Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wondrous Words from Villette by Charlotte Bronte!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a terrific weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

Today's words are all from Villette by Charlotte Bronte (signet classics)

"Repairing to the drawing room-in which calm and decorated apartment she was fond of being alone, and where she could be implicitly trusted, for she fingered nothing, or rather soiled nothing she fingered-I found her seated like a little Odalisque, on a couch, half shaded by the drooping draperies of the window near."(p.31)

1. Odalisque ~noun
:a woman slave in a harem
I went to Wikipedia for a little more info:
:during the Ottoman Empire, an odalisque was a part of the Turkish household of a sultan and assisted or apprenticed to the wives and concubines in their living quarters. It was also possible for an odalisque to rise in status to become a wife or concubine!

"Madame I believed to be in her chamber; the room whence he had stepped was dedicated to the portress's sole use; and she, Rosine Matou, an unprincipled though pretty little grisette, airy, fickle, vain, and mercenary--it was not, surely, to her hand he owed the ordeal through which he seemed to have passed?" (p.114)

2. Portress ~noun
: a woman who is a doorkeeper in a convent
: a female porter

3. Grisette ~noun
: a French working-class woman from the late 17th century; derives from gris, (French for grey) & refers to the cheap grey fabric of the dresses these women wore

“And in catalepsy and a dead trance, I studiously held the quick of my nature.” (p.120)

4. Catalepsy ~noun
: a physical condition usually associated with catatonic schizophrenia, characterized by suspension of sensation, muscular rigidity, fixity of posture, and often by loss of contact with environment.

“The classes were undergoing sweeping and purification by candlelight, according to hebdomadal custom: benches were piled on desks, the air was dim with dust, damp coffee grounds (used by Labassecourien housemaids instead of tea leaves) darkened the floor; all was hopeless confusion.” (p.274)

5. Hebdomadal ~noun
: weekly; of or occurring every seven days. (used esp. of organizations that meet weekly)


  1. I knew three of these words : odalisque, grisette and catalepy (catalepsie in French), because they are French words and I'm French !
    At the end of XIXth century a "grisette" was too a young and pretty girl....not very serious !

  2. thanks, for sharing these great words.

  3. I think I would need a dictionary by my side to read that book. They're all great words!

  4. ANNIE: Villette would be an easy read for you in some ways, then. There is quite a bit of French language and terms in it. I might have to use you as a resource while I'm reading this book, if that's okay!
    I took a few years of French in school but it eludes me for the most part now. I would love to know the French language, which is beautiful, as you do!

  5. TRIBUTE BOOKS: Thank you for stopping by!

    BERMUDAONION: I have a long list of words from Villette which doesn't include all of the French language throughout the text. Fortunately, it's translated in the book so I only need a dictionary for the English words!