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Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Villette (original 1853; edition 1966)

by Charlotte Bronte

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5,69189748 (3.9)2 / 396
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 (83)  German (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (89)
Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
"These struggles with the natural character, the strong native bent of the heart, may seem futile and fruitless, but in the end they do good. They tend, however slightly, to give the actions, the conduct, that turn which Reason approves, and which Feeling, perhaps, too often opposes: they certainly make a difference in the general tenor of a life, and enable it to be better regulated, more equable, quieter on the surface; and it is on the surface only the common gaze will fall. As to what lies below, leave that with God. Man, your equal, weak as you, and not fit to be your judge, may be shut out thence: take it to your Maker--show him the secrets of the spirit He gave--ask him how you are to bear the pains He has appointed--kneel in His presence, and pray with faith for light in darkness, for strength in piteous weakness, for patience in extreme need. Certainly at some hour, though perhaps not your hour, the waiting water will stir; in some shape, though perhaps not the shape you dreamed, which your heart loved, and for which it bled, the healing herald will descend. The cripple and the blind, and the dumb, and the possessed, will be led to bathe. Herald, come quickly! Thousands lie round the pool, weeping and despairing, to see it, through slow years, stagnant. Long are 'times' of Heaven: the orbits of angel messengers seem wide to mortal vision; they may en-ring ages: the cycle of one departure and return may clasp unnumbered generations; and dust, kindling to brief suffering life, and, through pain, passing back to dust, may meanwhile perish out of memory again, and yet again. To how many maimed and mourning millions is the first and sole angel visitant, him easterns call Azrael."

Language and philosophy like this is what is to be found in this magnificent novel.

I found myself cussing a lot when reading this book. It got more severe as the story snowballed to it's end. Not in a bad way, you know, but it had me hook, line, and sinker, and my feelings were toyed with and yo-yo-ed about. I didn't want this book to end. You should read it, savor it slowly, translate the French as you go, it's worth it.

Lucy Snowe is maddening. She is her own worst enemy. If there were ever a case for manifesting one's destiny - well, I mean, was she cursed, or did she curse herself? "the negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know." I think there's an argument for both. It occurred to me that for all her haranguing of Ginevra, really they weren't so different. They both craved attention and security and approbation, but in dissimilar ways. At least Ginevra was open about it, while Lucy was utterly incapable of making her needs known. It reminded me that it takes one to know one. Lucy, at one point (though briefly), begins to think of Ginevra as a heroine, and I think I understand why. She would never have traded places with her but I think she must have secretly admired her gumption. Lucy doesn't hate people. She has an utterly astounding font of patience and keen observation and forbearance for people behaving badly, people behaving thoughtlessly, people's innate self-centeredness, she forgives it all. She's no picnic either. She'd like to be that disinterested, unfeeling, untouchable, cold observer of people. But lordy, she's so far from effecting that and she only half knows it. ( )
  libbromus | Jan 30, 2016 |
According to The Telegraph Charlotte Brontë’s Villette is better than her best known work [b:Jane Eyre|10210|Jane Eyre|Charlotte Brontë|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327867269s/10210.jpg|2977639]. This bold declaration alone put Villette in my reading list because Jane Eyre really is one of the best books I ever had the pleasure of reading. Having just read Villette I have to disagree with the Telegraph’s columnist, I should have known better, goddam hyperboles. Villette is a fictional city in France, the novel is somewhat autobiographical in that it is partly based on Brontë’s experience as a teacher in Brussels.

Villette’s protagonist is one Lucy Snowe, a plain, quiet and often rather timid lady who generally avoids speaking her mind unless completely provoked. For the first half of the book Lucy seems like a secondary character in her own story while she narrates her experiences in the home of her godmother Mrs. Bretton. This early section of the book is very charming but Lucy is more of an observer than a central character that drives the story.

After leaving the Bretton’s house Lucy works for a while as a caregiver for an old lady who dies after teaching Lucy some life lessons. Lucy's next move is to try her luck in France in a city called Villette where she is informed that the prospects are good for someone in her position. Her arrival in France starts with an initial adventure of a “fish out of water” variety. Her initial troubles in France are mostly due to her inability to speak French. She eventually finds an occupation as an English teacher in a school where she develops a crush on a nice doctor, quickly retreats when he falls in love with somebody else, then starts a sort of “will they / won’t they” relationship with an eccentric professor of French literature.

For most of the book there seems to be no clear plot trajectory as the storyline seems to become aimlessly episodic. It was not too much of a hardship to read through though as Ms. Brontë wrote with considerable grace and charms, as with Jane Eyre her prose is a thing of beauty. My main complaint with Villette is the inclusion of many French dialogues, the meaning of which I can not infer from the context. It is ironic that Lucy initially complains of a “storm of French” when she is addressed in that language which she does not have a command of. Later on as she picks up the language she seems to speak it like a pro and leave this hapless reader behind with the storms of French from several characters as well as herself.

The story itself is not nearly as exciting or dramatic as Jane Eyre. There is no mad woman in the attic to speak of, though there is a touch of gothic spookiness in the story. The writing is of course exquisite and the characters are all vivid and believable. While the tone of the novel is mostly cheerful or hopeful, there is always an underlying feeling of sadness and loneliness in Lucy’s narrative. There is also some surprisingly profound examination of the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, the latter of which Ms. Brontë was definitely not a fan. The ending can be described as WTF and it made me feel kind of exasperated, but I have since read several articles concerning this “controversial” ending and I have to concede that it is quite clever and original. I am still not terribly keen on it though.

I guess you could say I am somewhat disappointed in Villete as I have been led by the goddam Telegraph to expect something awe inspiring like Jane Eyre. Having said that, it is still a good book; beautifully written, funny and sad in places. I can certainly recommend it if you are looking for a nice Victorian novel to read and you like Brontë’s style of writing (which you should). If, like me, your command of French begins and ends with “bonjour” you may want to have a French - English dictionary within reach, or make use of Google Translation which is very useful but occasionally comes up with some hilariously nonsensical results. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
[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. ( )
3 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 |
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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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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)

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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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