Read-Along: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 6 – 11)

Obligatory Warning: Spoilers will be a necessary part of the discussion of this novel, so if you are interested in reading Villette for yourself you may wish to bookmark these discussion posts and read them AFTER you have read the novel.

It’s only Week 2 of the read-along and I already like this book far better than Bronte’s most famous offering Jane Eyre. And I’m two days late with this scheduled Chapters 6 – 11 post because I was savouring the emotion, the writing, and just generally collecting my thoughts on the book so far.

Lucy Snowe is shaping up to be a remarkable character – we last left her apprehensive yet hoping to take up residence as a governess. While aboard the boat to Brussels she talks with a girl whom she judges as spoilt and rich, but who gives her a piece of advice as to where to seek work – one Madame Beck’s boarding school for young women. At stepping off the boat Lucy’s anxiety at being in a foreign place with little direction is heightened, then strangely placated by the appearance of a handsome gentleman offering to escort her to respectable lodgings. As Fate would have it, Lucy finds herself outside Mme Beck’s house and business, and makes the decision to suit up for a position as a teacher to the boarding school’s bouquet of sparkling young girls. Despite what I am sure was Lucy’s best efforts not to do so, she finds herself blossoming as lecturer and tutor to the impressionable femmes and gains a type of comfortable respect from most of them [a quick aside: the girls and Lucy at times converse in French, which is a little difficult to grasp since there’s no translation in the book, but I enjoyed grasping the gist of their high-spirited banter].
One effervescent personality in particular is of interest, and reminds me very much of how I expected Polly from chapters 1-6 to turn out in later years. Flighty and yet all too aware of her feminine wiles, Ginevra is an endless source of frustration to Lucy, who consistently and forcefully voices her disapproval of Ginevra’s coquettish stringing-along of the handsome “Isidore” (Ginevra’s pet name for the mystery boyfriend).

During Lucy’s stay at Mme Beck’s, an English doctor turns up with ties to Lucy’s boss and students. To Lucy’s surprise, Dr. John is the same gentleman who found her safe lodgings on her arrival in Brussels. To Lucy’s further surprise, she finds herself incredibly attracted to him.

What transpires for Lucy and Dr. John’s burgeoning relationship remains to be seen. It is interesting, and perhaps only indicative of the era that Lucy should have much more interaction with females in the novel so far, but I have the strange sense the author is trying to tell us something about these girl characters that are so offensive to Lucy Snowe’s outward countenance and internal ethics and morals. Only two males have had Lucy’s attention in the novel according to reader knowledge: Graham, earlier on, and Dr John, at present. And despite the fact that Lucy observes both males taken in by effervescent feminine personalities, Lucy appears to view the male version in a more positive light.
It is perhaps Lucy’s Destiny to meet and interact with Dr. John, but this must be distinguished by Fate – which is in Lucy’s hands. “Fate took me in her strong hand” says Lucy as she decides to approach Mme beck about the teaching position. How fascinating and, yes, slightly irritating that Lucy doesn’t take any responsibility when she takes an adventurous action or makes an adventurous choice, preferring to paint herself a passive creature. Stoically passive, almost. Just what is she trying to convince people of? And is she trying to convince me, the reader? Or herself?

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Discussion of Chapters 12 – 17 will be posted next week. In the meantime, you can check out others’ thoughts over at Unputdownables.

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Aimee Burton

Aimee Burton is a lawyer-in-training who still dreams of befriending unicorns. This blog will be her escape from reality, and hopefully it'll inspire her to finish writing that fantasy trilogy she's always promising her friends is "almost halfway" done.