Villette

( 143 )

Overview

"Lucy Snowe, in flight from an unhappy past, leaves England and finds work as a teacher in Madame Beck's school in 'Villette'. Strongly drawn to the fiery autocratic schoolmaster Monsieur Paul Emanuel, Lucy is compelled by Madame Beck's jealous interference to assert her right to love and to be loved.

" "Based in part on Charlotte Bronte's experience in Brussels ten years earlier, Villette (1853) is a cogent and dramatic exploration of a woman's response to the challenge of a constricting social environment. Its deployment of imagery comparable ...

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Villette

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Overview

"Lucy Snowe, in flight from an unhappy past, leaves England and finds work as a teacher in Madame Beck's school in 'Villette'. Strongly drawn to the fiery autocratic schoolmaster Monsieur Paul Emanuel, Lucy is compelled by Madame Beck's jealous interference to assert her right to love and to be loved.

" "Based in part on Charlotte Bronte's experience in Brussels ten years earlier, Villette (1853) is a cogent and dramatic exploration of a woman's response to the challenge of a constricting social environment. Its deployment of imagery comparable in oiwer to that of Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights,and its use of comedy--ironic or exuberant--in the service of an ultimtely sombre vision, make Villette especially appealing to the modern reader.

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Editorial Reviews

Virginia Woolf
Brontë’s finest novel.
From the Publisher
"Brontë’s finest novel."
--Virginia Woolf

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Maggie Berg Queen's University
"This edition of Villette gives readers the understanding necessary to fully enter what Kate Lawson and Lynn Shakinovsky call its 'demanding, sometimes punishing narrative mode.' Their introduction justifies and celebrates the gaps and evasions in the text as the 'heretic narrative' of a protagonist who does not always understand herself. The useful appendices—notably on women and love, women and work, and anti-Catholicism—provide the historical material to contextualise the story. The edition admirably demonstrates that this paradoxical narrative—a domestic novel about work, a love story about repression, and a realist text that embraces the supernatural—repays and rewards close examination."
Gail Turley Houston University of New Mexico
"Kate Lawson's edition of Villette is expansive and precise, like the novel it contextualizes and introduces so well. Providing a rich analysis of the complex themes of the novel, the introduction at once acknowledges and limns the text's resistance to codification and carefully suggests the beautiful patterns in its seeming inconsistencies. The primary materials provide further context for the novel, particularly in regards to the 'Woman Question.' Arranged to be in dialogue with each other about this pivotal topic, these materials provide the background necessary for understanding the novel's involvement with those discussions."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781448017768
  • Publisher: Textstream
  • Publication date: 8/1/2011

Meet the Author

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Bronte lived from 1816 to 1855. In 1824 she was sent away to school with her four sisters and they were treated so badly that their father brought them home to Haworth in Yorkshire. The elder two sisters died within a few days and Charlotte and her sisters Emily and Anne were brought up in the isolated village. They were often lonely and loved to walk on the moors. They were all great readers and soon began to write small pieces of verse and stories.

Once Charlotte’s informal education was over she began to work as a governess and teacher in Yorkshire and Belgium so that she could add to the low family income and help to pay for her brother Branwell’s art education. Charlotte was a rather nervous young woman and didn’t like to be away from home for too long. The sisters began to write more seriously and published poetry in 1846 under male pen names – there was a lot of prejudice against women writers. The book was not a success and the sisters all moved on to write novels. Charlotte’s best-known book, Jane Eyre, appeared in 1847 and was soon seen as a work of genius. Charlotte really knew how to make characters and situations come alive.

Charlotte’s life was full of tragedy, never more so than when her brother Branwell and sisters Emily and Anne died within a few months in 1848/49. She married her father’s curate in 1854 but died in 1855, before her fortieth birthday.

Helen M. Cooper is associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Helen M. Cooper is associate professor of English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Biography

Charlotte Brontë was born on April 21, 1816, in Thornton, Yorkshire, in the north of England, the third child of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë. In 1820 the family moved to neighboring Haworth, where Reverend Brontë was offered a lifetime curacy. The following year Mrs. Brontë died of cancer, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moved in to help raise the six children. The four eldest sisters -- Charlotte, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth -- attended Cowan Bridge School, until Maria and Elizabeth contracted what was probably tuberculosis and died within months of each other, at which point Charlotte and Emily returned home. The four remaining siblings -- Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne -- played on the Yorkshire moors and dreamed up fanciful, fabled worlds, creating a constant stream of tales, such as the Young Men plays (1826) and Our Fellows (1827).

Reverend Brontë kept his children abreast of current events; among these were the 1829 parliamentary debates centering on the Catholic Question, in which the Duke of Wellington was a leading voice. Charlotte's awareness of politics filtered into her fictional creations, as in the siblings' saga The Islanders (1827), about an imaginary world peopled with the Brontë children's real-life heroes, in which Wellington plays a central role as Charlotte's chosen character.

Throughout her childhood, Charlotte had access to the circulating library at the nearby town of Keighley. She knew the Bible and read the works of Shakespeare, George Gordon, Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott, and she particularly admired William Wordsworth and Robert Southey. In 1831 and 1832, Charlotte attended Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head, and she returned there as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. After working for a couple of years as a governess, Charlotte, with her sister Emily, traveled to Brussels to study, with the goal of opening their own school, but this dream did not materialize once she returned to Haworth in 1844.

In 1846 the sisters published their collected poems under the pen names Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily), and Acton (Anne) Bell. That same year Charlotte finished her first novel, The Professor, but it was not accepted for publication.

However, she began work on Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847 and met with instant success. Though some critics saw impropriety in the core of the story -- the relationship between a middle-aged man and the young, naive governess who works for him -- most reviewers praised the novel, helping to ensure its popularity. One of Charlotte's literary heroes, William Makepeace Thackeray, wrote her a letter to express his enjoyment of the novel and to praise her writing style, as did the influential literary critic G. H. Lewes.

Following the deaths of Branwell and Emily Brontë in 1848 and Anne in 1849, Charlotte made trips to London, where she began to move in literary circles that included such luminaries as Thackeray, whom she met for the first time in 1849; his daughter described Brontë as "a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady." In 1850 she met the noted British writer Elizabeth Gaskell, with whom she formed a lasting friendship and who, at the request of Reverend Brontë, later became her biographer. Charlotte's novel Villette was published in 1853.

In 1854 Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, a curate at Haworth who worked with her father. Less than a year later, however, she fell seriously ill, perhaps with tuberculosis, and she died on March 31, 1855. At the time of her death, Charlotte Brontë was a celebrated author. The 1857 publication of her first novel, The Professor, and of Gaskell's biography of her life only heightened her renown.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Jane Eyre.

Good To Know

Sadly, Brontë died during her first pregnancy. While her death certificate lists the cause of death as "phthisis" (tuberculosis), there is a school of thought that believes she may have died from excessive vomiting caused by morning sickness.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 21, 1816
    2. Place of Birth:
      Thornton, Yorkshire, England
    1. Date of Death:
      March 31, 1855
    2. Place of Death:
      Haworth, West Yorkshire, England
    1. Education:
      Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire; Miss Wooler's School at Roe Head

Read an Excerpt

Villette


By Charlotte Bronte

Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 1992 Charlotte Bronte
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0679409882


Chapter One


BRETTON


My godmother lived in a handsome house in the clean and ancient town of Bretton. Her husband's family had been residents there for generations, and bore, indeed, the name of their birthplace -- Bretton of Bretton: whether by coincidence, or because some remote ancestor had been a personage of sufficient importance to leave his name to his neighbourhood, I know not.

When I was a girl I went to Bretton about twice a year, and well I liked the visit. The house and its inmates specially suited me. The large peaceful rooms, the well-arranged furniture, the clear wide windows, the balcony outside, looking down on a fine antique street, where Sundays and holidays seemed always to abide -- so quiet was its atmosphere, so clean its pavement -- these things pleased me well.

One child in a household of grown people is usually made very much of, and in a quiet way I was a good deal taken notice of by Mrs. Bretton, who had been left a widow, with one son, before I knew her; her husband, a physician, having died while she was yet a young and handsome woman.

She was not young, as I remember her, but she was still handsome, tall, well-made, and though dark for an English-woman, yet wearing always the clearness of health in her brunette cheek, and its vivacity in a pair of fine, cheerful black eyes. People esteemed it a grievous pity that she had not conferred her complexion on her son, whose eyes were blue -- though, even in boyhood, very piercing -- and the colour of his long hair such as friends did not venture to specify, except as the sun shone on it, when they called it golden. He inherited the lines of his mother's features, however; also her good teeth, her stature (or the promise of her stature, for he was not yet full-grown), and, what was better, her health without flaw, and her spirits of that tone and equality which are better than a fortune to the possessor.

In the autumn of the year -- I was staying at Bretton, my godmother having come in person to claim me of the kinsfolk with whom was at that time fixed my permanent residence. I believe she then plainly saw events coming, whose very shadow I scarce guessed; yet of which the faint suspicion sufficed to impart unsettled sadness, and made me glad to change scene and society.

Time always flowed smoothly for me at my godmother's side; not with tumultuous swiftness, but blandly, like the gliding of a full river through a plain. My visits to her resembled the sojourn of Christian and Hopeful beside a certain pleasant stream, with "green trees on each bank, and meadows beautified with lilies all the year round." The charm of variety there was not, nor the excitement of incident; but I liked peace so well, and sought stimulus so little, that when the latter came I almost felt it a disturbance, and wished rather it had still held aloof.

One day a letter was received of which the contents evidently caused Mrs. Bretton surprise and some concern. I thought at first it was from home, and trembled, expecting I know not what disastrous communication: to me, however, no reference was made, and the cloud seemed to pass.

The next day, on my return from a long walk, I found, as I entered my bedroom, an unexpected change. In addition to my own French bed in its shady recess, appeared in a corner a small crib, draped with white; and in addition to my mahogany chest of drawers, I saw a tiny rosewood chest. I stood still, gazed, and considered.

"Of what are these things the signs and tokens?" I asked. The answer was obvious. "A second guest is coming; Mrs. Bretton expects other visitors."

On descending to dinner, explanations ensued. A little girl, I was told, would shortly be my companion: the daughter of a friend and distant relation of the late Dr. Bretton's. This little girl, it was added, had recently lost her mother; though, indeed, Mrs. Bretton ere long subjoined, the loss was not so great as might at first appear. Mrs. Home (Home it seems was the name) had been a very pretty, but a giddy, careless woman, who had neglected her child, and disappointed and disheartened her husband. So far from congenial had the union proved, that separation at last ensued -- separation by mutual consent, not after any legal process. Soon after this event, the lady having over-exerted herself at a ball, caught cold, took a fever, and died after a very brief illness. Her husband, naturally a man of very sensitive feelings, and shocked inexpressibly by too sudden communication of the news, could hardly, it seems, now be persuaded but that some over-severity on his part -- some deficiency in patience and indulgence -- had contributed to hasten her end. He had brooded over this idea till his spirits were seriously affected; the medical men insisted on travelling being tried as a remedy, and meanwhile Mrs. Bretton had offered to take charge of his little girl. "And I hope," added my godmother in conclusion, "the child will not be like her mamma; as silly and frivolous a little flirt as ever sensible man was weak enough to marry. For," said she, "Mr. Home is a sensible man in his way, though not very practical: he is fond of science, and lives half his life in a laboratory trying experiments -- a thing his butterfly wife could neither comprehend nor endure; and indeed," confessed my godmother, "I should not have liked it myself."

In answer to a question of mine, she further informed me that her late husband used to say, Mr. Home had derived this scientific turn from a maternal uncle, a French savant: for he came, it seems, of mixed French and Scottish origin, and had connections now living in France, of whom more than one wrote de before his name, and called himself noble.

That same evening at nine o'clock, a servant was despatched to meet the coach by which our little visitor was expected. Mrs. Bretton and I sat alone in the drawing-room waiting her coming; John Graham Bretton being absent on a visit to one of his schoolfellows who lived in the country. My godmother read the evening paper while she waited; I sewed. It was a wet night; the rain lashed the panes, and the wind sounded angry and restless.

"Poor child!" said Mrs. Bretton from time to time. "What weather for her journey! I wish she were safe here."

A little before ten the door-bell announced Warren's return. No sooner was the door opened than I ran down into the hall; there lay a trunk and some bandboxes, beside them stood a person like a nurse girl, and at the foot of the staircase was Warren with a shawled bundle in his arms.

"Is that the child?" I asked.

"Yes, miss."

I would have opened the shawl, and tried to get a peep at the face, but it was hastily turned from me to Warren's shoulder.

"Put me down, please," said a small voice when Warren opened the drawing-room door, "and take off this shawl," continued the speaker, extracting with its minute hand the pin, and with a sort of fastidious haste doffing the clumsy wrapping. The creature which now appeared made a deft attempt to fold the shawl; but the drapery was much too heavy and large to be sustained or wielded by those hands and arms. "Give it to Harriet, please," was then the direction, "and she can put it away." This said, it turned and fixed its eyes on Mrs. Bretton.

"Come here, little dear," said that lady. "Come and let me see if you are cold and damp: come and let me warm you at the fire."

The child advanced promptly. Relieved of her wrapping, she appeared exceedingly tiny; but was a neat, completely-fashioned little figure, light, slight, and straight. Seated on my godmother's ample lap, she looked a mere doll; her neck, delicate as wax, her head of silky curls, increased, I thought, the resemblance.

Mrs. Bretton talked in little fond phrases as she chafed the child's hands, arms, and feet; first she was considered with a wistful gaze, but soon a smile answered her. Mrs. Bretton was not generally a caressing woman: even with her deeply-cherished son, her manner was rarely sentimental, often the reverse; but when the small stranger smiled at her, she kissed it, asking -- "What is my little one's name?"

"Missy."

"But besides Missy?"

"Polly, papa calls her."

"Will Polly be content to live with me?"

"Not always; but till papa comes home. Papa is gone away." She shook her head expressively.

"He will return to Polly, or send for her."

"Will he, ma'am? Do you know he will?"

"I think so."

"But Harriet thinks not: at least not for a long while. He is ill."

Her eyes filled. She drew her hand from Mrs. Bretton's, and made a movement to leave her lap; it was at first resisted, but she said--"Please, I wish to go: I can sit on a stool."

She was allowed to slip down from the knee, and taking a footstool, she carried it to a corner where the shade was deep, and there seated herself. Mrs. Bretton, though a commanding, and in grave matters even a peremptory woman, was often passive in trifles: she allowed the child her way. She said to me, "Take no notice at present." But I did take notice: I watched Polly rest her small elbow on her small knee, her head on her hand; I observed her draw a square inch or two of pocket-handkerchief from the doll-pocket of her doll-skirt, and then I heard her weep. Other children in grief or pain cry aloud, without shame or restraint; but this being wept: the tiniest occasional sniff testified to her emotion. Mrs. Bretton did not hear it: which was quite as well. Ere long, a voice, issuing from the corner, demanded-- "May the bell be rung for Harriet?"

I rang; the nurse was summoned and came.

"Harriet, I must be put to bed," said her little mistress. "You must ask where my bed is."

Harriet signified that she had already made that inquiry.

"Ask if you sleep with me, Harriet."

"No, Missy," said the nurse: "you are to share this young lady's room," designating me.

Missy did not leave her seat, but I saw her eyes seek me. After some minutes' silent scrutiny, she emerged from her corner.

"I wish you, ma'am, good-night," said she to Mrs. Bretton; but she passed me mute.

"Good-night, Polly," I said.

"No need to say good-night, since we sleep in the same chamber," was the reply with which she vanished from the drawing-room. We heard Harriet propose to carry her upstairs. "No need," was again her answer -- "No need, no need": and her small step toiled wearily up the staircase.

On going to bed an hour afterwards, I found her still wide awake. She had arranged her pillows so as to support her little person in a sitting posture: her hands, placed one within the other, rested quietly on the sheet, with an old-fashioned calm most unchildlike. I abstained from speaking to her for some time, but just before extinguishing the light, I recommended her to lie down.

"By-and-by," was the answer.

"But you will take cold, Missy."

She took some tiny article of raiment from the chair at her crib side, and with it covered her shoulders. I suffered her to do as she pleased. Listening a while in the darkness, I was aware that she still wept, -- wept under restraint, quietly and cautiously.

On awaking with daylight, a trickling of water caught my ear. Behold! there she was risen and mounted on a stool near the washstand, with pains and difficulty inclining the ewer (which she could not lift) so as to pour its contents into the basin. It was curious to watch her as she washed and dressed, so small, busy, and noiseless. Evidently she was little accustomed to perform her own toilet; and the buttons, strings, hooks and eyes, offered difficulties which she encountered with a perseverance good to witness. She folded her night-dress, she smoothed the drapery of her couch quite neatly; withdrawing into a corner, where the sweep of the white curtain concealed her, she became still. I half rose, and advanced my head to see how she was occupied. On her knees, with her forehead bent on her hands, I perceived that she was praying.

Her nurse tapped at the door. She started up.

"I am dressed, Harriet," said she: "I have dressed myself, but I do not feel neat. Make me neat!"

"Why did you dress yourself, Missy?"

"Hush! speak low, Harriet, for fear of waking the girl" (meaning me, who now lay with my eyes shut). "I dressed myself to learn, against the time you leave me."

"Do you want me to go?"

"When you are cross, I have many a time wanted you to go, but not now. Tie my sash straight; make my hair smooth, please."

"Your sash is straight enough. What a particular little body you are!"

"It must be tied again. Please to tie it."

"There, then. When I am gone you must get that young lady to dress you."

"On no account."

"Why? She is a very nice young lady. I hope you mean to behave prettily to her, Missy, and not show your airs."

"She shall dress me on no account."

"Comical little thing!"

"You are not passing the comb straight through my hair, Harriet; the line will be crooked."

"Ay, you are ill to please. Does that suit?"

"Pretty well. Where should I go now that I am dressed?"

"I will take you into the breakfast-room."

"Come then."

They proceeded to the door. She stopped.

"Oh! Harriet, I wish this was papa's house! I don't know these people."

"Be a good child, Missy."

"I am good, but I ache here"; putting her hand to her heart, and moaning while she reiterated "Papa! papa!"

I roused myself and started up, to check this scene while it was yet within bounds.

"Say good morning to the young lady," dictated Harriet.

She said "good morning," and then followed her nurse from the room. Harriet temporarily left that same day, to go to her own friends, who lived in the neighbourhood.

On descending, I found Paulina (the child called herself Polly, but her full name was Paulina Mary) seated at the breakfast-table, by Mrs. Bretton's side; a mug of milk stood before her, a morsel of bread filled her hand, which lay passive on the table-cloth: she was not eating.

"How we shall conciliate this little creature," said Mrs. Bretton to me, "I don't know: she tastes nothing, and, by her looks, she has not slept."

I expressed my confidence in the effects of time and kindness.

"If she were to take a fancy to anybody in the house, she would soon settle; but not till then," replied Mrs. Bretton.

Continues...


Excerpted from Villette by Charlotte Bronte Copyright © 1992 by Charlotte Bronte. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Charlotte Brontë: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text
Villette
Appendix A: Brontë and Brussels
1. Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Emily Brontë, 2 September 1843
2. Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Constantin Heger, 8 January 1845 (translation)
3. Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Constantin Heger, 18 November 1845 (translation)
Appendix B: Storms in the Bible
1. Mark 4: 35-41
2. Acts 27: 1, 9-16, 18-31, 39-44
Appendix C: Women and Love
1. From Sarah Stickney Ellis, The Daughters of England (1842)
2. From Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, Olive (1850)
3. From Harriet Martineau, review of Villette. Daily News (3 February 1853)
4. From William Makepeace Thackeray, letter to Lucy Baxter (11 March 1853)
Appendix D: Women and Work
1. From Sarah Stickney Ellis, The Women of England (1839)
2. From Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
3. Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey, 24 June 1851
4. From Harriet Taylor Mill, The Enfranchisement of Women. Westminster Review, July 1851
5. Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Elizabeth Gaskell, 20 September 1851
6. From Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, A Womans Thoughts About Women (1858)
Appendix E: Surveillance and Espionage
1. The Post Office Espionage Case, 1844-45
a. Opening Letters at the Post Office. Hansard: House of Lords, 17 June 1844
b. Alleged Post-Office Espionage, The Times, 25 June 1844
c. The Times, 7 August 1844
d. The Times, 5 June 1845
2. From Reflections Suggested by the Career of the Late Premier. Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine, January 1847
3. From Charlotte Brontë, The Professor (1857)
4. From Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Aurora Floyd (1863)
Appendix F: Anti-Catholicism in England
1. From Patrick Brontë, The Maid of Killarney; or Albion and Flora: A Modern Tale; In Which Are Interwoven some Cursory Remarks on Religion and Politics (1818)
2. From Maria Monk, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, as Exhibited in a Narrative of her Sufferings during a residence of five years as a novice, two as a black nun in the Hotel Dieu Nunnery at Montreal (1836)
3. From Thomas De Quincey, Maynooth. Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine, May 1845
4. From Charles Neaves, Priests, Women and Families. Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine, May 1845
5. Papal Aggression a. From Nicholas Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster. A Pastoral Letter, From Outside the Flaminian Gate, 7 October 1850
b. The Times, 14 October 1850
Select Bibliography

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Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss the character of Lucy Snowe. Do you find her to be an admirable heroine? What qualities do you like in her, or dislike? How do you think you would behave in her circumstances?

2. Writing to her publisher, Charlotte Bronte had this to say about Vilette's protagonist: 'I consider that [Lucy Snowe] is both morbid and weak at times; her character sets up no pretensions to unmixed strength, and anybody living her life would necessarily become morbid.' What do you think of this appraisal? Do her 'unheroic' qualities make her more sympathetic or less?

3. Virginia Woolf felt that Villette was Bronte's 'finest novel, ' and speaking about Bronte, wrote that "All her force, and it is the more tremendous for being constricted, goes into the assertion, 'I love, I hate, I suffer.'" What do you think Woolf means? Do you find this observation interesting, appealing, or moving?

4. Why do you think Bronte sets the narrative of Villette in a foreign country?

5. Explore the theme of education in Villette: What is the role of education in Lucy Snowe's own life?

6. The conclusion of Villette is famously ambiguous (it was made purposefully so by Bronte). Do you find it a happy ending? A sad one? Discuss.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 143 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(50)

4 Star

(36)

3 Star

(31)

2 Star

(15)

1 Star

(11)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 17, 2008

    A wonderful, captivating novel

    This is a wonderful book! I absolutely love the character development. Everything about this book is intriguing. The plot was interesting, the ending okay. I prefer more solid, definite endings, but the journey to the end was well worth it. The character development is my favorite thing about this book. You see Lucy change over time. You see, more fantastically, this little appearingly annoying thing of a man turn into a wonderfully loving character that the reader cannot resist falling in love with. This is a great novel and I recommend reading it, even if just to trace the character developement and challenge whether or not you cannot fall in love with M. Paul. :)<BR/><BR/>i also recommend: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Persuasion, Their Eyes Were Watching God

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

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    Teaching and learning

    The heroine of this lesser known of Charlotte Bronte's novels is called Lucy Snowe, which means "light" and "cold". Thrown upon her own resources at the tender age of 14, Lucy sets out for France and, by the skin of her teeth, lands a job at a girls' school in Villete. As her name suggests, Lucy holds herself aloof from all the usual interests of young women. Coincidence and improbability plays major roles in the plot of this novel, and if the reader is intolerant of such, the book will not satisfy. Rich in symbolism, Villette serves as a metaphor for the lives of women in Victorian Europe. Particularly striking is the mystery of the spectral nun who appears in garret and garden cloister. For the modern reader, Villette suffers from too much "sermonizing." It's possible, however, to balance the religiosity with the humor invested in relatively minor characters, such as the proto-feminist Ginevra Fanshawe, who "has suffered less than any" other woman in Lucy's world. Ginevra is refreshingly, sometimes comedically, unrestricted by the conventions of her society. It requires but little imagination to hear the voice of Charlotte herself, who indeed lived much of her life in similar circumstances, in the thoughts and soliloquies of Lucy. In the end, Lucy's defensive remoteness is breached, but the reader is left to decide exactly how her story plays out.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    At last I have finished Villette!

    I've enjoyed many aspects of Villette but if I hadn't vowed to complete and review it, I would probably have abandoned it partway through. I undertook to read Villette in the light of my passion for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, my love of Charlotte's Jane Eyre and my enjoyment of Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey. (I'm generally fascinated by the Brontes.) However, the undertaking came after aborted attempts to read both Charlotte's The Professor and Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall. And I found Villette hard work (though ultimately worthwhile) for all the reasons that I abandoned the other two books. I guess it should be comforting to anybody who writes that great writers can have their lesser works. But, as a reader, you just want all their books to be as good as their best. So comparisons of Villette with Jane Eyre are unavoidable. What Villette has in common with Jane Eyre is that very immediate first person narrator. And Lucy Snowe is a vivid and strong narrator. She's also blessed with the moral superiority to be found in Jane Eyre. But Jane has, I think, a humility and vulnerability that Lucy doesn't really possess. Despite Lucy's emotional breakdown (the episode which, I believe, leads critics to suggest that Villette was influenced by CB's grief at the loss of her siblings), she remains –until the latter part of the novel– so coolly removed from the emotional problems of the other characters in the book (and so morally judgemental of them) as to alienate her from the reader. (In Jane Eyre, this doesn't happen.) I also have a problem with M. Paul as a hero – he's just so annoying and perverse for so much of the story! I couldn't see how any woman would be attracted to him. I struggled early in the book with the revelation that Dr John had been known to Lucy in her earlier life – if she'd recognised him why didn't she tell us? I enjoyed the final 100 pages much more than the rest of the book. There's an energy to the writing that's lacking earlier on and Lucy does appear more human towards the close of the narrative. However, 400 pages felt like a lot to wade through to achieve a state of fulfilment! Villette was Charlotte Bronte's final novel. Had it been a forerunner to Jane Eyre –had CB developed into a better writer through writing it– I would probably feel more resolved to my verdict on it. If you're interested in the Brontes it's worth reading Villette simply for the biographical insight it gives into Charlotte but otherwise I would sooner opt for another Nineteenth Century novel – there are so many great ones to choose from.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2008

    Another win for the Bronte's

    I love Jane Eyre, so I vowed to read all Charlotte Bronte's books. I have not been disapointed. Villette is an excellent specimen of literature and overlooked by too many people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2002

    Falling in love with fictional characters...

    As a long time fan of Jane Eyre I hardly thought I'd be able to find an even better work. 'Villette' is an incredibly human story supported by wonderful characters. I will continue to read this book over and over.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2002

    ok book

    the first 1/3 of the book and the last 1/3 of the book is very very good. the middle however is labouriously long/unecessary and difficult to read simply because it is too boring. this book took too long to read. it would get really good and exciting then delve into a long section of boring narrative.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2013

    Every time I read a review about Villette on Goodreads, they wou

    Every time I read a review about Villette on Goodreads, they would always compare it to Jane Eyre (another of Bronte’s work). Most of them have said that this last work of Bronte is more brilliant than Jane Eyre. That’s what got me to read Villette. Jane Eyre is my favorite classics book and since a lot of reviewers said in their reviews that Villette was better, I told myself I have to check it out. Well turns out it was the other way around. For me, the only thing that they have in common is their occupation – both were a governess.

    Before I read a book, I always read one or two reviews so I get the heads-up of what the story might be about (besides the summary of course). Since I’ve been told that those books were quite similar, I expected Villette to be about romance, like Jane and Mr. Rochester. Turns out, the romance part does not come out till the last volume of the book.

    How I see this book is we get to know more about who Lucy meets rather herself. I like to call this book “Lucy and Friends” because that’s basically what I see. We get to know more about the other characters than our protagonist. I might be redundant but that’s just what you’re going to read in the book.

    Despite of what I disliked, there was something in the book that got me hooked on to though. I was not expecting for it, let me give you a clue: the nun. I usually read at night in the living room or in the kitchen and when I read that part, I literally ran to my room. It was the scariest thing to me. It was totally unexpected.

    Basically, only some parts in the book were page turners. The more you read, the longer the pages there are per chapter. This was an okay book to me.

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  • Posted February 15, 2012

    Excellent

    For those reading reviews in order to decide weather or not to read this book, notice that almost every poor rating comes with the comments that the reader did not even finish the book lol. If you don't actually finish the book, you should not be reviewing it!
    This is a fabulous book, but not a light read. The character development takes time, and you have to be willing to actually read through it! It will stay with you forever.
    I love Lucy Snowe, and it is possible my favorite book. I've read it enough times to have worn out 2 copies, and that's what brought me here...looking for a third.
    I do suggest the Penguin version though. The french translations are infinitly superior to others I have read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

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    Who Needs A Sleeping Drought When You Have Villette

    I love period dramas and think Jane Eyre is fabulous but oh gosh this was the most boring book I ever read, well attempted to read. After 200 pages I realized that life is too short. I find this book to be dull and indirect, the plot uneventful with the most inanimate heroine I have ever read. I really don't care what happens to anyone in this novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2008

    Plain but happy

    Bronte's Villette is a very modern classic, if one can say that. The language is easy to read, and her thoughts flow, like one person talks to another. This wonderful story of a Protestant girl amidst Catholic settings is witty as well as uplifting. It tells the story of Lucy Snowe, a rather plain girl who teaches at a French school and finds love, after so long, in rather extraordinary circumstances. It's so beautifully written, every line is a pleasure to read. Bronte is astounding astute for someone of her time. To describe Villette in one word: Fantastic.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2006

    Ovelooked classic

    Charlotte Bronte's ultimate classic Villette did not get at much recognition as Jane Eyre because of the complexity of it which can only be appreciated by the few who try to understand Lucy Snowe's pessimism and determined nature that correlates with Charlotte and her sister Emily. Lucy, the protagonist, is a grown up version of Jane Eyre a Bronte scholar once said and as a reader, I confirm it. This is the best of Charlotte Bronte, even better than Jane Eyre, if that is possible.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2003

    Great Book For Hopeless Romantics

    I would highly recommend Villette to adults and young adults who are hopeless romantics. This book gives you an insight into what the main character, Lucy Snowe, thinks and feels. Charlotte Bronte wrote this book in such a way that allows you to feel everything as Lucy feels it. Bronte shows Lucy¿s change in character as she begins to feel and show more emotion than Lucy thought possible. The changes that occur in Lucy will make you smile and her pains and tribulations will make you cry. The smiles and tears are what make this book worth reading.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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