Wednesday, 11 January 2017


Stirred into action by watching the biography of the Brontës on BBC over the holiday period, I purchased copies of Villette and The Professor last week, the former being Charlotte Brontë's first novel and the latter being a later and shorter reworking of the former.

Unless you have a good command of French, don't bother with Villette. While the novel starts off in England, it swiftly moves to Belgium, where Charlotte Brontë seems desperate to display her knowledge of French. While I can cope with the odd word here and there, she quickly moves to entire sentences, then paragraphs and finally complete conversations, at which point I lost interest and gave up in disgust. It requires substantially more than just a rudimentary knowledge of schoolboy/girl French.

Very much a woman's book, meandering around stream-of-consciousness emotions and long, descriptive prose. You can miss paragraphs and even entire pages and not lose anything of the plot - it's just acres of descriptions. Extremely well written, but nevertheless boring for a bloke - not a steam engine or piston in the entire novel, and it's set in the Industrial Revolution, for heaven's sake. 

She and her family were spot on with the heavy metal umlauted 'o' in the surname though - good marketing ploy, well before its time and designed to attract the young.

Stop Press: got to page 9 of The Professor and decided to scan ahead for signs of French. Yes, littered with the abominable tongue, which is only to be expected with a rewrite. If only it had been set in Antwerp and not the French speaking part of Belgium. Will have to move on to some other classic novel set in Blightly.

While I'm aware that virtually, if not every word in English that ends in able is French in derivation, it only struck me on reading the novel that the English word 'chamber' is obviously derived from the French 'chambre'. Obvious when you think of it, which I never did. Strike out everything French in our language and you're left with just a bit of German and Scandinavian and a drop of Roman. So much for Brexit...

1 comment:

  1. There are a lot of what are called 'false friends' in french that look very english (eg sensible)but are not quite right. On seeing a french can of food with the lable also helpfully in english but written under the Union Flag as a logo! How long that may last and do N. Americans feel upset?