Friday, May 13, 2016

My coffee with Andre

Andre prepares to dissect Villette.

Bronte's bleak novel reflects her life experiences.
One of the joys of being a reader is sharing that pleasure with like-minded souls. Andre, a friend from the Simon Fraser University liberal studies course I am taking, is one of those people. We are both kind and gentle creatures, but when we get together over coffee, we first paw over the latest book we've been reading, then gnaw its bones and suck its marrow. On Friday, we tore into Charlotte Bronte's Villette, Jane Eyre's less-popular sister.

 Such a strange book, with its disingenuous heroine Lucy Snowe constantly professing to be something she clearly is not. So much suffering and injustice, so many coincidences. It's less well-rounded and satisfying than Jane Eyre, but Bronte is working over the same themes: a young woman with no family or fortune must make her way in the world. She desperately wants love, but also to maintain her selfhood -- her dignity and independence. Jane is eventually able to do both through Mr. Rochester; Lucy has a harder time.

 Much of the book is based on Charlotte's own experiences -- like her heroine, she travelled to a foreign where she taught girls, and like Lucy she suffered excruciatingly when a love affair failed. Such bleakness has a valid basis; the isolation and claustrophobia of the Bronte family home at Haworth, Yorkshire, is legendary. Charlotte was one of six children cooped up with their parson father (the mother died early) in a house overlooking the churchyard. One by one, the Bronte children, including authors Anne and Emily, made their way to the graveyard at very young ages (TB was rife at the time). When Charlotte died in 1855 at age 39, every one of her siblings had predeceased her.

1 comment:

  1. We visited the Bronte Parsonage when we were in isolated, windswept, desolate place. Well, the sisters had each other's company and their writing. I guess their writing at the time wasn't considered very seriously given they were "women writers".