Villette Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXIX-XXXII

The only other person honored with a fête at Madame Beck's is M. Paul. Lucy has been making a watchguard for him, which M. Paul probably assumed she was making for Dr. John. Everyone else gives M. Paul flowers, since he is not materialistic and prefers tokens or sincere gifts rather than the lavish but empty "subscription" presents that are given each year to Madame Beck.

While all the students and teachers present M. Paul with their bouquets, Lucy hangs back. Zelie St. Pierre (another teacher who has set her cap for M. Paul) makes fun of Lucy, saying she is English and knows not the custom of giving the professor of literature a floral tribute. This angers Lucy and, showing once again her perversity when faced with misunderstanding, she decides to keep the watchguard back.

Lucy listens to the man's lecture to the class, but she drops her thimble to the floor, causing her to bend to get it. She hits her head loudly on the table, interrupting the flow of M. Paul's talk. He rails against all things English, which Lucy endures, but when he attacks specifically the honor of the country's history, she bursts out “Vive L'Angleterre” and casts aspersions on the honor of France. M. Paul, now enjoying having made Lucy so angry, now talks mildly about his collection of flowers, singling out Zelie especially. He proposes to take the girls to breakfast in the country, but Lucy refuses and goes up to her dormitory.

In private, Lucy now laughs at this silly display between two adults who should know better. She goes back to the schoolroom to get the watchguard. She finds M. Paul rifling through her desk. He has done so in the past, correcting her schoolwork and leaving her things to read. M. Paul is not embarrassed by being surprised in this instance, for he is only leaving her more books. He chides Lucy for spoiling the fête by not giving him a bouquet. She then gives him the watchguard, now chiding him for impatience. He immediately puts it on. He leaves but returns that night for the reading in the refectory. They sit together, and Lucy smiles at him.

In Chapter XXX, "Monsieur Paul," it is clear that even after this rather violent quarrel, the relationship between Lucy and M. Paul has not changed. He is still autocratic and largely disapproving of Lucy. Lucy does not allow the reader to entertain any "kindly conclusions" about the despotic little man.

Lucy, like so many women of her time, was never properly taught mathematics. M. Paul, who always believes that correcting deficiencies in people is his business, instructs her. It is hard for her, and he is kindly and actually quite encouraging. Lucy's learning curve finally steepens, and she begins to enjoy the work. Then, perversely, M. Paul seems to dislike it. He seems not to want Lucy to enjoy or take pride in intellectual achievement, though he himself is instructing her. Lucy cannot bear this, and she has another fit of temper at him. M. Paul wants to give Lucy a public examination, for he thinks that she would fail and that failure would quash her intellectual pride. She has no desire to be publicly humiliated by M. Paul.

In Chapter XXXI Lucy goes to her l'allée défendue to contemplate her future and try to carve out some independence for herself. She would like to save up her money and begin a small school of her own, so that she would no longer be under the thumb of Madame Beck. She reckons that she needs about one thousand francs. M. Paul finds her and walks with her. He thinks that she looks pale and possibly ill.

M. Paul has a room for study at the boy's college, which borders the walled garden of Madame Beck's, and from that study's window he has been observing Madame Beck's school closely. She learns that he has been observing her in her l'allée défendue from the very beginning. He claims to be only judging people's characters, but Lucy cannot help but feel that he is spying.

The discussion turns to the supernatural, and M. Paul reveals, incredibly, that he has seen the nun. As they are standing there, they are both visited with the vision of the nun passing quite close to them.

In Chapter XXXII Polly and her father have been traveling away from Villette for some time. Lucy sees them in the park one fine day in April, with Dr. John approaching. Dr. John, as is his wont, rides past Lucy without seeing her, intent on joining Paulina and her father. Polly, however, has more presence of mind, and he comes to talk to Lucy. Now that Paulina has returned, their old habit of Lucy visiting the Hotel Crécy is resumed.

Paulina doesn't want to be like her flighty cousin Ginevra, and she is worried about Lucy's opinion of her. Lucy assures her that she is nothing like Ginevra, and Lucy admits (to the reader) that she likes Polly. Paulina only ever says intelligent, delicate, and sincere things, and because of this Lucy cannot but help have a deep regard for her.

It turns out Polly has gotten a letter from Dr. John. She has not shared it with her father. It is a love letter, and Polly has returned Dr. John's love. She has written back to him that his affections are welcome and that she would talk to her father. Paulina is a dutiful daughter, and while she does not want to keep anything from her beloved "Papa," she is afraid of hurting him with this information. He will certainly grieve her loss if she marries Dr. Bretton.

Lucy assures Polly that she has done rightly. She should, however, tell her father when the moment is appropriate, and she should try not to keep it from him much longer. Having never harbored hope for herself in Dr. John's direction, Lucy is resigned to the fact that Paulina and Dr. John are well-matched.


The faults of M. Paul are so myriad and so grievous (spying, raging, misogyny, despotism, cruelty, intellectual vanity, etc.) that it is difficult to allow his good actions to alleviate the weight of his bad characteristics. But Brontë is careful to not make this semi-comic, semi-romantic, non-heroic character have any truly base faults. He is not a dishonorable man. He does not lie or cheat; in fact, he is so scrupulously afraid of hypocrisy that he does not like gifts unless they are entirely sincere. While having many personality flaws, he does not have flaws of integrity like his cousin, Madame Beck. He is very conservative (as Brontë was, in many ways), especially about religion, women's conduct, and traditional mores. He has the Catholic fear of pride, but it manifests itself more in the quashing of pride in women, especially in Lucy, rather than redressing its florid manifestation in himself.

In short, this is a man who is eminently human, with none of the godlike (and Lucy uses that adjective many times to describe him) qualities of Dr. John. M. Paul is a man who breathes and speaks to the reader, in all his short, swarthy, misogynist, hidebound glory. He is a person we could know, unlike Dr. John—who appears chiefly to be interested in looking godlike and being supremely self-involved. Though Dr. John's faults are indeed discussed by Lucy, she is too blinded by her own love for him to ever render him as robustly human as the descriptions of M. Paul come across. M. Paul is so real that the odor of his cigar smoke is almost detectable, and the sound of his quick and imperious foot is audible as he stomps after Lucy yet again to dress her down. The comical episodes of flirtation and warring between the two are really shows of their inability to admit attachment. Their own sexual and emotional repression is of such long standing that an easy or smooth transition into a relationship, whether friendship or otherwise, cannot occur. They must stamp and shout at each other, and M. Paul's pride must be assuaged while Lucy's independence must be given some footing before they can come to terms. The fact that they see the spectral nun together, however, will help them to connect.

Polly's frank but fearful admission to Lucy of her love for Graham is an example of how Polly always "lives in another's world." Polly's main worry after finding out that a man she has adored since childhood is in love with her is that it will upset her father, which illustrates her other-centeredness. Paulina's entire life and being are bound up with the men around her. She cannot conceive of living her life or making her decisions based on her own lights rather than the needs or wants of others.

Lucy, who in strange contrast has no one to please but herself, and will not, she thinks, ever have to make a decision like Polly's, is able nevertheless to soothe the girl and counsel her well. Polly has not been rash or wild, as Ginevra might have been in a similar situation. Paulina has calculated what is least likely to hurt the people involved. That she does not put herself first in this, an entirely personal romantic matter, does not seem to occur to her as odd at all. The scene of Paulina and Lucy shows Lucy's goodness: she is able to put aside, again, any jealousy she feels, and encourage a match that she knows will make the people involved very happy. She also brings up to Polly her fear for the girl when they were in Bretton together as children. She had thought Paulina's nature too sensitive and deep-feeling for the vicissitudes of fortune. But fortune has been kind, and Polly has been protected thus far. To marry Dr. John would continue her happiness and good fortune. Lucy assures her that it is God's will that some people are so blessed with happiness.