|The garden drawing in|
'Vagabondizing in Belgium'
William Makepeace Thackeray was in the United States, for a lecturing tour, when Villette was published. He wrote about the novel in several letters, and, according to Winifred Gérin in her Charlotte biography, “the rage the book was enjoying among lady-readers over there.” A look in The Letters and private papers of William Makepeace Thackeray (volume 3, London, 1946) reveals however that there are only two references to the popularity of Villette in America. On 11 March 1853 he writes a letter in Charleston, to Lucy Baxter in New York City (pp. 232-3): “So you are all reading Villette to one another – a pretty amusement to be sure – I wish I was a hearing of you and a smoakin of a cigar the while. “ That remark was followed by his opinion of the novel. On 5 April he wrote from New York City to a Mrs. Mayne in London (p. 253): “Here the reign of novels is for a brief season, indeed, and “My novel” [by Edward Bulwer-Lytton] and “Villette,” have long since had the better of Mr. Esmond and his periwigged companions.”
It is certain that Villette was much more popular in America than it was in England. Smith, Elder & Co seem to have published just two editions of the novel in the 1850s. The second one was published in 1855. Harper & Brothers, from New York, published six editions in the 1850s. Apart from the two previously mentioned books of 1853 they also had an edition in 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1859. There is also an 1857 edition of Derby & Jackson from New York & Cincinnati.
The popularity of Villette in America is also reflected in what we know of the first Brontë visitors to the Pensionnat. The three first known visitors (after Mrs. Gaskell) are Americans. One of these early visitors, Adeline Trafton, in 1871 (see below), who was there with friends, wrote about their introduction at the Pensionnat, having been let in by a teacher. “’We are a party of American girls,’ we said, ‘who, having learned to know and love Charlotte Brontë through her books, desire to see the garden of which she wrote in Villette.’ ‘Oh, certainly,’ was the gracious response. ‘Americans often come to visit the school and the garden.’” The anonymous author of the 1890 article in The World wrote that the Pensionnat “has become the Mecca of American travellers. The average Britisher is content with worshipping at the shrine of the Waterloo ballroom, but the literary Yankee finds out Charlotte Brontë’s school, searches in vain for the Allée Défendue, and carries away a leaf from one of the giant pear trees. “
And Marion Harland, in 1898 quoted a Pensionnat teacher who had let her in: “So many English and Americans, many more Americans than English, come here every year, and talk, oh, so much! of Mlle. Lucie and Mme. Beck and Mlle. Charlotte, and the Ghost” (Promised land, pp. 59, 68 and 80).
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