Tea With Charlotte Bronte…

I’ve found a lovely pairing of books here. I’m half way through Villette by Charlotte Bronte, which is dark and rich and I don’t know why more people haven’t read it, when last night I just had to start reading my first true dove-grey birthday Persephone and it was… Tea With Mr. Rochester! And the second short story in the collection is the title story, so I had the delight of a lighthearted and insightful account of discovering the glories of reading Jane Eyre for the first time at 14, where love is “the most thrilling, glorious, and beautiful thing in the world.” Sigh. I’m definitely looking forward to savouring the rest of this collection of stories.

As for Villette, it’s making me admire Charlotte Bronte all the more. I could relate to Jane Eyre, but still thought Jane Austen was the better writer. Now there seems no point comparing them, Jane Austen is a lovely sunny tea party and Charlotte Bronte is a frighteningly beautiful thunderstorm, so it just depends what you’re in the mood for. In Villette, she really captures what it’s like to be dreadfully lonely and religiously morbid as the heroine Lucy Snowe (introverted with a strong will a la Jane Eyre) travels alone from England to the city of Villette in Europe (based on Belgium) and finds work as a school teacher in a girls school. Her time spending the holidays alone in the school when everyone else goes away on holidays and she eventually becomes sick with a nervous fever very much reminded me of a summer living alone in university, with all my roommates gone and I was so lonely, any human contact, even with a friendly grocery clerk, was longed for. Jane Austen may show the intricacies of social interactions better than anyone else, but Charlotte Bronte captures the heart’s desperation and determination. I want to race through it to find out what’s going to happen next with Dr. John and Lucy and M. Paul (a tiny bossy French Mr. Rochester!), but at the same time it is rich and heartbreaking, hard to read and yet beautiful.

The difference between her and me might be figured by that between the stately ship, cruising safe on smooth seas, with its full complement of crew, a captain gay and brave, and venturous and provident; and the life-boat, which most days of the year lies dry and solitary in an old, dark boathouse, only putting to sea when the billows run high in rough weather, when cloud encounters water, when danger and death divide between them the rule of the great deep. No, the Louisa Bretton never was out of harbour on such a night, and in such a scene: her crew could not conceive it; so the half-drowned life-boat man keeps his own counsel, and spins no yarns.

I dearly liked to think my own thoughts; I had great pleasure in reading a few books, but not many: preferring always those in whose style or sentiment the writer’s individual nature was plainly stamped; flagging inevitably over characterless books, however clever and meritorious…

16 thoughts on “Tea With Charlotte Bronte…

  1. Helen says:

    I still haven’t read Villette. It’s been waiting on my shelf for a few months, but after reading your thoughts on it, I think I’ll try to get to it as soon as possible. I’d like to read Tea with Mr. Rochester too. I’ve loved all the Persephone books I’ve read so far.

  2. Penny says:

    I read Villette a few decades ago and am now thinking I should re-read it. In some ways, Because of the Lockwoods (Dorothy Whipple) reminded me of Villette, when the heroine (mind has gone blank as to her name at the moment…) is working on the continent and is lonely and far from home.
    Tea with Mr Rochester is bookmarked in my Persephone catalogue!

    • Carolyn says:

      I am going to have to read some Dorothy Whipple at some point, the way everyone keeps raving about her. šŸ˜‰ And hoorah, more Tea with Mr Rochester for everyone!

  3. Joan Hunter Dunn says:

    Interesting thoughts. I read Villette having devoured and loved Jane Eyre as a teenager. I think I was hoping for another Jane Eyre book reading experience and so was slightly disappointed in it then. Another for the ‘to re read pile’.

    • Carolyn says:

      I guess I read it knowing it was going to be darker, so I’m surprised to see the similarities there are between Villette and Jane Eyre. Maybe somewhat like Mansfield Park and Pride & Prejudice, they are obviously written by the same observant author, but the tone and subject matter vary…

    • Carolyn says:

      I will try to sell everyone on it! The Persephone that is, I will leave you alone about the Brontes. šŸ™‚

      (I recently rewatched the new BBC Emma, to speak of something you prefer, it’s so gorgeous!)

  4. bookssnob says:

    Oh Villette is one of the most heartbreaking books ever. I think it has suffered from people thinking it would be another Jane Eyre and as such it is not appreciated on its own merits. I studied it at university and we did a lot of analysing it from the point of view of the ‘gaze’ – there’s lots of eyes and watchfulness going on that reflects the claustrophobic atmosphere of loneliness. Penny’s comparison to Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple is interesting – there are definitely some parallels there. Villette is a greatly under-read classic and I’m glad you’re enjoying it. THOUGH it will take you through the wringer so be warned.
    Tea with Mr Rochester is a very good collection of stories. It was while googling for pictures of Mr Rochester that I came across the book, and by doing that, came across Persephone for the first time. So it has a fond place in my heart. šŸ™‚

    • Carolyn says:

      Googling for pictures of Mr Rochester! Of course you were. šŸ˜€ I first came across Persephone when I was searching the library catalogue for books about the goddess Persephone and didn’t understand why all these nice looking books were coming up too!

      the claustrophobic atmosphere of loneliness ~ That’s a very eloquent way of putting it. I’ve heard a few people rave about Villette (usually the smart ones!), but it’s mostly not ever mentioned (Shirley and The Professor are talked about even less though). I at least already know the plot, so I’m prepared that way…

      • bookssnob says:

        Have you SEEN the most recent BBC version? That Mr Rochester is GORGEOUS! šŸ˜‰

        I know many people who came across Persephone in very random ways…my life would be very different now if I hadn’t have found them I think. They also introduced me to blogs. Interesting isn’t it? The often insignificant things we come across that influence the paths we tread in life.

        Thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever been called eloquent before! I found Shirley a little dull I have to admit but The Professor was rather good. My main Bronte beef is that Anne is so little mentioned – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a masterpiece and it grieves me that it is so under appreciated.

        I can’t wait for your reaction when you finish Villette – I gasped. Gasped!

        • Carolyn says:

          Yes I have seen it many times, I even own it! I like Toby Stephens a lot too, in fact I first saw him in Tenant of Wildfell Hall and that led to other BBC miniseries and other obscure british actors to obsess over, long before I got into obscure british books too…

          I ended up blogging because of the recent Pride and Prejudice movie a few years ago, so like you it was a small thing, but I even met my husband indirectly through blogging, an internet friend got me a job at the bookstore where I met him!

          Speaking of Anne Bronte, here’s a comic about why she may be less popular… (and here’s one about being a temporary American, just for you! The artist is Canadian and she draws about history and Jane Austen, really funny stuff.)

          (and ps, Claire from the Captive Reader and I are in your fan club. When we get together, we talk about how eloquent and thoughtful your reviews are. :))

          • bookssnob says:

            How fun that you met your husband indirectly through blogging! I wish for a romantic story like that!

            I LOVED those comics! Smirking away at my desk!

            Oh that’s so flattering! I am blushing! Thank you! šŸ™‚

  5. Coffee and a Book Chick says:

    I’m a new visitor to your site and enjoy your reviews! I have Villette on my nightstand right now, and am currently reading The House of Mirth, so I may have to start Villette next!

    I’ll be stopping by your site again!

  6. Lisa says:

    Villette is propped up looking at me every time I go by my nightstand. I had intended to read it for the Brontes Challenge but failed to get to it. Now I’m anxious to pick it up!

  7. Melissa says:

    I don’t know how I haven’t gotten to Villete sooner, but I definitely need to! I love your description of Austen as a sunny tea party and Bronte as a thunderstorm. I would only add that Austen tea parties always have such intense social undercurrents just beneath the surface.

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