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Charlotte's third novel, the last published in her lifetime, was Villette, in 1853.
Arguably Charlotte Brontë's most refined and deeply felt work, Villette draws on her profound loneliness following the deaths of her three siblings. Lucy Snowe, the narrator, flees from an unhappy past in England to begin a new life as a teacher at a French boarding school in the great and cosmopolitan capital of Villette. Soon Lucy's struggle for independence is overshadowed by both her friendship with a worldly English doctor and her feelings for an autocratic schoolmaster. Brontë's strikingly modern heroine must decide if there is any man in her society with whom she can live and still be free.
A young woman, seemingly alone in the world in heart, in fact, sets out to find her place in the world. Lucy Snowe, forced by circumstances and urged on by a sense of adventure, decides she "cannot lose and may win" and travels to "Villette" where she becomes first a sort of nursemaid to the small children of and lady's maid to the director of the school- a strong, successful but somewhat cold and calculating woman. In time the director raises Lucy to English teacher and Lucy begins to find some security, yet the sense of loneliness remains. She finds relief for this in the friendship of two very different men - the socially superior knight-in-shining-armour, as it were, Graham Bretton, and the crusty professor, M. Paul. Lucy must decide which of these friendships can develop into love as she learns the lessons about life, love, loss and longing that all of us face. Based in part on Charlotte Bronte's own experience in Brussels with a gifted teacher who saw her as she could be and her knight-like young publisher, George Smith, whose admiration failed to see her beyond how society saw her, Villette is a priceless portrait of love and loneliness, of joy and pain, of going bravely on when it seems there is nothing to go on for. Filled with beautiful passages on emotion and human nature, Villette is a book that satisfies something in the soul.--Submitted by Claire Copeland
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