Thursday, February 10, 2011

Villette Read-a-long: Week One

This is Week One of the Villette Read-a-long hosted by Wallace at her blog, Unputdownables. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!

Summary (Chapters 1- 5):
Villette opens with Lucy Snowe, narrator and main character, staying in the town of Bretton, at Bretton, the home of her godmother, Mrs. Bretton, the widow of Dr. Bretton and mother to sixteen-year old Graham. Lucy enjoys visiting at her godmother's home because it was quiet and peaceful without much excitement, which very much suits Lucy.

After Lucy had been at Bretton for a little while, the young daughter, Paulina Mary Home (aka Polly), of an acquaintance of the late Dr. Bretton, come to stay. Polly is extremely small, neat and dainty with a very passionate, dramatic temperament. She's very attached to her father, Mr. Home and distraught at being separated from him. At first, she is inconsolable. But soon she becomes enamored of Graham, who believing she will be a great source of amusement and entertainment, begins teasing her. Soon Polly is waiting on him hand and foot, only content when by his side. When Polly’s father sends for her she is distraught at leaving Graham although he isn't so upset.

Lucy returns home shortly after Polly's departure, having been at Bretton for six months. Eight years pass and Lucy finds herself alone and penniless, in need of employment. She is hired as a companion to Miss Marchmont, an elderly, wealthy and disabled woman in the neighborhood in need of a companion. Miss Marchmont and Lucy find they suit each other and Lucy cares for Miss Marchmont until the night she dies in her sleep.

Lucy is 23-years old. She decides to go to London and obtains the name of an inn to stay at from the woman, Mrs. Barrett, who used to be her nurse and was a servant to her family. She arrives in London exhausted after a 50 mile journey and somewhat anxious about life. But while lying in her bed at the inn, crying, she hears the bells of St. Paul’s and is comforted.

My Thoughts:
I am very happy to be reading this book. Villette is the only book by the Bronte sisters that I’ve never read. It wasn’t on any of the reading lists for my high school or college classes which I find odd. And, after school I, unfortunately, got away from reading many of the classics.

One of the first things I noticed was how well-written this book is, particularly in terms of Charlotte Bronte’s use of language. Although her writing is arguably wordy at times, her vocabulary is amazing and it’s apparent how well-educated and intelligent she was.

Ms. Bronte doesn’t describe Lucy Snowe for us in any great detail but leaves bits and pieces of information regarding Lucy’s character and appearance. We learn that, although Lucy has no money now, she was raised with money, her family had servants and, as a child, she had a nurse. (p.46 signet classics).

We learn that Lucy attended school when she encounters a woman who was her schoolfellow and was intelligent. (p.47 signet classics). Throughout the narrative Lucy provides us with observations and insight into the other characters as well as about life in general that indicate she is intelligent and clever.

What impresses me most about Lucy is her courage and industriousness both observed when she finds herself alone and broke, in need of employment in chapter 4 and then when her employer Miss Marchmont dies and Lucy has to figure out what to do and where to go. Instead of being depressed and anxious she considers that “I might still, in comparison with many people, be regarded as occupying an enviable position.” (p.46 signet classics).

I think it’s terrific that Ms. Bronte’s narrator and main character is a strong, capable woman and I’m looking forward to getting to know Lucy better.
There’s a very interesting passage early in Chapter 5. Lucy has just left Mrs. Barrett after visiting her for a few hours. It is twilight and she has to walk about two miles back to Miss Marchmont’s through fields. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her life now. While she’s walking she sees “that which shone in the north, a moving mystery--the aurora borealis.” (p.47 signet classics). Lucy feels it brings her power and energy because right then she thinks to leave and go to London.
I wonder if the aurora borealis appeared 50 or so miles outside of London and if Charlotte Bronte studied or read about it. I’m interested to see if this is part of a theme in the book!

Visit Unputdownables for Wallace’s thoughts on Week One of Villette and a list of Read-a-long participants blog to visit for their thoughts!


  1. I have not yet read this book, but I do own it on my Kindle, so I was glad to read your thoughts. I am going to have to make time for this one!

  2. I totally agree with you on Lucy's courageousness. I love how she personified common sense to get through the tough ordeal of dealing with Mrs. Marchmont's death and getting to London.

  3. I thought Polly's full name was least it is in my book. LOL I hope the editors didn't take liberty with the name in my version.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book. I'm enjoying Lucy's strength as well and it would be interesting to see if Bronte simply threw in the Aurora for the plot or if she saw one at one point while writing this novel.

    I've read Emily's work, but this is my first experience with Charlotte's...I'm looking forward to Lucy's adventures in London.

  4. I, too, am most impressed by both Lucy's courage (and industriousness!), and Charlotte's writing. When I read a classic of such beauty as this, it makes me wonder why I ever read anything "current". It may be wordy, as you said, in parts; yet it's so worthy, isn't it?

  5. I'm wishing I had joined this read-along! My next Bronte sister novel will probably be The Tenant of Wildfell Hall... maybe in the spring. Look forward to following your thoughts on Villette.

  6. ZIBILEE: It's very good and Charlotte Bronte displays a good sense of humor here, too! Someone else made the point that it's so well-written, intelligent, that it makes it difficult to read contemporary fiction without being critical!

    ERIN: I first thought she might be rather boring but she isn't at all. It's as if at Bretton she knew her life was going to become difficult so she enjoyed the peace and calm while she had it in her life.

  7. SERENA: Thank you for pointing out my misprint of Polly's first name! Ack! You know I kept thinking Pollyanna but I checked it out and saw her name was Paulina, made a mental note and then typed it incorrectly! That's embarassing so thank you!
    Thank you for stopping by! I think Villette is going to be a great readalong!

  8. BELLEZZA: I completely agree! I am reading some current books now and admit that "why?" has gone through my mind. It's just a shame that education, generally, isn't as strong as it once was. But I s'pose there are more demands on people's time now too...although that sounds like a rather lame excuse!

    JoANN: There are several good readalongs and other projects going on around the blogs now and I wish I could have joined some others so I understand how you feel. I'm happy to see you following along with the posts!

  9. I have to agree with your comments about Bronte's skill as a writer. At least so far, this book seems more stylistically playful than Jane Eyre. I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.

    By the way, I love the cat pictures!

  10. Interesting that everyone agrees that Lucy is clever and at first she also seems very rational and no-nonsense… but is she really?

    The trip to London seemed so impulsive, so risky, so foolish really, for someone in her position. I don’t know quite how to bring the two together.

  11. I wish I had time to participate in this one! I just finished Jane Eyre and loved it, and now I want to read more Bronte! I hope you continue to enjoy Villette.

  12. I'm playing catch up with this one. Trying to figure out why we got that first chapter and then immediately skipped 8 years into the future with almost no reference back to the happenings in the first chapter.