Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In Villette, Brontë once again tells the story from the point of view of an autobiographical narrator. Unlike Jane Eyre, however, the narrator of Villette, Lucy Snowe, is neither entirely reliable nor likable. Her unpleasant nature and habit of withholding information from the reader is responsible for the lack of critical consensus about Villette. While some literary scholars see the novel as a well-constructed discourse on the repressive nature of Victorian society, others view it as a disordered representation of a neurotic character. The mixed response to Villette was evident in the first reviews it received, and it never achieved the popularity of Jane Eyre.
There are marked similarities between Villette and Jane Eyre: Both narrators are orphans, both teach to earn their livings, and both consider themselves unattractive. In both novels, Brontë drew on her own experience to create a realistic setting; indeed, Villette is placed in the same Belgian territory as Brontë’s first novel, The Professor. Yet Villette differs from the previous novels in a number of important ways. Formally, the shifting focus, plot coincidences, and length of time that passes between Lucy’s narration and the events that she recounts all challenge the conventions of the realistic novel. This departure is particularly evident in the ending, when Lucy refuses to explain what has...
(The entire section is 753 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
As a young girl, Lucy Snowe visits her godmother, Mrs. Bretton, about twice each year. It is a warm, active household, and Lucy loves Mrs. Bretton. During one of Lucy’s visits, young Polly Home, whose widowed father is leaving England for the Continent, comes to stay with the Brettons. Polly is mature and worldly for her years, and she develops a tender, almost maternal, fondness for Mrs. Bretton’s son, Graham. Because Lucy shares a room with the young visitor, she becomes the recipient of her confidences. Polly’s father had originally intended to send his daughter to Mrs. Bretton’s home for an extended stay, but he becomes lonely for her and returns to take his daughter back to Europe with him. Lucy’s visits with the Brettons come to an end when they lose their property and move away. After that, Lucy loses track of her godmother.
As a grown woman, Lucy earns her living by acting as a companion to elderly women. Tiring of her humdrum existence, she travels to France. There an unusual chain of circumstances leads her to the city of Villette and to a school run by Madame Beck and her kinsman, Monsieur Paul Emanuel. Owing to Lucy’s calm disposition, ready wit, firm character, and cultivated intellect, she soon receives an appointment as instructor of English at the school.
Attending the school is Ginevra Fanshawe, a pretty but flighty and selfish girl whose relationship with Lucy takes the form of a scornful friendship. Madame Beck...
(The entire section is 1192 words.)