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Villette (Vintage Classics) by Charlotte…

Villette (Vintage Classics) (original 1853; edition 2009)

by Charlotte Bronte

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5,43884796 (3.91)2 / 369
Title:Villette (Vintage Classics)
Authors:Charlotte Bronte
Info:Vintage (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 672 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:TBR 2012 & PRIOR

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Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853)


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English (79)  German (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (84)
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
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 |
This is the story of a brave but judgmental woman who must make her own way in the world and does so by moving to "Villette" where she enters a boarding school, first as governess to the owner's children, and later as a teacher. The characters are rich and full (with the exception of one who is far too idealized), and many of the characters are so fascinating that I couldn't wait to see what they were going to do next. This story also has its gothic turns to add an extra bit of interest. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Jan 27, 2015 |
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. Drawing on her own deeply unhappy experiences as a teacher in Brussels, 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. Summary HPL

Like her predecessor, Jane Eyre, Lucy is an intelligent young woman with a rich interior life whose innate superiority few are privileged to witness. Like Jane Eyre, Lucy's spirit, or soul as Miss Bronte might have called it, is already mature when we first meet her. The plot arc describes her travails as she secretly hopes for the partner who will discover and embrace the passionate creature raging beneath the armour of quiet, self-effacing manners. In the style of many Victorian novels, VILLETTE unspools its 611 pages slowly-- however if we think of a modern equivalent, say DOWNTON ABBEY, we will appreciate the 19th century reader's delight in every architectural detail, every social nuance. The passages in French, however, become onerous...

Where JANE EYRE might be considered autobiographical fantasy--a life worthy of Charlotte Bronte--VILLETTE is closer to Miss Bronte's actual history. Dr. John has been linked to the Brontes' publisher George Smith; M. Emmanuel to Charlotte's Professor in Brussels, M. Heger. The loneliness, the isolation Lucy experiences in the fictional town of Villette is formidable; Miss Bronte remembered the feelings vividly as she wrote VILLETTE. She was also expressing the impact of the void created by the recent deaths of her 2 younger sisters (within six months of each other) as well as her brother. Charlotte Bronte was the sole survivor of 6 children: the care of her ailing--demanding--father devolved onto her.

I enjoyed the novel as a memoir of Miss Bronte's youth, when love, equality and independence seemed to hover at the horizon.

8 out of 10 Highly recommended to to devotes of JANE EYRE and to readers of historical fiction and Victorian literature. ( )
  julie10reads | Jan 2, 2015 |
Lucy Snowe, adrift in her life in England, travels abroad to French-speaking Villette, and becomes a teacher.

On wiki it says that in Villette (apparently modelled on Brussels), Lucy is "drawn into adventure and romance." This is an exaggeration. For pretty much all of its 650 pages, basically nothing happens in this book. Lucy has some fairly minor ups and downs in her life, and is associated with people who are in much the same boat. It is a report on a mundane life among mundane lives. And yet it's excellent. It's incredibly well observed psychologically, and really creeps up on you. In a largely eventless, plotless book, with an entirely passive narrator, the little ups and downs become as all consuming for the reader as they do for the character. I'm not quite sure how Bronte pulls it off, but it's very good indeed. Loved the ending, too.

One note - some of the dialogue is in French, so if (like me), you don't speak it, get an edition (unlike me) that translates it. ( )
  roblong | Dec 16, 2014 |

Overall a weaker effort than Jane Eyre, as Villette is dragged down by characters that aren't compelling and random asides about the superiority of British Protestantism that were annoying and out of place. Whereas Jane Eyre featured a unique protagonist and a series of atmospheric settings, Villette's protagonist is as bland as her namesake, and the setting of a fictional French city is rendered all but meaningless by the focus of the book.

Lucy Snowe serves as the main character of Villette, a protagonist so passive for the first few chapters that it is hard to ascribe to her any characteristics. Contrast this with the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, where Jane's character is established swiftly and firmly. Eventually it emerges that Snowe is usually quiet and unassertive, except for instances where she harps on the superiority of her country and religion, or the rare instance where she is an outright jerk to people. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time Snowe criticizes catholicism and French culture while expounding upon the virtues of the British and the Protestant faith I'd have at least $50. At one point after going to the opera Snowe laments that she preferred Scottish street musicians. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, a 1850s hipster! It's never clear why anyone else would pay any attention to Lucy Snowe, much less actively want to spend time with her, but over the course of the story various people befriend her (or try to) and in time she even attracts romantic attention. Because she oscillated between being a nonentity and being actively unlikable Snowe's journey never hooked me. Unfortunately almost none the rest of the characters in Villette proved engaging either.

Dr. John Graham Bretton serves as the male lead character for the first half of the novel, as well as an apparent potential love interest. He's largely defined by two things: he's a doctor, and he really loves his mother. The former characteristic is given no depth, while the latter characteristic is perhaps given too much. Stories can have an abnormally strong attachment between parent and child and be entertaining, just look at Emma and her father's relationship in Austen's Emma, but in Villette Graham just comes off as a momma's boy. It does little to make him appealing. The second male lead, Paul, is substantially worse. Despite the fact that the book periodically described Paul as having good qualities and as being loved by his students, he comes off in the book as a grade-A jackass. Prudish, reducing the narrator to tears on multiple occasions, intolerant and controlling, he's an almost impressively unlikable character, yet Brontë believes that she has made him sympathetic by the close of the story. She really hasn't. Note that these two male leads never really both appear as fleshed out characters at the same time in this novel: the book starts out focusing on Graham, only to later shift to Paul and essentially abandons Graham for many chapters. When the book picks up on Graham's story again later on Paul is in turn abandoned, making it clear that Brontë can only give life to one male character at a time (also true in Jane Eyre, with Rochester and Rivers never appearing as developed characters together).

The sole character that I liked was Ginevra, a shallow and foolish young woman to be sure, but she's passionate and active in stark contrast to the other characters' blandness. She reminded me of Daisy from The Great Gatsby- you know she'd be a terrible match, but you can see why characters would fall in love with her anyway. Brontë tries to cast Ginevra as a character with traits to avoid, not emulate, but her appearances were a breath of fresh air compared to the stuffy boredom brought on by the rest of the characters. You might think that because the story takes place in a city there would be other characters worth discussing, but you'd be wrong. The city of Villette, and indeed the entire world of this book, seems to be populated by only a handful of characters, most of which are familiar archetypes or lacking any depth. Jane Eyre did the same thing with its small cast, but with the isolated setting of that book the sparse population made more sense. Here the world feels strangely depopulated and empty.

The setting isn't much better than the characters. Though set in France, the superiority of the British is brought up so frequently that it feels as though Brontë chose a foreign setting just so that she had more opportunities to glorify her homeland. France mainly serves as an excuse to throw in the occasional line or paragraph of French. It's easy enough French that I could muddle through it, but why Brontë chose to include these passages without a translation escapes me. As discussed above, the city feels rather empty as well. The school Snowe teaches at is atmospheric, but I've noticed that Brontë's settings tend to be atmospheric despite her writing and not because of it. Brontë sets up evocative scenes, like in the opening chapters of this books where rooms seem not inhabited, but haunted by a small child, or where Snowe's life is confined for years to two hot stuffy rooms, but once these scenes are set up Brontë goes back to writing in her usual style, doing very little to keep in the reader's mind the creepy surroundings that she originally introduced. Once she turns back to plot progression the atmosphere of Brontë's settings starts to slip away. For a great take on the atmosphere of a Brontë book I'd highly recommend the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, which focuses on the settings with some great cinematography.

So overall this book fell flat to me because of a largely uninteresting cast of characters and a setting that had most of its potential wasted. After I stopped caring about the unlikable Lucy Snowe there was little else for me to focus on in the story. Jane Eyre was well worth reading, while Villette is well worth skipping. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charlotte Brontëprimary authorall 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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:26 -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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