Showing posts with label Elizabeth Gaskell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elizabeth Gaskell. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting to Know Charlotte (Jillian)

My latest literary endeavor is Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Having finally finished a long, grueling spell struggling with Charlotte’s Villette, I find I probably should have read her biography first to gather a better sense of her final novel.It's a great idea to get to know our favorite authors better - not merely in a sense of "how did they do that?" but to appreciate them for the creative people they are in ordinary lives, human beings who struggled instead of idols who leap out of the clay fully formed and automatically brilliant.

For those of you who are interested in branching out into Charlotte’s lesser-known works, I would urge you caution. Villette is a beautiful and profound work, a wonderful reflection of Charlotte’s experiences in Belgium. But the narrator and central character, Lucy Snowe, is a bit of an icy, indefinable ghost; at times Lucy, though she knows her own mind and her own sorrows, seems more of a captive witness to events rather than a strong participant. Though no less vivid than Jane Eyre, it was impossible at times to tell where Villette was going, if anywhere, and it took me about four months to finally finish it… reading other books along the way for occasional relief.

It is not to say that Villette is “bad”. It isn’t; it is rightly lauded as a masterpiece. It was also a profound challenge. Yet, that challenge inspired me to learn more about this mysterious, tragic writer, and see if following her journey can help me better appreciate her. Here are some interesting facts I have learned so far:

1. Charlotte had two older sisters who died of typhus when Charlotte was a little girl: Maria and Elizabeth. The circumstances of their deaths at a school in Yorkshire inspired the events in Jane Eyre wherein Jane’s only friend Helen dies during an epidemic.

2. Charlotte was private and had a quiet spirit, but when she set her mind to something, she was determined to carry it out. To quote Elizabeth: She was not one to take over-much about any project, while it remained uncertain – to speak about her labour, in any direction, while its result was uncertain.

3. Her hero was the Duke of Wellington, general of the Napoleanic wars and an important conservative political figure of the day.

4. She was terribly “short-sighted”, or near-sighted, and got by with the use of spectacles.

5. Charlotte and her equally famous sister Emily (Wuthering Heights) studied French and German at a Belgian school in 1842-43. Her experiences there would be the setting for her final work Villette.

6. One of Charlotte’s earliest pseudonyms was Charles Thunder. Later she would write under the name of Currer Bell; her sister Anne (Agnes Grey) was Acton Bell, and Emily was Ellis Bell.


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