Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

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Mini-Reviews of Other Books! May 14, 2010

Here you can find my opinions on the other books I’m reading while I do my blog. I don’t want to do a deep analysis of them – it’s my turn to just enjoy reading them without having to think of what to write for a class or even for this blog. But, I will give a short summary review for each because obviously – I will have opinions. You can find the links to buy these books on my ‘Get The Books You See!’ page.

Oh, and Here be Spoilers!

Little Dorrit

I think my first thought when finishing Little Dorrit was: well, that wasn’t Bleak House. The next thought I had was: damn, I wish I had footnotes. While I didn’t love Little Dorrit as much as I did Bleak House, I still loved it in the end. I found, first of all, that I am a sucker for Dickens’ writing structure, his narrative voice. Narrative voice is something I’m particularly conscious of for some reason – I don’t know if relates to the fact I’m a writer, or just because I find it interesting (yes, I pretty much adore what I’ve studied of Bakhtinian Theory). People make the comment that they could be able to sit through their favorite actor reading the phonebook so I have been going around saying I would read the phone book if it was written by Dickens. Yes, I know – it doesn’t mean the same thing and one ought to mean what they say so I’ll say what I mean*: Dickens’ structure is like crack to me. The story could be shit and I wouldn’t care.

Luckily, the story wasn’t shit at all – the story was wonderfully cyclical (another favorite sort of structure of mine) and wonderfully balanced between the two books it was split into (maybe one could say even paralleled – but I’ll get to that stuff when I go to write a paper this summer – and don’t mock me for writing a paper! It’s fun! And this is a mini-review anyway.).  I found the book massively interesting given Dickens’ own history – Marshalsea (the debtor’s prison) seems more like a home (and, indeed, when I reached the second book I wanted them to return) than the horror that it really was in Dickens’ own life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Amy’s life was flowers and puppy dogs – but compared to what came when her family was released, there is this great nostalgia I felt for Marshalsea. Perhaps, though, some of this had to do with the time – perhaps contemporary audiences (and Dickens) felt that the change was a good one. I’d have to do some looking into that (but, as I said, this is a mini-review so whipping out some scholarship for this might drive us all mad).

Overall, yes – I’d recommend this book – but I’d recommend reading it before Bleak House (even though it would be out of order, time-written-wise). I really think Bleak House is richer – but then it’s also a mystery. Little Dorrit isn’t as much (a mystery, I mean) and it’s primary focus is on tension between wealth and poverty, etc. So – to conclude this mini-review before I go off to warm up leftovers – read Little Dorrit. Simple as that (and, yes, I have the new mini-series right next to me, which I plan to start as I eat my dinner).

*bravo if you recognized my Carroll reference

Update: Half-way through the mini-series – it’s fantastic – I would go so far as to say better adapted than Bleak House but I still have six more episodes to go (Davies is God of the adapted screenplay!). I’ve noticed, though, my thoughts on Marshalsea slightly altered – but then one has to remember than when watching an adaptation, it’s the screenwriter, actor, director blah blah blah that shape their vision, not your own.

Villette

I think I should preface this by saying that I love Charlotte Brontë and nothing can change that. Even when I got extremely bothered by Villette. At first, I thought it was the lack of grit or politics – I never thought I’d long for something to do with a court or debts, etc. But then I started to center my thoughts around the main protagonist and narrator of the story: Lucy Snowe.

Lucy, to me, is a very difficult character. She has many many aspects to which I and many readers can ‘relate’ to. She is also a sympathetic character – an orphan and alone for most of her life, you feel for her – you really do. She gets fevered for being in such a situation and you’re practically joyful when it’s her godmother who takes her in (not really a summary, of course, but just illustrating the cathartic moments etc.). But she’s also like a female St. John from Jane Eyre. She spouts religion. A lot. Not always that people should follow her, but that she is fighting off the Catholics (as they are in France). So many parts seemed as though I was reading a female St. John narrative … and I was never a fan of St. John.

I think it was that strange religious fervor that had my disliking Lucy. But that’s not to speak against Brontë’s writing. The character is meticulously crafted – brilliantly in fact. Taking into account, too, that Brontë based this off her own experience, I think Lucy is a very rounded character. You know her – you could almost predict what she would say. And when she would break into tears, the lack of reserve would shock you. But I still don’t like Lucy, and that’s just personal taste, I think.

As for the ‘love story’ aspect – don’t go into Villette thinking it’s about Lucy falling for the headmaster M.Paul – it’s so much more. In fact, that part of the story really doesn’t evolve fully until the third volume. It’s very much about the people that come in and out of her life, how they make Lucy look at life and thus how she ends up reacting to M.Paul. My professor, who’s seen me through many a Victorian novel, told me to keep with Villette because the grit was internal – and she was right. The grit was in Lucy’s mind and Lucy’s relationships – and in that respect, it was masterful.

And the ending – I adored the ending. Another spin at Brontë being absolutely clever. The uncertainty mingled with possible hope, possible despair mingled with reaching out to the reader made every page worth it to get to that last turn. Sure, there’s not steady conclusion – but I like it that way. And I think it’s Brontë’s craftsmanship in Villette I prized most while reading.