Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Genre: Classics, fiction
Published by Barnes and Nobles Classics, 1853
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I’ll be revisiting this one soon!
Reviewed by Indiana
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classics; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. For a few years, I was afraid to read any of Charlotte Bronte’s other books because I felt like I was only going to be let down.
There may be times when I’ve been more wrong, but I can’t think of one.
Villette follows Lucy Snowe, a fiercely independent and sometimes lonely character, who is trying to make her way in the world. By today’s standards, Snowe may not seem that fierce, but I think she’s just as “fierce” as Katniss or any of the other modern day female leads. When she became of age and needed to get a job, she traveled to another country, by herself and with no guarantee of a job, and found a teaching position within a day. “Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets, and forever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?” she thinks to herself once she begins to travel.
Once she starts teaching, she encounters more than a few airhead students, some who take a liking to her. There’s also an odd professor, M. Paul Emanuel, who becomes one of her only truly faithful friends. He’s irascible in some ways, forcing her to take math and locking her in an attic until she learns lines for a play, but he’s also thoughtful and is able to see every character as they are.
At one point, Snowe falls suddenly ill and the school’s doctor takes her in until she is well. The school’s doctor is a handsome man and one that she actually lived with for a time during her childhood. They eventually become very close and it seems as though Snowe’s life is going to completely change. But that doesn’t quite work out.
Soon, she’s starting to have visions of a nun coming toward her or haunting her. Even though I read this book mostly during the daylight hours, those sections were pretty creepy, and harkened to her paralyzing fear of being shuttered up for the rest of her life.
While I don’t want to completely reveal what happens (and the last chapter is just a flurry of a lot happening all at once), I will say that Snowe’s life is not as dreadful as I thought it was going to be. The ending was ambiguous but I think it worked well, leaving the reader to question the saying: “All’s well that ends well.”
My copy of the book is filled with little sticky notes of lines that I wanted to remember or passages I wanted to highlight. Villette was published five years after Jane Eyre and it feels like Bronte is more comfortable with her writing. Nothing is hurried along, yet I wasn’t bored by any of the parts, even the scenes that were typical Victorian-era melodrama.
Here are some of my flagged quotes:
- “No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shinning far down upon us out of Heaven.”
- ” . . . it is not supportable to be stabbed to the heart each moment by sharp revival of regret.”
- “Yes,” I said, “I am a raising character: once an old lady’s companion, then a nursery-governess, now a school-teacher.”
- “I shall share no man’s or woman’s life in this world, as you understand sharing. I think I have one friend of my own, but am not sure; till I am sure, I live solitary.”
- “He judged her as a woman, not as an artist; it was a branding judgment.”
- “If life be a war, it seemed my destiny to conduct it single-handed.”