Villette by Charlotte Bronte
"Bronte's finest work!" said Virginia Woolf
Protagonist, ten year old Lucy Snowe, observes her godmother, Mrs. Bretton, her son, Graham Bretton, and a young visitor, Paulina Home de Bassompierre. Paulina adores Graham, but he doesn’t notice her in a romantic way because she is only six years old. After a family tragedy occurs, Lucy now 23 years old sails to “Labassecour” in Belgium in the novel even though she doesn’t speak French. Once she arrives in the capital city of Villette, Lucy works as a teacher at a boarding school for girls run by Mme. Beck. This school could be the faux representation of Hegers’ Brussels pensionnat where Charlotte Bronte and her sister Emily Bronte taught and were students in Brussels.
In Villette, Lucy thrives in her new environment and the lonely girl notices the handsome English doctor, Dr. John, who is in love with Ginevra. Bronte, spins a plot twist where Dr. John is late revealed to be another person altogether! Ginevra cannot be bothered so he turns his attentions to lonely Lucy who falls in love with him even though her emotions scream otherwise. It is not to be for poor Lucy and Bronte throws a third party into the mix resulting in an unforeseen love triangle! Go 1853!!
Gothic elements abound at this point in Villette where Lucy has several encounters with the shadowy figure of a nun in the attic. Yes, the attic; where else! No this isn’t Jane Eyre but this ghostly figure may connect to a sub plot of a nun who was buried alive on the grounds of Mme. Beck’s boarding school for breaking her vows of chastity; a nun’s habit is destroyed and another character’s secret identity is revealed!
Lucy does find love at the boarding school so Villette is not a complete romantic tragedy; there are the family members who try to keep them apart, he leaves for a while and we have the pining of sad Lucy missing her love and the discovery and test of whether or not it is real love after all!
Charlotte Bronte leaves the final pages of Villette up to the reader to form their own conclusion about Lucy’s happy ending. She however, hints at Paul’s ship being destroyed in a storm on his sail back to her and his possible death! Oh no!! Not a Miranda the Tempest moment!!
If you would like to read one of my older articles about Charlotte Bronte's real life teaching at Brussels, The Tale of Unrequited Love