Villette Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXIII-XXV

At the beginning of Volume Two, Lucy is taken to the theatre by Dr. John in the place of his mother, who has been detained at home by an arrival. When Lucy goes to find her dun-mist-colored dress in the wardrobe, she finds that someone has taken it out and moved it to the haunted attic. Her desire to go with Dr. John making her bold, she dashes up to the attic and snatches her dress off the hook near the door. Before she leaves, however, she sees a faint light and the suggestion of a curtained alcove, but the vision vanishes. Steeling herself, she runs away without hysteria, gets dressed, and goes down to the waiting Dr. John. He claims that the peculiar light in her eye means that she has seen the ghostly nun again, but Lucy staunchly denies it.

They go to the theatre to see Vashti, the most famous and provocative actress in Europe. Lucy is captivated by Vashti's acting and find it very powerful indeed, but Lucy decides that Vashti must not be a good person because she is able to channel such powerfully evil emotions.

When there is the scare of a fire in the theatre at the penultimate moment of the play, pandemonium ensues, but Dr. John charges Lucy not to move. Dr. John helps a young lady who was crushed by the crowd while clinging to her father, and the four people escape the building and get to their carriages. The young woman has a hurt shoulder, and Dr. John agrees to treat her. He takes Lucy with him to the others’ elegant dwelling, where Lucy helps with ministering to the young woman's needs. Lucy thinks the young woman small and pretty—but with a proud mouth and perhaps an over-inflated idea of her importance. The father and daughter are very kind and grateful, however, and Lucy and Dr. John leave once the girl is comfortable.

In Chapter XXIV, "M. de Bassompierre," Polly Home and her father return into the circle of Lucy and the Brettons. The girl and man to whom Dr. John and Lucy administered aid turn out to be Ginevra Fanshawe's first cousin and the de Bassompierre uncle who pays for her schooling. Lucy learns of this connection when Ginevra comes home from dining out, saying she had a boring time with her uncle and her affected little cousin.

When Lucy, who has been pining for seven weeks for a letter, receives one unexpectedly from Mrs. Bretton inviting her to La Terrasse, she meets the same girl in her room at that house. Polly, of course, has been told of Lucy's existence by Mrs. Bretton, and Polly tells Lucy that she—Paulina Mary Home de Bassompierre—is the same little Missy Home of their childhood visits in Bretton.

At first Lucy is taken aback, sure that Polly cannot possibly remember those days in the town of Bretton. But Polly remembers perfectly, especially her deep attachment for Dr. John. Polly has grown up to be a beautiful, slight, and not showy young woman, quite unlike her first cousin Ginevra. Lucy judges Polly to be more beautiful than Ginevra and of a higher quality of character, and it is clear that Lucy already fears that Dr. John will find Polly very attractive.

In Chapter XXV, we learn that "The Little Countess" is Polly. Her father, having inherited the title of Count from his de Bassompierre relatives, passes the title of Countess to Polly while he is still living (doing so in the Continental fashion). In this chapter, Lucy watches while Dr. John becomes enamored of the Countess.

Lucy, Polly, and Mrs. Bretton are next at La Terrasse, awaiting the return of Dr. Bretton and M. de Bassompierre. When they return, the entire company drinks a wassail bowl to the New Year (for it is January) and sing “Auld Lang Syne” (for M. de Bassompierre is Scottish). Polly, ever the child, dances about the kitchen like a fairy. She dotes on her father and acts childlike around him. Dr. John teases her with the wassail cup, holding it back from her. She tastes it and does not like it, and they banter while Lucy watches.

The next day is still snowy, and Lucy and Polly are left together in a sitting room. After the original shock of recognition has faded, they have very little to say to each other.

The subject of Lucy going to Madame Beck's school is brought up, and Lucy's status as a teacher is revealed to both of the de Bassompierres. Polly, with rather rude naïvete, says that she thought Lucy was rich and she is thus sorry for her. Mr. Home, a kindly gentleman with more tact than his daughter, closes the subject and turns it back to the prospect of Lucy attending Madame Beck's. There are reasons against this, namely, that Mr. Home in the past visited his daughter incessantly at her school, disrupting her studies. Lucy is at least spared having to see the new object of Dr. John's affections on a daily basis. The chapter ends with a domestic scene of all the friends by the fireside. Lucy again notes that Dr. John watches Polly intently.


The reference to Vashti as having her "day of Sirius" means that at that point in her career she is, like Sirius, the brightest star in the sky (and, possibly, still on the rise). Lucy again, predictably, refers to the Old Testament when describing her emotions in struggling between Feeling and Reason when replying to Dr. John's letters. "The houses of Rimmon" is a reference to the Bible’s Second Book of Kings, implying that Lucy serves two masters, both her head and her heart, when she writes her letters first from her feelings, then tears them up, then writes a cooler letter under the auspices of Reason. The "Barmecide's loaf" of Dr. John's letters is a story from the Arabian Nights, in which an illusory feast, though attractive, does not satisfy the eater. Ginevra sarcastically calls Dr. John "Esculapius" in reference to the classical first doctor. The reference to Saul and David is another Old Testament analogy, for Saul starved his troops of food and David soothed the people with his Psalms of God. Lucy thinks of these Old Testament kings when she is starving for companionship and reflecting that people are more likely to be sympathetic to physical want (such as hunger) than to psychological deprivation (such as Lucy's enforced solitude).

Lucy is more indulgent with the faults of her companions than the reader may feel that she needs to be. The patently silly Polly (having a childish lisp and the ignorance of a wassail cup, and who can be seen fairy-dancing around the kitchen in the company of adults) remains practically infantile at seventeen, and she takes every opportunity to be innocent, ignorant, and possessive of her father. She probably is viewed much more harshly by the reader than by Lucy. The fact that these people (the Brettons and the de Bassompierres) are Lucy's only friends on earth, the only people who help her cling to the vestiges of her old life before she fell to the status of wage earner, makes her more indulgent with them than these sometimes selfish people deserve. They are kind to her, and perhaps Polly does not mean to be patronizing or to cause Lucy embarrassment, but the facts remain that Dr. John and Polly are wondrously oblivious to Lucy's feelings, especially when it comes to her feelings for Dr. John.

The older people, Count de Bassompierre and Mrs. Bretton, are more mindful of her tenuous position and difficult situation. But they, too, allow her to come among them and be occasionally taunted by their less-than-sensitive offspring. Lucy has more forbearance for this than might be otherwise expected, for her alternative is utter solitude and friendlessness at Madame Beck's.

The reappearance of Polly and Mr. Home is a more gentle coincidence than the revelation of the identity of Dr. John, and their arrival is brought on more subtly. The reader instantly suspects them upon finding them at the theatre, but the suspense is only spun out over a couple of chapters rather than the six that were reserved for Dr. John. That the little group of all those years ago is again united in Mrs. Bretton's (really Dr. John's) house by the fire is a nice symmetry, though, and it appears that the affections and behavior of the members of the group have changed very little.