Places: Villette

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1853

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedVillette

Villette. VilletteCapital city of the fictional country of Labassecour. With a name that literally means “little city,” Villette is not large; students walk out to the surrounding countryside before breakfast from the city center. The city is divided into two main parts: the Basse-Ville, the lower city, and the Haute-Ville, the upper city. The lower city contains the older, run-down areas. Here Dr. John goes on his philanthropic medical visits, and here is situated the rue des Mages, on which the house of Madame Walravens and other dependents of Monsieur Paul stands.

The upper city is the fashionable area in which the royal palaces, galleries, museums, and society meeting places are located. In one of the art galleries, the exhibition of a painting occasions an argument between Lucy and Monsieur Paul. At one of the theaters, she attends a concert also attended by the king and queen. Later, she spends the night enjoying a festival of lights and fireworks. It would be true to say that Lucy belongs to neither of these worlds, low or high.


Bretton. Old cathedral town in England. Lucy’s godmother’s family have lived here on St. Ann’s Street for generations; in fact, her family name is also Bretton. Her son, John Graham, lives there with her. On one of Lucy’s visits she meets Polly Home, a little girl.

Lucy’s home

Lucy’s home. Situated fifty miles north of London, the place is never named or described. After her parents’ death, she lives in the same place as companion to Miss Marchmont, an invalid. “Two hot rooms” become Lucy’s world for a while until Miss Marchmont’s death. Almost destitute, Lucy feels guided to go to London. There, Lucy stays near St. Paul’s Cathedral and is captivated by the energy of London, the commercial and financial center of Great Britain. It emboldens her to sail for Europe.

Pensionnat de Demoiselles

Pensionnat de Demoiselles (pan-see-OHN-ah deh deh-MWAH-zay). Girls’ school run by Madame Beck on the rue Fossette, five minutes walk from Villette’s city center. On Lucy’s nighttime arrival in Villette, she providentially stumbles straight to it and is offered a place there, first as governess to Madame Beck’s children, then as one of four regular teachers. The school consists of a former convent plus some extensions, large enough for twenty boarders, the teachers, six servants, and Madame Beck’s family. There are also one hundred day students. Madame Beck knows everything that goes on at the school, a picture similar to the girls’ school portrayed in Brontë’s first novel, The Professor (1857). The discipline is not too strict, and there is plenty of food and exercise in the large garden, in contrast to the Lowood School of her second novel, Jane Eyre (1847). There is a neighboring boys’ school, as in The Professor, where Monsieur Paul also teaches.

La Terrasse

La Terrasse (lah teh-RAHS). Villette House leased by Lucy’s godmother, to which Lucy is taken in a state of nervous collapse by the school’s physician, Dr. John, who turns out to be Graham Bretton. It is a small country house just outside the city limits, a mile or so from the Porte de Crécy. The interior is done in English fashion with many paintings and furnishings from the house in Bretton. Lucy stays there until fully recovered and then visits for a while.

Hôtel Crécy

Hôtel Crécy (oh-TEL KRAY-see). Grand hotel on the rue Crécy where Count de Bassompierre has his apartments on the second floor. De Bassompierre turns out to be Polly’s father, now elevated through marriage to the country’s aristocracy. He has also inherited Ginevra as his niece, thus completing the English network of friends that Lucy finally rejects in favor of Monsieur Paul.

Faubourg Clotilde

Faubourg Clotilde (FOH-bur kloh-TEELD). Monsieur Paul rents a space to enable Lucy to start her own little school. At the end of the novel she is also able to rent the house next door as a “pensionnat” or boarding facility for the school.

BibliographyAllott, Miriam, ed. The Brontës: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. Fascinating collection of sixteen reviews and comments from 1853, the year of Villette’s publication. William Makepeace Thackeray is admiring, if condescending, for example, whereas Matthew Arnold finds the novel “disagreeable.”Allott, Miriam, ed. Charlotte Brontë: “Jane Eyre” and “Villette”: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1973. Various writings about Villette, including several opinions from the year the novel was published, as well as later Victorian assessments and critical views from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Allott’s introduction includes biographical information and a brief review of Brontë’s critical reception. Includes a dated but helpful annotated bibliography.Evans, Barbara, and Gareth Lloyd Evans. The Scribner Companion to the Brontës. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982. An excellent handbook outlining the plots and offering brief but insightful analysis of each of the novels written by the three Brontë sisters. Includes sections on the family life, juvenilia, and criticism by nineteenth century contemporaries.Ewbank, Inga-Stina. Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters as Early-Victorian Female Novelists. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968. An important feminist study of the Brontë sisters, correcting years of patriarchal criticism that had relegated most of their work to secondary status. The chapter on Charlotte attempts to separate her artistic skills from biographical interpretations that dominated previous critical studies.Keefe, Robert. Charlotte Brontë’s World of Death. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979. Offers a reading of the novels based on the premise that all Charlotte Brontë’s works are influenced by the death of her mother and siblings. Includes a lengthy chapter on Villette, which is judged the finest of her works.Knapp, Bettina L. The Brontës: Branwell, Anne, Emily, Charlotte. New York: Continuum, 1991. A general study of the Brontë family and its contributions to English literature. Contains a chapter on the lives of the siblings, as well as short analyses of their major works. Considers Villette a feminine Bildungsroman.Knies, Earl A. The Art of Charlotte Brontë. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1969. A comprehensive examination of Brontë’s major works which focuses on the novelist’s artistry. Includes a lengthy chapter on Villette concentrating on the development of Lucy Snowe.Linder, Cynthia A. Romantic Imagery in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë. London: Methuen, 1978. Examines Brontë’s reliance on Romantic ideology for the construction of her novels. A chapter on Villette analyzes the complex structure of the novel to show how the author effectively dramatizes the effects of Lucy’s abortive love affairs.Martin, Robert Bernard. Charlotte Brontë’s Novels: The Accents of Persuasion. New York: W. W. Norton, 1966. In this very readable study of Brontë’s four novels, Martin proposes Villette as the most mature and representing a synthesis of ideas and techniques explored in the earlier works. Detailed examination of the language, plot, character development, and structure.Moglen, Helene. Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. A full-length biography interweaving discussion of Brontë’s life with an examination of her works. Pays special attention to the influence of Romantic ideology on her works. Discusses Villette as an autobiographically inspired work.Nestor, Pauline. Charlotte Brontë. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987. Examines Brontë’s life and fiction from a feminist perspective and devotes one chapter to each of the novels. Nestor sees Villette as the story of a woman’s development from weakness to strength, from dependence to self-sufficiency. Includes many quotations from other critics, and a bibliography.Nestor, Pauline. “Villette.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Offers nine essays and extracts written after 1970. Several of the analyses present sophisticated yet accessible feminist interpretations. Also includes an editor’s introduction and a list of sources for further reading.Pinion, F. B. A Brontë Companion. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. A general reference book about the Brontë sisters and their works. Includes a biographical sketch of Charlotte and critical commentary on her novels. Contains character sketches of principal personages in the works and Charlotte’s own comments on her fiction.
Categories: Places