The Issue of Englishness: Nationalism and Identification in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette College

Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853) explores repression and projection of identity through the voice of the suffering, confusing, and often unreliable Lucy Snowe. This novel emerged after Brontë’s acclaimed Jane Eyre, exemplifying a newfound maturity as well as a more personal voice shown through an experimental and exploratory narrative. Using the fictional locale of Villette in the country Labassecour (modeled off of Brontë’s experiences in Belgium), she creates an imaginative space where British nationalism and identity can be challenged and questioned, and she compares the educational and religious consequences of existing somewhere distinctively “not Britain.” Constantly whirring in the periphery of the narrative are questions regarding Lucy’s mysterious history, particularly as she takes the leap of faith of deciding to leave England for a different life. However, the stone-cold British nationalism does not quite dissipate so easily, and it remains one of the few distinguishing components of Lucy’s identity—a false, inflated, and often subtle “moral” superiority. Brontë questions British nationalism, but she still uses the text to emphasize its overall importance to every sphere a person’s life and identity rather than...

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