Villette (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

Villette, by Charlotte Bronte, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Charlotte Brontë’s last and most autobiographical novel, Villette explores the inner life of a lonely young Englishwoman, Lucy Snowe, who leaves an unhappy existence in England to become a teacher in the capital of a fictional European country. Drawn to the school’s headmaster, Lucy must face the pain of unrequited love and the question of her place in society.

For Villette, Brontë drew upon her own experiences ten years earlier, when she studied in Brussels and developed an unreciprocated passion for her married teacher. The novel also reflects her devastating sense of loss and isolation after the deaths of her beloved brother and sisters, and her confusion and conflicts over the fame she achieved for having written Jane Eyre. But despite Brontë’s heartsick inspiration for the novel, and the grief that haunts its heroine, Villette is a story of triumph, in which Lucy Snowe comes to understand and appreciate her own strength and value.

Celebrated by George Eliot and Virginia Woolf for its strikingly modern psychological depth and examination of women’s roles, Villette is now recognized as Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, surpassing even Jane Eyre.

Laura Engel is Assistant Professor in the English Department at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature and drama.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593083168
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 202,778
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 1.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Engel is Assistant Professor in the English Department at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature and drama.

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

From Laura Engel’s Introduction to Villette

Unlike the straightforward narratives of Brontë’s earlier novels, particularly Jane Eyre, Villette is at times deliberately difficult to follow. With its mix of literary genres, the dizzying array of characters who appear, disappear, and appear again with different names, and a narrator who resists disclosure at the same moment that she is telling the story, the novel is a hall of mirrors, a descent into an uncanny world of deceptions and ambiguities. Throughout the book Brontë suggests that what you see is not always real, and that what you believe is imagined has its own haunting reality.

Lucy is narrating the story from her recollections of a distant past; she is the central actress in the novel, but also the novel’s principal ghost. As she tells us, “I speak of a time gone by: my hair which till a late period withstood the frosts of time, lies now, at last white, under a white cap, like snow beneath snow.” This is one of the few moments in the novel when Lucy refers to her present self. What we see is her past persona, the young Lucy coming of age, falling in love, bitterly disappointed and then finding romance again with a more appropriate and less conventional suitor. The narrative is an extended memory, and like all memories it is told through a series of emotions that have already occurred. Brontë captures this sense of doubleness, of existing in both the present and the past, through Lucy’s embodied and spectral personas. In imagining a heroine who remains ghostly and inaccessible, Brontë thwarts a strategy of reading that assumes complete knowledge and mastery. We cannot fully see and understand Lucy Snowe, in the same way that we will never be able to gain access to the real Charlotte Brontë.

The first scenes of Villette take place at Lucy’s godmother’s house, where she is a frequent guest. There is no quick summary of her background or childhood; instead we are introduced to Polly Home, the small, doll-like child who will be the focus of the beginning of the novel and will later return to become one of the central female characters in the book. Lucy’s role as narrator/spectator, the ambiguous figure in the room with no established place or remarkable qualities, contrasts sharply with the theatrical presence of the young Polly, who demands constant attention. Unlike the opening of Jane Eyre, when Jane is forced to endure the cruelty of her ruthless relatives, Lucy is an accepted figure in the Bretton household. Lucy’s motivations and passions are less clearly defined than Jane’s enraged outbursts and steely silences. We hear very little about how Lucy feels in this domestic situation where she is both wanted and ignored. She becomes a kind of mothering figure for Polly, whose own mother, “a very pretty, but a giddy, careless woman,” had abandoned her. Polly is dealing with her father’s absence and her newfound love, Mrs. Bretton’s son Graham.

Lucy watches as Polly transfers her attachment from her father to an obsession with the young Bretton:

With curious readiness did she adapt herself to such themes as interested him. One would have thought the child had no mind or life of her own, but must necessarily live, move, and have her being in another: now that her father was taken from her, she nestled to Graham, and seemed to feel by his feelings: to exist in his existence. She learned the names of all his schoolfellows in a trice; she got by heart their characters as given from his lips: a single description of an individual seemed to suffice. She never forgot or confused identities: she would talk with him the whole evening about people she had never seen, and appear completely to realize their aspect, manners, and dispositions.

Brontë seems to be juxtaposing Polly’s visible development with Lucy’s invisible adolescence. Throughout these early chapters she hints that there is something haunting and perverse about Polly’s unquestioning faith in the passive, debilitating sacrifices of being female. Polly is described as an object, “a mere doll; her neck, delicate as wax,” and as a spirit, “a small ghost gliding over the carpet,” and as “some precocious fanatic or untimely saint.” Polly’s function as a doll, a picture, and a wax figure suggests that she is a fixed and static representation of femininity. Her saintly, ghost-like qualities are manifestations of her manic, almost religious dedication to the process of becoming a woman. When she sits embroidering with her needle, a “perverse weapon,” she remains “silent, diligent, absorbed, womanly.” Polly’s devotion to Graham, which involves memorization, mimicry, undivided focus, and a complete immersion of her identity with his, is a kind of primer for the expectations of a good wife. Polly is in the process of materializing—the reader has the sense of who she will become even at six years old—but, we seem to be led to ask, what will become of Lucy?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 143 )
Rating Distribution

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(50)

4 Star

(36)

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(31)

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(15)

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(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.

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  • Posted May 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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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

    I Also Recommend:

    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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