Villette (novel)

novel by Charlotte Brontë

Villette is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë. It is based on her experience as an English teacher in Brussels. Villette is a moving story of hidden feelings and dignity, and a woman's right to love and be loved. People like the book, not so much for its plot, but for the careful and detailed picture of Lucy (the main character)'s feelings and emotions. Charlotte Brontë used Gothic buildings and other things to show Lucy's feelings inside.

Title page of the first edition of Villette
AuthorCharlotte Brontë
CountryUnited Kingdom
Victorian literature
PublisherSmith, Elder & Co.
Publication date
January 1853
Media typePrint: hardback octavo
Pages993, in three volumes
LC ClassPR4167 .V5
Preceded byShirley 
Followed byThe Professor 
TextVillette at Wikisource
Charlotte Brontë

Plot summary change

The story starts with Lucy Snowe at age 14 observing a visitor at her godmother, Lousia Bretton's, house, a little girl called "Polly" or "Missy." (Her real name is Paulina Mary Home). Polly loves her papa very, very much, and when he leaves, is extremely unhappy. However, she soon starts to like Mrs. Bretton's young son, Graham, and they become great friends. Later, when Lucy tells her she has to leave and see her father again, Polly is very surprised and sad. Lucy comforts her, and they part.

Later, a family trouble (the book does not say what) forces Lucy into action-she goes onto a ship heading for the fictional kingdom of Labassecour (modelled on Belgium). On there, she makes friends with a very pretty and selfish girl named Ginevra Fanshawe. When she arrives at Villette, the capital of Labassecour, a gentleman helps her find her trunk, and she finally finds work as a teacher in Madame Beck's boarding school. Madame Beck is a cool, clever, careful woman, who often spies and searches the teachers, firing and hiring easily. However, Lucy is quite satisfied, if not happy, there. Ginevra Fanshawe is a student there, and she and Lucy become friends again. They usually fight with each other because of Ginevra's silliness, but they never get separated completely. Later, young English Dr. John (the gentleman who helped her when she first came to Villette) keeps on visiting the school because he loves Ginevra, who says she doesn't like him much. Later, Dr. John is discovered to actually be Graham Bretton, and Lucy and Graham become friends again. Lucy begins to love him secretly, but tries her best to keep her feelings hidden. Eventually, though, she buries her love for him by symbolically burying all the letters he sent to her.

Dr. John meets little Polly again, now a young and beautiful countess, and they quickly become friends again - and something more. They marry and have a happy life.

During the course of the novel, Lucy has three encounters with the figure of a nun. Near the end of the novel, she discovers that the 'nun' was actually Count Alfred de Hamal, dressed in a disguise.

Meanwhile, Lucy begins to be good friends with Professor Emanuel, and they fall in love. However, lots of people, including Madame Beck, try hard to break the two up, and at last force him to travel away. Professor Emanuel and Lucy declare their love for each other before Professor Emanuel leaves, making Lucy the principal (headmistress) of a school in the meantime. However, it is hinted that he probably dies on the trip home.

Characters change

  • Lucy Snowe: Lucy is a usually very quiet, but thoughtful and calm girl. She is very brave and strong, and a bit like Jane Eyre, she is very honest. She is not vain, and says that she is not pretty. Ginevra wonders, "Who are you?" and says she is strange and mysterious. She did not like Graham Bretton as much as Polly when she was young, but when she grew up and met him again, she secretly began to love him. However, she very quietly and unselfishly watches Polly and Graham's happiness together, and admits, " are not mine." Later, she and Professor Emanuel fall in love with each other, but lots of people try to stop them from marrying.
  • Professor Pual Emanuel: He gets angry easily and is very irritable, but he is also generous and kind. He can be proud, and likes people to think he is great. He gets jealous easily, and likes to smoke.
  • Dr. John Graham Bretton: A very handsome doctor, the son of Lucy's godmother. He is known sometimes as Dr. John, Dr. Bretton, or Graham by his mother. He is cheerful and good-tempered. He does not know Lucy loves him, and thinks of her as "quiet Lucy Snowe," and he admits she "...tasted nothing of my grace."
  • Mrs Bretton: Dr. John Bretton's mother and Lucy's godmother. She is a widow and has good health and spirits. She is very proud of her son, but still teases him.
  • Polly Home/Countess Paulina Mary de Bassompierre: A 17-year-old girl who is the cousin of Ginevra Fanshawe. When she was young, she was nicknamed called Polly. When she was a child, she liked Graham. She grows up to be beautiful and smart. When she meets Graham again, their friendship turns into love, and they marry.
  • Mr. Home/Count de Bassompierre: Paulina's father, who inherited his noble title recently. He loves his daughter. When he notices Paulina's relationship with Graham, he has a hard time accepting that his daughter is now a grown woman. He treats her as a small child and calls her "little Polly." He finally lets Graham marry Paulina.
  • Ginevra Fanshawe: A pretty but vain 18-year-old girl. Even though she is related to the de Bassonpierres, her own family is not rich. She expects others to pay for her expensive tastes. Lucy meets her on a ship, which she takes her to Villette. Ginevra is a student at Madame Beck's school. She prompts Lucy to go to Villette, saying that Madame Beck wants a English governess for her own children. Even though Ginevra had many faults, Lucy is still good friends with her. Ginevra teases Lucy by calling her "old lady" and "Timon". Ginevra uses Graham, asking him to pay for her clothes and accessories until he does not like her. She eventually elopes with Count Alfred de Hamal.
  • Count Alfred de Hamal: A colonel-count and Ginevra's admirer. He has a European appearance.
  • Madame Beck: The headmistress of the boarding school for girls where Lucy works at. She is short and plump, but not ugly. She is a very good administrator. She spies on everyone. Lucy describes 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 like Graham at first, but that goes away soon. She then wants to marry Professor Paul Emanuel. She keeps Lucy and Paul apart.

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