Jane Eyre v. Villette

When I used to write reviews exclusively on my Goodreads profile, I rarely bothered to summarize the story, on the assumption that most people reading my thoughts on something would already have read the book itself.  I try to be more thorough now that I am writing reviews for a wider audience.

When I post a previously-written review that I pulled from Goodreads, I often attempt a rough outline of the plot as an introduction to my review.  In this case, I am going to give myself a break, because the books in question are classics.  I am hoping that most people are at least marginally familiar with the basics of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and – forgive me – I would honestly rather not spend the time on Villette.  As far as I am concerned, the these books might as well have been written by two separate authors, for all the resemblance between them.

A disclaimer:  since it comes up in the review, I want to mention that I have gained a great deal of respect for Jane Austen since the first time I read Jane Eyre.  I was not always a fan.  Though my sentiments have changed somewhat, I am leaving the review as I wrote it in 2009.

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I’m tempted to read this over again immediately, but I’ll wait.
I was completely taken by surprise by this book. I expected it to be boring and stuffy. In fact, I loved it. I thought it would be similar to Jane Austen’s books, but I discovered that (in my opinion) Ms. Brontë could write circles around Ms. Austen.

I felt a great deal of sympathy with the main character. I could not always relate to her, but I felt her to be a very likable heroine. It is nice to read about a woman who makes her way in the world through virtue of her diligence and personality, rather than physical appearance. (Upon reading the afterword, I found that Ms. Brontë had set out to create a character with just those specifications, to prove to her sisters that it was possible to have a successful and enjoyable heroine who was not a great beauty.)

I most likely can’t say anything about this book that has not already been said, so I’ll just say again that I loved it, and that this is one work that deserves the classification of great literature.

As it turns out, I did read it over again.  I liked it just as much the second time around, and I have made a point of watching every cinematic interpretation of the work that I can find.

It took a few years before I got around to trying something else by Ms. Brontë.  I kept looking at Villette in the library, wanting to read it because of the author, yet completely uninterested in the plot synopsis.  I finally checked it out and gave it a try, because it is very highly regarded in the literary world, even said to be better than Jane Eyre.

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I was surprised at how little I liked this, given how much I enjoyed Jane Eyre. I could not get into it. I disliked the heroine, disliked several of the other characters, and did not enjoy the writing style. It seemed deceptive and unclear. I really was impatient for this book to be over, and then the ending was completely unsatisfying.

Five sentences!  In retrospect, that seems harsh, even remembering how little I cared for the book.

I mentioned deception because of the narrator’s intentional withholding of information from her reader, for the sake of dramatic effect.  I do not appreciate that as a narrative technique.  It gave me an unfavorable impression of the character, and made it difficult to feel sympathy for her.

Perhaps I was in the wrong place in my life to enjoy this book.  That has happened before, with other books.  Sometimes a re-read after a few years’ time is all that is needed to give me a completely new perspective on a story.  Then again, I may never decide to give Villette a second chance.  There are so many other books in the world to try for the first time, and possibly love.

Furthermore, these are not the only two novels Charlotte Brontë wrote.  I am willing to take on any or all of those remaining, in hopes of finding a new favorite among them.  Whether or not that happens, whatever comes of reading those other works, I can rest assured that I will always have Jane Eyre.  One masterpiece is more than enough.


About Elizabeth M. Lee

I love to read, write, and take nature photos. I do other stuff, too.
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