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Archive 2021 Authors > 2018 July Charlotte Bronte's Villette

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message 1: by Lesle, Appalachain Bibliophile (new)

Lesle | 6301 comments Mod
Villette /viːˈlɛt/ is an 1853 novel written by English author Charlotte Brontë. After an unspecified family disaster, the protagonist Lucy Snowe travels from her native England to the fictional French-speaking city of Villette to teach at a girls' school, where she is drawn into adventure and romance.

The novel is initially set in the English countryside, and later follows Lucy Snowe to the fictional Belgian town of Villette, a Gothic village where the majority of the action takes place. Villette is modelled upon the city of Brussels in the fictional Kingdom of Labassecour (Belgium). "Labassecour" is the French word for farmyard.

Villette begins with its famously passive protagonist, Lucy Snowe, age 14, staying at the home of her godmother Mrs. Bretton in "the clean and ancient town of Bretton", in England. Also in residence are Mrs. Bretton's son, John Graham Bretton (whom the family calls Graham), and a young visitor, Paulina Home (who is called Polly). Polly is a peculiar little girl who soon develops a deep devotion to Graham, who showers her with attention. But Polly's visit is cut short when her father arrives to take her away.

Villette won the Poll for this month's read. Who wants to read about Lucy our quite yet intelligent young woman?


message 2: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments I'll be reading Villette. Looking forward to learning about "Villette," (or Brussels) as it is one place I've visited in Europe. Will be starting the book after a finish a few others.


message 3: by Catherine (last edited Jun 01, 2018 07:57AM) (new)

Catherine Habbie It is a real place? Now that would be interesting to visit after the book. Lucky you Kathy you can identify the places mentioned in the book when you read it.
I found the book very captivating. Although a lot on the lines of Jane Eyre, it incorporated a lot of French in the text and it would be handy to keep a dictionary nearby.


message 4: by Trisha (new)

Trisha | 991 comments I’ll try this book, it sounds interesting.


message 5: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments It's not a real place but Villette is modeled on the city of Brussels. I'm not sure how many real places would be mentioned in the book. I'll find out!


message 6: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
I read this book a couple of years ago and found the main character interesting and different from the usual heroines of that time. She is a young woman who had a lot of challenges to overcome, just like the author.


message 7: by Trisha (new)

Trisha | 991 comments I’m glad Lesle gave a description above. Reading the book, I assumed incorrectly that Bretton was in France as there was no information about it & I knew the book was set in France. Paulina/Polly/Missy (3 names for 1 child!) seems to be spoilt, even making allowances for her being unhappy. I hope the book improves soon.


message 8: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
This book begins slowly, but the pace picks up and it is worth it. We see Lucy's transformation from a very retiring person with no self-esteem whatever to become a competent teacher.
This book doesn't flow as well as her other novels, but does give us an idea of what life in a small private boarding school for girls was like.
I am of two minds about the ending.


message 9: by Trisha (new)

Trisha | 991 comments Rosemarie wrote: "This book begins slowly, but the pace picks up and it is worth it. We see Lucy's transformation from a very retiring person with no self-esteem whatever to become a competent teacher.
This book do..."


That’s good to know, Rosemarie - thank you. I’ve read quite a lot today & the story is definitely starting to improve after its poor beginning.


message 10: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments I've read the first two chapters and wonder what will happen with Polly. The book spends a lot of time on her character.


message 11: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie Oh the ending is totally unpredictable. Even the author seems unsure and explores different options.


message 12: by Serian (new)

Serian (mamapata) | 14 comments Of the Bronte books, I've read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Honestly, I hated both (though I accept that they are very good). How similar is Villette? Should I risk it?


message 13: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
Villette is closer to Jane Eyre, since it was written by Charlotte as well. I would say it is weaker than Jane Eyre in plot construction, but I think accurate in portraying the plight of a poor young woman who has to make her own living in the world. It is set for the most part in a private girls school in Belgium. Villette standing in for Brussels.
I would say one of the major themes is loneliness.


message 14: by Lesle, Appalachain Bibliophile (new)

Lesle | 6301 comments Mod
Serian it may be one you end up liking. You never know unless you give it a chance.

I found I did not really care for Wuthering Heights but did enjoy Jane Eyre.


message 15: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) I've started reading this - my first impressions - I like how the tension is built up in the description. It's also interesting how we're seeing the story through a character's eyes, who so far is an observer and not that involved in the action.

oh the tension -- just wondering what's going to happen next


message 16: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments I've read through chapter 11. Each chapter since chapter 7 is about some aspect of Lucy Stowe's time at the private girls school in Villette. We meet the headmistress Madame Beck, the children of Madame Beck, Dr. John (who stays at the school quite a long time according to Lucy...hmmm), and hear more about Ginevra Fanshawe.

At this point, the book seems more like Bronte is reporting events rather than developing a story.


message 17: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
It took me a while to warm up to Lucy Snowe. She is very reticent at showing her feelings, but she changes as the book progresses.


message 18: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) I've read about a quarter of the chapters, yeah, there is a lot more description from chapter 4 onwards (where the narrator became the protagonist). I'm seeing conflict / drama in her description but appreciate this style can make it a slow read.

Rosemarie, I remember you saying you read the same bio on the Brontes (Reid Banks), do you think Bronte's Mme Becks is the wife of Heger?


message 19: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
I don't remember all the details of the book, since I read it so long ago, but it is a distinct possibility.


message 20: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) Rosemarie wrote: "I don't remember all the details of the book, since I read it so long ago, but it is a distinct possibility."

As I keep reading I think Becks has aspects of her - in the bio Reid Banks draws Bronte of being almost fearful of Mme Heger.

In Villette Bronte draws Lucy as being v understandable that Becks snoops and (doesn't go as far as to say) network of spies (like Reid Banks does) but it's hinted at.

Also, in Villette there is little friction between Lucy and Mme Becks.

So maybe - maybe not ???


message 21: by Inkspill (last edited Jun 14, 2018 01:23AM) (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) I've read a couple more chapters - and from the first few pages it struck me as a very different read from Jane Eyre. I have not read any other works by *Bronte.

* added - I meant Charlotte Bronte, but now that I think about it I've only read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and hope to read, it will probably be next year now, one or both novels by Anne Bronte.


message 22: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
Anne has a different style again. I enjoyed both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The second is more dramatic. I found that Agnes Grey got better as the book progressed, mainly due to the development of the main character throughout the book.


message 23: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments In Chapter 14, "The Fete," Lucy performs a male part in the "vaudeville" that is the entertainment for Mrs. Beck's party. She also discusses with Dr. John his feelings for a young lady.

This chapter picks up the pace of the book and makes me wonder how Lucy Snowe will change in the coming chapters.


message 24: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) Rosemarie wrote: "Anne has a different style again. ..."
Whist reading this I am also reading Wuthering Heights, and if I had more time I would have liked to have read one of these. Maybe I'll see if I can fit it in down the down - I hope so

Kathy wrote: "... This chapter picks up the pace of the book and makes me wonder how Lucy Snowe will change in the coming chapters."

There's a twist coming - took me by complete surprise :)


message 25: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie Isn't it ? I would've never guessed it too.


message 26: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments Looking forward to the twist, Inkspill!


message 27: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) did you get to the twist Kathy?

I've read 70% of the chapters, as I'm reading it I'm undecided if it's kind of similar to Jane Eyre

maybe, hmmmm -- and then again -- maybe not ???


message 28: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments I'm about to start the chapter called "The Letter." I wonder what Graham/Dr. John will have to say??

So not at the twist yet. This is a slow-going book for me, but I am enjoying it.


message 29: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie Well, I guess it's just the first half that's like Jane Eyre. Then becomes Austenesque??


message 30: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) That's exactly what I thought about The Letter, in case you've not read it, I'm not going to say anything more.

Austenesque, I like that, I haven't read enough of Austen's work to say, not having read JE recently, so just guessing (or relying on my memory), I think it is driven by a nervous energy that drives the drama in both these Bronte ... well, that's the impression I have ...


message 31: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
I have most of Jane Austen's novels and have enjoyed them, but not as much as Thomas Hardy's. The Brontes and Hardy novels have a sense of darkness that Austen novels lack. Which I think gives them more depth. Austen is great for witty observations of human nature and a narrow slice of society.
I find that each of Charlotte's novels is different in their own way, of the three that I have read. I still need to read The Professor.


message 32: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie I enjoy Thomas Hardy's works too. The professor seems to be an extension of Vilette ..I found it very similar and slower..


message 33: by Brian E (last edited Jun 23, 2018 09:01AM) (new)

Brian E Reynolds | 4003 comments I started this and wanted to make a brief observation, I've finished Chapter 7 where Lucy is looking for an inn and arrives at a building which says "Pensionatt de Demoiselles" and observes that "no inn was this."
My immediate thought was, based on reading novels like Room With a View, "but, Lucy, a pension is a type of boardinghouse/inn." Yes, but then I discover that "pensionatt" means boarding school in French, not a boarding house/inn. Schooled again.

Also, Austen, with her observational wit, is in some ways similar to Trollope. I can't say C. Bronte is quite like Hardy, but I do see the dark in both. This is only my second of her books, and I read JE 25 years ago. I found Eliot's The Mill on the Floss most like Hardy - or vice-versa, but that may just be the rural/tragic themes.


message 34: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie That is brilliant observation Brian! So in French in Belgium, it means a boarding house as in school for girls
While in Italian it just means boarding house as in inn


message 35: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie Thomas Hardy did write on a lot of rustic themes. But his works seem more deep and filled with melancholy.


message 36: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) Brian wrote: "I started this and wanted to make a brief observation, I've finished Chapter 7 where Lucy is looking for an inn and arrives at a building which says "Pensionatt de Demoiselles" and observes that "n..."

oh - interesting - I did wonder, thanks.

I've finished reading this - on the surface it seems like much going on but there really is.

I've not read anything by Eliot - I hope to correct that - probably next year now

From the little I've read of each of the other authors mentioned here, I think Bronte has more of a tendency to use gothic / supernatural themes in her works than these others


message 37: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments "Who are you, Miss Snowe?" asks Miss Fanshawe in Chapter 27. I wonder also.


message 38: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments I finished the book and even though it was a difficult read for me (I don't know why...), I thoroughly enjoyed Bronte's language and characters. Her descriptions of Lucy when she was at the fete in the city were perfect - I almost felt as if it were me at the fete. I related to the character of Lucy and to M Paul also.


message 39: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
When I read this book a few years ago with another group, we noticed that Lucy was very detached and isolated both physically and emotionally at the beginning of the book. We also considered whether she was in a depressed state.
She does thaw out during the course of the book.
Charlotte wrote this when she was grieving the loss of her sisters and her new start in Belgium.

What does everyone think of the ending? Should it have ended that way?


message 40: by Kathy (new)

Kathy | 1364 comments I unfortunately read the note in the back of the book about how Bronte's father asked her to change the ending and why. I'm glad he asked her to change it. If (view spoiler)

I agree that Lucy grew emotionally during the book. Bronte gradually brings her out of herself over the course of the book in a very believable way.

I can't imagine losing her brother and sisters like that. Maybe this book was her way of writing her way out of depression.


message 41: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie You're probably right Kathy.Lucy does seem to transform from an observer to the main protagonist over the course of the book.Perhaps it was therapeutic to her.


message 42: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie Rosemarie, the ending though inexplicable and unforeseeable, has been handled remarkably well by Charlotte. She justifies each character's behavior and Lucy's subsequent decisions.[Spoilers removed] I for one had always expected Lucy to avoid the particular 'subject' not love it.


message 43: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
I think the ending is probably the correct one. It takes the book out of the ordinary and shows us the growth of Lucy as a whole person.


message 44: by Inkspill (new)

Inkspill (runinkspill) Just catching up, I did not realise that Bronte's father had an unintentional hand in the ending. That's interesting.

I also liked the (kind of) ambiguous ending.

To me it seemed like Lucy had been on this huge (I want to say) spiritual and romantic journey that ends with lyricism except for that very last paragraph. In that last paragraph the tone changes, it’s informative and matter of fact with a positive note of the people who tried to keep her and M Paul apart.

Making this an intriguing read


message 45: by Brian E (new)

Brian E Reynolds | 4003 comments Some comments upon finishing the book:

1. I didn't find the ending that ambiguous. At the beginning of the chapter. Lucy called the 3 years Paul was overseas, "the three happiest years of my life." If Paul had returned there would have been some period of happiness, or an explanation of its lack.
2. With the apparition side plot, at one time I thought a good title for this would have been The Woman in Black and White, with a surprise about the 'woman' at the end;
3. Part way through, I was reminded a little of the later Little Women; with Lucy as Jo, Graham as Laurie and Paul as Professor Bhaer. I know Paul enters the plot a lot earlier than Bhaer does;
4. I found the story very long and drawn out, with both interesting passages and then passages where I lost my attention.
5. I know some things are best left unexplained, but I felt like I was missing some details of Lucy's backstory. I missed them because I did find Lucy to be a more intriguing heroine than some others, like Agnes Grey.


message 46: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new)

Rosemarie | 8962 comments Mod
Lucy was an introverted character with some hidden depths and strengths that are missing in a character like Agnes Grey.


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