Villette Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXVI-XXVIII

The twenty-sixth chapter, "A Burial," refers to the entombment of an inanimate object rather than a human being.

Lucy enters a somewhat happier phase of her life now; she is often asked to the Brettons' and to the de Bassompierres'. At this time Lucy finds that her five letters from Dr. John have gone missing from her bureau drawer. She waits, and they are returned. Suspecting Madame, for she has seen the woman more than once going through her things on spying missions, she tries to accept it as the way Madame runs her school.

The letters are again disturbed, and Lucy thinks that possibly Madame has taken the letters to show to M. Paul. The letters have become even more precious to Lucy lately because, although she now has enough friends to keep her from being lonely and depressed, Dr. John has transferred his affections to Polly and it is not likely he will write to Lucy again.

Lucy is now upset and no longer wants her letters to be accessible. She has the letters sealed in a bottle and then buries them under the tree where the stone covering the tomb of the nun is supposed to be. She seals it up with slate and cement. The spectral nun, predictably but terrifyingly, appears to Lucy there in her l'allée défendue, but Lucy bravely tries to speak to it and touch it. The nun recedes, and Lucy tells no one what she saw.

Lucy shows some of her resistance to being beholden to other people by refusing a princely sum (three times her salary at Madame Beck's) to become a paid companion to Polly. M. de Bassompierre is kind enough, but Lucy cannot imagine being tied to Polly or giving up the little independence she has.

Though Lucy is innocently taking German lessons at the de Bassompierres', M. Paul suspects that Lucy's absences are somehow sinister. He says that Madame allows Lucy her own way too often. M. Paul seems bent on keeping Lucy confined and limited however he can.

Paulina has been under the impression that Dr. John will marry her cousin Ginevra. Lucy says that Polly should not worry too much about that, but that they should perform a test on Ginevra to see if it is so. The plan is then hatched for a party for Ginevra and some of Paulina's father's friends, at which Polly and Lucy will observe her.

In Chapter XXVII, "The Hotel Crécy," the scene opens with a learned speech given at Villette's college. M. Paul is the eminent speaker in honor of the Prince of Labassecour's birthday. His speech is patriotic, and it brings down the house. M. Paul, usually so severe with Lucy, now asks Lucy's opinion of his speech when it is over. He is unable to hide his desire for Lucy to like his speech and to admire him for it. Lucy, who in the past admired his naïveté and his frankly despotic and sometimes selfish emotions, cannot help but be surprised that he thinks she could have a proper opinion about his speech. She is overcome and cannot make a proper response beyond some stock phrases.

At the dinner afterward at the Bassompierres', Lucy has the opportunity to observe both Paulina and Ginevra. Lucy and Dr. John have a chance to talk, and he remarks on Ginevra's beauty (a common subject between the two). He also says that if Lucy were a boy, he and she would have been good friends as children. This disappoints Lucy.

Dr. John, ever self-absorbed, says that he is able now to remember Polly in his childhood, and he recalls her remarkable fondness for him. Lucy, again with her rivals thrown in her face, decides she has had enough of Dr. John, and she refuses to ask Polly about the old days for him. Dr. John urges her on while M. Paul overhears—once again, Lucy's character and actions are misinterpreted. M. Paul vehemently hisses in her ear that she is a coquette, and Lucy turns on him in righteous anger. M. Paul is gone, and Dr. John laughs at that scene until Lucy nearly weeps. Dr. John, callously, notices that there is a space next to Polly and goes to sit by her. The little plan that Paulina and Lucy made has come to fruition, and their answer is clear: Dr. John's affections do not lie any longer with Ginevra Fanshawe.

While Lucy is waiting for Ginevra, M. Paul again approaches her. Lucy is very short with him, and M. Paul is surprised that his words hurt her. He abjectly asks for forgiveness, and Lucy finally gives it. This is perhaps the first truly social interaction that M. Paul and Lucy have ever shared. He smiles a true smile, and he is transformed in Lucy's eyes to something more attractive than he has ever been before.

On the way home, Ginevra is upset that she has lost the affection of Dr. John, which means she no longer has him in her power. Lucy roundly criticizes her selfish and vain friend.

In Chapter XXVIII, M. Paul is in a rage at the interruptions of his class. He has always required the absolute attention of anyone around him, and he is in such a state that he swears he will hang the next person who enters his class. The Athenee requires M. Paul to come at once for an inspection. Madame Beck and Rosine will not interrupt his class any more that morning for fear of his wrath. Lucy, who was sitting with her embroidery, is required to take him the message. She is ready for him to storm against her. Showing her innate cleverness, she has made a tiny thread noose for him to "hang" her with.

In the classroom, as Lucy tries to explain the urgency of the message, Lucy accidentally breaks his eyeglasses. She is truly sorry, and M. Paul finally softens and leaves for the college.

It has been M. Paul's custom to arrive unexpectedly at Madame Beck's and read to the boarders during the evenings. He arrives that night, and he uncharacteristically squeezes in to sit between Ginevra and Lucy. In a strange show of pique, M. Paul says that Lucy was trying to get away from him when she moved over to let him sit, and he marshals all the girls around so that Lucy may sit as far away from him as possible.

At the girls' supper, Lucy eats, retaining her "seat of punishment," and she rather relishes the smug way this situation is continuing to bother M. Paul. Before he leaves, he comes to her and says she has a way of making herself particularly unpleasant. As always, he implies that she has, or soon will have, a weaker character than she should. He notes her slightly more feminine dress of late, which Lucy defends. She is working on making a watchguard for a gift for a gentleman, which, since he disapproves of adornment for women, should at least not be suspect. He softens slightly and asks if she has come to hate him for his hot words here and at the dinner at the de Bassompierres'. She says she does not. He relents slightly, saying she may have some simple adornments, but he cautions her not to become too vain about them.


The almost absurdly childish flirtatious games between M. Paul and Lucy are surprising in two characters of such obviously hard and unyielding temperaments. That M. Paul resorts only to storming at Lucy, and even insulting her in order to get her attention, makes him seem a little pathetic, and Lucy, though more continent in her responses, cannot help her little games, such as the thread noose and her smugness at sitting at the far end of the room. These two people have some affinity for one another, whether they admit it or not, but they refuse to express it in any positive way.

M. Paul does attempt to engage Lucy in sincere conversation after his speech, but he is so intellectually vain that he cannot really begin a true conversation when the subject is his own achievement. Lucy, though actually quite impressed with him, cannot, therefore, engage completely in the way she would like. Lucy is almost unrelentingly proud, especially around M. Paul, and while M. Paul's errors are mainly of action, Lucy's are mainly of abstention or inaction. This is a common romantic conceit of the passive female/active male, which not even the frustrated feminist Brontë can avoid.

Ginevra has increasingly become a comic figure, and she now is almost a caricature of herself in response to the rising star of Polly, her much superior cousin (at least with respect to Lucy). That Polly is trying to grow up properly is admired by Lucy, but the true nature of Polly as a dependent and other-centered individual will not change. There is no reason for Lucy to love Polly other than that Polly is kind to her. That Lucy does have an affection for Polly shows Lucy's ability to subvert her own jealousy in the face of another person's virtue.

Dr. John's blindness has been constant throughout the novel–he could not even recognize his old friend after months of association before he was told Lucy's identity. His condition is not only physical but also intellectual and emotional. He misperceives almost everything about Lucy's character and, though he is still forgiven, is unable to stop laughing at her when he knows he has hurt her. Though a kind and generous physician to the poor, he cannot see the pain he is causing in his young and poor friend Lucy, and even if he did see it, it is not clear that he would necessarily want to stop it. He and his mother are always railing at each other, and they both find it difficult to remain serious. In Volume I, when Lucy and he had a serious talk about his gifts of jewelry to Ginevra, he couldn't help but flash a mischievous glance in her direction. Dr. John is coming to look almost as flighty as Ginevra.

The number of comic episodes interspersed with Gothic ones (like the nun's visitation) is increasing. Some of M. Paul's antics are humorous, such as the scene in the schoolroom, but increasingly others, such as Rosine, Dr. John, or Madame Beck, are providing the comedy. The shift is finally occurring—from the focus on the young lovers Ginevra, Dr. John, and Count De Hamal to a different triangle of Dr. John, Polly, and Ginevra. Lucy, as always, is outside of this interaction, though she longs to be a part of it. She is shown to be less of a solitary depressive and more of a social being. The change in Lucy is gradual, almost glacial in pace, but the reader is beginning to believe that her resolve to "believe in happiness" in Chapter XXIII may actually be coming true.