Jane Eyre has never been one of my favorite literary novels. While some love the Brontes (Charlotte, Emily, or Anne), I’ve always been a Jane Austen girl. I never was drawn to the over-the-top nature of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights (especially because I don’t have a thing for brooding men). The first Bronte book that I ever truly did enjoy was Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I was surprised to like it–just as, more recently, I was very much surprised to find that I loved Villette by Charlotte Bronte on my first reading of it.
The heroine of Villette, Lucy Snowe, is the opposite of Jane Eyre in many ways. While Jane is passionate and filled with longing, Lucy forces herself to repress emotion and to become invisible in her surroundings. She doesn’t want to stand out and she’s terrified of wanting more in life than what she is given (she’s an orphan with no fortune and few friends). Her one longing in life is to remain independent, and she strives to earn her own wage in whatever situation she falls into.
After a series of misfortunes, Lucy becomes a teacher at a school in Villette. While working there, she reunites with some old friends of hers. This leads to unrequited love and frustration on Lucy’s part. Thankfully, she has her work and, eventually, the friendship of a professor help distract her.
Throughout the novel, Lucy is slowly drawn out of her protective shell, and in the end, she finally allows herself to want more than just a steady job and a roof over her head.
The plot of Villette is difficult to condense into a few words. There are so many thought-provoking themes running through this novel that it’s hard to pull out one and present it to you. The book deals with the contrary nature of Fate and Providence, the issues which come up when men separate women only into only the categories of whore or divine, and the difficulties of faith (whether it is continuing to have it when bad things happen or how two people from different faiths reconcile themselves to each other). I loved the complexity of this novel and it’s depth.
I want to talk about the ending–I really do–but since I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll refrain. Let me just saw that parts of it had me swooning and other parts broke my heart. It’s been a long while since I’ve gotten emotionally involved in a book and it was a wonderfully feeling to actually care what happened to the characters in the end.
I highly, highly recommend you read Villette. If you, like me, aren’t a Bronte fan, this might be the book that makes you rethink your opinion of Charlotte, at the very least. Villette is just a magnificent book and I don’t think it will disappoint you if you put in the time and give it a read.