Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Villette-along Week 1: So far, so Brontё

Villette readalong! Another fantastic excuse, kindly provided by Alice at Reading Rambo, to talk about Victorian literature approximately once a week.

I'm getting a pretty strong Jane Eyre vibe so far, which I find comforting because of how much I love Jane Eyre. Something I used to forget about that novel, until about the fifth reading, was that the characters start out as children. That happens in Villette, too, but they don't stay children for nearly as long.

We also have Brontё's trademark (based on my knowledge of the one other novel, but just go with it) level-headed and beleaguered protagonist. Lucy Snowe is only 14 at the start of the story. By the end of Chapter 5, she is 22 and has lost everyone in her family and then also the sickly Miss Marchmont, whom she'd just recently grown attached to. And I'm not sure, but I have a feeling she's going to lose the blue-eyed, auburn-haired Graham, too . . . probably right after she's decided she loves him. For now, she doesn't seem to love him.
"I told you I liked him a little. Where is the use of caring for him so very much? He is full of faults."
"Is he?"
"All boys are."

I'm assuming that Polly Home (who's ten years younger than Graham) will end up catching his fancy in the coming chapters. There've already been some concerning interactions between sixteen-year-old Graham and six-year-old Polly.

I'm sure it's perfectly innocent when Graham cradles Polly in his lap or snatches her up and holds her aloft or tries to coerce her into kissing him. And even her infatuation with him seems natural. Younger children idolize older children all the time. But it also feels ominous, somehow, like it won't end well for one or both of them.

This is clearly the best, though:
"Little Mousie" crept to his side, and lay down on the carpet at his feet, her face to the floor; mute and motionless she kept that post and position till bedtime. Once I saw Graham—wholly unconscious of her proximity—push her with his restless foot. She receded an inch or two. A minute after one little hand stole out from beneath her face, to which it had been pressed, and softly caressed the heedless foot.
No one understands her pain.

Brontё also foreshadows unfortunate events, such as Miss Marchmont's death, with turbulent weather, which was a major literary device in Jane Eyre. And Lucy uses a storm at sea as an extended metaphor for the difficult events of her life in the eight years after she leaves her godmother's house ("The ship was lost, the crew perished").

Speaking of foreshadowing, Miss Marchmont's story about her lover, Frank, dying in her arms was so heart-achingly detailed that its inclusion hardly seems incidental. Since we know Lucy is recounting this story as an old woman, I'm wondering if her life will somehow imitate Miss Marchmont's. Will she, too, be alone at the end, looking back on her short-lived encounter with true love?

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