Reading Charlotte Brontë’s Villette

Lately it came to mind, on several occasions, that I should read Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, one of the key intertexts of Dorothy Richardson’s Pointed Roofs, volume one of Richardson’s Pilgrimage series. It has a style that carries one along and against my intention I found that I had burned through it in five days.

I started with the best intentions, to keep some distance, and chew slowly on sentences like: “The charm of variety there was not, nor the excitement of incident; but I liked peace so well, and sought stimulus so little, that when the latter came I almost felt it a disturbance, and wished rather it had still held aloof.” What I discovered in Villette was a powerfully intimate voice of obdurate experience that plays against the narrator’s voice. Intention aside, caring little for the paraphernalia of plot, that voice kept me reading late over a few nights, never once finding it tedious or pompous or patronising or superior.

Having reached the end, I admit to feeling it unfortunate that I galloped through the whole thing, but having got the hang of it as a whole, will now turn back to page one, with pencil in hand and read with greater restraint.

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