Villette Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What does Brontë show or imply about the status of women in the society depicted in the novel?

    Answer: Lucy, though poor and destitute, begins remarkably free from almost all of the strictures on nineteenth-century women of any class, but the standard is for women to have a narrow range of options compared with men. A woman may have to be entirely stripped of familial and community relationships in order to be as free as a man. Lucy's plight at the beginning of the novel shows the extreme limitations on the options for young women in that era.

  2. 2

    To what extent is Lucy an unreliable narrator?

    Answer: Lucy is unreliable, selecting the details she will reveal and the timing with which she reveals them. The device heightens the dramatic tension and influences much of how this book affects the reader.

  3. 3

    Explain the significance of Lucy's name.

    Answer: “Lucy” is derived from the Latin word for light, and Snowe has an obvious meaning. When Lucy is describing herself in old age in Chapter V, she refers to her own white-haired head under a white cap as "snow beneath snow." Lucy's name may be ironic to the extent that her life includes darkness, and it may be accurate or ironic to the extent that she encounters the coldness or warmth of others.

  4. 4

    Describe Madame Beck.

    Answer: Charlotte Brontë's creation is a singular character, perhaps unique in literature. Her utter lack of passion or emotion, what Lucy calls her heartlessness, is not in itself enough to render the character repulsive. She also takes actions that more warm or ethical people would not normally choose.

  5. 5

    Describe the role of weather in the novel.

    Answer: Weather and astronomical occurrences serve both the plot and the mood. Rain and other weather, light, the time of the year, and the movement of heavenly bodies all interact with the events of the novel. This theme provides a constant backdrop for the activities of the plot.

  6. 6

    Discuss the importance of status in the novel.

    Answer: Status, respectability, and class are central to the novel. Unlike today, a woman who worked was identified automatically as a member of the lower class. The economic structure of Victorian Europe was tied to social structure in that different jobs and activities signaled a person’s status and class.

  7. 7

    What do you think of the ending of this novel?

    Answer: It is ambiguous, and different readers may find it satisfactory or not. Charlotte Brontë does not depict a happy marriage for M. Paul and Lucy, but Lucy has been able to succeed on her own.

  8. 8

    Expand on the supernatural element of this novel.

    Answer: The spectral nun represents Lucy’s real fears and turns out to be a real person. The instances of the ghostly visitation happen at key points in the novel, punctuating the plot. Lucy’s changing feelings about and reactions to the ghost are tied to her developing character.

  9. 9

    What kind of person is Dr. John?

    Answer: Lucy often asserts that he is a good person. Lucy admires him very much. But the reader is aware of his faults and wonders why she does not see his selfishness.

  10. 10

    Analyze M. Paul's character.

    Answer: Until he is finally softened by his love for Lucy, M. Paul is extremely bombastic, severe, hidebound, conservative, and strict. The "softening" of his character, as he begins a relationship with Lucy, rings true, even if he otherwise would not have softened without her.