Rummanah Aasi
  When you hear Charlotte Bronte, you immediately think of Jane Eyre, one of the most and well loved novel of all time. While Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte's most popular book, she did write many other books such as The Professor, Shirley, and Villette.  For the Victorian Literature Reading Challenge, I had hoped to read the other novels of the Bronte sisters. I recently finished Villette, which is herald by many authors such as George Eliot and Virginia Wolff as Charlotte Bronte's most critically acclaim novel or masterpiece.

Description (from Amazon): 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, an initially suspicious headmaster, and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor, Paul Emmanuel. 

Review: Readers hoping to get another story like romantic suspense story of Jane Eyre will be disappointed in Villette. The atmosphere and even the heroines of the two novels are completely different in many ways despite that share the occupation of being a governess. There is not much plot in Villette and it does tend to be cyclical. The characters meet again and again, but during time periods. It is almost as if everything was a coincidence.
   Villette is a character driven novel. It is very dense and slow moving, which is why it took me a while to finish the book. I would read about five chapters a day yet I couldn't help but be drawn to the book. Bronte does a wonderful job in examining the gender roles and the constraints of Victorian England. Readers knowing the Bronte's personal history can pick up many of the same similarities to Lucy's struggle. Some critics have gone on to say that Villette is probably Charlotte Bronte's most autobiographical novel.
  Lucy Snowe is a unique heroine and narrator that I ever met. She is passive and so quiet that you probably wouldn't notice her if  you were in a room with her. She is very observant of her surroundings and independent. She seems to be more comfortable in being in the background like many women of her time, yet she struggles within herself because she wants to express her emotions, thoughts, and opinions yet uses her logic or reason to suppress this and internalizes everything. Throughout the novel, I wasn't sure if Lucy is a victim of her own society, however, as we watch the other women in Lucy's life have their own experiences of living, I can't help but think that Lucy willingly placed herself in situations that don't all her to grow and explore. We do see a flicker of change and progress when Lucy admits her feelings to the arrogant and pompous Paul Emmanuel but we can't help but be skeptical of their happiness not because their feelings aren't genuine but rather because Lucy's reason doesn't allow her to have it.
  Readers wanting to dig deeper into character's psyche and become an observer like Lucy will really enjoy the complex layers of Villette. Just don't expect to be riveted by the basic plot. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong teen readers and up.

If you like this book try: Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan, A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.
5 Responses
  1. We Heart YA Says:

    You know, I had never even heard of VILLETTE, but my friend and co-blogger just mentioned it in her recent post about book endings:

    http://www.weheartya.com/2011/05/endings.html

    Anyway, great review. Your description of Lucy really makes me want to read about her!

    KH


  2. KH: Thanks! I haven't heard of Villette either until I stumbled across it at a book sale.


  3. Daisy Says:

    I'm glad I read your review before reading this (it's sitting on my shelf), because I absolutely loved Jane Eyre and would have gone in expecting something similar. I am intrigued though by your description. Character-driven plots aren't really my thing usually, but maybe this'll be different.
    Thanks for the review!


  4. Jenny Says:

    I haven't heard of this one either! I often find books from the more "classic" authors like Bronte to be a bit dense and a lot to absorb (not always a bad thing), but I love the sound of Lucy - she seems really complicated and interesting. Thanks for this review Rummanah!


  5. Daisy: I was really surprised how different this book is from "Jane Eyre". The only commonality between the books is that both heroines work as a governess. The tone and mood are so different.

    Jenny: Absolutely. It takes me some time to get readjusted to the slow pace, numerous symbolism, metaphors, etc when reading the book (Not that's a bad thing).


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