Lindsay's Reviews > Villette

Villette by Charlotte Brontë
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's review
Dec 23, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: classics, fiction, brit, victorian, read-for-fun, read-postcollege, romance, bildungsroman
Recommended for: Bronte fans, people who love quirky characters

I liked this book more than I liked Jane Eyre; this one seems to have everything Jane Eyre has, plus a lot more, and it doesn't take anywhere near as long to get going.

The plot centers around a young British woman, Lucy Snowe, who is genteel but poor and without parents or any other relatives with whom she might live. She has been working as a sort of companion for an elderly woman, but when that woman dies Lucy has to find another job --- and residence --- quickly. She goes to the fictional European country of Labassecour and takes a job as an English teacher in a girls' school in its capital, Villette. While she's there, she meets several people with whom she goes on to have fairly eventful relationships: there's Ginevra Fanshawe, a pupil at the school and fellow Englishwoman, who becomes Lucy's friend and foil; Dr. Bretton, another fellow British expatriate who turns out to be a childhood friend of Lucy's, and on whom Lucy develops a crush; Madame Beck, the insatiably curious, prying headmistress of the school; and M. Paul Emmanuel, a temperamental cousin of Madame Beck's who also teaches at the school.

Like Jane Eyre, Lucy Snowe tells her own story. She seems to be telling it as a much older woman, reminiscing --- she makes passing references to lots of time having passed, and to herself having changed a lot since the events she's narrating actually occurred.

I liked Lucy quite a bit; there's a sly, dry humor in her that I didn't see in Jane Eyre. Lucy is also a very subtle, many-faceted character; different characters see different sides of her, and each one seems to think this facet is the key to her character. That might be the biggest factor explaining why I liked this book so much more than the similar, but better-known, Jane Eyre; I liked Lucy more than I liked Jane, and with these lengthy, confessional first-person narratives, you have to like the protagonist quite a bit to care what happens to her five hundred densely written, claustrophobic pages later.

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