03-18-2008 11:47 AM
Charlotte Brontë's Villette
Charlotte Brontë's last and most autobiographical novel, Villette explores the inner life of a lonely young Englishwoman, Lucy Snowe, who leaves an unhappy existence in England to become a teacher in the capital of a fictional European country. Drawn to the school's headmaster, Lucy must face the pain of unrequited love and the question of her place in society.
For Villette, Brontë drew upon her own experiences ten years earlier, when she studied in Brussels and developed an unreciprocated passion for her married teacher. The novel also reflects her devastating sense of loss and isolation after the deaths of her beloved brother and sisters, and her confusion and conflicts over the fame she achieved for having writtten Jane Eyre. But despite Brontë's heartsick inspiration for the novel, and the grief that haunts its heroine, Villette is a story of triumph, in which Lucy Snowe comes to understand and appreciate her own strength and value.
About the Author: Charlotte Brontë was born on April 21, 1816, in Thornton, Yorkshire, in the north of England. In 1821 Charlotte's mother died of cancer, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moved in to help raise the six children. After two of her sisters contracted what was probably tuberculosis and died within months of each other, Charlotte and her remaining siblings returned home, played on the Yorkshire moors and dreamed up fanciful, fabled worlds, creating a constant stream of tales, such as the Young Men plays (1826) and Our Fellows (1827).
Charlotte's awareness of politics filtered into her fictional creations, as in the siblings' saga The Islanders (1827). She had access to the library at the nearby town of Keighley. She knew the Bible and read the works of Shakespeare, George Gordon, Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott, and she particularly admired William Wordsworth and Robert Southey.
In 1846 the sisters published their collected poems under the pen names Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily), and Acton (Anne) Bell. That same year Charlotte finished her first novel, The Professor, but it was not accepted for publication. However, she began work on Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847 and met with instant success.
Following the deaths of Branwell and Emily Brontë in 1848 and Anne in 1849, Charlotte made trips to London, where she began to move in literary circles that included such luminaries as Thackeray. In 1850 she met Elizabeth Gaskell, with whom she formed a lasting friendship and who, at the request of Reverend Brontë, later became her biographer. Villette was published in 1853.
In 1854 Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls. Less than a year later, however, she fell seriously ill, perhaps with tuberculosis, and she died on March 31, 1855. At the time of her death, Charlotte Brontë was a celebrated author. The 1857 publication of her first novel, The Professor, and of Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë only heightened her renown.