Happy Friday and welcome to my first guest on A Little Book Shouting, my dear friend Taylor who agreed to do this despite a) the fact that a couple weeks ago I told her that I “capital-H Hate Mr. Rochester” in Jane Eyre, which is her favorite book of all time and I think I lowkey broke her heart and b) she generally only reads one book at a time so essentially I have been trapping her in Villette for the last couple of weeks.
So last night we talked about Villette, by Charlotte Brontë, via Facebook Messenger and there was a lot of shouting of many varieties. [AND ALSO: MANY SPOILERS. If you would like some non-spoiler Villette thoughts, might I direct you to…one of my former blog posts!] Honestly, I have no idea if this is even READABLE* for anyone else, but it was a lot of fun to do, and if you have things to shout about for this book, please let me know because I will never be done shouting about it. #TeamDr.JohnGrahamBrettonForever
*the formatting is a mess, and I apologize for that, and am also done trying to fix it for now
I am filled with so many emotions right now.
KW: just like, straight off the bat, in an interview Daniel Ortberg has referred to the experience of reading Villette as “being laid low by a violent illness”
how accurate does that feel to you?
because it feels SUPER ACCURATE to me
TM: Soooooooooo accurate.
Like, I low key resent you for encouraging me to read this.
KW: wasn’t I RIGHT THO in that once you finished it you would NEED to talk about it??
like this is what I’ve been DEALING WITH the last few weeks!!
I’ve just been walking around with this in my brain and in my heart and in my TENDONS
TM: But at the same time I’m thankful? And yes. You were correct. I’m filled with sO MUCH EMOTION RIGHT NOW ITS INSANE
I think I felt literal pain when that ending happened.
Fucking Madame Beck couldn’t stop it.
But by god it needed to be stopped.
KW: I definitely reread those last couple of paragraphs SEVERAL TIMES to make sure I was understanding correctly
KW: if there IS even “understanding correctly” at this point??
TM: I wish my brain didn’t work.
KW: okay, so where shall we begin?
TM: Ok: so you didn’t like M. Paul even at the ending?
KW: we’re going full-on with the spoilers here
KW: I wish I could for your sake!
TM: I wish you could for your sake!!
Because good lord those last chapters hurt so beautifully!
KW: “hey let’s just be friends or brother and sister or something like that”
KW: “hey I hope it’s cool I ignored you for WEEKS after that understanding we came to, here’s a HOUSE”
“also I’m going away for 3 years to manage a plantation” [Ed. note: we didn’t end up coming back to this, but yeahhhhh the ultimate love interest in the book is a slaveowner or works for a slaveowner or something, it’s not really gone into or even mentioned until the last couple of chapters, but it’s definitely a problem.]
TM: He had creepy evil people telling him he had to be faithful to a dead nun!!
KW: poor Charlotte Brontë
I deeply love Charlotte Brontë as a person
TM: He didn’t know Lucy felt that way about him!
Both of them were repressed as HELL!
KW: I want to wrap a warm blanket around her shoulders and sit her down next to a warm fire forever
they came to an UNDERSTANDING
and I was like “well this is a bummer, but fine”
TM: She in no way deterred his “let’s be friends or siblings or something because we’re obviously drawn to each other” plan.
KW: yeah that part I was like “okay well as long as she’s chill with it, whatever this is sad but sure” but then he GHOSTS HER
TM: They were both so repressed and he thought he couldn’t offer her anything and she didn’t do anything to make him think she wanted him to kiss her or hold her so anything that brothers and sisters definitely shouldn’t do.
Ok. He told her to wait for him.
He wanted it all to be perfect for her!
He was making a grand gesture!!!
KW: I cannot deal with grand gestures. SMALL GESTURES ONLY.
TM: That sounds like a you problem.
KW: he said “be ready” not “be ready for me to not LOOK AT YOU for a week and make you think I actually hate you now”
which also he HATES strong women!!
TM: Wait. Are you talking about the end of the book or the part right after they have their brother sister conversation?
(And we don’t need to talk about his hating strong women shhhhh it’s fine)
(Aka it’s definitely not fine but I can’t defend that at all so I’m choosing to ignore it)
KW: -they have the brother/sister convo [also I hate how many times I’m having to type “brother/sister convo”]
– she thinks they’re solid
– he straight up DOESN’T SPEAK TO HER for a week and makes her think he’s leaving for India or wherever and not even say goodbye!!
HE WON’T EVEN LET HER LOOK AT A PAINTING OF A NEKKID WOMAN IN A PUBLIC GALLERY
TM: Ok but there’s a lot that happens between the “doesn’t talk to her for a week” and the “leaving for India part.”
KW: you know who would let her look at all the paintings of nekkid women she wants to?
DR. JOHN GRAHAM BRETTON, THAT’S WHO
JOHN BRETTON WAS A SELFISH PRICK WHO ONLY CARED ABOUT PRETTY GIRLS AND I RESENT HIM DREADFULLY!!
KW: look no one’s perfect
I love how we BOTH have our problematic faves in this book that we will cling to for eternity
TM: It’s what makes this so fun.
KW: also, like, I have KNOWN some Graham’s in my day
some might say I have…a bit of a weakness for them
TM: I have too, and I’ve been supremely uncomfortable around all of them.
KW: here’s my thing, and maybe I’m just projecting here, but I do not think that it’s his fault that he and Lucy didn’t end up together
KW: he’s writing Lucy these heartfelt, fun letters and she’s like “must only send him the coldest of lines no heart must seep through at all”
and like, girl, I FELT THAT
TM: But his fun letters weren’t romantic. He never saw her in a romantic light.
Like she was never a possibility to him.
KW: and then it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy when Missy shows up and is so openly taken with him and Lucy was like “well SEE”
TM: She was just his weird pale friend.
KW: “weird pale friend” is going on my tombstone and possibly on my lower back as a tattoo
KW: I think he didn’t see her as a romantic option because Lucy didn’t ALLOW him to
TM: Ok but see: Lucy definitely didn’t ALLOW M. Paul to see her that way either
KW: actually I don’t feel like I have ANY good idea of Graham’s intentions or perspectives because Lucy is SUCH an unreliable narrator
but M. Paul is also a self-loathing repressed lil freak as well!
TM: And maybe that’s why he SAW her.
Maybe he recognized that kind of pain
Because he saw it every day
KW: and so on the one hand I see the appeal of him being like “let’s live together always as self-loathing repressed lil freaks and never touch each other”
TM: And on the other hand?
KW: on the other hand it depresses me SO MUCH
TM: I don’t think they are self-loathing repressed lil freaks at the end though.
I think that they help each other step outside of that.
KW: I forget if we talked about this the night we watched “To Walk Invisible”–I think we did–about how all the Brontës have A Thing about commonality
TM: They challenge each other and grow from one another.
Maybe to your comment. Not maybe to my point.
KW: like how Cathy and Heathcliff have their whole “whatever his soul is made of, mine is the same” bullshit
and Jane and Rochester have their whole “our souls are connected by a little string” deal
and Anne…who even knows, maybe it’s not there
TM: (Don’t you shit on my babies, Kelsey Ann[e?]! Don’t you do it)
KW: I’m not shitting on them, I’m just SAYING
(not shitting on Jane and Rochester. I will gladly shit on Cathy and Heathcliff all day.)
TM: We chatted that night about how the Heathcliff/Cathy quote gets taken hilariously out of context.
(I will shit in H+C right there with you!)
TM: Do you think the commonality issue is problematic?
KW: Not necessarily problematic other than it just doesn’t appeal TO ME
Yeah, i think it depends on the other aspects of the story
KW: nothing horrifies me more than ending up with someone JUST LIKE ME
TM: Like I don’t buy it with H+C because the rest of their relationship is FUCKED
But I really like it with Jane and Rochester because they aren’t exactly the same.
In fact, I think they’re really different from each other, but understand each other in a way that nobody else does.
KW: I definitely think it’s interesting that even though WH and JE SEEM like such disparate books, there’s this common thread that’s very soulmates-ish
which maybe just freaks me out because like WHAT IF your soulmate was a cranky dude?
TM: I’ll give that to you.
KW: which apparently it is for Charlotte!
TM: But I think that the destiny/soulmate thing is just one aspect of these books.
And hey, I definitely have a tender place in my heart for grumpy guys.
KW: oh for sure. and I think it’s less present in Villette actually, because M. Paul and Lucy are making such DELIBERATE choices to be “together” in such a specific way
TM: I blame beauty and the beast
KW: Does that mean I can blame The Little Mermaid for my affinity for dopes who will fall in love with anyone who walks up outta the sea and throw a seductive look their way?
TM: AKA JOHN FUCKING BRETTON!!
KW: look I found it INCREDIBLY SEXY when he basically says “if we were both dudes we could be colleagues and our opinions would MELT INTO EACH OTHER”
and man just THE STING of being liked and respected intellectually but not seen as a romantic possibility, at least PARTIALLY because of your own repressed-ness
TM: Just as you don’t understand the soulmates thing, I reaaaaaaally don’t understand that. But you do you!
Ok. We definitely need to continue this conversation, but can we just real quick talk about how FUCKING HILARIOUS it is that the nun was Ginevra’s secret boyfriend.
just for itself, AND for its turn on the conventions on That Type of Book
TM: You think she’s go another crazy lady in the attic BUT NO! IT WAS JUST A HORNY MAN DRESSED AS A NUN!
KW: it was a Real Good Joke, which is not usually something Charlotte Brontë is known for
oh also should we talk about Ginevra?
KW: because I did not hate her and I also don’t actually think Lucy did either
KW: I think she kinda liked having her around
TM: Like I don’t think I personally could have handled her, but yeah, I think Lucy did actually find her entertaining.
KW: and I actually felt kinda bad for her when Missy showed up and ruined her fun with
TM: I mean, I felt like punching Graham in his stupid face when he decided he didn’t love Ginevra any more.
KW: I just really enjoyed her coming into the drawing room or wherever and petulantly throwing herself across the sofa and essentially being like “WHATEVER, THEY’RE BOTH DUMB”
definitely the second Missy showed up my whole being revolted against it
so, I kind of understood where she was coming from
TM: Hahaha I feel like Ginevra is the pure incarnation of my pettiness.
KW: wow why are there like NO GIFS of Timon and Pumba singing “DISASTER’S IN THE AIRRRRRRR” during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”
because that’s exactly how I felt when Missy showed up
KW: Lucy didn’t even loathe her, so I loathed her on Lucy’s behalf
maybe I just loathed her PRESENCE more than her
TM: But I think that’s because I didn’t care about graham. Except to low key hate him.
KW: because as soon as she showed up I was like “well here’s all my hopes for Graham DASHED AGAINST THE STONES”
TM: I guess I just knew she didn’t end up with Graham so it didn’t matter to me?
KW: also can we talk a little bit about biographical criticism
KW: because I was thinking about it a lot during that portion of the book
TM: Since it’s widely thought Villette is semi-autobiographical?
I wish I could see when you’re typing.
KW: because when I gave in to the idea that she would be with M. Paul, I was like, “Well, I guess if she was with Graham it would be more of a fairy tale” but in REAL LIFE Charlotte was in love with a cranky older dude who was A LOT LIKE M. PAUL so wouldn’t her [Lucy] ending up with him be JUST AS MUCH of a fairytale/wish fulfillment??
TM: So I could tell whether or not I should be typing.
KW: but then the Formalism training kicked in and was like “well you shouldn’t CARE about that! textual evidence only!!”
TM: Ohhhh interesting point.
KW: and I just couldn’t decide whether to ignore it or not
TM: I think to me it matters how much Lucy represents Charlotte.
Like is she just filling the physical position Charlotte did, or is she a psychological stand-in as well?
KW: and also, I want to say that I’m not knocking the fairy tale ending. Jane Eyre pulls it off nicely. I just resent the idea that Lucy couldn’t be with Graham because that would be a fairy tale, but then she COULD be with M. Paul.
but then again is that question rendered irrelevant by the FUCKING ENDING
TM: See, I don’t think Lucy doesn’t end up with Graham because it would be “too fairytale.”
KW: lol here we are, back at the ending of the book, where we started
TM: I think Charlotte’s stories are much more centered on who the characters are and what their relationships do to them.
So it’s not about who would be a more “fairytale” ending, but who would be better for Lucy. Who understood her better. Who saw her for who she was.
KW: and like, I could buy that if something about M. Paul didn’t smell so much of wish fulfillment to me which is not inherently a bad thing
TM: In which case, M. Paul SEES Lucy from the beginning. He observes her in their first meeting. Graham doesn’t even recognize her despite having known her when they were younger.
But as you pointed out, is it wish fulfillment with that as the ending?
KW: wish fulfillment, that is I feel like all stories with a happy ending, on some level, are. which then this book ISN’T because DAM THAT ENDING
TM: Yeah. I just don’t know. I think I need more time to gather my thoughts on that one.
KW: I think what gets under my skin is that she talks about really ENJOYING Graham’s company and half the time when she’s with M. Paul she seems quite miserable
TM: (Holy shit I wish I could write a 20 pg paper on this shit! With a full bibliography of academic sources and everything!)
KW: like he traps her in a hot classroom and won’t let her leave to go get a cup of water!!
I refuse to believe that that is love!
you keep making whatever point you’re currently making and then we should probably wrap this up because we have definitely exceeded my ambitious [time] cap and also my computer is starting to get ornery
TM: She fulfills one specific role for Graham, and he never sees her as anything else. He doesn’t challenge her or allow her to be anything else. M. Paul pushes her and prods her and forces her to come out of her reserves and icy world.
KW: OR he confines her in front of a hot stove and forces her to talk to him potayto potahto
TM: And okay. We will definitely continue this conversation. Preferably in person. I’m so bad at messaging. Dear lord.
KW: You are not bad at messaging!!
TM: My fingers are cramping.
KW: This was delightful and perfect and I think we made a good amount of jokes mingled in with solid literary critique!
Thank you so much for doing this with me!
good night! sleep well! may the only ghosts that haunt you actually be Ginevra’s horny boyfriend!!