Villette by Charlotte Bronte (+ Audiobook review)

Onward with our Victorian novel extravaganza!

Have you heard of Charlotte Bronte? No. Well, either way she is the author who concerns us today. Being a conservative, Victorian era woman, she had much to say on society… albeit in a somewhat reserved fashion. While her sister Emily was more radical, Charlotte wrote her novels as an idealized counter-piece to social-reality; marriage solves everything while deviations invites disaster.

So, on to her work!

Villette concerns a different aspect of Charlotte’s work. This novel deals with a young woman named Lucy Snow, a depressed Protestant for whom the term “existential angst” means both a lot and nothing; she spends a great deal of the book lamenting her personality faults. Her social awkwardness, desire to be left alone, and spurning of luxury and the more decadent social interaction, mark her as a odd character for Charlotte to write.She wanders from place to place in search of a livelihood (eventually becoming a school teacher), and seems to repress a disturbing past which is never fully revealed until the very last page.

For most of the story Lucy is pushed around. She allows her will to be bent to those around her. She makes friends, enemies, and a lot of ambiguous contacts who she keeps in sporadic contact with over the years. Eventually she finds a man, falls in love, and -SPOILER ALERT- does NOT get married, as her man dies at sea. Bummer.

The ending is vague. Very unlike her writing style and ideals. The reader is kept in doubt whether Lucy’s husband-to-be actually is dead (although the conclusion is clear). This is because Charlotte’s husband was influencing her to make the ending a happy one. Charlotte, however, decided otherwise and, not able to go against her man, elected to turn the conclusion into something lurking in the grey area: sad but ill-formed in definition.

Over all the book was interesting. I would say that this novel is far better and more intriguing than Jane Eyre, the novel which Charlotte is best known for. Even so I would caution that the reader who starts this novel is in for a long haul. The novel starts off slow and doesn’t get going for a couple hundred pages or so. And even then it is a bit odd. If you are reading this book with an emphasis on consciousness, however, it goes a bit faster if you look at all the different aspects of Lucy’s character, but foregoing this trial, you will be a puzzler looking for clues as to why this book is prevalent. Regardless, there is much to like about this novel. Lucy is a fascinating character and the “opiate sequence” is something which should be experienced by every student of Victorian literature.

Audiobook Review

The audiobook is narrated by Davinia Porter. She does an able job of describing the situations in the novel. Her reading of the book matches well with the various situations as seen by the author; she matches the protagonist’s emotional spectrum with her own and the resulting product is something which speaks of talent. While this is not always the case, reading a setting which allows you to take in all the sights of the reading, all the minute details, will go a long way in bringing to life your experience with Villette.

Recommendation: buy.

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