As a Jane Eyre fan, I’m not sure what took me so long to read Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853). Beth at Too Fond encouraged me to finally crack it open (or rather, download it/turn it on) by hosting a Villette read-along this month, and Jaclyn at Covered in Flour and others have joined in the fun. It’s a transnational book club — a group of readers from various countries reading the same book at the same time — all from the comfort of our own homes.
It’s a small world, isn’t it?
In Villette, which I’m only 15% of the way through, Brontë hints at the shrinking world even in Lucy Snowe’s (the main character’s) lifetime: “Fifty miles were then a day’s journey (for I speak of a time gone by…).” (Chapter V). I can only assume Snowe/Brontë is referring to trains. Steam locomotives revolutionized travel, but for destinations away from the line, fifty miles probably remained a day’s journey, unless it was “good road,” which according to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy, made fifty miles “little more than half a day’s journey… a very easy distance.”
Can you imagine what Snowe/Brontë (or Darcy/Jane Austen) would have thought about cars and airplanes? Or the Internet? Would it have changed Brontë’s or Austen’s novels if these authors had lived in a time when sweethearts could text each other “hey miss u” the moment they felt lonely, rather than spending weeks agonizing over the lack of news?
Brontë’s Snowe is a provincial young woman who visits London and likes its “spirit,” causing her to wonder, “Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets, and forever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?” (Chapter VI).
These days, with modern transportation and the World Wide Web, there isn’t much of a risk of “forever abandon[ing] [our] faculties to the eating rust of obscurity” by choosing to stay in smaller towns — not that my hometown, Philly, is a hamlet, except by London, New York, or Beijing standards. With virtual offices, blogs, and even transnational book clubs, we have the flexibility to live wherever we want yet stay even more connected than any prior generation.