Charlotte Brontë’s contemporary George Eliot wrote of Villette, “There is something almost preternatural in its power.” The deceptive stillness and security of a girls’ school provide the setting for this 1853 novel, Brontë’s last. Modelled on Brontë’s own experiences as a student and teacher in Brussels, Villette is the sombre but engrossing story of Lucy Snowe, an unmarried Englishwoman making her way in a culture deeply foreign to her. The heroine’s relationships with the fiery professor M. Paul, the cool Englishman Dr. John, and the school’s powerful headmistress, Madame Beck, are described in her compelling and enigmatic first-person narration.
This Broadview edition includes a critical introduction by Kate Lawson and Lynn Shakinovsky. The many contextual documents include contemporary writings on surveillance and espionage, anti-Catholicism, and working women, as well as letters describing Brontë’s own time in Brussels.
“This edition of Villette gives readers the understanding necessary to fully enter what Kate Lawson and Lynn Shakinovsky call its ‘demanding, sometimes punishing narrative mode.’ Their introduction justifies and celebrates the gaps and evasions in the text as the ‘heretic narrative’ of a protagonist who does not always understand herself. The useful appendices—notably on women and love, women and work, and anti-Catholicism—provide the historical material to contextualise the story. The edition admirably demonstrates that this paradoxical narrative—a domestic novel about work, a love story about repression, and a realist text that embraces the supernatural—repays and rewards close examination.” — Maggie Berg, Queen’s University
“Kate Lawson’s edition of Villette is expansive and precise, like the novel it contextualizes and introduces so well. Providing a rich analysis of the complex themes of the novel, the introduction at once acknowledges and limns the text’s resistance to codification and carefully suggests the beautiful patterns in its seeming inconsistencies. The primary materials provide further context for the novel, particularly in regards to the ‘Woman Question.’ Arranged to be in dialogue with each other about this pivotal topic, these materials provide the background necessary for understanding the novel’s involvement with those discussions.” — Gail Turley Houston, University of New Mexico