Villette was my final Brontë novel and the first of my Classics Club reads. I will try to write a review without spilling any secrets.
Here are the dull basics: the heroine is an English gentlewoman whose fortunes have been so reduced that she must teach in France for a living. Whilst living in France she encounters various interesting new acquaintances and is reacquainted with some persons from her old, more prosperous, happy life. As with the other Brontë novels, the novel’s settings and characters are few and the plot focuses more on emotions than actions/movements and other external things.
This story is not great or adventurous rather it is sweet and gentle—forgive my limited descriptive words. If you were expecting and wishing for grandeur in plot or emotion along the lines of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, you will be disappointed.
I will admit, I did think in the beginning that it dragged, but it most certainly grew on me exceedingly, and I ended up thinking that it ended too soon. I thought that it would be my least favorite of the Brontë novels, but it might just be one of my favorites. Besides the slowness I have one other quibble although it is more to do with my lack of culture, than true error in the novel. The novel is set in France, and there are several exchanges in French that probably would lose shades of meaning if translated into English. I believe there were some lines of French in Jane Eyre, but in Villette the French is much more extensive. I want to learn French and go back and reread this novel to see what I missed. Young ladies of proper education (ahem, accomplished young ladies) of this period knew French, so these inclusions are not oddities.
I love “homey” stories, but I think this one deserves a little more prestige than a “homey” story—it is more intricate than it first appears. I don’t mean intricate in plot; the plot is quite simple. The emotions are the intricate part. I love stories that lack passionate descriptions of emotions—I find that often such descriptions ring shallow, but I prefer the novels where the emotions are repressed, as it were, under the words, and you have to be sensitive to hear them throb, but when you do, you know that they are deep. That is the kind of depth that is in this novel, well, it is in Shirley as well. I think Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have this kind as well as the more overt kind although in those the overt emotion does not ring shallow.
I would reread Villette again, but I wish the ending was a bit longer. I felt that the best part was cut off from me—the door of the perfect happiness in the story shut in my face.