I’ve never really been one for making introductory posts about myself, so without further ado, let’s just jump into talking/ reviewing.
Charlotte Bronte has been one of my favourite writers for a long time now. I originally began with her famous classic Jane Eyre, but my love affair with her didn’t really begin until I read Villette a while later. Villette tore my heart open and caused a jumble of emotions to well up in me. Not sure if you’ve ever really seen the movie Silver Linings Playbook, but there’s a scene in the movie where Bradley Cooper’s character finishes reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and immediately throws the book out of a window and begins ranting about the book to his parents (here’s a gif). That was basically my exact reaction. Aside from throwing the book through a window (threw Villette on my bed instead), I had the same reactions: anger, frustration, and indignation culminating into me ranting to my mom and sister. I was absolutely furious with the book and the review below is a testament to that.
I originally wrote this review on another site back in 2013 because I had so many feelings after finishing the book. If it’s not clear, Villette is actually one of my favourite books today and hence I wanted to reproduce my review here and share one of my favourite with you all. I apologize in advance for the lack of grammar, bad language, and emotion-filled content (it’s typically not my style but in my defense, I was an emotional mess). So behold, here is the review in all its angry caps-lock and spoiler alert glory:
Villette Review (reproduced with minor edits)
OKAY, SO I JUST READ VILLETTE BY CHARLOTTE BRONTE AND I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS I NEED TO WRITE DOWN. AND I APOLOGIZE FOR THE CAPS IN ADVANCE BECAUSE MY FEELINGS ARE ONLY ACCURATELY EXPRESSED THROUGH THE SHOUTING.
OKAY. SO SHE STARTS OF THE STORY WITH THIS GIRL NAMED LUCY SNOWE, WHO IS ALSO NARRATING THE STORY. WE DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT LUCY’S PAST. IT STARTS OFF WITH HER TALKING ABOUT LIVING WITH HER GODMOTHER, LOUSIA BRETTON AND HER SON GRAHAM BRETTON. AND THEN THIS YOUNG GIRL NAMED POLLY, WHO HAS A RICH FATHER/ TREATS HER FATHER LIKE A HUSBAND BECAUSE HER MOM DIED AND SHE DOESN’T WANT HER FATHER TO FEEL ALONE, MOVES IN WITH THE BRETTON’S AND LUCY WHILE HER DAD TRAVELS. LUCY THEN DESCRIBES HOW POLLY WAS VERY CLOSE TO GRAHAM BUT ALSO A VERY SERIOUS CHILD WHO NEVER FORGOT STUFF/ ACTED OLDER THAN SHE WAS. THROUGHOUT THIS ENTIRE FUCKING TIME, WE NEVER KNEW HOW OLD LUCY WAS. ALL WE KNEW WAS THE DYNAMICS IN THE BRETTON HOUSEHOLD WITH LUCY AND POLLY ALSO LIVING THERE.
And then Lucy leaves, after Polly leaves, to go work for some old lady and her maid. She starts to enjoy this. BUT THROUGH OUT THIS FUCKING PERIOD, WE STILL DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HER PAST. And then soon enough, the old lady dies and Lucy is left without a place to stay (Because it turns out the Bretton’s left for somewhere too). So she decides to push her luck and goes to France on this boat. She meets this girl, Ginevra, who is rich and studying in a boarding school in France and who is also a pretty shallow, flirty girl. And then the boat stops in France. And turns out Lucy’s trunk gets left behind as she travels even further into France. And she finally finds employment at the boarding school Ginevra goes to.
At the boarding school, all sorts of shit happens. She starts working as an english teacher, despite having no real credentials. And she meets this handsome doctor, Doctor John, who she stares at a lot. And it turns out that the owner of the boarding school, a middle aged widow named Madame Beck becomes attracted to the doctor. (AND THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE STORY, SHE APPEARS AS AN ALRIGHT CHARACTER UP UNTIL THE END WHERE YOU GET MINDFUCKED). And so the doctor basically visits the boarding school everyday. But then it turns out that the doctor is attracted to Ginevra because he thinks she’s a pure girl. But Lucy knows the truth that Ginevra is anything but pure because she lies, takes expensive gifts from the doctor even though she’s leading him on/ thinks of him as a fool, flirts with everyone, etc. So this continues. And then summer comes and everyone, including the teachers and students, go off to their homes. But since Lucy doesn’t have a home, she stays at the school, basically alone except with the cook who is busy with her own stuff. And all alone, Lucy starts to become depressed, WHICH IS WRITTEN SO WELL THAT EVEN YOU FEEL ANGSTY AND SHE BECOMES MORE AND MORE SICKER. And then she decides to go to a Catholic church to confess/ find some company in the priest, even though she’s Protestant. And she confesses things to a priest, Pere Silas, who takes a great interest in her even though she isn’t a Catholic. And then on the way home Lucy faints because she’s been so sick.
And then she wakes up in a strange house that reminds her of the Bretton’s because it has the same furniture and everything. AND THEN PLOT TWIST, IT TURNS OUT ITS THE HOME OF DOCTOR JOHN AND HIS MOM, ALSO KNOWN AS THE BRETTON’S. TURNS OUT, THE REASON LUCY STARED AT DOCTOR JOHN FOR SO LONG WAS BECAUSE SHE HAD RECOGNIZED THAT HE WAS HER GOD-BROTHER GRAHAM BUT DECIDED THAT THE READER DIDN’T NEED TO KNOW BECAUSE SHE DGAF ABOUT THE READER. And then Lucy lives a somewhat happy life with both Bretton’s during the summer. She attends events with them and talks with them. And finally at an event, Doctor John realizes that Ginevra isn’t the pure girl he thought she was, even though Lucy tried to tell him in hints, and decides he doesn’t like Ginevra anymore. He then decides to hang out with Lucy more. And they go to museums together, visit his hospital together, etc. He says he’ll write her letters when she goes back to her job after summer is over. And then summer ends and she goes back to work. And then John/ Graham does send a letter and Lucy goes into this private room in the school to read it but while she reads, she sees the ghost of the nun (the nun story was that there was this nun who died because she broke her vow of never having sex). She runs and says she saw the nun, and then Mme Beck and others come to see, but turns out there is no ghost and Lucy realizes her letter is missing and it turns out Dr. John is there and he hid the letter. He is surprised to see that she cares about the letter, AGAIN DISPLAYING WHAT AN IGNORANT GUY HE IS. AND IT SUCKS EVEN MORE WHEN YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH IT MEANS TO LUCY AND NOTHING TO HIM AND THEN SHE REALIZES THIS TOO. GAH THE EMOTIONS. This goes on and finally John decides to invite Lucy to see a play. During the play, Lucy realizes that she and John aren’t alike at all and a fire breaks out. John and Lucy remain calm, and John carries out this girl who was harmed by the fire and commands Lucy to stay with him, AGAIN SHOWING THAT HE DOESN’T THINK OF HER AS A REAL PERSON, JUST SOME PERSON TO COMMAND. AND BREAKING THE WHOLE BRIEF FANTASY LUCY HAD OF BEING LOVED BY SOMEONE. And it turns out that the girl he carried was Polly from their childhood, except she’s actually a really pretty woman now, described as a fairy.
During this time, she becomes really close to Polly and the rest of the Bretton’s. And it turns out, Ginevra is a cousin of Polly’s and she unsettles Polly by talking of how John is her dog who’ll do anything for her (aka buying her gifts). And by this time, John is struck by how beautiful Polly is and basically loves her at first site and Polly likes him too. And Lucy realizes this and in the end, after their misunderstandings as solved, with help form Lucy, they end up married. AND ITS SO WEIRD BECAUSE WHEN POLLY’S DAD GET UPSET THAT POLLY WILL MARRY AND LEAVE HIM, POLLY TELLS HIM IT WON’T HAPPEN. BASICALLY SHE SAY’S SHE’LL REMAIN MARRIED TO HER DAD AND JUST ADD JOHN INTO THE FAMILY. LIKE WTF MAN.
During this time, the nun continues to haunt Lucy, but she doesn’t really tell anyone because she doesn’t want to be taken as a liar/ stupid (turns out the ghost isn’t a ghost, it was one of Ginevra’s suitors who used to sneak in and probably have sex with her). And she also becomes close to her colleague, the literature professor, Paul Emmanuel. They have this weird relationship where both make the other mad WHICH KINDA REEKS OF SEXUAL TENSION, BUT NOT REALLY. They get closer and closer, which is noticed by many people. And eventually, they fall in love, but don’t really say anything. AND ITS SO FUCKIN WEIRD BUT CUTE. CAUSE SHE’S LIKE A GODDAMN STATUE WHO NEVER REACTS AND EVEN HE NOTICES THIS. AND HE’S LIKE THIS ASSHOLE WHOSE MOOD SWINGS ARE HUGE AND HE ALWAYS TRIES TO SPITE HER. Mme Beck, seeing this, sends Lucy on an errand. During the errand, Lucy finds out, from Pere Silas, who was Paul Emmanuel’s teacher before, that Paul loved a girl from a rich family, but as he wasn’t rich, the family refused the marriage. So the girl became a nun or something and committed suicide. Then Paul became rich and decided to help her family because they had become poor. Lucy also meets Paul’s dead girlfriend’s grandmother, who looks really old and weak, kind of like a skeleton, but is surrounded in jewels and treats Paul still badly. AND THEN YOU EVEN FEEL WORSE BECAUSE YOU REALIZE PAUL IS SUCH A NICE GUY AND YOU’VE BEEN READING HIM ALL WRONG. AND THEN YOU GET HAPPY BECAUSE YOU’RE GLAD THAT LUCY GETS A GOOD GUY WHO LOVES HER. Lucy goes home and this strengthens her feelings for Paul. And turns out that Paul really likes her too. AND IN ONE OF THE BEST SCENES, PAUL SAYS HOW HE DOESN’T CARE THAT LUCY ISN’T A CATHOLIC (BECAUSE HE IS) AND SAYS HE ACCEPTS HER ANYWAY. LIKE THAT’S SO BEAUTIFUL AND YOU WAN’T THEM TO BE TOGETHER EVEN MORE.
But, then when news of this gets out, people try to separate them, especially Mme Beck, Pere Silas, and the dead gf’s grandma. They urge Paul to leave France and go to the West Indies to take care of land there. But if Paul leaves, he’ll be leaving Lucy too. And so it begins and Paul decides to go, leaving Lucy thinking that he doesn’t love her and he doesn’t talk to her for a long time either. But before he goes, he defies everyone and takes Lucy to some place. It turns out, he didn’t talk to Lucy because he was busy getting a place ready for her, a school she could open up on her own. And in a touching scene, they sit and eat dinner together in the new house and then Paul leaves by ship for the West Indies. AND ITS SO FUCKIN TRAGIC BUT SWEET AT THE SAME TIME BECAUSE HE HAS TO LEAVE RIGHT AFTER THEY SHARE SUCH AN AMAZING, LOVING SCENE TOGETHER.
And then, Lucy narratives how the best three years of her life occurred after Paul left because her school started flourishing, she got money from a relative of the dead woman whose maid she used to be, and used that money to open another flourishing boarding school. And then right before Paul’s return to France (hence the three years) there turns out to be this storm. BUT LUCY STOPS THE STORY AND SAYS HOW PERE SILAS, MME BECK, AND THE GRANDMA LIVED GOOD LONG LIVES, AND ITS UP TO THE READER TO IMAGINE A GOOD LOVE STORY. BUT IF YOU READ BETWEEN THE LINES, YOU REALIZE THAT THE GUY, PAUL, DIED IN THE SHIPWRECK.
LIKE SERIOUSLY. SERIOUSLY. SERIOUSLY. HE DIED BEFORE THEY COULD EVER GET TOGETHER. EVERYONE ELSE HAD THE HAPPY ENDING: POLLY LIVED A “FAIRY-TALE-LIKE” LIFE WITH JOHN AND THEY HAD KIDS. GINEVRA MARRIED HER SUITOR (THE ONE WHO USED TO DRESS UP AS THE NUN) AND HAD A KID WITH HIM AND HAD THE EASIEST LIFE EVER. AND EVEN THE VILLAINS, MME BECK + PERE SILAD + DEAD GF GRANDMA, LIVED GOOD LIVES. ALL EXCEPT LUCY WHOSE LIFE WAS ALREADY CRAPPY. SHE DIDN’T EVEN GET TO HAVE A FUCKING HAPPY ENDING. AND LUCY IS SUCH A GODDAMN ICY STATUE SHE DOESN’T EVEN TELL YOU SHIT. YOU HAVE TO FIGURE OUT IT FOR YOURSELF AND THEN AGONIZE OVER THE SADNESS AND THEN MAYBE HOPE THAT YOU INTERPRETED THE ENDING WRONGLY AND MAYBE PAUL DID LIVE. BUT THEN YOU REREAD THE ENDING AND REALIZE THAT YOU WERE RIGHT THE FIRST TIME AND THE FUCKING SADNESS AND ANGER RETURNS AND YOU FEEL SO BAD FOR LUCY DESPITE HER BEING SUCH AN DIFFICULT NARRATOR WHICH TRANSLATES INTO EVEN MORE ANGER.
AND WHAT’S WORSE IS THAT THE BOOK IS SUCH A MASTERPIECE THAT YOU CAN’T EVEN HATE IT. ALL THE SYMBOLISM, IMAGERY, PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYZATIONS, ARE FUCKING AMAZING AND SO ON POINT. YOU GET SO MANY MIND FUCKS WHILE READING THE BOOK. GAH. AND IT APPLIES TO REAL LIFE IN SOME ABSTRACT WAY TOO AND GETS YOU THINKING ABOUT LIFE ITSELF. ITS SO FUCKING FRUSTRATING.
I AM SO FULL OF EMOTIONS. I EVEN CRIED OKAY. I WENT THROUGH SO MANY EMOTIONS I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I HAD.
GODDAMN IT CHARLOTTE BRONTE. I WANT TO FUCKIN HATE YOU BUT I CAN’T. GODDAMN IT!
On a more reflective note, it’s been three years since I last read this book and I still remember it so vividly. The writing is absolutely amazing and there’s this scene in the book where Lucy Snowe get’s depressed, and I remember when reading this section, I myself began to feel more and more down in the dumps. In the books, it’s not even explicitly clear that she has depression and yet readers can feel the emotions of the book and ascertain for themselves that she was depressed. And that, in my opinion, is the mark of a brilliant writer. I definitely recommend this book to all my friends and always list it as one of my favourites.
That said, I do think it’s probably necessary to put in a disclaimer. I doubt everyone will have the same reaction to Villette that I had or even adore it as much. I think my reaction stemmed in part, from my expectations. After reading Jane Eyre, I had assumed that Charlotte Bronte’s aesthetic contained a mixture of morality and social commentary. But Villette was far from just simple social commentary and dealt with many more themes than just morality (to be fair, Jane Eyre dealt with a lot of other themes as well, it’s just that I found morality to be an extremely encompassing theme that overshadowed the other themes). Villette, in my experience and view, is just something else and a book worth reading.
My rating: Read it, buy it, and keep it with you forever to revel in its amazingness.