Review: Villette – Charlotte Bronte

07a - Villette

Rating – 3*

This book was great, but not perfect. Villette is a semi-autobiographical novel of Charlotte’s life, of her time working in Brussels, which may explain why it was so detailed. Compared to Jane Eyre this is darker, it’s a lot more grown up, the language is beautiful, but I hesitate to compare the two to the extent saying which was the better book. This book is a lot more mature, as I said, but if Jane Eyre is the story of true love, hope and positivity then this is the complete antithesis of that; it’s about a woman who has been disappointed, lost everything dear and has given up hoping and dreaming.

Villette follows the story of Lucy Snowe, an orphan with absolutely no family. It starts when she is around 14 and living with her godmother, Mrs Bretton. Eventually she ends up moving to Villette, a little village in France, wherein she ends up teaching English in a school. The majority of the book has very little to no clear plot, maybe it is because it was more autobiographical therefore that was the plot. It has to be said that it isn’t nearly as exciting or dramatic as I remember Jane Eyre being, but as can be expected from a Bronte, the prose and characters are exquisite.

Lucy Snowe is one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve come across, especially compared to Jane. She holds information back from the reader, never quite telling you everything. She is difficult to like and relate to but, somehow, I did find myself liking her come the end. For the first part of the book, she is a secondary character in her own story. She narrates her experiences as a child in her godmother’s home and tells the stories of Polly and Graham when they were children. While she is telling the story, we learn very little about her and this is somewhat true of most of the book, and even though the tone of the novel is mostly hopeful, there is always an underlying feeling of sadness and loneliness in Lucy’s narrative. Ultimately, Lucy is a proud woman who desires to make her own way in the world and I respected that.

On the whole, and thinking about it over night, I really loved this book. The ending was a bit of a shocker but I understand why it was written in such an ambiguous way. Initially I gave this 3*, mulling it over I think maybe 4* – it’s definitely a 3.5* at the very least! I did enjoy this but, have to say it, Anne is still my favourite Bronte!