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Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Villette (original 1853; edition 1966)

by Charlotte Bronte

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5,58287770 (3.92)2 / 388
Authors:Charlotte Bronte
Info:Dent (An Everyman Paperback) (1966), Paperback, 468 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Main, Fiction

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Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853)


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English (82)  German (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (87)
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[Villette] by Charlotte Bronte
It is hard to believe that Villette was published in 1853 and yet its style is so very reminiscent of its era. It reads like a Victorian novel but one with hardly any plot to speak of, there are ghosts, there are love stories, there are strict manners and men rule the world, but we see this through the eyes of Lucy Snowe a very unlikely hero. It is a psychological study first and foremost but one in which the protagonist thinks and acts according to the proscribed values of the world in which she lives. It is the psychological aspect and the unremarkable story line that seems to portend towards modernism, but Bronte’s writing locks it firmly in the world of the Victorian novel.

Lucy Snowe as an unmarried women without any prospects must work for her living. She is not particularly attractive and so without good looks or money she has little to offer on the marriage market, especially at a time when there were far more young women than men in the world. She has just enough money to seek her fortune on the continent and has some luck in finding a place as an assistant in a girls school in the country of Labassecoeur. Labassecour to all intents and purposes is France and I would imagine that Bronte made it an imaginary country because of the anti-French feel of much of her novel. A major theme of the novel is how hard work, diligence and knowing ones place in society is essential for an unmarried woman to survive. Lucy is quiet and undemonstrative on the surface with an iron will that keeps her feelings in check, but inside her head which is where most of the story takes place she is both vulnerable and passionate. She does not allow herself to fall in love and yet her inner feelings are centred on two extraordinary men and we follow her hopes her desires and her confusion as she tries to come to terms with her feelings and her position in society.

It is a novel where we have to rely on other peoples observations of Lucy Snowe to get a more balanced picture. Lucy herself is not so much unreliable as perplexed in her thoughts and as she is telling her story in the first person then the reader must sift the evidence. Bronte’s point in presenting such a character is to demonstrate how difficult it was for a woman to make her way in such a closed (to her) society. How should an intelligent woman come to terms with her situation? Paulina a childhood friend says of Lucy:

“Lucy I wonder if anybody will comprehend you all together”


M Paul to Lucy “You want so much checking, regulating, and keeping down” This idea of keeping down never left M Pauls head; the most habitual subjugation would, in my case, have failed to relieve him of it.

Here is the rub because not only must Lucy keep her vulnerability and passions in check she must also keep her rebellious spirit from surfacing too often. Those people who know her best perceive this in her as do the readers who are privy to her thoughts and her occasional outspoken and prickly comments to others.

Bronte was able to develop other themes through Lucy that were topical at her time of writing. I have already mentioned the anti French feeling, but this is also entwined with an inbuilt anti-catholicism. Lucy is fiercely protestant and finds herself living and working in a catholic school and falling in love with a catholic man. It is no accident that the school in which she works is run a little like a police state with Madame Beck keeping her pupils and teachers under constant surveillance. M Paul also boasts of how he spies on all the pupils and teachers and this is likened to the catholic religion that is seen as one of control and manipulation of peoples souls. Lucy must rebel against this, but she needs to use all her resources so as not to fall foul of the system.

Bronte’s metaphor for a troubled mind is a storm, sometimes a storm at sea and these always precipitate a major event in Lucy’s life. M Paul’s character is perceived as stormy and at the end of the novel it is a storm that represents a slightly ambiguous ending. Bronte’s writing here and in the ghost scenes is most representative of what we have come to know as Victorian gothic. However it is the exploration of the thoughts and feelings of Lucy Snowe that takes this novel out of the general run of novels of it’s time. It is insightful, it is thought provoking, it is not perfect as one imagines a novel should be, but it is one of those books that I look forward to re-reading. 5 stars. ( )
2 vote baswood | Oct 29, 2015 |
"A sorrowful indifference to existence often pressed on me.",, 21 July 2015

This review is from: Villette (Penguin English Library) (Paperback)
Other reviews have delineated the storyline; I'm just going to say that I was within five pages of the end (on tenterhooks as to whether our narrator, Lucy Snowe, ends up with a happy or unutterably wretched life) when I had to stop and go to work. I was yearning to come home and find out all the time I was there - must be the proof of a compelling work.
Charlotte Bronte's descriptions of utter loneliness and inner, but hidden, torment make for a moving and unforgettable read. While her friends remark on "steady little Lucy...so quietly pleased, so little moved yet so content", she observes "little knew they the rack of pain which had driven Lucy almost into fever, and brought her out, guideless and reckless, urged and drugged to the brink of frenzy".
Superb read. ( )
  starbox | Jul 21, 2015 |
Look, Virginia Woolf called it Bronte's "finest novel," and George Eliot wrote, "Villette! Villette! Have you read it? It is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power." I couldn't agree more. I was fortunate enough to read this is the first English course to get me hooked on 19th century British lit. We read it over the course of three weeks, so it was the perfect way to digest the magic of Villette. A love story that is far more rewarding than that of Jane Eyre (which I also love), Villette is a treasure.

( )
1 vote Ginnywoolf | Mar 22, 2015 |
I'm a big fan of Jane Eyre, so this had been on my to-read list for a while. I'm glad I finally picked it up! I liked that the novel dwells so much on friendships; ultimately the romantic elements feel a bit like an afterthought or obligation, which is fairly unique for a novel from this time period. ( )
  okrysmastree | Feb 1, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (53 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brontë, Charlotteprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cooper, Helen M.Notessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haapanen-Tallgren, TyyniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosengarten, HerbertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, MargaretEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weston, MandyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My godmother lived in a handsome house in the clean and ancient town of Bretton.
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Wikipedia in English


Book description
Friendless and poor, Lucy Snowe arrives in the great Belgian city of Villette, where the sophisticated, devious Madame Beck offers her a post in her girls' school. Though Lucy gradually wins the respect of the spoiled, unruly pupils and her suspicious fellow-teachers, she is adrift from her own culture and finds her solitude desolating. In a powerfully-evoked crisis during the summer vacation, she encounters friends from her childhood, John Bretton and his kindly mother, but her feeling for the charming Dr John have to be curbed when she discovers that his love is bestowed elsewhere. In exploring this crisis and her emergence from it, Charlotte Bronte produced possibly the first, and certainly one of the most important fictional accounts of a woman's emotional breakdown.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140434798, Paperback)

"I am only just returned to a sense of real wonder about me, for I have been reading Villette..." —George Eliot

With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster, and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor, Paul Emmanuel. Charlotte Brontë’s last and most autobiographical novel is a powerfully moving study of isolation and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.

Villette draws on Brontë’s own unhappy experience as a governess in Brussels
New Introduction examines the novel's social and historical context and argues for its importance as an exploration of imperialism
Includes chronology, suggestions for further reading, and explanatory notes


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:28 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls' boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster and her own complex feelings.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140434798, 0141199881

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