Villette is noted not so much for its plot as for its acute tracing of Lucy's psychology.
The novel is sometimes celebrated as an exploration of gender roles and repression. In The Madwoman in the Attic, critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have argued that the character of Lucy Snowe is based in part on William Wordsworth's Lucy poems. Gilbert and Gubar emphasise the idea of feminine re-writing. Some critics have explored the issues of Lucy's psychological state in terms of what they call "patriarchal constructs" which form her cultural context.
Villette also explores isolation and cross-cultural conflict in Lucy's attempts to master the French language, as well as conflicts between her English Protestantism and Catholicism. Her denunciation of Catholicism is unsparing: e.g., "God is not with Rome."