Student Question

How does Villette reflect female oppression in a patriarchal world?

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It is quite evident, as in all of Charlotte Bronte's works, that the theme of the position of women is society and how they are suppressed and regarded as inferior, is a key theme in this excellent novel. From Lucy Snowe's experiences as being penniless, friendless and isolated in a different country, it is clear that the novel is set in a world where women are considered to be inferior to men and are expected to act in accordance with this belief.

However, some critics argue that the position of women is presented much more starkly in this novel than in other works by Bronte, in particular through the presentation of Catholic views about the position of women in society, which worsen Lucy's vulnerable position. Even Emmanuel Paul, the man whome Lucy falls in love with, is shown to be associated with such perspectives, as he:

..believed in his soul that lovely, placid, and passive feminine mediocrity was the only pillow on which manly thought and sense could find rest for its aching temples; and as to work, male minds alone could work to any practical result.

Note how this view of women is patronising and supports the presentation of women in this patriarchal society. Lucy clearly faces a massive uphill struggle, and it is perhaps significant that she remains unsuccessful in carving a place for herself where she is acknowledged as a woman of talent and worth, in stark constrast to Jane Eyre's eventual victory against the forces of patriarchy.

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