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…