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The next novel, published about a decade before Great Expectations, is Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853), the story of a young woman, Lucy Snowe, who, a bit like Pip, has no known living relatives, and travels from her native England to the fictional French-speaking city of Villette, in Belgium, to teach at a girls’ school. It seems, especially in this Brontë anniversary year, that a growing number of writers and academics are following in the footsteps of George Eliot and citing this as Charlotte’s best—that is, better than Jane Eyre. Are you in that camp? I don’t want to decry Jane Eyre—this isn’t an anti-Jane Eyre stance!—but I think that it’s a fairy story. Not that I’m averse to fairy stories. I’ve just contributed to a new volume of stories called Reader, I Married Him, all based on that iconic final line. I, personally, have never liked that line, I think there’s something smug and self-satisfied about it. I also think—and this is me psychoanalysing Charlotte Brontë—that there was something in Charlotte Brontë that needed to cut Rochester down to size and put Jane finally in control over him, and I suspect that that is something to do with her own dented romantic adventures, the areas in which she herself experienced rejection and the areas in which she herself experienced feeling sexually unattractive. And so it’s a moment when I feel the author’s ego superimposes itself on the organic evolution of the book.
In Villette, though, she’s become a much more mature writer. Brontë does not try to make Lucy Snowe attractive. In Jane Eyre, the protagonist is supposed to be small and plain but you know you’re really supposed to find her appealing, as Rochester does. Brontë doesn’t do that with Lucy. She leaves her as she is—she remains plain and emotionally repressed. She’s very angry. And Brontë sustains this courageously, right up until the end when she may or may not get her heart’s desire. There’s a sort of withholding of the personality of Lucy Snowe; she does nothing at all to seduce the reader. Brontë is very brave in this: she is not prepared to make Lucy Snowe attractive to the other characters or to the reader.
But Lucy Snowe is keen to experiment with different versions of herself in the course of the novel, isn’t she? Yes, she tries out different selves. She dresses as a man when she’s obliged to play the part in a school play; and then she dresses in a very feminine pink gown when she goes to the theatre with Dr John and his mother. There’s something about her trying out these alternative selves that, again, I think is very interesting and quite radical.
The psychological demands made of the reader are, arguably, greater here than they are in Great Expectations, and certainly in Jane Eyre. If anything just because of the ending. Yes, and there’s the most brilliant description of a nervous breakdown at the very centre of the book, too, when she’s left virtually alone by Mme. Beck in the school while everyone is on vacation. It’s an extraordinary piece of writing. There’s a fragmented quality to the prose, so that you yourself, as a reader, find an incoherence as you read it, and identify with it. It’s very, very painful and I’m sure that’s why Villette has not been so popular. Although Jane Eyre looks a little painful, you sort of know she’s going to get a happy ending. Brontë doesn’t give Lucy a happy ending. We don’t know if Monsieur Paul is going to come back to her at the end. (Read more) (Thea Lenarduzzi)
Q: What is Brontë about?Expresso (Portugal) mentions the 1895 Ensaio de Psicologia Feminina by Cláudia de Campos in which she
A: Brontë is about the Brontë family. It’s a big overview of their life, the troubles they’ve gone through, their accomplishments. It’s also about where they got their inspirations from, from their brother’s travelling to finding love.
Q: The play takes place over several different decades of the Brontës’ lives. What’s the biggest challenge in that as an actor?
A: It’s really tricky because you have to go into each scene with what your character knows from that point of view. When she is 17, she only knew a certain amount of information, as when she’s 25 and 33. When she goes through depression, that’s huge. You have to be able to know how much you know and what you think about each person in that scene. It’s mental, physical and emotional shifts.
Q: What makes Charlotte interesting?
A: What I love about Charlotte is that she’s under-appreciated, which is funny because most people know Charlotte because of Jane Eyre. But she was really pushy and temperamental. She smothers with love because she grew up without a mother and doesn’t know how to love properly. It’s tricky to be her because you feel all this burden with Charlotte. She goes through so much, but you also learn why she was inspired by writing. I like to think she’s very strong. (Stephanie McKay)
analisa Charlotte Brontë, Condessa de Lafayette, Baronesa de Staël, entre outras figuras femininas. (Joana Beleza) (Translation)
Three decades after I left the classroom, I can still recall the enthusiasm of my English teacher for great works like Wuthering Heights.The Block Island Times discusses the novel too. And we have scored an 11/11 in this Metro test to see how well 'you know the lyrics to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights'. Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie discusses the song on this podcast from OneTrackMinds. Story and Somnomancy has a 'mini review' of Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele. The Brussels Brontë Blog has part two of its statistical analysis of Brontë translations.
While I still don't particularly like the book and can't understand anyone's passion for old Heathcliff, I can truly appreciate the love for literature she was trying to convey to us as teenagers. (Jody Springett)
The Christmas edition of The Dalesman magazine has very Brontë cover and includes an interview with Sally Wainwright about To Walk Invisible.Bronte fans get ready Next Thurs start of #BronteAdvent Calendar, when each day @2pmGMT I'll open window onto Bronte world @BronteParsonage— Tracy Chevalier (@Tracy_Chevalier) November 24, 2016