Teaching and learning
The heroine of this lesser known of Charlotte Bronte’s novels is called Lucy Snowe, which means “light” and “cold”. Thrown upon her own resources at the tender age of 14, Lucy sets out for France and, by the skin of her teeth, lands a job at a girls’ school in Villete. As her name suggests, Lucy holds herself aloof from all the usual interests of young women. Coincidence and improbability plays major roles in the plot of this novel, and if the reader is intolerant of such, the book will not satisfy. Rich in symbolism, Villette serves as a metaphor for the lives of women in Victorian Europe. Particularly striking is the mystery of the spectral nun who appears in garret and garden cloister. For the modern reader, Villette suffers from too much “sermonizing.” It’s possible, however, to balance the religiosity with the humor invested in relatively minor characters, such as the proto-feminist Ginevra Fanshawe, who “has suffered less than any” other woman in Lucy’s world. Ginevra is refreshingly, sometimes comedically, unrestricted by the conventions of her society. It requires but little imagination to hear the voice of Charlotte herself, who indeed lived much of her life in similar circumstances, in the thoughts and soliloquies of Lucy. In the end, Lucy’s defensive remoteness is breached, but the reader is left to decide exactly how her story plays out.