Why Villette is better than Jane Eyre

Lucy Hughes-Hallett in The Telegraph:

CBronte_2495332bCharlotte Brontë wrote not one but two masterpieces. Most readers know Jane Eyre. Even non-readers feel they know it, because they have seen a film version, or just because it is a part of our common culture. But Villette, Brontë’s last and – to my mind – greatest novel, is less popular, perhaps because it is so uncompromising and so original. It is high time it was recognised as the blazing work it is. Reading it you enter an area of experience – of passion and disappointment and the violent return of the repressed – that has seldom been so lucidly articulated. It is also an astonishing piece of writing, a book in which phantasmagorical set pieces alternate with passages of minute psychological exploration, and in which Brontë’s marvellously flexible prose veers between sardonic wit and stream-of-consciousness, in which the syntax bends and flows and threatens to dissolve completely in the heat of madness, drug-induced hallucination and desperate desire.

…As Virginia Woolf wrote, Brontë was one of those writers whose “overpowering personality” means “they have only to open the door to make themselves felt. There is in them some untamed ferocity perpetually at war with the accepted order of things.” The Brontë myth would have us see Charlotte and her sisters as spinsters, timidly hiding behind male pseudonyms. Anyone who has read Villette knows that Woolf comes much closer to the truth. It is a fierce book, and an irrestibly compelling one.

More here.