When an author you admire raves about a book that he or she admires, paying attention can be very rewarding! Thumbing through the current issue of O Magazine, I came across a brief piece called, “Books that Made a Difference to…Kazuo Ishiguro,” the author of the quiet yet powerful Remains of the Day. In the article, Kazuo talks about Villette, a novel by Charlotte Bronte that he feels is wonderful, but relatively unknown. As he puts it, “Almost everything I know about first-person narration comes from this novel. Its plot lacks the clean lines of Jane Eyre, but this is the richer, more daring achievement. What looks at first like laughably flowery language steadily builds into one of the most extraordinary narrative voices in literature.”
Voila! By a happy coincidence, when I checked a set of books by the Brontes on a small shelf in my house, there was Villette just waiting for me. Of course, I had to dive in — what a revelation! Charlotte was 34 when she began work on the novel; her big success, Jane Eyre, was behind her and she was desperately lonely: Emily and Anne, and her beloved brother Branwell had all been taken by tuberculosis. Writing Villette was difficult and the book is intensely autobiographical. It pulses with life and longing. Its heroine, Lucy Snowe, leaps from every page.
Here’s just one glimpse: “At that time, I well remember, whatever could excite — certain accidents of the weather, for instance, were almost dreaded by me, because they woke the being that I was always lulling, and stirred up a craving cry I could not satisfy. One night a sort of hurricane shook us in our beds. The Catholics rose in panic and prayed to their saints. As for me, the tempest took hold of me with tyranny; I was roughly roused and obliged to live.”
What an amazing book! Today is Sunday and I spent a few hours just reveling in the onrushing power of Lucy Snowe’s voice — so different from Jane Eyre’s and yet so vital and real. What a remarkable writer Charlotte Bronte is. What a gift to have discovered such a wonderful novel — right on my own shelf!