Book review: ‘Villette’ by Charlotte Bronte

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Lucy Snowe is the main character and the narrator of “Villette.” Villette is a community in the fictional country of Labassecour (French is the native language and appears occasionally in the book).

 Most of the story takes place in Labassecour, but it doesn’t begin there. The early chapters tell of Lucy’s childhood in the U.K., but the story really began when Lucy sailed to the continent and took a job with Madame Beck. Because of her facility with the English language, she became the school’s English teacher. M. Paul offers literature lessons to the class from time to time. He is a relative of Madame Beck and he often critiques Lucy Snowe; she doesn’t appreciate his critiques or his manner.

There are several narratives of young love in “Villette.” M. Paul and Lucy Snowe eventually derive an almost romantic friendship, but religion stands in the way of romance. M. Paul attempts to convert Lucy to Catholicism, but she is firmly Protestant. They do not marry, at least in part because of religion. M. Paul goes off to Guadalupe to take care of some business interests. Before he leaves, he procures a house for Lucy so that she may set up a new school. She pledges to wait for him.

Lucy is prosperous in her own school. With the help of a friend’s legacy, she turns her day school into a boarding school. This review does not do the story justice, primarily because of what is left out. “Villette’’ is hardly an action story, but it will hold your interest.

 “Villette” is considered the most biographical of Charlotte Bronte’s writing. She is the Bronte sister who also wrote “Jane Eyre.” The Bronte sisters are worth learning about if you do not already have that knowledge. There is a reason their 1800s writing is considered classic.

Addendum: Often fiction provides insight that we don’t get in our daily lives. “Villette” is an example from the 1800s. “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a modern example. It was published in 2015 for young readers and deals with modern race relations — taking a stand and what it can cost. Most of us would benefit from the insight.

Or sometimes fiction builds on experiences you have had. “Driftless Gold” by Sue Berg does that. Set in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, many of the character’s experiences take place at local landmarks. Readers of mysteries or of local authors will appreciate “Driftless Gold.”

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