Villette Read-a-Long :: Week Six

Welcome! We are reading through Charlotte Bronte’s Villette this February and March. Feel free to jump in at any time. You can see our reading schedule and guidelines in the starting post. Feel free to leave your thoughts on this week’s reading or a link to your updates in the comments section!

Week Six

26, 27, 28, 29, & 30

Today, instead of the usual summary thoughts for Villette week six, I asked Jacquline (@jackiemania) to do what she does best. Compare our characters to tea. So please enjoy this oh-so-fun way of looking at these characters whom we have spent the past six weeks with. Don’t be shy to tell us what you think… and don’t forget to add your own thoughts and links for week six of the reading! See you back here next week for week seven.

Lapsang Lucy

Or: An Exploration of the Characters in Villette Through My Obsession with Tea

I am a passionate lover of literature, and I am also completely mad about tea. I’ve gotten into the (some may say) strange habit of combining my two favorite fascinations: tea and characters. I constantly ask myself whilst reading, “What kind of tea would this character be?” As we are just past the mid-point of the Villette Read-a-long, I thought it would be fun to do a post on just this subject. Please indulge me by taking a look at the teas I have chosen to go with each main character in Villette

Lucy, our singular narrator, is Lapsang Suchong tea. Lapsang is different from all other teas because the leaves are smoked over pine fires, which infuse them with a flavor similar to a campfire. I believe Lucy is just as unique; I haven’t experienced anyone in literature with her interesting mix of slightly pathological reserve, fierce intelligence, and great passion! Lapsang, and Lucy, are definitely acquired tastes. I remember the first time I had Lapsang I absolutely loathed it! A strong reaction is not uncommon. As I furthered my tea education, and slowly got into smokier and smokier teas, my appreciation grew. That being said, not every tea drinker grows to like Lapsang, and I dare say not all readers of Villette will ultimately like Lucy.

Dr. John Graham, our clueless romantic, is a tea bag! He is not as terrible as Lipton, but rather is a middling tea bag such as Twinings. What I am trying to say is, “Lucy! Despite the nice packaging and simplicity of brewing, there is much better tea out there!” Most tea bags are comprised of dust and fannings which have lost many of the essential oils that make teas distinctive and delicious. I would say the same of Dr. John. He looks good on paper (handsome and a doctor) but is superficial (Ginevra Fanshawe! Hello!). I feel that he has a false sense of entitlement and ego after assessing the quality of his ingredients. Ahem!

M. Paul Emanuel, our hotheaded professor with a soft side, is Keemun tea. Keemun is intense but sweet. The first time I drank it, all that I could taste were the strong, leathery, smoky, masculine notes. As I got to know it, its fruity, chocolatey, pleasing virtues were revealed. I feel the same is true for M. Paul. When he came into the story, I thought him a tyrant! Slowly but surely I started to see kindness and generosity in his character. Readers, you just wait and see what qualities are revealed by the end of Villette!

Ginevra Fanshawe, our pretty, shallow, sweet young thing, is Sakura Cherry Blossom Green tea. It’s very pretty and can taste lovely. Alas! You must be very careful with it, because being a green tea, it can turn bitter if brewed just a half minute over its steep time. It also does not hold up in hot water. You have to be careful because some manufacturers use cloying artificial flavoring, or sneak in hibiscus, that showy sweet/tart flower, to further flavor it and color the brewed tea pink. Many tea lovers believe that flavoring is used on teas to hide a lack of quality. Enough said!

Polly/Paulina, our woman-child, is white tea. White tea is obtained from the buds and young leaves of the tea plant. This tea has a delicate, subtle flavor. Some, such as myself, would say too delicate!  I always feel like I am drinking lightly flavored warm water when I drink a white tea, just as when Polly is in a scene, I find her very bland. Her angelic love and devotion to the men in her life is just too good too be true. I derive no satisfaction from her representation of womanhood. Give me some Lapsang Suchong any day.

Are you a tea lover? Do any of the teas that you enjoy remind you of these characters in Villette? Are there characters that I didn’t include that you would like to assign a tea to? Do you think I was mean by calling Dr. John a tea bag? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Next Read-a-Long : John Adams by David McCullough… check  back here tomorrow for more information.







Who’s (Still) Reading Along:

A Bookish Way of Life
Fingers and Prose
The Sleepless Reader
Boomerang Books
Tahleen’s Mixed-Up Files
Polishing Mud Balls
She is Too Fond of Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
Susan E.
Savvy Verse & Wit
Readings and Things
Under the Boardwalk
The House of the Seven Tails
The Road Goes Ever Ever On
1More Chapter
Grief Journey to Reading Journey
Join the Road
Lit and Life
Books and Chocolate
Dolce Belleza

(If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. If you go for two weeks without sharing the link for your weekly update in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list. Thanks!)

43 thoughts on “Villette Read-a-Long :: Week Six

  1. Jacquline: I have not read this book, but I have read this tea interpretation with great interest! I really enjoyed reading your article. I may just have to look into acquiring this book! ~Anne (aka LiberTEAS)

    • Great post! I love how you zeroed in on the mon ami conversation as a turning point in the novel.

      As an aside. Do you know the history of using “reader” in the novel – I mean referring to the reader in the novel? Like the passage you quoted in your post?

      “You should have seen him smile, reader…”

      Bronte does it all the time (famously in Jane Eyre! “Reader, I married him.”) and I didn’t know if this was something common for the novel of the time, what other authors did this, etc. Before I start researching it, I would love to hear if anyone knows more information about this.

      It totally sends chills up my spine, like she is talking to me from Beyond!!!

      • Here I am replying to myself – that is always a dangerous line to cross! But anyway – I did a little poking around. The literary term that describes when an author talks to a reader is direct address. It’s not purely modern or post-modern of course (Cervantes! Shakespeare!) but I do find it jarring and it sure does zing me right in the heart with Bronte!

    • I won’t give anything away about M. Paul, but I look forward to seeing what you think by the end :) I was picturing M. Paul being my teacher, and I think I would have run screaming (and crying) very early!!! I know that teachers were very different than they are today, and a person of the time might not have had as strong of a reaction as you or me, but ooof!

      Loved how you highlighted the different ways to greet people part! One of the things I love about this book is Bronte goes off on these tangents – so modern!

    • Yes, it may be evil of me, too, but I was very glad to see Ginevra so put out at the Bassompierre’s.

      CB had many issues about her own perceived plainness and social ineptitude, and I bet it felt really good for her to write that!

  2. I am a big fan of tea, although I confess that I prefer plain tea to the herbal kind although I like some herbals. I love how each character is described accordint to a type of tea and I think Jacqueline did a great job! Dr. John is so very much a tea bag (we have to be careful about this lest we get into territory of raunchy behavior!) and Ginevra is Sakura Cherry Blossom Green tea, at least the way you describe it!
    I think Paulina is delicate although I’m not sure I agree that she’s subtle since she pours it on rather thick! I think Lapsang Suchong is perfect for Lucy. I have had that tea and its wonderful!

    Great idea Wallace!

    I finally posted my readalongsummary/thoughts:
    Villette Week Six!

  3. On these chapters Dr John is almost gone and M Paul dominates the scene. However, his unstable character did not let me care for him. In truth, his character puzzled me a lot! Lucy describes him as a little man of unreasonable moods. Is M Paul fighting with himself to try to remove his attachment for Lucy due to… her religion or something else? He praises her only to try to humiliate her the next moment. He’s choleric before becoming the most docile person. He demands a birthday gift from Lucy after he’s received countless of gifts from many other people. But all in all, he’s certainly not a boring character!
    As Lucy caught M Paul searching at her desk, they have a most humorous dialogue:
    “You find a brochure or tome now and then; but don’t read them, because they are passed under this?” – touching his cigar.
    “They have, and are no better for the process; but I read them.”
    “Without pleasure?”
    “Monsieur must not be contradicted.”
    However, they compose quite an interesting pair: Lucy, who is always on the background is thrown to the first row by unpredictable M Paul!

    Jacqueline, quite some interesting comparisons you have made! I’ve only tried Lapsang Suchong quite recently and I was so surprised! It’d indeed a quite unique tea, but I liked it! I do not love it, but I’m quite sure that my appreciation will grow as I drink it more. On M Paul, you probably know more than us, but at the moment he’s the one that seems like green tea if (like me) you easily forget tea brewing: you expect to drink something, but when you taste it, it reveals to be sooo bitter :P

    And Wallace, I confess my complete ignorance on “John Adams”, but on principle, I’m very interested on the next read-along as I’ve been enjoying a lot this one and am taking so much more from the book than if I was reading it “alone” :)

  4. Love the tea analogies, especially the image of Dr John as a tea bag! What about Mme Beck? Maybe it is too soon to say what type of tea she’d be.

    As for this week’s reading: Oh, Lucy Snowe, you unreliable narrator! Now we find out that M. Paul has been hiding books and chocolates in your desk all along! Now, we find out you were making him a birthday present! “Who are you, Miss Snowe?” Ginevra for once asks a good question.

    Lucy obviously has/had a tendre for Dr Graham, but she understands (or reason tells her, painful as it is) that he does not really see her or understand her feelings. As more evidence of Dr Graham’s inability to understand Lucy’s feelings, he asks her to advance his cause with Polly. And in the meantime, M. Paul seems to see almost too much of what is going on with her, from the “scarlet” dress to her feelings for Dr Graham to her need for someone to see her home from the party. And at the same time, he takes her to task for sitting too far away from him, her Englishness, her “forgetting” his birthday, her “modish” style of dress, and even hisses in her ear when she and Dr Graham are having too serious a conversation for his taste. And although Lucy stresses his irritability and his “foreignness”, she seems to enjoy their arguments quite a bit. Hmm….

    • I was thinking of doing M. Beck, and also Dr. John’s mother but I wanted to leave some characters for you guys :) I’m all ears if you have some ideas! I wonder what tea Vashti would be too!

      • What tea would Mme Beck be? All I can think of is some kind of tea people don’t like to drink — herbal tea maybe? What were you thinking?

        • I was also thinking maybe a mid grade Yunnan tea – it’s all business! I drink it almost like a coffee substitute when I need energy, and not for the flavor. It’s not subtle, but very staunch, and if you brew it like a regular tea it will put hair on your chest! A tough customer like M Beck!

          • That hits the teacup just right! (I’m going to have to try some of these teas you describe so interestingly)

  5. Love the tea comparisons! I agree with Dr. John’s comparision. I have not tried Lapsang Suchong. I think we will see quite a bit more happening between M Paul and Lucy. I am anxious to find out.

  6. Campfire infused, are you kidding me?? MUST TRY! Especially if it’s as richly complex and as subtly compelling as our Lucy.

    *sigh* Dr. John–a clueless romantic–alas, a TEABAG?? Another step backward for my “please don’t let him be a Pride&Prejudice Wickham type” plea. OK, let’s say Wickham’s a DOUCHEbag and agree that John’s teabag status is EVER so much better by comparison.

    And by the time I find some Keeman tea to sample here in my little one-horse town, I will probably be as taken with M. Paul as so many others seem to be…teehee. (Make that TEAhee.) It does seem the perfect choice for our smoldering little man.
    I’m suddenly craving hot tea! *steps over to pantry to peruse the THIRTEEN (yes, I counted) assorted boxes of supermarket teas. Sorry, Jackie, but for such a pedestrian assortment there ARE some lovely choices, fillers and all! Should I enjoy a cup of Lipton Island Mango and Peach White tea in honor of dear Polly and her quiet dignity– OR, for my beloved Mrs. Bretton, Celestial Seasonings Moroccan Pomegranate Red Rooibos? PERFECT for her, I think, since *reads box* “this lively tea will color your daydreams a lovely Moroccan rose.” I LOVE the description of her in an earlier chapter: “All her movements were so young; she must have been now fifty, yet neither her sinews nor her spirit seemed yet touched by the rust of age…though serene she was at times impetuous–good health and an excellent temperament kept her green as in her spring.” Hmmm, a green tea, perhaps?? PLEASE, Jackie, attach a tea to Mrs. B! And thanks for the WONDERFUL post!

    • Yes I think Mrs. Bretton might be a green oolong like Tie Guan Yin. It is also called Iron Goddess of Mercy. It has some of the qualities of green and black tea since it’s oxidized just between the two. I think this is appropriate for her since she is a mother and older, but retains her youthfulness. It’s floral and buttery and very feminine, but you can also steep it 6-8 times with tons of flavor. It has longevity and backbone, but is never overbearing. Always cheerful and pleasant.

      I like the tea you chose for her, too – the rooibos is earthy and grounding, whilst the pomegranate is juicy and fresh!

  7. I LOVE the tea post. I am a tea drinker too, but of the basic Tetley, (or if I’m lucky and have friends from the UK bring back Sainsburys or Marks & Spencers black tea) with milk and one sweet & low, up to 3 – 5 times a day. What a creative way to think of characters! I wonder if a wine lover could do the same thing….

    Here is my post – so busy at work these days so my apologies for posting a bit late. Looking forward to reading other’s…

    • You picked up on the adolescent nature of the interactions, too :) Extreme is a great way to describe M Paul!

      I think you could totally do this with wine! I love wine, and am slowly learning about it, but I don’t think I know enough to do this for the characters well. Just based on my tastes and tiny bit of familiarity, Ginevra is a domestic white zinfandel ;) Dr. John one of those California Cabs, all oak dust to hide not the best grapes. Ginerva and/or Dr. John MAY come in a box form, I’m not quite sure ;) M Paul is a very gutsy Italian Valpolicella, Polly is a very light, faintly sweet Riesling.

      I think Lucy is a very complicated, unfiltered, traditionally made Bordeaux. She must be decanted for at least two hours before even thinking about drinking her! :)

  8. How entertaining–and I think you described them all perfectly. I don’t drink tea but I do love a good gourmet cookie–perhaps I could compare the characters to cookies :)

    I’m reading the biography of Charlotte Bronte and am currently reading about her years in Brussells–so similiar to Villette.

    • Please do share what kind of cookie you think Lucy is! I would love to hear!

      Are you reading the Gaskell one or another? I’m reading Margot Peters Unquiet Soul. I’m really into it – in fact I wish I could stop the world and read it all day! It’s adding so much to my understanding of the book and CB herself (although – what an enigma! I think that is why she continues to fascinate to this day!). Right now she’s in London post-Shirley in my reading!

    • I would love to read the A.S. Byatt introduction you talked about in your post! I tracked it down – it’s also in:
      Imagining Characters: Six Conversations About Women Writers: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Willa Cather, Iris Murdoch, and Toni Morrison
      by A. S. Byatt and Ignes Sodre

      Another for the wishlist! :)

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