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Words of a Bibliophile

"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees


Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Villette - A.S. Byatt, Charlotte Brontë, Ignes Sodre I first started this book in June 2013 but couldn't get through with it because mine was a free e-book without footnotes. These footnotes are essential because many of the characters speak a lot of French every few pages. So I got myself a paper book with proper translations in the footnotes and started to read it again in May this year.

Many have compared Lucy Snowe to Charlotte Brontë's earlier heroine Jane Eyre, but while I loved Jane's principle and her belief in her own worth, I felt Lucy is rather the opposite of Jane. She seems to have such a low opinion of herself, her own worth and how others regard her, always shrinking into the shadows and undermining herself despite everything she has accomplished (moving into a foreign country without any prior certainty on how she can survive there, without even first mastering the language, is no small feat after all). I also didn't like the way she withholds information from the reader and then suddenly springs out that, actually, she'd known about certain things all along. There are other things I didn't like about the novel:

- The many coincidences: What a coincidence that Dr. John is the man who helped Lucy during her first night at a foreign country, and also Graham Bretton from Lucy's childhood, and also Isidore who is Ginevra Fanshawe's admirer. What a coincidence that the strangers Dr. John and Lucy assist at the theater are their old acquaintances Paulina and Mr. Home, etc.
- M. Paul Emanuel. What an annoying creature! Lucy should've stood up to him more, this sexist, jealous, pompous ass who bullies and harasses and basically walks all over her. Later in the book he's revealed to have a generous, selfless side, and the reader is supposed to believe he's a magnanimous and tender person and that his previous cruelties and rudeness don't matter anymore.
- It is all well and good for a 27-year-old man to court a 17-year-old girl during the Victorian era, but it doesn't sit too well with me that Paulina, who is described as adult-like even during childhood, seems to have passionately, truly loved Dr. John since she was six and he was sixteen.
- I got tired of Lucy constantly railing against Catholics and the inherent wrongness and perversity of the Roman Catholic church. And I'm not even Catholic.
- The ending. Apparently it's not enough that Lucy is deliberately vague about her past suffering that led her abroad to Villette, which I felt to be a huge hole in the beginning of the story; she does it again in the end. "M. Paul might have drowned at sea, but let's not think of it that way because it's too sad, let's just imagine we lived happily ever after!" I mean, really?

Yet I did like certain parts of the story. I liked Dr. John, and I did want to know how things turned out for Lucy. The ghost of the nun gives a nice Gothic touch to the book and keeps things suspenseful. The introduction in the Oxford World's Classics edition that I read also provides some interesting insights on the book as an autobiographical novel. But many things including the ending, which made me feel cheated, and that misogynist bully M. Paul, made finishing this book feel like something of a chore.