I really loved this novel. As a fan of Jane Austen and someone who read all her novels and pamphlets, I am always on the lookout for more literature like hers. I think the Brontë sisters belong to the next best thing. I had not read "Villette" before and might not have come across it if I hadn't read "Becoming Jane Eyre" by Sheila Kohler)
It might be a little hard if you don't speak French because a lot of the conversations are held in French but there is a translation in the back of the book (at least in my edition but I would hope it's in all of them) and it's totally worth going through it anyway.
The novel is not just about a young girl who lost her family and has to look after herself, not easy at a time where the only decent way for women to keep alive is to get married. But Lucy is not someone who gives up easily, who gives in to her despair. She goes abroad and hopes to find something. And she gets rewarded for her courage. Her life still isn't easy but at least she knows she will not starve. And she finds some wonderful friends who stand by her.
The writing is very well done, the characters described perfectly. Apparently, Charlotte Brontë used a lot of material from her own life, so this can be seen as an autobiographical rendering of her own life in Brussels. This makes the story even more interesting.
There is only one question that gets no answer. Why is Lucy not telling anything about her family, her background? We don't learn anything about her before she turns up and is already in position where she needs to fend for herself.
There is not a lot more I can say about the book without spoiling the story for new readers. If you have read Villette and would like to talk about it, please, let me know.
If you liked "Jane Eyre", you will like this novel, as well. I will certainly read Charlotte Brontë's other novels.
From the back cover: "Based on Charlotte Brontë's personal experience as a teacher in Brussels, Villette is a moving tale of repressed feelings and subjection to cruel circumstance and position, borne with heroic fortitude.
Rising above the frustrations of confinement within a rigid social order, it is also a story of a woman's right to love and be loved."
Or: "With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls' boarding school in the small town of Villette.
There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster and her own complex feelings, first for the school's English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor Paul Emmanuel. Drawing on her own deeply unhappy experiences as a governess in Brussels, Charlotte Brontë's last and most autobiographical novel is a powerfully moving study of isolation and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances."