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Villetteby Charlotte Brontë
Reading Group Guide
"Villette! Villette! Have you read it?" exclaimed George Eliot when Charlotte Brontë's final novel appeared in 1853. "It is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power."
Arguably Brontë's most refined and deeply felt work, Villette draws on her profound loneliness following the deaths of her three siblings. Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Villette,flees from an unhappy past in England to begin a new file as a teacher at a French boarding school in the great cosmopolitan capital of Villette. Soon Lucy's struggle for independence is overshadowed by both her freindship with a wordly English doctor and her feelings for an autocratic schoolmaster. Brontë's strikingly modern heroine must decide if there is any man in her society with whom she can live and still be free.
"Villette is an amazing book," observed novelist Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. "Written before psychoanalysis came into being, Villette is nevertheless a psychoanalytic work—a psychosexual study of its heroine, Lucy Snowe. Written before the philosophy of existentialism was formulated, the novel's view of the world can only be described as existential. . . . Today it is read and discussed more intensely than Charlotte Brontë's other novels, and many critics now beleive it to be a true master-piece, a work of genius that more than fulfilled the promise of Jane Eyre." Indeed, Virginia Woolf judged Villette to be Brontë's "finest novel."
1. ?Discuss the character of Lucy Snowe. Do you find her to be an admirable heroine? What qualities do you like in her, or dislike? How do you think you would behave in her circumstances?
2. ?Writing to her publisher, Charlotte Bront? had this to say about Vilette?s protagonist: ?I consider that [Lucy Snowe] is both morbid and weak at times; her character sets up no pretensions to unmixed strength, and anybody living her life would necessarily become morbid.? What do you think of this appraisal? Do her ?unheroic? qualities make her more sympathetic or less?
3. ?Virginia Woolf felt that Villette was Bront??s ?finest novel,? and speaking about Bront?, wrote that ?All her force, and it is the more tremendous for being constricted, goes into the assertion, ?I love,? ?I hate,? ?I suffer.? ? What do you think Woolf means? Do you find this observation interesting, appealing, or moving?
4. ?Why do you think Bront? sets the narrative of Villette in a foreign country?
5. ?Explore the theme of education in Villette: What is the role of education in Lucy Snowe?s own life?
6. ??The conclusion of Villette is famously ambiguous (it was made purposefully so by Bront?). Do you find it a happy ending? A sad one? Discuss.
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