Villette (Modern Library Series)

Villette (Modern Library Series)

by Charlotte Bronte
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Overview

Villette (Modern Library Series) by Charlotte Bronte


"Villette! Villette! Have you read it?" exclaimed George Eliot when Charlotte Brontë's final novel appeared in 1853. "It is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power."

Arguably Brontë's most refined and deeply felt work, Villette draws on her profound loneliness following the deaths of her three siblings. Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Villette,flees from an unhappy past in England to begin a new file as a teacher at a French boarding school in the great cosmopolitan capital of Villette. Soon Lucy's struggle for independence is overshadowed by both her freindship with a wordly English doctor and her feelings for an autocratic schoolmaster. Brontë's strikingly modern heroine must decide if there is any man in her society with whom she can live and still be free.

"Villette is an amazing book," observed novelist Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. "Written before psychoanalysis came into being, Villette is nevertheless a psychoanalytic work—a psychosexual study of its heroine, Lucy Snowe. Written before the philosophy of existentialism was formulated, the novel's view of the world can only be described as existential. . . . Today it is read and discussed more intensely than Charlotte Brontë's other novels, and many critics now beleive it to be a true master-piece, a work of genius that more than fulfilled the promise of Jane Eyre." Indeed, Virginia Woolf judged Villette to be Brontë's "finest novel."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679640080
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/07/1999
Series: Modern Library Classics
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 656
File size: 839 KB

About the Author


Charlotte Brontë was born at Thornton, Yorkshire, on April 21, 1816. Her father, Patrick Brontë, became curate for life of the moorland parish of Haworth, Yorkshire, in 1820, and her mother, Maria Brontë, died the following year, leaving behind five daughters and a son who were cared for in the parsonage by their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. The eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825 from tuberculosis contracted at the religious boarding school to which they (along with Charlotte and her younger sister Emily) had been sent. (All the Brontë children ultimately suffered from lung disease.)

Raised at home thereafter, Charlotte, Emily, their youngest sister, Anne, and brother, Branwell, lived in a fantasy world of their own making, drawing on their voracious reading of Byron, Scott, Shakespeare, The Arabian Nights, and gothic fiction, and writing elaborate poetic and dramatic cycles involving the histories of imaginary countries. Charlotte's early writings revolved around the kingdom of Angria, about which she wrote melodramatic tales of passion and revenge. She spent a year studying at Miss Wooler's school in Roe Head (later relocated to Dewsbury Moor), and went back there to teach from 1835 to 1838; subsequently she worked as a governess.

With Emily, Charlotte traveled in 1842 to study languages at a boarding school in Brussels; her close emotional attachment to her instructor, M. Heger, a married man, would later figure in her fiction. Charlotte and Emily went home after a year because of their aunt's death; Charlotte subsequently returned to Brussels for a year of teaching, 1843 to 1844. A joint collection of poems by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne published pseudonymously as Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell—appeared in 1846. The three sisters had in the meantime each written a novel, of which Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were accepted in 1847 for publication the following year. Charlotte's first novel, The Professor, based on her experiences in Brussels, was rejected by a series of publishers (it finally appeared posthumously in 1857).

Jane Eyre was published under Charlotte's pseudonym, Currer Bell, in 1847 and achieved commercial and critical success; it had gone through four editions by the time of Charlotte's death. Jane Eyre won high praises; William Makepeace Thackeray (who later became a friend) declared himself "exceedingly moved and pleased," and George Henry Lewes applauded its "deep significant reality"; it was also criticized by some for the rebelliousness of its heroine and for what the Quarterly Review called "coarseness of language and laxity of tone."

During this period the Brontës underwent repeated tragedies. Branwell, despite his early promise, had been ravaged by the effects of drink and drugs, and when he found work as a tutor in the same household where Anne was a governess, his involvement with his employer's wife led to his dismissal; he died in September of 1848, followed three months later by Emily and the following year by Anne. Charlotte, the sole survivor, published two more novels, Shirley (1849), a novel of Yorkshire during the Napoleonic period, and Villette (1853), a further fictional exploration of her Brussels experiences. In 1850 she met the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, with whom she formed a close friendship; Gaskell later wrote the classic biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Charlotte married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, in 1854, and died on March 31, 1855.

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

Education:

Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire; Miss Wooler's School at Roe Head

Read an Excerpt

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.

What People are Saying About This

Kate Millett

Bronte is too much an insurrectionary to acknowledge any convention beyond the literary and the most astonishing things occur continuously in her fiction... Villette is one of the wittier novels in English and one of the rare witty books in an age which specialized in sentimental comedy. What is most satisfying of all is the astonishing degree of consciousness one finds in the work, the justice of its analysis, the fairness of its observations, the generous degree of self-criticism... It is one of the most interesting books of the period... an expression of revolutionary sensibility.

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 Bront? 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 Bront??s ?finest novel,? and speaking about Bront?, 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 Bront? 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 Bront?). Do you find it a happy ending? A sad one? Discuss.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Villette 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Operetta More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The tom padded in, looking around "um, h-hello? Can i join p-pleathe?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pads in lost
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!!! &#9786 <p> &Delta<_>&omega
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A shaggy grey tom pounced into the clearing. "Is this LeafClan?," he mrowed. His eyes scatered from cat to cat, waiting for an answer.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
i read Jane Eyre first and when i heard that Villette was supposed to be even better, i was extremely eager to read it. the beginning was good, in the middle i began to roll my eyes at some of Lucy Snowe's antics and by the end i was so disappointed in how it all ended. not at all like her first book. if you enjoyed the innocence and happy ending of Jane Eyre than Villette is not the book for you.