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Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Villette (original 1853; edition 1966)

by Charlotte Bronte

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,041106689 (3.9)3 / 426
Authors:Charlotte Bronte
Info:Dent (An Everyman Paperback) (1966), Paperback, 468 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Main, Fiction

Work details

Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853)


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English (99)  German (2)  All (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All (105)
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
A few thoughts:
- Villette didn’t capture my imagination as either [Shirley] or [Jane Eyre].
- I never really warmed up to the heroine Lucy Snowe (no pun intended) - she fascinated me, but not enough.
- Liked the gothic elements which created an eerie feeling throughout the novel - the appearence of a ghost - a white nun….
- Liked also the descriptions of Lucy’s loneliness and despair and her deliberate attempts to be an independent free spirit. ( )
2 vote ctpress | Jan 27, 2017 |
Davina Porter does a fabulous narration of this classic. Persevere past the first few chapters as the story picks up after the first section of her somewhat priggish youth. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 12, 2017 |
Would probably have liked this better if I understood French - substantial untranslated passages in French (and a few in German) were an annoyance though I was still able to get most of the gist. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 12, 2017 |

TL;DR: There are a few things I liked about this book, but overall, to me, this is an instance where changing times and mores have rendered earlier centuries’ attitudes too distasteful to be ignored.

I liked the main character. Miss Snowe is clever, resourceful, and knows what she wants (even if her ambitions are low). Her snarkiness plays a big role in her charm. She’s a wonderfully complex character. There were enough interesting musings and general bird’s-eye views on life mixed in with the text, too. It drags in places, but overall the narrative maintains a pleasant momentum.


The attitudes espoused in the book and held up by the characters as “how things ought to be” I found too distasteful to overlook: there’s aggressive patriarchal abuse, there’s sanctimonious posturing with religious credentials, and there’s colonial-style racism aplenty. They may make the text a rich field to explore intellectually, but they annoyed much of the reading pleasure out of me.

First, there’s the gender issues. Viewed as a romance novel, Villette presents the main character, introverted expat teacher Lucy Snowe, with the choice between two love interests. One is an ideal (English)man, whose ideal spouse is one who is his intellectual partner. And on the other hand there is M. Emanuel, a domineering, exacting brute with frightening anger management issues and temper tantrums, who will not tolerate contradiction or even imagined disobedience. His ideal woman is one who obeys him absolutely (an arch eyebrow will trigger a “know your place, woman” speech), who immerses herself in him, lives up to his exacting yet unspoken standards, and who successfully navigates his moving-the-goalposts scrutiny. Spoiler: This is the one Miss Snowe ends up choosing.

Brontë “redeems” M. Emanuel in true battered-woman form: his exactitude, tyranny and temper tantrums merely stem from genuine, full-on passion and honesty, dontcha see? That’s just who he is. Also, he’s been hurt before: doesn’t that earn him indulgence and compassion? That time he scolded her for wearing clothes that weren’t mouse-grey and wildly (and knowingly) exaggerated their showiness because even a mild “transgression” is a transgression? That’s not domineering, it just shows you he cares. His constantly lording his academic superiority over her, well he only means the best for her, and his expectations are high! Don’t you see that he needs to test her, to be sure she’ll live up to his standards? It’s for her own good. Really, he means well. That time he showed her some much-needed affection and then went completely incommunicado for two weeks, well, that was necessary because he was preparing a surprise, and he would not be able to keep it from her if she subjected him to her sincere and irresistible feminine questions. So you see, it really was her own fault. Also, her emotional despair during the interval is irrelevant, this really was about his emotions.

Lucy Snowe (and the reader) is not to notice the systematic pattern of denigration and abuse. We are invited to see him as a poor, suffering victim who needs fixing by a special woman who can see the real person underneath the abuse and tyranny.

This is where the religious hypocrisy comes in: M. Emanuel is, after all, a very pious man -- surely that will vouch for his decency?

Much is made of Emanuel’s strongly held Roman Catholicism: to illustrate that, it is revealed that he has been spending his last twenty years in self-imposed mortification, near-poverty and deprivation, in order to benefit people who kinda sorta wronged him. Brontë presents that as laudable and redeem-worthy because isn’t he just sooo pious? I thought it was merely perverse, a case of ostentatious and downright pathological Catholic guilt taken to extremes. Especially because the revelation about his mortification is presented to the reader as an invitation to reconsider the quality of his character: it takes principles and lofty morality and strength of resolve to commit to this course of action. Well, no. To me, this turns the whole affair into a case of ostentatious flagellation, designed to trigger goodwill: showy Catholic suffering used as emotional manipulation while pretending to high morality. Somebody is suffering beyond necessity; therefore the issue deep and admirable and worthwhile. No, it really, really isn’t. (It is true that it is Brontë who sets it up like this, but in-universe it is M. Emanuel who expects the revelation to change Miss Snowe’s opinion of him, too.)

And finally, there is the racism. The main cast consists mostly of smug, impossibly arrogant English expats looking down on both the locals and the immigrants -- except other Englishmen, and the occasional Frenchman, who, after all, represents a prestigious and long-standing High Culture. They are so smug they do not realize they are immigrants too -- and do not realize their smugness. The native people of Labassecour/Belgium are generally described as too rural, ugly and stupid to merit any interest, except for a few of the ones who’ve mastered enough French to not sound like a local. Anyone who’s worth noticing is either a French or an English expat/immigrant; even the indigenous royalty, nobility and bourgeoisie is dismissed haughtily, not to be taken seriously as company or one’s intellectual equals.
(Disclaimer: I myself am Belgian.)

It’s not as though these issues are mainly located in the background as (well, the racism is, usually): the patriarchal abuse is held up front and center, and the main focus of the book, and this made it too hard for me to give the book the benefit of the doubt. The fact that pretentious religious posturing is presented as a redeeming factor did not help. ( )
  Petroglyph | Dec 25, 2016 |
interesting, ends mysteriously sad ( )
  BookstoogeLT | Dec 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 99 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brontë, Charlotteprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cooper, Helen M.Notessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haapanen-Tallgren, TyyniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lilly, MarkEditorsecondary 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 (1)

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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18 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140434798, 0141199881

Urban Romantics

An edition of this book was published by Urban Romantics.

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