Protestant Lucy Snowe leaves her traumatic childhood in England behind and takes on a job as a nanny in the French town of Villette. Soon, she gets promoted and becomes an English teacher in the boarding school where she lives. This way, Lucy gets involved in the love affair of Ginevra, one of the pupils, and Dr John. And that doctor turns out to be a childhood friend of Lucy.
Wow, this is such a different book from Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë can certainly craft a good novel but this story proved difficult for me. It’s rather uneven in pace and seems to go nowhere at times. Lucy Snowe is a complex main character who doesn’t think very highly of herself and even struggles with a depression at times. So it’s an intense story that doesn’t exactly make you happy.
When she’s working as an English teacher in France, Lucy meets two completely different men and gets involved with both of them, while always keeping her distance to not get too closely attached. I found the story around Dr John interesting to follow. But the character of Mr Paul Emmanuel is one I just couldn’t fathom. I did liken’t reading about him and didn’t understand Lucy’s behaviour towards him at all.
Apart from the personal indulgences of the different characters, the clash between the two religions (protestant and catholic) and countries (England and France) is also a strong theme. Lucy remains a Protestant foreigner and has to fight against prejudices.
Apparently, this book is very autobiographical to Charlotte’s life and I can understand why it has its value and charm. But I’m really glad I finished this one and I’m sure I won’t read it again. I found it lacking of a story that really gripped me.
This is book 14/50 the classics club.
What’s your favourite Charlotte Brontë novel?
One thought on “Villette by Charlotte Brontë”
Most places are now so secular, and there’s been so much change brought about by immigration – so many Irish, Italian and more recently Polish people have come to the UK over the years that there are now as many Catholics as Protestants in some big cities – that it’s easy to forget how big the cultural clash must have been at one time. I remember staying in a little hotel in rural Bavaria, where the culture’s still very much dominated by religious Catholicism, and they had a picture of the Holy Family hanging over the breakfast buffet, and that was just so different to anything you’d ever see in England. It really stuck in my mind. I know Haworth pretty well – it’s only 40 miles away – and it’s quite remote even now, apart from the hordes of tourists! For Charlotte to have gone from there, in the 1830s which were so less globalised than now, to Belgium, must have been a huge culture shock for her.