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Villette is an 1853 novel by Charlotte Brontë. After an unspecified family disaster, the protagonist Lucy Snowe travels from England to the fictional French-speaking city of Villette to teach at a girls' school, where she is drawn into adventure and romance.
Villette was Charlotte Brontë's fourth novel. It was preceded by the posthumously published The Professor, her first, and then by Jane Eyre and Shirley.
The novel is set in the English countryside, in London, and (mainly) in the fictional city of Villette (based upon Brussels) in the fictional Kingdom of Labassecour (based upon Belgium). "Labassecour" is French for farmyard.
Villette begins with its famously passive protagonist, Lucy Snowe, age 14, staying at the home of her godmother Mrs. Bretton in "the clean and ancient town of Bretton", in England. Also in residence are Mrs. Bretton's son, John Graham Bretton (whom the family calls Graham), and a young visitor, Paulina Home (who is called Polly). Polly is a peculiar little girl who soon develops a deep devotion to Graham, who showers her with attention. But Polly's visit is cut short when her father arrives to take her away.
For reasons that are not stated, Lucy leaves Mrs. Bretton's home a few weeks after the Polly's departure. Some years pass, during which an unspecified family tragedy leaves Lucy without family, home, or means. After some initial hesitation, she is hired as a caregiver by Miss Marchmont, a rheumatic crippled woman. Lucy is soon accustomed to her work and has begun to feel content with her quiet lifestyle.
During an evening of dramatic weather changes, Miss Marchmont regains all her energy and feels young again. She shares with Lucy her sad love story of 30 years previously, and concludes that she should treat Lucy better and be a better person. She believes that death will reunite her with her dead lover. The next morning, Lucy finds Miss Marchmont dead.
Lucy then leaves the English countryside and goes to London. At the age of 23, she boards a ship for Labassecour despite knowing very little French. She travels to the city of Villette, where she finds employment as a bonne (nanny) at Mme. Beck's boarding school for girls. (This school is seen as being based upon the Hégers' Brussels pensionnat). After a time, she is hired to teach English at the school, in addition to having to mind Mme. Beck's three children. She thrives despite Mme. Beck's constant surveillance of the staff and students.