Villette (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Villette (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Villette (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) by Laura Engel, Charlotte Bronte, George Stade

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593083168
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 68,942
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.52(d)

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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Villette (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 116 reviews.
jenieliser More than 1 year ago
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
deborah197 More than 1 year ago
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.
Catherine-E-Chapman More than 1 year ago
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.
katknit More than 1 year ago
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.
mybabies2 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year 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.
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Nothing much happened, just lots of talking and no action.
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ICEyun More than 1 year ago
I loved reading Jane Eyre, so I wanted to read some other Bronte works. This one was a real stinker, to say the least. Lucy's personality kind of grated on my nerves, but what really turned me away was the love/romance (or lack thereof). I don't like the kind nor degree of it. I am quite surprised by the hit-or-miss nature of Charlotte Bronte's works. Here's to hoping 'The Professor' is a hit.