Friday, 28 November 2008

Villette

Last week, desperate for something to read on a grey cold damp afternoon, and unwilling to haul myself into Waterstones to load up another forest of pulp, I trawled my bookshelves for something I felt like rereading or hadn't yet read, and, more or less at random, plucked out this Victorian novel. Ten pages in, I was hooked. A hundred, I found myself telling the people off for their unreasonable behaviour or applauding them for their startling unpredictabiliy.

You have to get past the Victorian novelist's language, of course. In this case, not hard. The dialogue is the way in. These people talk like kids today (in their own vernacular). I wanted to give an example, but, skimming, realised that I couldn't, because I know them and you don't. Just think sassy wit.

The discursive passages are harder, but often even more rewarding. Again, I was tempted to quote, but again, I can't, because they lose much of their strength outside the context - and that's their strength! No Dickensian preaching here - the insights grow out of the characters, and where they sit, at that moment, within the story. You never, never think 'hang on, author, you put that in'.

Most of all, the heroine (and narrator), Lucy Snowe. As she tells her story, you're whizzed between her feisty insecurity, her coolness under fire, her intrepid risk-taking, her girly wimpishness - without once feeling that there are any contradictions or inconsistencies. I'm in love with Lucy Snowe.

Actually, apparently this novel is largely autobiographical, arising from the author's unhappy experiences as a teacher in Belgium. So perhaps I'm in love with Charlotte Bronte.

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