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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Summer Reading Project II: Villette

Posted by Rohan Maitzen on 06/08/09 at 08:59 AM

I am only just returned to a sense of the real world around me, for I have been reading Villette, a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power. (George Eliot to Caroline Bray, 15 February, 1853)

Why is Villette disagreeable? Because the writer’s mind contains nothing but hunger, rebellion, and rage, and therefore that is all she can in fact put into her book. (Matthew Arnold to Mrs. Forster, 14 April 1853).

Although there were a number of good suggestions in response to my previous message about a summer reading group, no consensus emerged for any other specific choice and several people expressed interest in Villette, so this book, which Charlotte Bronte’s friend Harriet Martineau considered “perhaps the strangest, the most astonishing” of her novels, will be the focus of this year’s Summer Reading Project. The format and tone of last year’s were both, I thought, very successful: we had wide and steady participation, the pace seemed manageable, and the discussions were always interesting and almost always congenial. Accordingly, I propose doing everything pretty much the same this time, and in fact will poach shamelessly from the previous set-up post:

The book:

Villette was Charlotte Bronte’s fourth novel. Her first, The Professor, was eventually published posthumously in 1857. Her first success, Jane Eyre, made its sensational debut in 1847; it was followed by Shirley, in 1849, and then by Villette in 1853. Villette was the first novel Charlotte wrote entirely without input from her sisters Anne and Emily, both of whom had died during the composition of Shirley: in the words of her biographer and friend Elizabeth Gaskell, “down into the very midst of her writing came the bolts of death:”

She went on with her work steadily. But it was dreary to write without anyone to listen to the progress of her tale,--to find fault or to sympathize,--while pacing the length of the parlour in the evenings, as in the days that were no more. Three sisters had done this,--then two, the other sister dropping off from the walk,--and now one was left desolate, to listen for echoing steps that never came,--and to hear the wind sobbing at the windows, with an almost articulate sound.

Villette was hailed as a work of genius; notable reviews compare Bronte to George Sand and to Balzac. Yet even among those who admired it, some found it morbid, disturbing, unfeminine, and coarse. I wonder what we will think!

The plan:

As many people as are interested will read Villette this summer, in instalments as outlined below. The idea is to complete the specified chapters by the date given.  If the pace turns out to be too fast or too slow, we can change it.  Each week, a simple message will be posted here at The Valve inviting discussion of the reading so far.  Everyone is welcome to contribute; discussions will simply follow people’s interests.  People who have their own blogs can post there and provide excerpts and/or links over here if they want (or the links and I’ll collate and post them).  As a slight variation on last year’s procedures, we will follow our reading of the novel with a couple of weeks of posts on critical articles (specifics TBA). If this approach proves too open-ended and those involved would like more structure (e.g. posts to respond to, or questions to initiate discussion), we can consider how best to do that.  Initially, though, let’s just see what people want to talk about.  Lurkers especially welcome!  Blogging is not meant to be a spectator sport.

Proposed Schedule:

By the given date, we’ll aim to have read at least the chapters specified. As I’ll be away on holiday over the end of June, we’ll start in early July.

Volume I:
July 7: Chapters 1-8
July 14: Chapters 9-15

Volume II
July 21: Chapters 16-22
July 28: Chapters 23-27

Volume III
August 4: Chapters 28-35
August 11:Chapters 36-42

August 18 & 25: Criticism

Related Links:

Villette at Amazon.Com

Bronte Blog

Villette E-Texts: here, here, here

E-text of Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte

The Bronte Society

Charlotte Bronte on the Victorian Web


Thanks for setting this up.

By Amateur Reader on 06/08/09 at 12:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I had checked in yesterday to see if anything had started yet, and now it’s here!  Looking forward to it.

By zhiv on 06/08/09 at 03:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Been looking forward to this, Rohan, many thanks. I have never been keen on Villette (or CB, for that matter) but maybe Valve readers will change my mind ...!

By on 06/08/09 at 07:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Isn’t Ray Davis a fan of this book? I think he is.

By on 06/08/09 at 10:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Indeed he is! But Ray Davis has been a complete loser as regards time-available-for-writing for a few years now (after having well established himself as a complete loser in other ways), and so he’s been reluctant to make a public commitment on this one.

My “plan” is to participate if I can, and to look on longingly (and possibly belatedly) if I can’t.

By Ray Davis on 06/09/09 at 02:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Excellent! I was planning to read Villette this summer, and this will just enhance the process.

By schatzi on 06/12/09 at 06:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment


Do you have any exact information as to whether the text is unfeminine and coarse? If so, that may influence my decision.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 06/13/09 at 05:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

For or against, Joseph? But FWIW, I think by 19th-century standards it is certainly ‘unfeminine,’ and probably ‘coarse,’ though both terms need a lot of parsing. There are ghosts (sort of) and buried letters, and there’s even some cross-dressing, in case any of that helps make up your mind. And Bronte said (rather as Austen did of Emma, as I recall) that she meant “Miss Frost“ to be somebody few would like.

By Rohan Maitzen on 06/14/09 at 06:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Joseph, it depends on whether you think prison movies are feminine and refined.

By Ray Davis on 06/14/09 at 07:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A response worthy of Wilde, Rohan - it’s going to be a great summer!

By on 06/14/09 at 08:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, It would prove useful to review Charlotte Bronte’s Belgian experience and compare that with the persons and events in Villette.

By streas on 07/01/09 at 08:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, this is great, thanks for doing it! I haven’t read Villette since college. This will be a good motivator for a long-overdue re-read.

By Amy on 07/07/09 at 12:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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