Villette by Charlotte Bronte

The heroine of this story is Lucy Snowe, not a woman named Villette as you might think. Villette is instead the name of the fictional city in France where most of the story takes place.

It begins with Lucy as a child staying with friends in England. These friends will re-appear further on in the story.  Some years later in Lucy's life an unnamed misfortune has come to her family and left her alone to make her way in the world. She works briefly as companion to an aging woman who dies suddenly leaving her alone once again. Learning of a need for English teachers in France, she travels there and through a series of rather dramatic circumstances is hired on at the girls school run by a Madam Beck.

Her life lacks romance and excitement but Lucy is resigned to her lot and reasonably content: "I see a huge mass of my fellow creatures in no better circumstances. I see that a great many men, and more women, hold their span of life on conditions of denial and privation. I see no reason why I should be of the few favoured. I believe in  some blending of hope and sunshine sweetening the worst lots; I believe that this life is not all, neither the beginning nor the end. I believe while I tremble. I trust while I weep." Coincidence brings the old friends previously mentioned back into her life and she develops feelings for the son of the family, feelings he does not share. A stormy relationship with another professor at the school develops and.....that's all I'll reveal.

The writing is satisfying and charming, as Charlotte Bronte's writing always is, with well worded sentences and lovely grammar. It was very pleasant to read, if a bit overly dramatic at times. I enjoyed the character development and the lyrical descriptions: "At dinner that day, Genevra and Paulina each looked in her own way, very beautiful; the former perhaps, boasted the advantage in material charms but the latter shone pre-eminent for attractions more subtle and beautiful: for light and eloquence of eye, for grace of mien, for winning variety of expression."

It is character driven rather than plot driven but it does not lack a good story. I've probably given the impression it's all romance so I must say there's more to it than that. Themes include lifestyle/perspective differences between rich and poor, the struggles a woman on her own faces as she makes her way through life in the nineteenth century, and duty vs. desire. 

There are only a couple of things I don't like about the book. One is the ending, which is basically left up to the reader with a few less-than-subtle hints in a particular direction. The other thing is the title. The city doesn't play a large enough role in the story to warrant the title; it's about Lucy, not about Villette. Other than that,I loved it!


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