Villette – Charlotte Brontë, The Best Brontë Book?

I wanted to read Villette for a very long time. It would be a lie if I said that I had not been excited since I read that it is much better than Jane Eyre and that the author is approaching perfection with this book. But I realised that I made a big mistake in reading this book in English. It would have been better if I read it in my mother tongue. Although I had to take frequent breaks from time to time to look at the dictionary and cool my burning brain, Villette has not lost anything of its beauty. If you’ve read Charlotte Bronte before and liked what you read, you should read Villette.


Villette - Charlotte Brontë

Villette’s main protagonist, Lucy Snowe, is miles away from the reader, a character that is not easy to love as soon as beginning the book. But as you slowly follow her, you cannot help but admire Lucy. Lucy, an intelligent woman, standing on her own two feet in the Victorian era.

When she leaves her homeland of England and arrives at Villette, she takes only her strong personality with her, and with the help of luck, she finds herself a job as a teacher in this foreign city. Lucy slowly gets to know herself, with many events, both small and large, afterwards. If you like classics, I think you may like it very much, but I cannot say that you will not be bored in some chapters. Enjoy!

Villette - Charlotte Brontë


Villette is Charlotte Brontë’s powerful autobiographical novel of one woman’s search for true love, edited with an introduction by Helen M. Cooper in Penguin Classics.

With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There, she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, the hostility of headmistress Madame Beck, and her own complex feelings – first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor Paul Emanuel. Drawing on her own deeply unhappy experiences as a governess in Brussels, Charlotte Brontë’sautobiographical novel, the last published during her lifetime, is a powerfully moving study of loneliness and isolation, and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.

Helen M. Cooper’s new introduction places the novel in the context of Brontë’s life and career and argues for the importance of the novel as an exploration of imperialism.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-55), eldest of the Brontë sisters, was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire. Jane Eyre was first published in 1847 under the pen-name Currer Bell, and was followed by Shirley (1848) and Vilette (1853). In 1854 Charlotte Brontë married her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. She died during her pregnancy on 31 March 1855 in Haworth, Yorkshire. The Professor was posthumously published in 1857.

If you liked Villette, you may enjoy Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, also available in Penguin Classics.

‘I am only just returned to a sense of real wonder about me, for I have been reading Villette
George Eliot

‘Her finest novel’
Virginia Woolf

Charlotte Brontë

Most famous for her passionate novel Jane Eyre (1847), Charlotte Brontë also published poems and three other novels. She was the third of six children of Patrick Brontë, an Irish crofter’s son who rose via a Cambridge education to become, in 1820, a perpetual curate at Haworth, in Yorkshire. Charlotte was only five in 1821 when her mother Maria died. Four years later her two older sisters died as a result of the harsh conditions in the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, Lancashire to which they and the eight-year-old Charlotte were sent in 1824.

Charlotte’s experiences at the school influenced her portrayal of Lowood School in Jane Eyre. After the death of the two oldest Brontë daughters, Patrick and Maria’s sister Elizabeth gave the children a stimulating and wide-ranging education at home. Charlotte, her two younger sisters Anne and Emily Brontë, and their brilliant, unstable brother Branwell invented complex imaginary worlds, which they wrote about extensively in tiny homemade books – a fruitful literary apprenticeship. Aged 15, Charlotte enrolled at a new school not far from Haworth. Roe Head School was less harsh than the Clergy Daughters’ School, but Charlotte spent only 18 months there before returning home.

As an adult, Charlotte worked as a governess and spent some years teaching at a boarding school in Brussels; her unrequited love for the school’s headmaster, informed her novels Villette (1853) and The Professor (published posthumously in 1857). It was the passion and rebellion of Jane Eyre (1847) that earned her fame, and when visiting London she moved in the best literary circles, befriended by Mrs Gaskell and Thackeray – the latter remembered ‘the trembling little frame, the little hand, the great honest eyes’. Shirley (1849), written during and after the tragic deaths of her three siblings within a single year, displayed Charlotte’s engagement with both women’s rights and radical workers’ movements.

In June 1854, she married her father’s curate Arthur Nicholls, who had long been a loyal suitor. She became pregnant but, severely weakened by morning sickness, died aged 38 on 31 March 1855.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

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