Monday, December 26, 2011

Villette by Charlotte Brontë


by Charlotte Brontë
published 1853
completed December 2011

Villette has been sitting on my shelf for several years as part of a collection of Brontë novels. I didn't feel an urgency to get to it until I saw a post on it by Allie, of A Literary Odyssey. She loved it, so it got placed a little closer to the top of the pile. I've read Jane Eyre twice, and while I enjoyed it, I can't really say that I loved it. I can honestly say that I loved Villette. I rated it a 5 out of 5 on goodreads, and I don't do that often.

Lucy Snowe, orphaned at a young age, travels to a foreign land as a young adult. With no family to speak of, she seeks a situation that will allow her independence and finds a position teaching English at a school.  Lucy Snowe narrates as she looks back on her young life, often breaking the fourth wall to add retrospective insight to particular moments.

Unlike Jane Eyre, I wouldn't really call this a love story, although there is much talk of love. The focus of Villette is more on the protagonist's inner conflict. The following quote gives insight into her mindset.
Some lives are thus blessed: it is God's will: it is the attesting trace and lingering evidence of Eden. Other lives run from the first another course. Other travellers encounter weather fitful and gusty, wild and variable--breast adverse winds, are belated and overtaken by the early closing winter night.
It's apparent that she feels that she is one of those travelers to whom constant storms will arrive.She is isolated and lonely. Her sorrow and loss as a child has made her close herself off from others, and she is unable admit her need for love and friendship. Lucy feigns indifference when often there is inner struggle about her desire to express her feelings in many situations.

Despite all of her efforts to hide her emotions, Lucy finally allows some through in the second to last chapter, which I found utterly satisfying. It's a bit of a spoilery quote so beware, but I found it beautiful.
In such in adequate language my feelings struggled for expression: they could not get it; speech, brittle and unmalleable, and cold as ice, dissolved or shivered in the effort. He watched me still; he gently raised his hand to stroke my hair; it touched my lips in passing; I pressed it close, I paid it tribute. He was my king; royal for me had been that hand's bounty; to offer homage was both a joy and a duty.

The ending is ambiguous,which may bother some readers, but it felt right. The writing in Villette is exquisite. I found it a slow, but luxurious read, though very dark. There is an underlying sadness to this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would highly recommend Villette with one caveat--it probably isn't for everyone (some find it boring), but it is certainly worth a try for any Brontë fan.

**Advanced warning that there may multiple posts over the next few days. I have a few challenges to wrap up, so forgive me.


  1. I skimmed your review because I'm dying to read this one. Like you, I read and loved Jane Eyre. I'm so glad you were a fan of Villette too.

  2. I absolutely adore this book. I loved all the French and cried (not just teared up -- but actually sobbed!) at the ambiguous ending. One of my favorite novels, and I can't wait to reread it. I loved Jane Eyre, but this one is absolutely exquisite, and I'd say it's superior, for me.

  3. Melissa--I hope you enjoy it when you get to it. It's very different than Jane Eyre, but I felt so much more emotionally invested in it for some reason.

    Jillian--I'm glad I'm not the only one that found it superior. The writing just blew me away. It probably has some of my favorite passages ever. I'm sure it will stand up to a second read.