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?