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Review: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte


Pages: 588
Original date of publication: 1853
My edition: 2001 (Modern Library)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Border, 2001

I tried reading Villette once, a number of years ago. I got about halfway through and stopped; maybe I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it very much. About a year and a half ago, when I moved into my apartment, I came across my copy and threw it on TBR Mountain, “to read sometime in the future.”

Villette, as is Jane Eyre, is based on personal experience: Charlotte Bronte famously spent a year teaching English in Brussels. The novel is set in the fictional country of Labassecours, based on Belgium (at first I thought the setting of the book was some extension of Angria, the kingdom she and her siblings created when they were children). Lucy Snowe comes to Villette from England in search of a job and almost accidentally ends up at the door of Madame Beck’s pensione, or school for young ladies, where she initially gets a job as nursemaid and then teacher.

Lucy is an introverted, isolated, sarcastic heroine; she is extremely practical but not good at showing emotion. In fact, I think she’d rather just pretend she doesn’t have them. In addition, she mocks her “friends” mercilessly. All told, I found her completely relatable, even though she’s not the classical example of a perfect heroine. The back of the book promises two relationships: one with a doctor who frequents the pensione and the other with an irascible, emotional teacher. The relationship with Dr. Bretton fizzles out; Lucy’s feelings for him mellow with time and fade out with loss of contact. Her relationship with M. Paul Emmanuel is far more interesting because Lucy herself doesn’t realize her feelings. But Bronte is good at showing the reader how Lucy feels, which means that Lucy is perhaps not the most reliable of narrators. But I like her flaws; they make her much for relatable, especially since I see a lot of myself in Lucy. I liked, or appreciated, her struggle to be independent.

Some of the plot elements fall flat (the ghost story is disappointing), and Bronte has an annoying habit of introducing her characters without actually referring to them by name for a couple of sentences. But overall I loved this book. Considering how much I love Jane Eyre, it’s amazing that I couldn’t get into Villette the first time I tried it. JE is a good introduction to Charlotte Bronte’s novels, but Villette is well worth a read.


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