  She sees objects from her youth and even objects that she herself painted.  She then looks and sees a portrait of Graham.  She recognizes his light hair and his strong chin.  This is where the reader finds out what Lucy already knew.  Dr. John is John Graham Bretton, her godbrother!  This is exactly what Lucy needs and we see her thrive being with those close to her, those as close to a family that she has, Graham and Mrs. Bretton.

This is where the story starts getting really good!  You want to shake Lucy and tell her to wake up! She falls for Dr. John, but never does anything to change the relationship.  She helps John as he is fond of Genevra until another beautiful woman comes into the picture.

What a small world!  One night, as Dr. John and Lucy attend an opera, they meet Paulina Bassompierre and her father M. Bassompierre.  Paulina is "little Polly" from Graham and Lucy's youth.  Paulina is now 17 years old and beautiful.  Lucy and Paulina become very close friends while Paulina and Dr. John fall in love.

During all of this time, M. Paul Emmanuel has kept his eye on Lucy.  He is very serious and like Lucy, very judgmental.  He is verbally rough with Lucy, but she is always quick to forgive.  Like Lucy, he is also very lonely.  They decide to become friends and he will be her brother and she his sister.  It has been obvious to me throughout the book that he is in love with Lucy, but Lucy is unwilling to see his true feelings.

The priest from the Catholic church had been M. Paul's teacher and convinced him that Lucy was not a good choice because she was Protestant.  Mrs. Beck also was not supportive of M. Paul's feelings because she herself has always wanted to marry M. Paul.  Just when Lucy is becoming happy, they work against her to keep her from it.  They send M. Paul abroad for work, but expect him back in three years.  They try to keep M. Paul and Lucy apart and do not allow them to see each other before his departure.  Lucy is distraught and feels that Paul does not want to see her, that her friendship really meant nothing to him.

I'm only going to write about the end of the book here because it was SO long and I was left very upset upon finishing!  I did enjoy reading the book and could not wait to get back to it any chance I could, but the ending left me sad.  If you want to figure it out for yourself, stop reading here!

M. Paul decided he would make the three year journey because at the end of the three years he would be free of all of his debts to others and could dedicate himself solely to Lucy.  During the days he is kept from seeing Lucy, he is doing all he can to prepare for her a life that will be less painful for her.  He rents a home for her where she will be able to run her own school, her dream.  He has furnished the home for her and has even been able to get her a few students for her new school.  He wants her to run the school and to wait for him.  He will share his life with her if she will only wait until he returns.

Lucy describes the next three years as the best of her life.  She spent these years building her school and the home she would share with Paul.  When finally the three years are over, a terrible storm rages in the Atlantic until it "was strewn with wrecks:  it did not lull till the deeps had gorged their full sustenance."  Lucy then tells us,
Here pause:  pause at one.  There is enough said.  Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope.  Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, ad the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return.  Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.
I don't know what this means.  Did M. Paul make it?  Did he die?  I don't know.  Charlotte Bronte does not give us a clue.  I think Lucy's life is so painful and lonely that there is no way that he would have made it.  It would have meant happiness for her and this was not something she was to enjoy during her lifetime.  Since Lucy describes her turmoil as a child as a storm and describes the three years prior to M. Paul's expected arrival as the best of her life, I do not believe there is any way that Paul survived.  Her sorrow is described as a ship wreck.

I really did enjoy this book.  The ending left me sad for Lucy.  I wanted her to fall in love and have a family of her own.  She was so desperate for love and friendship.

The book was well written, but it was difficult to read.  As I previously mentioned, the font was tiny and the details were detailed.  I found that many times I had to go back and reread the same thing several time to comprehend.  I did feel that the author's writing brought me very close to Lucy and I felt pain for her in my own heart.

The part of the writing I enjoyed the most was the personification.  Reason, death, truth, were all brought to life and many times left Lucy just as her friends left her.

Short Biography
Check it out from your library!