Villette (novel)
Villette is a novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood, whose novels are English literature standards...

, published in 1853. After an unspecified family disaster, protagonist Lucy Snowe travels to the fictional city of Villette to teach at an all-girls school where she is unwillingly pulled into both adventure and romance. The novel is celebrated not so much for its plot as its acute tracing of Lucy's psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, particularly Brontë's use of Gothic doubling
Gothic double
In literature, the term Gothic double refers to an essential duality within a single character on the further presumption that this duality centers on the polarity of good and evil. An example of this could be Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.-External links:**...

 to represent externally what her protagonist is suffering internally.

Biographical background

In 1842, Brontë travelled to Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 with her sister Emily
Emily Brontë
Emily Jane Brontë 30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848) was an English novelist and poet, best remembered for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature. Emily was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings, between the youngest Anne and her brother...

, where they enrolled in a pensionnat (boarding school) run by M. and Mme. Constantin Héger
Constantin Heger
Constantin Georges Romain Héger was a Belgian teacher of the Victorian era. He is best remembered today for his association with Emily and Charlotte Brontë during the 1840s.-Early life:...

. In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. Their time at the pensionnat was cut short when Elizabeth Branwell, their aunt who had joined the family after the death of their mother to look after the children, died of internal obstruction in October 1842. Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the pensionnat. Her second stay at the pensionnat was not a happy one; she became lonely, homesick
Homesickness is the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from the specific home environment or attachment objects....

 and fell in love with M. Héger. She finally returned to her family's rectory
A rectory is the residence, or former residence, of a rector, most often a Christian cleric, but in some cases an academic rector or other person with that title...

 at Haworth
Haworth is a rural village in the City of Bradford metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire, England. It is located amongst the Pennines, southwest of Keighley and west of Bradford. The surrounding areas include Oakworth and Oxenhope...

 in January 1844.

Brontë drew on this source material for her first, unsuccessful novel The Professor
The Professor (novel)
The Professor was the first novel by Charlotte Brontë. It was originally written before Jane Eyre and rejected by many publishing houses, but was eventually published posthumously in 1857 by approval of Arthur Bell Nicholls, who accepted the task of reviewing and editing of the novel.-Plot...

. After several publishers rejected this early work, Brontë reworked the material as a basis for Villette. In particular, most literary historians believe the character
Fictional character
A character is the representation of a person in a narrative work of art . Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr , the earliest use in English, in this sense, dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of...

 of M. Paul Emanuel to be closely based on M. Héger. Furthermore, the character of Graham Bretton is widely acknowledged to have been modelled on Brontë's publisher, George Murray Smith
George Murray Smith
George Murray Smith was the son of George Smith who with Alexander Elder started the Victorian publishing firm of Smith, Elder & Co.. His brainchild, The Cornhill Magazine, was the premier fiction-carrying magazine of the 19th century.The firm was extremely successful. G. M...

, who was at one time a potential suitor.

Plot summary

Villette begins with its famously passive and secretive protagonist, Lucy Snowe, age 14, observing her godmother, Mrs. Bretton, Mrs. Bretton's son, Graham, and a young visitor, Paulina Home, known to everyone as "Polly." The child is a peculiar little thing and soon develops a deep devotion for the older Graham, who showers her with attention until her stay is cut short when her father comes to take her away.

Lucy left the house soon after the child's departure, and after some initial hesitation, she was hired as a carer by Miss Marchmont, a rheumatic crippled woman. Soon she was accustomed to her new career and host, and started feeling content with the quiet lifestyle. However, in an evening with dramatic weather changes, Miss Marchmont magically regained all her energies and felt young again. She shared her sad love story thirty years ago with Lucy, and concluded that she should try to treat Lucy better, be a better person since then and would get together with her dead lover through death. In the very next morning, Lucy found Miss Marchmont peacefully lifeless in bed.

In the ensuing years, an unspecified family tragedy forces Lucy into action, causing her to seek employment, and at age 23 she boards a ship for "Labassecour" (French for 'farmyard' and based on Belgium) despite not speaking a word of French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 on a hope that maybe she may find something in a new place. After arriving in the capital city of Villette, Lucy finds work as a teacher at Mme. Beck's boarding school
Boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...

 for girls (which can be seen as a literary representation of the Hégers' Brussels pensionnat), and thrives despite Mme. Beck's constant surveillance
Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people. It is sometimes done in a surreptitious manner...

 of the students and staff.

Dr. John, a handsome English doctor, frequently visits the school because of his love for the coquette Ginevra. In one of Villettes famous plot twist
Plot twist
A plot twist is a change in the expected direction or outcome of the plot of a film, television series, video game, novel, comic or other fictional work. It is a common practice in narration used to keep the interest of an audience, usually surprising them with a revelation...

s, Dr. John is later revealed to be Graham Bretton, a fact that Lucy has known but deliberately concealed from the reader. After Dr. John discovers Ginevra's unworthiness, his brotherly instincts turn his attention to Lucy, and they become close friends which she values very highly despite her usual emotional reserve. We meet "Polly" again at this point (although her father has come into the title de Bassompierre which makes her now Paulina Home de Bassompierre) when Dr. Bretton saves her from being trodden upon at the theatre one night. They soon discover that they know each other and renew their friendship, which quickly blossoms into something more. The two fall in love and eventually marry, which Lucy has long seen coming, and she understands without sharing their facile happiness.

At the same time, Lucy has the first of several encounters with a shadowy nun in the attic who may be the ghost of a nun
A nun is a woman who has taken vows committing her to live a spiritual life. She may be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent...

 buried alive on the grounds for breaking her vows of chastity
Chastity refers to the sexual behavior of a man or woman acceptable to the moral standards and guidelines of a culture, civilization, or religion....

; in a highly symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ic scene, she finally finds the nun's habit in her bed and destroys it. She later discovers it to be the disguise of Ginevra's amour, de Hamal.

Lucy finds herself becoming closer to a colleague, the fiery schoolmaster M. Paul Emanuel; the two eventually fall in love. However, a group of conspiring antagonists, including Mme. Beck, the priest Père Silas, and the relatives of M. Paul's long-dead fiancée, struggle to keep the two apart, and finally succeed in forcing M. Paul's departure for the West Indies to oversee his plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

 there. He nonetheless declares his love for Lucy before his departure, and arranges for her to live independently as the headmistress of her own day school
Day school
A day school—as opposed to a boarding school—is an institution where children are given educational instruction during the day and after which children/teens return to their homes...

 or externat, which she later expands into a pensionnat. Villettes final pages are ambiguous; though Lucy says that she wants to leave the reader free to imagine a happy ending
Happy ending
A happy ending is an ending of the plot of a work of fiction in which almost everything turns out for the best for the protagonists, their sidekicks, and almost everyone except the villains....

, she hints strongly that M. Paul's ship was destroyed by a storm on his return from the West Indies, killing him. She claims, for example, that "the three happiest years of [her] life" were those before M. Paul's return journey, which would suggest that he did indeed fall victim to the "destroying angel of tempest
Tempest or The Tempest may refer to:Tempest, a violent storm- Fiction :* The Tempest, a 1611 play by William Shakespeare** The Tempest , a 1667 adaptation of Shakespeare's play by John Dryden and William D'Avenant...

". Brontë described the ambiguity in the ending as a "little puzzle".


Villette is most commonly celebrated for its explorations of gender roles and repression
Psychological repression
Psychological repression, also psychic repression or simply repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one's own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one's consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious...

. In The Madwoman in the Attic
The Madwoman in the Attic
The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, published in 1979, examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective...

, critics Sandra Gilbert
Sandra Gilbert
Sandra M. Gilbert , Professor Emerita of English at the University of California, Davis, is an influential literary critic and poet who has published widely in the fields of feminist literary criticism, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic criticism...

 and Susan Gubar
Susan Gubar
Dr. Susan D. Gubar is an American academic and Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Indiana University. She is co-author with Dr. Sandra M. Gilbert of the standard feminist text, The Madwoman in the Attic and a trilogy on women's writing in the twentieth century.Her book...

 have argued that the character of Lucy Snowe is based in part on William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

's Lucy poems, emphasizing this idea of a feminine re-writing. In addition, critics have explored the issues of Lucy's psychological state in terms of the patriarchal constructs that form her cultural context.

Villette also incisively explores isolation and cross-cultural conflict in Lucy's attempts to master the French language, as well as the conflicts between her English Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 and the Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 (her denunciation of which is unsparing: 'God is not with Rome') of Labassecour.


Lucy Snowe: The narrator and main character of Villette. A 23-year-old self-reliant, quiet, intelligent young lady; she has, as Miss Ginevra Fanshawe asserts, ‘no attractive accomplishments – no beauty,’ and no relations. Though usually reserved and emotionally self-controlled (‘I, Lucy Snowe, was calm’), she has strong feelings and affections for those she really values, and even sincerely cares for the giddy Ginevra, albeit in a blunt curmudgeonly fashion. She is a firm Protestant, and denounces Roman Catholicism as false (‘God is not with Rome’). She is generally cool and collected (for instance, at the fire at the theatre, she is firm and calm, while Paulina is knocked down, almost crushed).

M. Paul Carlos David Emanuel: A fiery, autocratic schoolmaster, a professor of literature; moody, irritable, blunt, and hot-tempered, he is apt to fly into passions and roar out lectures without hesitation. However, he shows a surprisingly naïve love of power, of applause, and of supremacy at times, which much amuses Lucy. Despite all his faults and bursts of fire at little trifles, Lucy relishes his good qualities. He is generous: he delights in giving Lucy secret presents, and when he holds a breakfast out in the country for his students, he is never stingy; if rather brusque at times, his frank sincerity, especially well displayed in his childlike praying, is refreshing to Lucy; he is strong and able, like his kinswoman, Madame Beck; he is kind and magnanimous, as is shown by his supporting and sheltering the loveless misanthrope grandmother of his dead fiancée, Justine Marie, together with his old tutor and servant, faithfully. He has a habit of smoking, which Lucy does not approve of, but which he seems to enjoy immensely. He is a Catholic, and therefore frightened by Lucy's Protestantism, but is somewhat reassured when Lucy herself affirms that she believes and loves God and the Bible, and finally gives up trying to convert her to Catholicism. His black head is as close-shorn as raven-down, he has a broad, sallow brow, a thin cheek, a wide, quivering nostril, and a passionate eye. He is related to the cool Madame Beck, and is a great help to her in the school. It is strongly hinted that he dies at the end of the story.

Dr. John Graham Bretton: A handsome, gentlemanly young English doctor, the son of Lucy's godmother. He is described as ‘sunny,’ ‘supple,’ ‘cheerful,’ ‘benignant,’ and ‘bland.’ Lucy, when young, showed no particular fondness for him as did Polly, saying, "I told you I liked him a little. Where is the use of caring for him so very much? He is full of faults." However, when they meet again ten years later, their cool friendship is more than rekindled, and Lucy secretly begins to cherish affection for him. He does not return this affection, however, any more than the usual boundaries of friendship, and lightly calls her "quiet Lucy Snowe," and "a being inoffensive as a shadow." He has, at first, a passion for Ginevra Fanshawe, which she treats very irreverently, "for amusement, sometimes." Her love of money and sneer at Mrs. Bretton quenches his love at last, and he later falls in love with Paulina, and they have a happy marriage. Lucy conquers her own affection for him, and symbolically buries all his treasured letters to her, saying, "Good-night, Dr John; you are good, you are beautiful; but you are not mine. Good-night, and God bless you!"

Mrs. Bretton: Dr John Graham Bretton's mother and Lucy's godmother. She is a widow, and has "health without flaw," and an even, equal, cheerful temper and supply of steady sense.

Ginevra Fanshawe: A very pretty, blooming, but rather shallow and selfish young girl of eighteen, with a light, careless temperament. She is very vain, but not proud, thus making a sort of friend and confidant of Lucy; an incorrigible coquette, with a relish for flirtation, but "honest enough," as Lucy puts it. She is a student at Madame Beck's, and it is her random, slight remark, "I wish you would come to Madame Beck's; she has some marmots you might look after: she wants an English gouvernante, or was wanting one two months ago," which prompts Lucy to go to Villette. With all her selfishness and faults, however, Lucy does cherish a certain fondness for her: ‘while we wrangled daily, we were never alienated.’ She thinks of Lucy as ‘caustic, ironic, and cynical,’ calling her ‘old lady’ and ‘dear crosspatch,’ and most frequently ‘Timon,’ after a Greek philosopher renowned for his austere style of living (SOED). She elopes with a man named de Hamal later, and keeps in touch with Lucy via letter.

Polly Home/Paulina Mary de Bassompierre: an eighteen-year-old cousin of Ginevra Fanshawe. She is first introduced to the story when a very little girl, called "Missy" or "Polly." She is capricious and whimsical towards Lucy, polite and "tractable enough" towards Mrs. Bretton, but excessively fond of John Graham Bretton. ‘Oh! I do like you…I do like you very much," she says once. Later, she grows up to be a quite beautiful young lady of eighteen, delicate and intelligent. She loves her father deeply, and upon meeting Graham again, their friendship develops into love. She does show, however, a chord of shallowness: she has a portion of pride, and Lucy says, "She looked a mere doll," and describes her as shaped like "a model." However, the two like each other, and though Lucy is often pained by her relationship with Dr Bretton, she gently looks upon their happiness without a grudge.

Mr. de Bassompierre: A sensitive and thoughtful count, who very dearly loves his daughter (‘she is my comfort!’)—he hates parting with her; when he playfully suggests that Paulina enroll in Madame Beck's school, Paulina said that he was sure to come with her, as he did the last time he enrolled her in a school; and when he observes Paulina's relationship with Dr Bretton, he is very averse to parting with her (‘I don’t want to part with her,’ said he, and he groaned). He regards her as a mere child, however, and calls her his ‘little treasure,’ or ‘little Polly.’ He at last relinquishes Polly to Dr Bretton, however, saying, "May God deal with you as you deal with her!"

Fraulein Anna Braun: Polly and Lucy's German mistress, a hearty, honest woman of about forty-five. She is afraid of, and is fascinated by, Paulina, who sometimes treats her with cool pride, and leans more towards Lucy.

Madame Modeste Maria Beck: The headmistress of the boarding school for girls where Lucy works at. She is rather short and stout, but not uncomely: her complexion is fresh and sanguine, with the color, but not the texture, of youth; her eye is blue and serene; and "she looked well, though a little bourgeois…" She has strong sense, though unblended with the gentleness of kindness and feeling, and possesses high administration powers. Lucy says, "…she had no heart to be touched: it reminded her where she was impotent and dead," and she goes on further to describe her as "wise, firm, faithless; secret, crafty, passionless; watchful and inscrutable; acute and insensate – withal perfectly decorous – what more could be desired?" She seems to have a lurking liking for Dr John at first, but it dies away quickly; and she seeks to marry M. Emanuel herself, doing all she can to break Lucy and M. Emanuel up.

Rosine: the unprincipled though pretty portress at Madame Beck's boarding school. She is "smart, trim, and pert", but "not a bad sort of person", according to Lucy, and likes bribes.


In 1970
1970 in television
The year 1970 in television involved some significant events.Below is a list of television-related events in 1970.For the American TV schedule, see: 1970-71 American network television schedule.-Events:...

, the BBC produced a television miniseries based on Villette, directed by Moira Armstrong
Moira Armstrong
Moira Armstrong is an English television director who has worked mainly for the BBC..Her credits include episodes of Armchair Thriller , Lark Rise to Candleford, Where the Heart Is, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Something in Disguise, The Wednesday Play, and Adam Adamant Lives!, as well as the film...

 and written by Lennox Phillips. It starred Judy Parfitt
Judy Parfitt
Judy Parfitt is a BAFTA-nominated English theatre, film and television actress who began her career on stage in 1954.-Life and work:...

 as Lucy Snowe, Bryan Marshall
Bryan Marshall
Bryan Marshall is an English actor, with a number of major credits in film and television to his name.Marshall was born in Clapham, London...

 as Dr Graham Bretton, Peter Jeffrey
Peter Jeffrey
Peter Jeffrey was a British actor with many roles in television and film.Jeffrey was born in Bristol, the son of Florence Alice and Arthur Winfred Gilbert Jeffrey. He was educated at Harrow School and Pembroke College, Cambridge but had no formal training as an actor...

 as Paul Emmanuel, and Mona Bruce as Mme Beck.

In 1999, the novel was also adapted as a 3-hour radio serial
Serial (radio and television)
Serials are series of television programs and radio programs that rely on a continuing plot that unfolds in a sequential episode by episode fashion. Serials typically follow main story arcs that span entire television seasons or even the full run of the series, which distinguishes them from...

 for BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

, broadcast in February 1999 with Catherine McCormack
Catherine McCormack
Catherine McCormack is an English actress, known for her stage acting as well as her screen performances in films such as Braveheart, Spy Game and Dangerous Beauty.- Early life :...

 as Lucy Snowe, Joseph Fiennes
Joseph Fiennes
Joseph Fiennes is an English film and stage actor. He is perhaps best known for his portrayals of William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, Sir Robert Dudley in Elizabeth, Commisar Danilov in Enemy at the Gates, Martin Luther in Luther, Merlin in Camelot, and his portrayal of Mark Benford in the...

 as Dr Graham Bretton, Harriet Walter
Harriet Walter
Dame Harriet Mary Walter, DBE is a British actress.-Personal life:She is the niece of renowned British actor Sir Christopher Lee, as the daughter of his elder sister Xandra Lee. On her father's side she is a great-great-great-granddaughter of John Walter, founder of The TimesShe was educated at...

 as Mme Beck, James Laurenson
James Laurenson
James Laurenson is a New Zealand actor, who has performed many classical roles on stage and television.Laurenson was born in Marton, New Zealand...

 as Paul Emmanuel, and Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley
Keira Christina Knightley born 26 March 1985) is an English actress and model. She began acting as a child and came to international notice in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham...

 as Polly. It was directed by Catherine Bailey
Catherine Bailey
-Acting career:Catherine Bailey started acting at the age of 12 when she landed the lead role of Helen Green in Uncle Jack, a BBC television series starring Paul Jones and Fenella Fielding...

 and written by James Friel. Villette went on to win a Sony Award.

In August 2009, the novel was also adapted as a two week-long serial for BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

, directed by Tracey Neale with Anna Maxwell Martin as Lucy.

Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid is a Caribbean novelist, gardener, and gardening writer. She was born in the city of St. John's on the island of Antigua in the nation of Antigua and Barbuda...

's novel Lucy
Lucy (novel)
Lucy is a short novel or novella by Jamaica Kincaid. The story begins in medias res: the eponymous Lucy has come from the West Indies to the United States to be an au pair for a wealthy Caucasian family...

draws numerous themes, character names, and plot elements from Villette, both echoing its concern of female repression while also offering an implicit postcolonial
Post-colonialism is a specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism...

critique of the novel's slave-owning love interest.

External links

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