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GirlGenius AVOIDS -- Villette, a failed novel

Updated on April 27, 2011


Charlotte Bronte wrote "Villette" in1853, only 6 years after writing the masterpiece "Shirley" (a review will be posted shortly). Charlotte is the oldest of the Bronte sisters -- her first novel was "Jane Eyre".

It is difficult to fathom how both these books were written by the same person! "Villette" is disjointed and jarring, the story unfolds and then gets pulled and pushed in some very strange directions.

I did read the whole book, and it was worthwhile if only to see how NOT to write a novel. There are times when you really do need to read a bad novel to appreciate a good one.

Have you ever met someone who simply cannot tell a joke properly? As I read "Villette" that thought kept crossing my mind. There are the pieces of a good story here, but you need to work to find them!

The plot revolves around a young English woman (Lucy Snowe) who goes to teach at a school in France. There are some nice moments as the two cultures are compared. For example, the students in France often refuse to do homework because "It's too boring". Instead of having some sense knocked into them, which seems to be the British approach, teachers are told to gently encourage the student to find a way to make the assignment more appealing. (This generally involves substantially dumbing things down.)

By far, the most confusing aspect of this book is the "love story". It seems as if Charlotte Bronte got distracted about half-way through writing the book, and then came back later and forgot to read what was already there.

The main character suffers the most from this lack of planning on the author's part. Lucy Snowe comes off as a whining, self-centered, annoying woman who clings to scraps of memories and false hopes.

There is heavy-handed symbolism and "complex psychology" going on here. Call it what you will -- to me, "Villette" is an outstanding example of bad writing. What makes it worse is that there are flashes of brilliance every once in a while, making you glimpse what this novel would-have, could-have, should-have been.

Like eating your vegetables, this book will be "good for you". If you ever plan to write a novel, I would consider "Villette" required reading. Otherwise, please spend your time on a more enjoyable novel.

She came from a very talented family of writers!

Charlotte Bronte was a lovely lady, indeed!
Charlotte Bronte was a lovely lady, indeed!

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    • girlgenius profile image

      girlgenius 6 years ago from Los Angeles


      Thanks so much for your post. We do not have to agree.

      I feel this is a "failed" novel and it seems as though Bronze got half way through, put it down for six months, then tried to finish it.

      The Bronte's were forced into writing careers in order to support themselves. Back then, women had very different roles in society. It does not surprise me that they felt compelled to disavow their success, in order to "save face" as it were.

      I do not believe anyone should "settle" in life or in love. I strive to be the best person I can be, and tend to attract men who do the same.

    • profile image

      Dominique402 6 years ago

      In a letter to her publisher, Charlotte Brontë said that it wasn't her intent to make Lucy Snowe likable. In fact, Brontë was disturbed by the popularity of Jane's character. As for me, I find the novel to be an excellent study on depression, survival, and (sexual) repression. Also, it takes time for Lucy to open up and reveal herself to the reader. As this happens, the book becomes more interesting and the language more sublime. It's almost as if she doesn't expect the reader to care about her story, which of course draws me in. As to the romance, I don't know, it seems realistic to me: Developing a crush on an ideally attractive man, learning to have realistic expectations about an unrequited love, moving on, and discovering a different type of love with another man.

    • girlgenius profile image

      girlgenius 9 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks Chris! I'm fine, just disappointed that this bad novel did not live up to its potential.

      The problems seem so glaring that I'm surprised this novel saw the light of day! Eve so, it can still serve a useful purpose.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      you don't sound happy? LOL i guess when you review books, you have to take the bad with the good. Uhm... something must have happened to Charlotte Bronte when she was writing this, considering Jane Eyre... Nice hub nonetheless :D