As I mentioned on my main Villette page, I think this book is actually
written better than Jane Eyre, though I wouldn't have thought
that possible. Charlotte Bronte weaves gorgeous tapestries of words and images with breathtaking imagination and
Here is just a minuscule sampling of passages that
made me shake my head with wonder (or occasionally with laughter). I've classified them in broad categories. I
could explain and praise every single one, but I'll generally let them speak for themselves.
P.S. I've tried not to include any "spoilers"
that give away plot details. Read the book!
Notwithstanding these foibles, and various others needless to mention — but by no
means of a refined or elevating character — how pretty she was!
He laid himself open to my observation, according to my presence in the room just
that degree of notice and consequence a person of my exterior habitually expects: that is to say, about what is
given to unobtrusive articles of furniture, chairs of ordinary joiner's work, and carpets of no striking
"She is so lovely, one cannot but be loving towards her. You — every woman older
than herself, must feel for such a simple, innocent, girlish fairy a sort of motherly or elder-sisterly fondness.
[C]old, rounded, blonde, and beauteous as the white column, capitalled with gilding,
which rose at her side.
[H]er seventeen years had brought her a refined and tender charm which did not lie
in complexion, though hers was fair and clear; nor in outline, though her features were sweet, and her limbs
perfectly turned; but, I think, rather in a subdued glow from the soul outward. This was not an opaque vase, of
material however costly, but a lamp chastely lucent, guarding from extinction, yet not hiding from worship, a flame
vital and vestal.
The little man looked well, very well; there was a clearness of amity in his blue
eye, and a glow of good feeling on his dark complexion, which passed perfectly in the place of beauty: one really
did not care to observe that his nose, though far from small, was of no particular shape, his cheek thin, his brow
marked and square, his mouth no rose-bud: one accepted him as he was, and felt his presence the reverse of damping
I never remember the time when I had not a haunting dread of what might be the
degree of my outward deficiency ….
Was it weak to lay so much stress on an opinion about appearance? I fear it might
be; I fear it was; but in that case I must avow no light share of weakness.
DIFFICULTY OF LIFE
(Through the eyes of protagonist Lucy Snowe.)
"How will she get through this world, or battle with this life? How will she bear
the shocks and repulses, the humiliations and desolations, which books, and my own reason, tell me are prepared for
(Lucy pondering a young girl's future.)
I had wanted to compromise with Fate: to escape occasional great agonies by
submitting to a whole life of privation and small pains. Fate would not so be pacified; nor would Providence
sanction this shrinking sloth and cowardly indolence.
Alas! When I had full leisure to look on life as life must be looked on by such as
me, I found it but a hopeless desert: tawny sands, with no green fields, no palm-tree, no well in
Life is still life, whatever its pangs: our eyes and ears and their use remain with
us, though the prospect of what pleases be wholly withdrawn, and the sound of what consoles be quite
This present moment had no pain, no blot, no want; full, pure, perfect, it deeply
blessed me. A passing seraph seemed to have rested beside me, leaned towards my heart, and reposed on its throb a
softening, cooling, healing, hallowing wing.
No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to
cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould,
and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the
soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of
(Wonderfully artistic descriptions of simple subjects.)
My little morsel of human affection, which I prized as if it were a solid pearl,
must melt in my fingers and slip thence like a dissolving hailstone.
[T]here was a smaller, more sequestered bower, nestled in the vines which ran all
along a high and grey wall, and gathered their tendrils in a knot of beauty, and hung their clusters in loving
profusion about the favoured spot where jasmine and ivy met and married them.
(In the hands of an ordinary writer, the following sentence might have said
"As I was nodding off over my book, the doorbell startled me.")
Just as the stilly hum, the embowering shade, the warm, lonely calm of my retreat
were beginning to steal meaning from the page, vision from my eyes, and to lure me along the track of reverie, down
into some deep dell of dreamland — just then, the sharpest ring of the street-door bell to which that
much-tried instrument had ever thrilled, snatched me back to consciousness.
Work or suffering found her listless and dejected, powerless and repining; but
gaiety expanded her butterfly's wings, lit up their gold-dust and bright spots, made her flash like a gem, and
flush like a flower. At all ordinary diet and plain beverage she would pout; but she fed on creams and ices like a
humming-bird on honey-paste: sweet wine was her element, and sweet cake her daily bread.
[T]his shadow of the future stole with timely sobriety across the radiant
Pendant from the dome, flamed a mass that dazzled me — a mass, I thought, of
rock-crystal, sparkling with facets, streaming with drops, ablaze with stars, and gorgeously tinged with dews of
gems dissolved, or fragments of rainbows shivered.
(What a strikingly lovely description of a
I felt then as I had felt a year ago in England — on a night when the aurora
borealis was streaming and sweeping round heaven, when, belated in lonely fields, I had paused to watch that
mustering of an army with banners — that quivering of serried lances — that swift ascent of messengers from below
the north star to the dark, high keystone of heaven's arch.
[T]he knowledge was not there in my head, ready and mellow; it had not been sown in
Spring, grown in Summer, harvested in Autumn, and garnered through Winter; whatever I wanted I must go out and
gather fresh; glean of wild herbs my lapful, and shred them green into the pot.
My vague aim, as I went, was to find the stone-basin, with its clear depth and green
lining: of that coolness and verdure I thought, with the passionate thirst of unconscious fever. Amidst the glare,
and hurry, and throng, and noise, I still secretly and chiefly longed to come on that circular mirror of crystal,
and surprise the moon glassing therein her pearly front.
And then — something tore me so cruelly under my shawl, something so dug into my
side, a vulture so strong in beak and talon, I must be alone to grapple with it. I think I never felt jealousy till
[T]he sun rose jocund, with a July face. Morning decked her beauty with rubies, and
so filled her lap with roses, that they fell from her in showers, making her path blush: the Hours woke fresh as
nymphs, and emptying on the early hills their dew-vials, they stepped out dismantled of vapour: shadowless, azure,
and glorious, they led the sun's steeds on a burning and unclouded course.
(I mean, seriously: how crazy-good is that paragraph?)
(Bronte often makes notions seem like sentient beings.)
Into the hands of common sense I confided the matter. Common sense, however, was as
chilled and bewildered as all my other faculties, and it was only under the spur of an inexorable necessity that
she spasmodically executed her trust.
A calamity had come upon her. That hag Disappointment was greeting her with a grisly
"All-hail," and her soul rejected the intimacy.
Should not such a mood, so sweet, so tranquil, so unwonted, have been the harbinger
of good? Alas, no good came of it! Presently the rude Real burst coarsely in — all evil grovelling and repellent as
she too often is.
"But if I feel, may I never express?"
"Never!" declared Reason.
Feeling and I turned Reason out of doors, drew against her bar and bolt, then we sat
down, spread our paper, dipped in the ink an eager pen, and, with deep enjoyment, poured out our sincere
(The narrator is asked to write an essay on the theme of "Human
An idea once seized, I fell to work. "Human Justice" rushed before me in novel
guise, a red, random beldame, with arms akimbo. I saw her in her house, the den of confusion: servants called to
her for orders or help which she did not give; beggars stood at her door waiting and starving unnoticed; a swarm of
children, sick and quarrelsome, crawled round her feet, and yelled in her ears appeals for notice, sympathy, cure,
redress. The honest woman cared for none of these things. She had a warm seat of her own by the fire, she had her
own solace in a short black pipe, and a bottle of Mrs. Sweeny's soothing syrup; she smoked and she sipped, and she
enjoyed her paradise; and whenever a cry of the suffering souls about her pierced her ears too keenly — my jolly
dame seized the poker or the hearth-brush: if the offender was weak, wronged, and sickly, she effectually settled
him: if he was strong, lively, and violent, she only menaced, then plunged her hand in her deep pouch, and flung a
liberal shower of sugar-plums.
A gathering call ran among the faculties, their bugles sang, their trumpets rang an
untimely summons. Imagination was roused from her rest, and she came forth impetuous and venturous. With scorn she
looked on Matter, her mate — "Rise!" she said. "Sluggard! this night I will have my will; nor shalt
There is nothing like taking all you do at a moderate estimate: it keeps mind and
body tranquil; whereas grandiloquent notions are apt to hurry both into fever.
"How is this?" said I. "Methinks I am animated and alert, instead of being depressed
Of an artistic temperament, I deny that I am; yet I must possess something of the
artist's faculty of making the most of present pleasure: that is to say, when it is of the kind to my taste. I
enjoyed that day, though we travelled slowly, though it was cold, though it rained.
[W]ith my usual base habit of cowardice, I shrank into my sloth like a snail into
its shell, and alleged incapacity and impracticability as a pretext to escape action.
Loverless and inexpectant of love, I was as safe from spies in my heart-poverty, as
the beggar from thieves in his destitution of purse.
If you think scarcely enough of yourself, and too much of others, what is that but
[Y]ou might sadden and trouble me sometimes; but then mine was a soon-depressed, an
easily-deranged temperament — it fell if a cloud crossed the sun.
[I]s there nothing more for me in life — no true home — nothing to be dearer to me
than myself, and by its paramount preciousness, to draw from me better things than I care to culture for myself
I liked her. It is not a declaration I have often made concerning my acquaintance,
in the course of this book: the reader will bear with it for once.
I fear a high wind, because storm demands that exertion of strength and use of
action I always yield with pain; but the sullen down-fall, the thick snow-descent, or dark rush of rain, ask only
resignation — the quiet abandonment of garments and person to be drenched.
Countless times it had been my lot to watch apprehended sorrow close darkly in; but
to see unhoped-for happiness take form, find place, and grow more real as the seconds sped, was indeed a new
I will permit the reader to picture me, for the next eight years, as a bark slumbering through halcyon weather, in
a harbour still as glass — the steersman stretched on the little deck, his face up to heaven, his eyes closed:
buried, if you will, in a long prayer. A great many women and girls are supposed to pass their lives something in
that fashion; why not I with the rest?
Madame raised my salary; but she got thrice the work out of me she had extracted
from Mr. Wilson, at half the expense.
How often, while women and girls sit warm at snug fire-sides, their hearts and
imaginations are doomed to divorce from the comfort surrounding their persons, forced out by night to wander
through dark ways, to dare stress of weather, to contend with the snow-blast, to wait at lonely gates and stiles in
wildest storms, watching and listening to see and hear the father, the son, the husband coming
"This will not hold long," I thought to myself; for I was not accustomed to find in
women or girls any power of self-control, or strength of self-denial. As far as I knew them, the chance of a gossip
about their usually trivial secrets, their often very washy and paltry feelings, was a treat not to be readily
I was vaguely threatened with I know not what doom, if I ever trespassed the limits
proper to my sex, and conceived a contraband appetite for unfeminine knowledge. Alas! I had no such
A "woman of intellect," it appeared, was a sort of "lusus naturae," a luckless
accident, a thing for which there was neither place nor use in creation, wanted neither as wife nor
Beautiful she looked: so young, so fresh, and with a delicacy of skin and
flexibility of shape altogether English, and not found in the list of continental female charms.
[H]er direct and downright Deutsch nature seemed to suffer a sensation of cruel
restraint from what she called our English reserve; though we thought we were very cordial with her: but we did not
slap her on the shoulder, and if we consented to kiss her cheek, it was done quietly, and without any explosive
The essay was not remarkable at all; it only seemed remarkable,
compared with the average productions of foreign school-girls; in an English establishment it would have passed
(A single example, though many more exist.)
There, as elsewhere, the CHURCH strove to bring up her children robust in body,
feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning.
"Then, I shall kiss the hand," said he; but that moment it became a miniature fist,
and dealt him payment in a small coin that was not kisses.
How could inn-servants and ship-stewardesses everywhere tell at a glance that I, for
instance, was an individual of no social significance, and little burdened by cash?
"How do I look — how do I look to-night?" she demanded.
"As usual," said I; "preposterously vain."
He observed that the night was fine.
"Is it?" I said, with a tone and manner whose consummate chariness and frostiness I
could not but applaud.
[P]leased to surprise him — pleased, that is, with the mixed feeling of the
housewife who discovers at last her strange elfin ally busy in the dairy at the untimely churn
We might have quarrelled again that very same evening, but, wonderful
to relate, failed, for once, to make the most of our opportunity.
"I scarcely know any one, Miss Lucy, who needs a friend more absolutely than you;
your very faults imperatively require it. You want so much checking, regulating, and keeping
[M]y ear received a pull, of which I did not venture to challenge the repetition by
raising further difficulties.
[B]earing on my arm the dear pressure of that angel's not unsubstantial limb — (she
continued in excellent case, and I can assure the reader it was no trifling business to bear the burden of her
loveliness; many a time in the course of that warm day I wished to goodness there had been less of the charming
[T]he new print dress I wore, being pink in colour — a fact which, under our present
convoy, made me feel something as I have felt, when, clad in a shawl with a red border, necessitated to traverse a
meadow where pastured a bull.
They talked so much, so long, so often, that, out of the very multitude of their
words and rumours, grew at last some intelligence.