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Thomas Library

Honors Thesis Archive

Author Heather Stucky (Bower)
Title The Victorian "Border" Garden and the "Boarder" Governess In Charlotte Brontë's Villette
Department English
Advisor Robin Inboden
Year 2002
Honors University Honors
Full Text View Thesis (601 KB) Note: This is a very large file; it may be easier to download the file to your computer and open it from there.
Abstract While reading Charlotte Brontë's Villette, many critics consider Lucy Snowe an underdeveloped character and analyze only the psychological and stylistic elements of the novel. Conversely, I argue that Lucy is not an underdeveloped character and offer a more complicated reading of Villette. Lucy represents the product of Victorian governess culture, and the novel itself develops into a social critique. Brontë's experience with the governess culture provided her with valuable insights that surface in Villette. She held many governess positions, all of which she detested. As Brontë expresses her own concerns about the governess system through Lucy's story, Villette becomes another powerful voice in the governess debate. Lucy's emotional "void" is actually a spirit repressed to the point of anonymity.

Charlotte utilizes Lucy's character to comment on how society treats governesses, largely by employing the familiar symbolism of Victorian garden culture. Both gardens and governesses exist in a liminal space between the domestic sphere and the societal sphere. They occupy a space between public and private, family and community. Superficially, Lucy's character appears repressed and undeveloped. However, her connection with the garden reveals the complexity of Lucy's character. The enclosure and domestication of the garden represents the restriction and containment of Lucy's identity, while its wildness and freedom represent her duality and passion. By using the language of the garden, Brontë effectively illustrates that a Victorian governess's individuality and personhood were sacrificed to her role. With this role and sacrifice revealed, Villette develops into a poignantly written critique of repression rather a dry narrative of an underdeveloped character and her emotional void.

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