“Villette” was first published in 1953 and was received with admiration from public as well as critics. This is Charlotte Bronte’s last accomplished work before her untimely death in 1855.
As we have noted before, Charlotte wrote based on her observations and experiences from real life, so much so that the characters and events of her novels were identified by some of her acquaintances as their own. Villette is no exception to this, and the novel heavily reflects Charlotte’s own stay at Brussels to acquire the requisite education and skills for opening a school with her sisters in England.
|Publisher||:||Everyman Classisc (01/12/2009), and Others|
The novel is story of Lucy Snowe, plain, poor, forced to earn her livelihood and make her way in the world, which she does by working as a teacher in the town of Villette. Her only past acquaintance mentioned before leaving England are through a few opening chapters describing her stay at the age of fourteen with her godmother Mrs. Bretton, her son Graham and a little girl of six Paulina. But time and circumstances have estranged them and Lucy, left friendless and destitute leaves England and comes to Europe and by lucky co-incidences, gets work at a school run by Madam Beck. Madam Beck is a shrewd, calm, efficient woman who runs her empire by watching and spying over every living being under her roof.
At this school, Lucy meets Dr John, watches Madam Beck’s designs to secure him and his preference for one her pupils Ginevra Fanshawe. Left all alone at the school during long summer vacation she becomes hypochondriac and suffers from nervous fever resulting in her fainting on the streets one evening. Dr John takes her to his home, and she is reunited with Mrs Bretton there as Dr John Graham Bretton is none other than the son of her godmother. The connection between them is restored and Lucy develops a regard for Dr John, painfully aware that in no circumstances there is a hope of his returning her feelings in any other form than that of a kind and warm friend.
Fate also brings Paulina to Villette, now lady de Bosemppiere, and Lucy is left to watch, advance and approve the match between Dr John and Paulina. But, Lucy herself does receive warm and friendly attention from a dark, lttle, rough and rueful man of unsteady temper, M. Paul Emanuel, Madam Beck’s cousin and a teacher at the school. Over time, slowly, Lucy understands him, learns about his life, his charitable nature, his good deeds and his admiration for her. But, his friends and family are against their intimacy as he is Roman Catholic while Lucy is Protestant, and they contrive to send him to West Indies for three years. Lucy had witnessed Dr John’s love for other women withought complaint, but when this separation threatened to severe her, she could not appease herself to it.
Her feelings on this occasion are expressed as: “The love born of beauty was not mine; I had nothing in common with it: I could not dare meddle with it, but another love, venturing diffidently into life after long acquaintance, furnace-tried by pain, stamped by constancy, consolidated by affection’s pure and durable alloy, submitted by intellect to intellect’s own tests, and finally wrought up, by his own process, to his own unflawed completeness, this love that laughed at Passion, his fast frenzies and his hot and hurried extinction, in this love I had a vested interest; and whatever tended either to its culture or its destruction, I could not view impassibly.” But what could she do? Is it Lucy’s fate to struggle through a lonely and solitary life? Will she ever have a home and her independence? Will she ever experiecne merital bliss? If asked for, can she foresake her religion for love of a man?
Villette is written in the typical style of Charlotte, full of poetic narative about the internal struggles of the characters and their external surrounding. And though, the story wavers between the tales of different characters, the writer still manages to bring them together by the medium of Lucy as she views all and tells all. Once again, in Lucy there is a lot of Charlotte, the plainness that she was acutely aware of, the need for companionship, the hypochondria, the passionate feelings and nature that wanted to bend under the powerful master. Lucy’s journey to the ship in London port at night, her solitary era at school, her visit for confession to the catholic church, the performance at the theatre etc. were real events of Charlotte’s own life.
Charlotte’s couples never utter silly, romantic vows. Their intercourses are most of the time banter and quarrels and that is what makes them more real and more enjoyable, especially in the contrasting canvas of a highly civil society of 19th century England. “Vilette” is a book to be read and enjoyed at leisure. Happy Reading………