I’m late! Not on my reading, but on my posting. We were away for the weekend and I didn’t have access to a computer. Still, I spent lots of time with Villette and I’m all caught up and happily moving on to Volume II. But Volume I? We still need to talk about that!
First of all, I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book. Honestly, I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to read anything else by Charlotte Brontë, as I loved Jane Eyre and felt immediately pulled back into the world that her writing creates as I started Villette. She has a way of making you feel intimate with the main character in a way that few other writers can manage, even when the main character is someone you hardly know.
Lucy Snowe is NOT Jane Eyre. We have a very different and distinctive heroine in Villette‘s Lucy, although certain parallels could be drawn between the two. Lucy is a mystery: we’re introduced to her as a young adolescent, then after a few chapters the story jumps forward ten years in time and she is a young adult. What happens in between these two different time periods is unclear, although the reader is led to assume that traumatic things have occurred in Lucy’s personal life and family situation.
In the first chapters, Lucy is the narrator of the story but we learn next to nothing about her as a person. Instead, the action revolves around her godmother and her godmother’s son, Graham, and a young ward that they’ve taken into the family because her father is travelling. When this part of the story reaches something of a resolution, the action shifts to Lucy as a young adult–ready to leave her home behind and venture out into the world on her own.
This is where we finally start to learn more about what makes Lucy tick, as her personality begins to reveal itself in the choices that she makes and the way she reacts to opportunities that come her way. I really enjoyed the scene in which she visits London for the first time, which shows that she has an eagerness for life and an independent spirit that must have been somewhat unusual for a woman at that time. She throws herself rather recklessly into situations as they present themselves, taking chances that seem quite risky to me for one who is very innocent of the world.
I don’t want to give away too much about the plot of the book, but suffice it to say that in Volume I there are several occasions in which the reader sees Lucy presented with a challenge, and she is given the chance to either rise to or shrink from that challenge. Brontë is able to let the reader into Lucy’s mind in such a way that we feel every emotion as she does, and she details Lucy’s reactions to things so precisely that I feel I know her by this point in the book, even though we still know very little about her background.
I could really relate to Lucy’s experiences as she *minor spoiler* becomes a teacher and as she learns French, both of which are things I’ve been through myself. Although I never shoved a student into a closet (thankfully!), I could understand exactly what she meant when she spoke of the frustration of not being able to react in a given situation in a foreign language as you would in your own language–that feeling of powerlessness is very familiar to me.
By the end of Volume I, Lucy has started to make a life for herself in a new place, settled into a job and become more comfortable with the language and people around her. Yet when the routine of her new life is interrupted and she finds herself alone for an extended period of time, she falls prey to illness and a mental disturbance that seems to be a result of her troubled past. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Lucy and I’m curious to see where the story is going, as it’s not at all clear. I have an instinct that it will involve Dr. John, whom she admires greatly, and maybe some of the characters from her past will pop up again, too. There are two volumes left to go, so anything can happen!
A big shout-out to my fellow readers of Villette–I’m so enjoying sharing the experience with you. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your own Volume I post (if you have one) and I’ll link it up here.
Other thoughts on Volume I: