Back in February I took part in The Classics Club Spin (original post here). I chose my 20 books and despite keeping my fingers crossed for a book I already owned, it landed on No. 14, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette
Villette is told from the perspective of Lucy Snowe, a young woman, who on the death of the woman she lives with, leaves England for the Continent and ends up in Villette. Lucy soon finds employment in a foreign school and the novel centres on her time at this school and the people, from her present and past, who appear in Villette bringing drama, passion and problems of their own. Most notably, Mrs Bretton, Lucy’s Godmother, and her son, Graham, who are at the centre of much of the novel, with Graham adding to the romance aspect of the novel. It is clear that Lucy has feelings for Graham, having known him since childhood, however these feelings are one sided and Lucy soon graciously steps aside and finds romance of her own slightly closer to home.
I enjoyed Villette and without The Classics Club Spin, I don’t think I would have picked it up as my next read from the list. However I have never been a huge fan of any of the Brontes, although maybe that is a tad unfair as I haven’t read anything by Anne Bronte, but Emily and Charlotte have never been my favourite Victorian authors; I tend to favour male authors from the period. (Arguably a case of being influenced by the Literary Canon and the slight favouritism towards white, middle class male authors of the Victorian Era, but that’s a different post!). I was more interested in the lives of the other main characters than that of Lucy, finding her slightly too insipid and pious for my liking. It was these characters that held my attention and ensured I continued reading, and when their stories were neatly tied up I found the narrative held little fascination for me. Luckily their narratives came to the end in some of the closing chapters, so I didn’t have to plough through 200 odd pages of just Lucy. They all get their happy endings, even the ones who don’t deserve it. And yet Lucy is good and proper and behaves just as a respectable young English woman of a certain class should, and she still doesn’t get her happy ever after. Where is the justice?
On the whole, a good read and I am glad to cross it off my list. Although the publishers of Villette need to include French translations, maybe some of them do, but the Vintage copy I borrowed from the library didn’t. Now I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I don’t read French and I also don’t have the time to translate every French sentence through Google, so it did get a touch frustrating at times. I know it is probably a sin, but I just bypassed these sections and relied on my inference skills to pick up the gist of the conversation; luckily for me this worked, but I don’t think I should actively promote it as a reading technique.