Top positive review
At Least as Good as 'Jane Eyre'
on 22 January 2017
Lacking close friends or family, Lucy Snowe - a plain, but intelligent young woman, who, beneath her seemingly self-controlled and ordinary exterior, possesses a strong and passionate heart - leaves England for Brussels where she takes employment as a teacher at a girls' school. At the school, Lucy is plagued by the headmistress Mme Beck, a jealous and suspicious woman, whose constant scrutiny of Lucy's every move, Lucy finds rather wearing; she also finds herself under the critical gaze of the sarcastic and irascible Paul Emanuel, a professor at the school and a man with whom Lucy, after an initial difficult period of adjustment, gradually builds an interesting friendship. Lucy is also plagued by one of the pupils, Ginevra Fanshawe, a beautiful, but vain and flighty girl, who has attracted the romantic attentions of Doctor John Bretton, a handsome and good-humoured young man, whom Lucy finds herself becoming very attracted to, despite acknowledging the futility of her feelings being reciprocated...
'Villette' was Charlotte Brontë's final novel and the story is based on the author's own experience of working as a teacher in a school in Brussels, where she was deeply unhappy and where she fell in love with a married schoolmaster, who did not reciprocate her feelings. As such, this original and psychologically acute novel - which is at least as good as 'Jane Eyre' and even better in some respects - is suffused with passion, pain and loneliness and is a marvellous story which makes for compelling reading. I first read this years ago and, keen to read it again, I treated myself to the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition ('Villette') this time around - however, before embarking on the full-length novel, I decided to listen to the BBC dramatisation. Although, naturally, the story has been condensed for the drama, it does give a good flavour of the novel, and with some accomplished performances by Harriet Walter, Catherine McCormack, Joseph Fiennes and Keira Knightley and some wonderfully atmospheric music, this was a very enjoyable listening experience. However, although I am happy to recommend this dramatisation, if you can devote the time to it, do please read the full-length version - it's very much worth the time spent on it.