*Warning: This post contains spoilers for Villette. Read at your own risk.
Honestly, I couldn’t write a blog post after I finished Villette. I’m pretty sure I strongly dislike the ending. Not to spoil it for anyone but the ending is mildly indeterminate, and other signs in the book lead me to believe that it is not the classic “Happily ever after” I have come to expect from British Victorian literature. It makes me mildly sad. Still, I don’t regret reading it, what with the delightful interplay of ice and fire. At the same time, the message that the end of the book sends is that two people with differing faiths cannot be allowed to unite, which was quite a letdown. Then again, the conclusion reflects the stringency of British Victorian morals and their strict adherence to all actions that would stabilize society. If a British Protestant went to a French metropolis and married a Catholic, then that would not be doing anything for the aforementioned social structure.
The ending also makes me question how this conclusion would have been different if the one who uprooted and sought a profession in France had been a man. The gender stratification is relatively clear in that men at Madame Beck’s academy receive the title with more clout (Professor), whereas women are confined to the role of “Teacher” (maybe I am taking this anachronistically, for I am making the assumption that today’s connotations align with those of the 1800s, but I can’t see how there could be a drastic difference). Therefore, I wonder if the conclusion would be different if it were a British man uprooting to France, or even a French man uprooting to Britain.
No sooner was Villette finished (the 9th of May, 11:22 pm, to be precise) did I move on to the next novel on my list: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, which really does (as my thesis adviser said it would) resemble Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. The main character (Helen) reminds me of Lucy, but she also reminds me a bit of Gaskell’s Ruth in that she tries to endure the injustices a man of society has wrought upon her. At the same time, the structure reminds me a bit of Wuthering Heights in that Anne Bronte uses a frame narrative structure that begins with a male protagonist, but unlike Lockwood, Gilbert is actually involved with the plot and receives the honor of narrating the first 90 or so pages before the narrative shift occurs, then to Helen’s diary. Like Ruth and Lady Audley’s Secret, this novel demonstrates the plight of women and the manner in which they are trapped by men and by society despite their efforts to move past transgression. In all three novels, tactics for discarding the past self involve adopting new names and moving to new geographical locations, which thereby creates a sort of dual self, but society seldom allows these women to enjoy their limited freedoms as the “secret self” of the past is always unveiled and any chance at integration destroyed beyond repair. In the novels I have already finished (more spoilers), both female protagonists are silenced by death. I wonder if it will also be the case in this novel.
Interestingly enough, a child is also involved in the three aforementioned novels, and in all three cases, this child is a son. In Ruth and Wildfell Hall, it seems like the presence of a son serves as an opportunity for redemption, and both suffer from the stained reputation of their mothers. In Lady Audley’s Secret, the child seems to be nothing more than an extraneous device that serves as a sign of past impurity, which is not surprising due to the matrimonial nature of her escape from her past life.
That is all I have for now. If my adviser verifies my selection, then I will be spared 1500 pages of reading.
Onward with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall!