"Why is Villette so disagreeable? Because the writer's mind
contains nothing but hunger, rebellion and rage." Matthew Arnold, 1853.
Matthew Arnold was certainly forthcoming about the defects of both Charlotte Bronte's mind and of her novel. Indeed he was not alone in his reaction to her; Anne Mozley in The Christian Remembrancer ;in April 1853 wrote in reaction to Bronte's other great work of "rebellion", Jane Eyre, that she had to make "a protest against the outrages on decorum, the moral perversity, the toleration, nay, indifference to vice which deform her picture of a desolate woman" (my italics). Mozley even went far enough to label Jane Eyre a "dangerous book", a sentiment which Arnold's comments show that he shared. Yes both Villette and Jane Eyre are pervaded by "hunger, rebellion and rage" but it is this very factor which allows Bronte's protagonists to explore their own identities in, crucially, their own terms.
That both Jane Eyre and Villette are first person narratives is highly important. Unlike Catherine Earnshaw, Maggie Tulliver and Isabel Archer, Lucy Snowe and Jane Eyre are able to define their own stories, and subsequently, to define themselves. As Tony Tanner stated, Jane's "narrative act is not so much one of retrieval as of establishing and maintaining her identity" and this can easily be extended to Lucy. Indeed in Villette the importance of language to proclaim identity, and therefore power, is demonstrated by Lucy's inability to speak French when she arrives in Villette " I could say nothing whatever". Of course the role of teaching Lucy to speak French falls to M. Paul demonstrating the masc...
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...ion and rage.
The Bronte's: The Critical Heritage, ed. Miriam Allott (1974).
"Person, Narrative and Identity in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre", Tony Tanner in Teaching the Text ed. S Kappeler.
"Jane Eyre's Interior Design", Karen Chase in Jane Eyre (New Casebook), ed. Heather Glenn.
"Introduction" to Villette (Penguin,1979), Tony Tanner.
"The Buried Life of Lucy Snowe" and "A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane's Progress" in The Mad Woman in the Attic, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (2000).
"Charlotte Bronte as a 'Freak Genius'", David Cecil in Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyreand Villette (A Casebook Series) ed. Miriam Allot.
"Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism", Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in The Feminist Reader ed. Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore (1997).
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