Happy Birthday, Charlotte! And, Thanks For Writing Jane Eyre

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When I revisited this post today, with a picture taken in the bleakest days of February when I reread Jane Eyre, I thought the photo a little dark. Yet, it is perfect for much of the novel. So many parts of it are almost hopeless, and yet we read on encouraged by Jane’s courage and strength; the very moral fiber of her being sustains her. And, me.

We know the story, or at least are familiar with most of it. In the very first chapter, Jane is locked into a room, much like how her lover’s mad wife, Berthe, is locked into a room of her own. How can these two women be compared?

One is innocent and young, the other has gone mad. But they both love Rochester, and no story is as compelling, to me, as a love story. Combine that with the search for home, not only in the physical sense, but in a place to really belong, and you have a book which endures time as Jane Eyre does.

I was struck by the similarities between Jane Eyre and Rebecca this time around. Both of them have:

  • a dashing, dissatisfied husband looking for a tranquil wife
  • a mild mannered, soft-spoken, gentle new wife lacking confidence
  • a wild, bold, daring wife who’s no longer loved
  • a manor home with a stately name: Thornfield and Manderly, respectively

And, here are some favorite quotes:

“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.” (p. 82)

“But what is so headstrong as youth? What so blind as inexperience?” (p. 363)

“Thank you Mr Rochester; for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you; and wherever you are is my home-my only home.” (p. 367)

Charlotte’s birthday was 200 years ago today, April 21. How well do you know her? Take a quiz here to find out.

 

 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte: Wrap Up Post

So many feeling after finishing this novel. I feel a great compassion for Lucy Snowe, for her courage and strength, but most of all for her loneliness which was never assuaged. On two occasions comfort came close. But then John Grahame married Polly, and Paul Emmanuel became lost at sea. Or, so it is that I assume.

This is a tale of courage and determination, of intermittent hope, but more than anything else for me, of loss. Here is a woman in literature I’ll always remember, and admire much more than  either Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina. While all three are somewhat tragic characters, Lucy does not throw aside the life she leads. She, at least, has the sense to ‘keep calm and carry on’ whatever befalls her.

To me, she is a true, albeit tragic, heroine.

My thanks to Wallace for hosting this read along. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the posts of the participants, as well as this excellent novel of Charlotte Bronte’s.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 23-27)

How time can change! Little Polly wore in her pale, small features her fairy symmetry, her varying expression, a certain promise of interest and grave; but Paulina Mary was become beautiful–not with the beauty that strikes the eye like a rose–orbed, ruddy, and replete; not with the plump, and pink, and flaxen attributes of her blond cousin Ginevra; but her seventeen years had brought her a refined and tender charm which did not lie in complexion, though hers was fair and clear; nor in outline, though her features were sweet, and her limbs perfectly turned; but, I think, rather in a subdued glow from the soul outward. This was not an opaque vase, of material however costly, but a lamp chastely lucent, guarding from extinction, yet not hiding from worship, a flame vital and vestal. In speaking of her attractions, I would not exaggerate language; but, indeed, they seemed to me very real and engaging. What though all was on a small scale, it was the perfume which gave this white violet distinction, and made it superior to the broadest camelia–the fullest dahlia that ever bloomed.

I knew it. I knew that six year old precocious Polly was nothing but trouble. Trouble to Lucy, anyway, for how can she compete with such exterior loveliness as a seventeen year old girl possesses? I’m afraid that Grahame and Polly will connect, and Lucy will be left alone once again.

Left alone with her nun, that creepy vision which insists on plaguing her (and me. Is it real? Who is that masked creature?)!

‘Who are you? and why do you come to me?’

She stood mute. She had no face–no features: all below her brow was masked with a white cloth; but she had eyes, and they viewed me.

I felt, if not brave, yet a little desperate; and desperation will often suffice to fill the post and do the work of courage. I advanced one step. I stretched out my hand, for I meant to touch her. She seemed to recede. I drew nearer: her recession, still silent, became swift. A mas of shrubs, full-leaved evergreens, laurel and dense yew, intervened between me and what I followed. Having passed that obstacle, I looked and saw nothing. I waited. I said, -“if you have any errand to me, come back and deliver it.” Nothing spoke or reappeared.

More thoughts can be found at Wallace’s blog. I finished Villette, and this post, before my project for Lent of reading only the Bible until Easter Sunday.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 18-22)

Letters. Real letters. Sealed with a red wax circle, a gummed envelope, or simply stapled shut, how I adore the letters I’ve received in my life.

I used to keep them in a cedar box. Then I moved them to the cardboard boxes copy paper comes in. The ones most special to me lie bound with satin ribbon in a wicker basket at the foot of my bed. Emails, telephone messages, texts cannot come close to the joy which letters provide.

So I can sympathize completely with Lucy’s joy at receiving a promised letter from John Bretton. It’s not enough that she’s alone, at Madame Beck’s, with no family to speak of; she doesn’t even have a man to call her own. So when the letter from him arrives, and Charlotte spends more than several pages writing about it, I understand its significance.

I took my letter, trembling with sweet impatience; I broke its seal.

‘Will it be long-will it be short?’ thought I, passing my hand across my eyes to dissipate the silvery dimness of a suave, south wind shower.

It was long.

‘Will it be cool? Will it be kind?’

It was kind.

To my checked, bridled, disciplined expectation, it seemed very kind; to my longing and famished thought it seemed, perhaps, kinder than it was.

So little had I hoped, so much had I feared; there was a fullness of delight in this taste of fruition-such, perhaps, as many a human being passes through life without ever knowing. The poor English teacher in the frosty garret, reading by a dim candle guttering in the wintry air, a letter simply good-natured–nothing more: though that good-nature then seemed to me god-like–was happier than most queens in palaces.

What I don’t understand is the image of a nun which sends Lucy fleeing from the room. Such an apparition has wrought a terrible fright within her. And what, exactly, is she seeing? It is a figment of her imagination? Is it a haunting? Is it a person with ill intent? Whatever the case may be, this ‘nun’ follows Lucy, at least in her mind, on several more occasions.

Something in that vast solitary garret sounded strangely. Most surely and certainly I heard, as it seemed, a stealthy foot on that floor: a sort of gliding out from the direction of the black recess haunted by the malefactor cloaks. I turned: my light was dim; the room was long–but, as I live! I saw in the middle of that ghostly chamber a figure all black or white; the skirts straight, narrow, black; the head bandaged, veiled, white.

Say what you will, reader–tell me I was nervous or mad; affirm that I was unsettled by the excitement of that letter; declare that I dreamed: this I vow–I saw there–in that room–on that night–an image like–a NUN.

Yikes!

Find more thoughts, and links to reviews, of Week 4 here.

Summer Moon…Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 12-17)

‘One moment longer,’ whispered solitude and the summer moon, ‘stay with us: all is truly quiet now; for another quarter of an hour your presence will not be missed: the day’s heat and bustle have tired you; enjoy these precious minutes.’

Contrast this passage from Chapter 13 with this which concludes Chapter 15:

If the storm had lulled a little at sunset, it made up now for lost time. Strong and horizontal thundered the current of the wind from northwest to south-east; it brought rain like spray, and sometimes, a sharp hail like shot; it was cold and pierced me to the vitals. I bent my head to meet it, but it beat me back. My heart did not fail at all in this conflict; I only wished that I had wings and could ascend the gale, spread and repose my pinions on its strength, career in its course, sweep where it swept. While wishing this, I suddenly felt colder where before I was cold, and more powerless where before I was weak. I tried to reach the porch of a great building near, but the mass of frontage and the giant-spire turned black and vanished from my eyes. Instead of sinking on the steps as I intended, I seemed to pitch headlong down an abyss. I remember no more.

Who can compare the travails of the heart with the storms found in weather like Charlotte Bronte? (And, don’t you love the artwork I found for the summer moon? Click on the painting to take you to the site.)

Thanks to Wallace of Unputdownables for hosting this read-along. Find Week Three reviewers here.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 6-11)



 ‘Go to Villette,’ said an inward Voice; prompted doubtless by the recollection of this slight sentence uttered carelessly and at random by Miss Fanshawe, as she bid me good-bye:

‘I wish you would come to Madame Beck’s; she has some marmots whom you might look after: she wants an English gouvernante, or was wanting one two months ago.’….

Before you pronounce on the rashness of the proceeding, reader, look-back to the point whence I started; consider the desert I had left, note how little I perilled: mine was the game where the player cannot lose and may win.

How silly am I?! I had thought that Villette was a person, the woman on the front cover perhaps? Now I know that Villette is a fictional place near France, to which Lucy Snowe has decided to venture after London. A brave woman, with ‘no social significance and little burdened by cash’, the story becomes curiouser and curiouser.

Following the advice of Miss Fanshawe, Lucy arrives in Villette. She inquires of a stranger where she might find an inn suitable for spending the night, but upon being followed by two suspicious men, ends up at Madame Beck’s as Ginevre Fanshawe originally suggested. There, she is first hired as a nurse-maid for the children, then as an English teacher for the older girls. (Love how she overcame their taunting by first tearing the sheet of one’s exercise book in half before the entire class, then putting another girl in the closet and pocketing the key!)

When the child Fifine breaks her arm, a doctor is summoned. He turns out to be none other than the very man who suggested the inn upon her arrival at Villette. I’m feeling a little love in the air now, at least on the part of our Lucy Snowe, not to mention other women who seem to swoon over Dr. John.

Find more thoughts from those who are reading along at Unputdownables.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 1-5)

Having read nothing by Charlotte Bronte before, with the exception of Jane Eyre, I was eager to sign up for the Villette read-along hosted by Wallace of Unputdownables. The schedule is easy (five chapters a week) and the reading a delight. There is time for you to join in should you so choose.

The first five chapters give us an introduction to the following characters:

  • Lucy Snowe, our narrator
  • Mrs. Bretton, her godmother
  • Miss Paulina (Polly) Home, a precocious and diminutive six year old who is utterly charmed by
  • John Grahame, the sixteen year old son of Mrs. Bretton, and finally,
  • Miss Marchmont who hired Lucy to care for her infirmities.

After Miss Marchmont has died, before leaving Lucy any funds as hoped, Lucy takes herself to London which is a rather bold thing for such a humble woman to do.

All at once my position rose on me like a ghost. Anomalous; desolate, almost blank of hope, it stood. What was I doing here alone in great London? What should I do on the morrow? What prospects had I in life? What friends had I on earth? Whence did I come? Whither should I go? What should I do?

I wet the pillow, my arms, and my hair, with rushing tears. A dark interval of most bitter thought followed this burst; but I did not regret the step taken, nor wish to retract it. A strong, vague persuasion, that it would be better to go forward than backward, and that I could go forward-that a way, however narrow and difficult, would in time open, predominated over other feelings…

Shortly after this passage Chapter 5 comes to a close, leaving me with a deep admiration for Miss Lucy Snowe’s courage coupled with a deeper curiosity as to where her adventure will lead.

Every Thursday in February and March will contain a post over the subsequent five chapters of Villette. Check in here, or other participants’ blogs listed in Wallace’s post, to follow along. Unless you decide to read this novel with us. 😉