Everybody knows and loves Jane Eyre, but not many people have even heart of Villette. Todays novel is Charlotte Brontë’s astonishing autobiographical novel of one woman’s search for true love.
Lucy Snow is travelling from England to find employment in the small belgish town of Villette in a girl’s boarding school. She has neither friends nor family and has a pretty hard time in the boarding school at first having never taught before and keeping her self-posession in the face of snobbish and unruly pupils is pretty difficult for her. The headmistress Madame Beck is also not exactly the ideal picture of a kind and warm person which makes it difficult for Lucy to settle in.
“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars–a cage, so peril, loneliness, an uncertain future, are not oppressive evils, so long as the frame is healthy and the faculties are employed; so long, especially, as Liberty lends us her wings, and Hope guides us by her star.”
She also has to deal with her own complex feelings. First she is in love (or so she believes) with the school’s English doctor but then falls for the strict authoritharian professor Paul Emanuel. Charlotte Brontë draws immensely on her own deeply unhappy experiences based on her time as a governess in Brussels. This autobiographical novel is the last book published during Charlotte Brontë’s lifetime. It is a strong and very moving study of loneliness, isolation and the pain of unrequited love. The novel is narrated by a strongwilled independent spirit who is incredibly resilient in the face of her difficult circumstances.
Lucy Snow is not as easily likeable as Jane Eyre and there are quite a few occassions were I just wanted to shake her when the pining was a bit too much for me. But in general I really loved this novel, loved it in spite of the many weird contrived coincidences, the unreliable narrator and it’s sparse plot. Lucy Snow is like Jane Eyre’s dark twin sister and the study of a the complex inner world of a really interesting person.
Charlotte Brontë (1816-55), was the eldest of the Brontë sisters. She was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire and Jane Eyre was first published in 1847 under her pen-name Currer Bell. The book was followed by Shirley (1848) and Villette (1853). In 1854 Charlotte Brontë married her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. She died during her pregnancy on 31 March 1855 in Yorkshire. Her novel The Professor was posthumously published in 1857.
Virginia Woolfe is being quoted as having said that „Vilette is Emily Brontë’s finest novel“ and another high brow fan of the novel is George Eliot who said „I am only just returned to a sense of real wonder about me, for I have been reading Villette“
So follow the advise of these brilliant ladies and immerse yourself into this novel. You might want to accompany your reading with Wilkie Collins „The Woman in White“ for something else equally quintessentially british.