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  • Literary Studies (19th Century)


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A novel by C. Brontë, published 1853.

The novel, like its predecessor The Professor (then unpublished), is based on the author's experiences in Brussels, here renamed Villette, and also has as its centre a pupil–teacher relationship. The narrator, Lucy Snowe, poor, plain, and friendless, finds herself a post as teacher in a girls' school in Villette, where she wins the respect of the capable, if unscrupulous headmistress, Madame Beck. She becomes deeply attached to the handsome John Bretton, the school's English doctor, whom she recognizes as a childhood acquaintance; she represses her unreturned passion for him, and gradually falls in love with the waspish, despotic, but good‐hearted little professor, M. Paul Emanuel, Mme Beck's cousin. His generosity leaves her mistress of her own school when he is called away on business to the West Indies; the ending is ambiguous, and the reader is left to decide whether he returns to marry her or is drowned on his way home. The novel combines a masterly portrayal of Belgian daily life with a highly personal use of the elements of Gothic fiction. In Paul Emanuel the author successfully creates an unromantic hero very far removed from the Byronic Rochester of Jane Eyre.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century).

Reference entries

Charlotte Brontë (1816—1855) novelist