So, Villette. Charlotte Bronte was a romantic and the voice of the passions, lady-passions especially, and Villette is a very passionate book. The book's narrator Lucy Snowe is the most trippy, passionate (in the sense of emotionally present) and poetic narrator I think I've ever been narrated to by. As much as I enjoyed the first-person narrative voice of The True History of the Kelly Gang, Lucy Snowe makes that Ned Kelly look like a cardboard cutout with an Irish accent - a cheap trick. She makes Pip in Great Expectations look like an uncommunicative emotional retard. And she makes Jane Eyre look - well - stupid is the wrong word. She makes Jane Eyre look like Jane is fooling herself.
Lucy would have asked Jane why, if her marriage to Rochester is so great, the last words of her memoir are about the guy she turned down. Lucy would have asked Jane what she meant by telling Diana that she could imagine one day developing a 'torturing' kind of love for St. John. If Lucy had been in the room, that would never have stayed that one little sentence out of a million in Jane Eyre; and Lucy would have pulled out an explanation for why Jane nearly agreed to marry St. John when he stroked her hair, and why a fucking miracle was necessary to prevent her from doing so.
Far more than any other Bronte heroine, or any literary character who springs to mind at the moment, Lucy is emotionally merciless in her appraisal of the people around her, and most of all of herself - and yet that doesn't mean she's honest - not at all. She's a strikingly, gratuituosly dishonest narrator who conceals things or omits things for the sake of concealing them or omitting them. She reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro's dishonest narrators, but all of Kazuo Ishiguro's books and the graceful slow reveals of his narrator's realities - and please bear in mind that every book I've compared in this post with Villette so far are books that I fucking love - look totally gimmicky relative to Villette.
The thing with Lucy Snowe is that she's a depressive, a complete fucking clinical depressive, with all of a depressive's cynical certainties, despair, cold eye for even the people she loves and dry little games of hide-and-seek with the truth. She has all of a depressive's passionate sense of the unfairness of the human condition; a sense which isn't just observational, but deeply experiential and personal - the sort of sense of the unfairness of the human condition that makes poets instead of Marxists. It's the thing that makes depressives hard to spend time with, and that makes depressives think that they're even harder to spend time with than they actually are.
Lucy as a narrator isn't hard to spend time with though, or at least not for a patient reader, because Charlotte Bronte was a poet, and all of these cynical certainties, etc., are delivered to us in her astonishing language. I'm always wary of attempts to link a book to a writer's personal life. But I can't help but think of Villette as a cri-de-coeur from Charlotte Bronte after the death of all her siblings, and after her emotionally humiliating relationship with her professor in Brussels; a shatteringly accurate and painfully extended poem exploring the mind of a depressive, and finally the grand and brutal gesture of drowning it like an unwanted kitten and tossing it, almost contemptuously, into the lap of the reader.
I believe in that sort of therapy for depressives and I've never seen a more perfect example of it than Villette, if that's what Villette indeed is. After all, they say that despite the utter shittitude of her family's fate - and it's hard to imagine that Lucy Snowe's family's fate, one of the things that she purposefully hides from us, is much worse - Charlotte Bronte was quite happy in the final years of her life.