Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1326
Lucy Snowe, a quiet, intelligent, and hardworking young English girl whose grave demeanor covers a deeply passionate nature. Orphaned at an early age, she spends her childhood in the homes of distant relatives and with her godmother, Mrs. Bretton. Later, through a varied chain of circumstances, she goes to Villette, a city on the Continent, where she becomes a governess in the household of Madame Beck, the mistress of a boarding school for girls. Before long, Madame Beck gives her a post as a teacher of English in the school. Eventually, with the help of Monsieur Paul Emanuel, another teacher at the school, she secures a school of her own. At the end of the novel, she anticipates marrying M. Paul.
Dr. John Graham Bretton
Dr. John Graham Bretton, called Dr. John, the son of Lucy’s godmother, now living in Villette. He is the kindhearted, handsome young physician who attends Madame Beck’s children. Lucy had known him earlier in her life as a mischievous boy who had little time for girls. His recognition of Lucy comes when he is summoned to revive her after she has fainted while leaving a church. For a time, romance seems about to flower between Lucy and Dr. John, but when Paulina de Bassompierre once more appears in the lives of the Brettons, Dr. John’s heart goes to her. At the end of the novel, Pauline and Dr. John marry.
Mrs. Bretton, John’s mother and Lucy’s godmother, a handsome and vivacious widow. She cares for Lucy after the child has been orphaned. Mrs. Bretton is most attentive to the details of domesticity, and her home and life testify to this interest. In Villette once more, she and her son care for Lucy.
Monsieur Paul Emanuel
Monsieur Paul Emanuel, Madame Beck’s cousin, the instructor in music and French at her school. Hot-tempered and passionate, he falls deeply in love with Lucy and hates to see her in the company of Dr. John. At the beginning of his interest in Lucy, he constantly admonishes her and tries to draw her out with his discussions. Later, his manner becomes less abrupt, and because of the consideration and tenderness he shows, she finally falls in love with him. Before he leaves for a three-year journey abroad, he makes arrangements to establish her in a school of her own. The two plan to marry when he returns.
Madame Beck, a cold, dumpy looking, and self-controlled headmistress of a school for girls in Villette who hires Lucy Snowe to teach English. Always in possession of herself, Madame Beck is an outrageously curious person, snooping in Lucy’s desk and drawers whenever she feels the occasion warrants it and restlessly prowling, ghostlike, through the school at night. She, together with her relatives, tries to block the romance of Lucy and M. Paul, but her efforts are thwarted.
Paulina Mary Home de Bassompierre
Paulina Mary Home de Bassompierre (hohm deh bah-sohm-PYEHR), also called Polly Home, a beautiful and poised young lady who marries Dr. Bretton. She first appears in the story as a lonely, small girl called Paulina Home. Because her father, Mr. Home, is forced to leave her for a time with the Brettons, she falls into a state of depression broken only by the attentions of young John Bretton. She transfers all her affection for her father to the schoolboy and ignores Lucy Snowe’s efforts to help her. She grows into a charming young woman and marries her old playfellow, who is now known as Dr. John.
Mr. Home, also known as...
(This entire section contains 1326 words.)
Monsieur de Bassompierre, a distant cousin of Mrs. Bretton and the father of Paulina Home, to whom he is completely devoted. Because his wife was a giddy, flirtatious woman who never gave her husband the warmth and love he bestowed on her, he became very close to his daughter, and he is quite reluctant for her to marry anyone. Finally, he is reconciled to her marriage with Dr. John and looks forward to becoming one of their household.
Miss Marchmont, a woman of fortune, a rheumatic cripple when Lucy goes to care for her after living with the Brettons. Miss Marchmont’s lover had died when she was young, and the old woman has turned into a firm, patient, and sometimes morose person who cares a great deal for Lucy. When Miss Marchmont dies, Lucy is once more forced to go into the world to make her own living.
Mrs. Barrett, the old servant of Miss Marchmont, also fond of Lucy Snowe.
Mrs. Leigh, an old schoolmate of Lucy, a comely, good-natured woman. Her French maid suggests to Lucy, after Miss Marchmont’s death, that there are many English girls living on the Continent and that perhaps Lucy can find a position abroad.
Ginevra Fanshawe (zhih-NEH-vrah FAN-shah), a vain and proud but attractive girl, Paulina Home’s cousin. She is a passenger aboard the Vivid, the ship on which Lucy crosses the channel, and is a student at Madame Beck’s school. She carries on a flirtation with Dr. John while at the same time meeting Alfred de Hamal secretly on Madame Beck’s premises. Spoiled and unscrupulous, Ginevra torments Lucy with constant demands for attention. Eventually, she elopes with Alfred de Hamal, and the two are married.
Colonel Alfred de Hamal
Colonel Alfred de Hamal, one of Ginevra’s suitors and eventually her husband, a dandified figure in fashionable society. He disguises himself as a nun to hold many rendezvous with Ginevra in Madame Beck’s establishment.
Mrs. Cholmondeley (CHUHL-mo[n]-deh-lay), Ginevra’s chaperon at many parties, a woman of fashion in Villette who has attached herself to court circles and enjoys a prominent place in society.
Mademoiselle St. Pierre
Mademoiselle St. Pierre (sah[n] pyehr), a fellow teacher in Madame Beck’s school, a prodigal and profligate woman whose chief achievement is the ability to keep order among the students.
Rosine Matou (roh-ZEEN mah-TEW), the portress at Madame Beck’s school, a pretty, airy, and fickle young woman afraid of M. Paul’s temper tantrums.
Fraulein Anna Braun
Fraulein Anna Braun, a worthy, hearty woman of forty-five. She instructs Lucy Snowe and Paulina Home in German.
Mademoiselle Sauver (soh-VAY), Monsieur Paul’s ward, who adores him.
Vashti, a complex and beautiful actress who entrances Lucy Snowe when Dr. John takes her to one of Vashti’s performances.
Désirée (day-zee-RAY), the oldest daughter of Madame Beck, a vicious child who smashes things and steals from the servants. She is overindulged by her mother.
Fifine (fee-FEEN), Madame Beck’s middle child, an honest, gleeful little girl.
Georgette (zhohr-ZHEHT), Madame Beck’s youngest daughter, attended during her illness by Dr. John. Her sickness introduces him to the Beck household.
Mrs. Sivinc (SIH-vihnk), the whiskey-drinking nursery governess to the Beck children, replaced by Lucy Snowe.
Mademoiselle Blanche (blahnsh),
Mademoiselle Virginie (veer-zhee-NEE), and
Mademoiselle Angélique (ahn-zhay-LEEK), three obstreperous pupils at Madame Beck’s school. They plague Lucy Snowe on the first day of her teaching.
Dolores, another unusually willful student whom Lucy Snowe punishes by locking her in a closet.
Madame Walravens (WAHL-ray-vehnz), a hideous little woman, the grandmother of M. Paul’s dead sweetheart. He supports her after the death of Justine Marie, his betrothed.
Père Silas (pehr see-LAHS), the priest who hears Lucy Snowe’s confession. The cleric is supported by M. Paul because he is a kinsman of the dead Justine Marie. He tries in vain to change Lucy to a Catholic.
Monsieur Boissec (bwah-SEHK) and
Monsieur Rochemonte (rohsh-MONT), professors who attempt to embarrass M. Paul by claiming that he has written Lucy Snowe’s compositions.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
Naturally, Lucy Snowe is the most significant (and, in some ways, puzzling character, with her mixture of stoic endurance and fearful imaginings) personage in the book. There is little quarrel with the view that Bronte labored hard (and under unhappy conditions: Her two surviving sisters, and fellow authors, Emily and Anne, had just died, and Charlotte was suffering poor health, depression, and a fear of losing her sight—a terror perhaps brought on by her father's cataract surgery) to create a fully developed protagonist. With the exception of the very sketchy antecedent information about Lucy's family and childhood, there is plenty of material with which to form an image of this complex and unhappy young lady.
Some criticism has been applied to the characterization of Dr. John Graham Bretton, seeing him as a "flat" character. It is true that Dr. John has few dimensions and that he does not really change during the course of the action. He starts out as a pleasant, careless boy of sixteen and becomes an agreeable, honorable, but not profound grown man. His infatuation for the pretty but hollow Ginevra is evidence of his lack of substance, although he does finally marry a worthy person, the shy Paulina Home, who has loved him for a long time.
Perhaps the next most interesting female character after Lucy is not Paulina nor Ginevra nor even Mrs. Bretton (John's mother)—though these women are well-conceived characters and serve their plot purposes adequately—rather, Madame Beck seizes the attention of the reader more firmly. She is a kind of foil for Lucy in that she, a widow with little fortune, has set up a successful school and keeps it running smoothly; she is practical, a bit unscrupulous (she spies on almost everyone, rummages their belongings, and reads their documents), but not without virtue. Mme. Paul appreciates Lucy's value to the school. While Lucy mildly resents the incursions into her privacy, yet she is glad to be judged in a professional manner.
Mme. Beck's personal life, however, is (so Lucy judges) without variation: "Madame Beck was a most consistent character; forbearing with all the world, and tender to no part of it. Her own children drew her into no deviation from the even tenor of her stoic calm. She was solicitous about her family, vigilant for their interests, and physical well-being; but she never seemed to know the wish to take her little children upon her lap, to press their rosy lips with her own, to gather them in a genial embrace, to shower on them softly the benignant caress, the loving word." This woman provides a solid character-based center for the novel: She is in many scenes; she provides several plot turns (as when she is caught eavesdropping on John and Lucy); and, she "runs" the establishment where most of the action takes place.
Among the minor characters, Ginevra emerges because of her faults; Polly (Paulina) Home because of her diffident passion; and, Colonel de Hamal because of his classic foppery and snobbery (both of which qualities appeal to Ginevra). Although Father Silas appears but briefly, his conversation with Lucy, a sort of confession by a Protestant, helps to illuminate Lucy's troubled spirit and also to reveal Bronte's view of the Catholic Church. Lucy later blesses the old man for his kindness and understanding; but, she never accepts his invitation to visit him, since she knows that he will continue his attempt to convert, which he gently began during their meeting in the church.
While all these personages are memorable, to one degree or another, it is Lucy Snowe who haunts the sensitive reader's memory, with her need for understanding and her complicated view of the world.