Villetteby Charlotte Bronte, Juliet Stevenson (Contribution by)
With her final novel, Villette, Charlotte Bronte reached the height of her artistic power. First published in 1853, Villette is Bronte's most accomplished and deeply felt work, eclipsing even Jane Eyre in critical acclaim. Her narrator, the autobiographical Lucy Snowe, flees England and a tragic past to become an instructor in a French boarding school in the town of Villette. There, she unexpectedly confronts her feelings of love and longing as she witnesses the fitful romance between Dr. John, a handsome young Englishman, and Ginerva Fanshawe, a beautiful coquetter. This first pain brings others, and with them comes the heartache Lucy has tried so long to escape. Yet in spite of adversity and disappointment, Lucy Snowe survives to recount the unstinting vision of a turbulent life's journeya journey that is one of the most insightful fictional studies of a woman's consciousness in English literature.
Read an Excerpt
By Charlotte Bronte
Alfred A. KnopfCopyright © 1992 Charlotte Bronte
All right reserved.
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.
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?"
"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."
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.
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.
Meet the Author
Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 - 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood and whose novels have become classics of English literature.
- Date of Birth:
- April 21, 1816
- Date of Death:
- March 31, 1855
- Place of Birth:
- Thornton, Yorkshire, England
- Place of Death:
- Haworth, West Yorkshire, England
- Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire; Miss Wooler's School at Roe Head
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
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. :)
i also recommend: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Persuasion, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Kept waiting for it to get better. Heroine, Lucy, is very passive and submissive; she is very difficult to relate to. Not worth the time reading.
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.
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.
I read this book because of Jane Eyre, but this book was ten times better than Jane Eyre ever will be. I finished reading it like a month ago, and yet i keep on thinking about it. the ending was strange, but undoubtably one of the best endings i've ever read. If you have any appreciation for outstanding literature, read this book.
I don't see why Jane Eyre is more popular than Villette. Jane E. is a good book but I think Villette is ten times better. It is my favorite book, although it is very confusing and slow at parts.
I had the great pleasure of reading Villette (brought about due to my love for Jane Eyre). I must confess that at first I was slightly disappointed in the book. Lucy Snowe is a difficult character to relate to due to her aloofness, and her narration in comparison lacked the passion that was found in Jane Eyre. This said, over the course of the novel, I began to enjoy it immensely. Lucy Snowe as a character seemed to remain in the back of one's thoughts; however, through various events her "icy" nature seems to revert, and the true beauty of her character is revealed. The plot itself can be somewhat droll - it is the memoirs of Snowe's life, and it lacks vivacity in some points of the narration (becoming most interesting when the fiery Paul Emmanuel arrives). The ending leaves mixed feelings, but as a whole the novel is a joy to read and very satisfying. Brontë's writing is superb! Her style flows effortlessly, and the wit she uses in conversations between characters (especially Snowe and Emmanuel) is wonderful. Overall, the book is excellent, and is potentially the best of Charlotte's work. For fans looking for a repeat Jane Eyre, it will not happen, and that may cause disappointment. Still, I must highly recommend it, and encourage its readers to stay with the first hundred pages - it gets much better!
I really loved this book all the way through!!! Aside from not speaking or reading any french (I was able to ask a friend if I was curious)it was wonderful! A really great love story with a happy ending. I really would love to have read more about the story, too bad it was written so long ago.
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.
Of course there are parts that are captivating and delightfully written, but it is slow with long-winded sections that don't add much to the story line. It is a book written out of depression, everyone is happy except the heroine. In the end, after suffering with her through 456 pages the reader is even then denied an ultimate happiness. Yes, she has independence, but a life without love seems merely like a continuance of an existence in shadow.
Villette is my favorite over Jane Eyre. I think Charlotte Bronte was an incridibly deep writer who has and is continuing to awe me by her novels. This book is GREAT and I recommend it to anyone young or old.
Villette is my all time favourite novel. The strength and independence of Lucy Snowe made this story wonderful and enjoyable and despite a lonely sad childhood in England was able to make a success in Villette and like many of us struggles between career, independence and romance but it did work out fine.
the story of Lucy was esqusite. She reminded me of me. And made me want to write my own novel, I love Villette and recommend it to anyone who is deep and eccentric.
I can't believe this book isn't more widely read! I thought it was marvelous. It is far more introspective and philisophical than Jane Eyre, but it is beautifully written. A true treasure.
i am usually a speedy reader, but this book was so captivating i was forced to slw down and truly appreciate it. The book is about Lucy Snowe, a young woman out on her own, sworn to keep her feelings down-to not truly feel at all. But she does come in contact with things and people to incite her feelings, and the book is really about how she copes with being human. this book is a romance as well as a book about the human psyche. I recomend it to ANYONE.
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.
The tom padded in, looking around "um, h-hello? Can i join p-pleathe?"
Name: Iceshatter <p> Gender: shecat &female <p> Appearance: <br> Fur- white and black patterns. One ear is white and one is black. Her paws are all black, so is the tip of her tail. <br> Eyes: one and ice blue, the other is a stormy grey. <p> Personality: still trying to figure it out. Maybe more kept to herself and doesnt like mixing much with the other gender. She loves stargazing and kits (because who doesnt love babies <3). When she gets heated up at an argument, she can be a devil arguer no matter who it is (its actually my own problem too) but respects thode who deserve it. She also loves swimming, hence the long legs, especially midnight swimming. <p> Overall, she isnt gorgeous or anything like that, just another cat. <p> <p> Mate/Crush/Kits- nope for all but hopes to have kits one day. <p> thats all for now :)
Pads in lost
Name:: Onyfall <br> Age:: 18 moons <br> Gender:: &female <br> Rank:: Warrior, what did YOU think it was? <p> Appearance:: Jet black, except faint gray speckles on her muzzle and lower back. Also has blazing amber eyes, and a rich brown speckle in each eye. <br> Persona:: Very grumpy, bossy, and powerful. If you get to know her though, she is funny and lovable. <p> Kits/Mate:: Kitless and Mateless <br> Crush:: No <p> Name~ Russetfire <br> Age~ 20 moons exact <br> Gender~ &female ( No Durr ) <br> Rank~ Only A Warrior <p> Appearance~ Scarlet ginger, with beautiful blue eyes. She has golden brown flecks, and golden brown hindpaws, and rich brown forepaws. Her underbelly is golden brown. Her ears are rich brown and so is her tailtip. <br> Persona~ Shy, but a string fighter. She is also smart and kind. <p> Mate/Kits~ Nerp <br> Crush~ Sto- never mind that!!! ☺ <p> &Delta<_>&omega
She was very small, and powerful, and had a mottled scarlet red pelt. She also had beautiful blue eyes, and golden brown flecks. She hid in buhes, but her tail rustled leaves every-once-in-awhile.
A shaggy grey tom pounced into the clearing. "Is this LeafClan?," he mrowed. His eyes scatered from cat to cat, waiting for an answer.