Villette by Charlotte Bronte: A Review


villette cover


Categories: Classics, Literary Fiction, Women’s

Villette by Charlotte Bronte is a Jane Austenesque type story. The narrator-protagonist is Lucy Snow. It is her life story…well, half of it. She’s around twelve when the story begins at her god-mother’s home in England where she is staying with John Graham (Graham) Bretton, the god-mother’s son and a younger girl, Little Polly. During this initial part, Bronte focuses on Lucy’s relationship with and looking after Little Polly. The two girls are not a good fit. Little Polly’s almost singular attention is her father, who has left Polly in the god-mother’s care. Lucy is an island, reserve and stern beyond her years. She is a good girl, and likable, but not all that sociable. Graham is the glue between the two, and he remains so into adulthood.

Ultimately, the story moves to Villette, France.

Lucy is grown and becomes a teacher of English to French students, Polly has been reunited with her noble (not the virtue) father, and Graham becomes a physician. Among the cast of characters, a dead nun, Polly’s feet-barely-touching-the-ground  cousin, and a cantankerous but good-hearted M. Paul enters the picture. All them set Lucy on the path of various mysteries—some of which she figures out herself, others are revealed to her. As a result, Lucy becomes stronger as an individual, though to me she is never far from collapsing into a heap of worried hysteria. The story of Lucy’s time as a teacher, resident, friend and ultimately quasi-fiancée keeps the reader’s attention.

Bronte’s (intended as Lucy’s) exposition of philosophy, psychology and other matters spaced in between the story unnecessarily divert attention, making the book much longer than it should be.  Then, there’s the French portion of the book. Unlike Tempesta’s Dreamoperawhere translations are almost always provided either before or afterwards, Bronte does not translate those passages nearly enough, thus leaving the reader (or listener in my case) out in the cold. It was the equivalent of watching an old silent film, seeing people talking in the distance, or overhearing two people talking in French seated in the booth across from you. You can pick up some of the context through clues. The significance, however, is lost. Attention is diverted again away from the story during these times.

The ending was different—in a good way—and courageous on Bronte’s part. It was not the usual happy fairy tale ending. It was an ending that suited Lucy Snow’s temperament.  I listened to the Recorded Audio Book (RAB) unabridged version of Villette and, like Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, RAB did an excellent job. I highly recommend RAB.