For most people the name Charlotte Bronte is quickly associated with her novel Jane Eyre - but only with Jane Eyre. For some time I have had on my bookshelf a copy of Bronte's Villette. How it came to be there I have no idea. But at 464 pages it was unlikely that I would be reading it any time soon. So I decided to take advantage of a free audio download to listen to it while running. It turned out to be a great choice with one reservation. Villette is the name of the town in which most of the story takes place (not the name of the main character as I had erroneously supposed). It is located in Belgium where they speak French. Bronte has included a lot of French dialogue in her book - which is fine if you have the printed version that includes the translations in the back. But somewhat difficult if you are listening to a recording and your French is very rusty. That said, I don't think that I missed too much.
In the most general terms this is the story of a poor English girl Lucy Snowe on her own whose luck or fate brings her to a girls' school in Villette where she becomes a teacher of English. As you would expect Bronte is superb in describing the physical surroundings as well as portraits of a host of other characters. Bronte herself lived for a time in a Brussels boarding school where she taught English so she can write vividly from experience.
One of the aspects that I found particularly interesting was the portrayal of the differences and animosity between the Romanists (aka Catholics) and the Protestants. Lucy is the sole Protestant among the Catholic faculty of the school. Great efforts are made to convert her in the course of which Bronte lays out for the reader/listener some of the significant differences between these two philosophies and their respective views of life. So much more interesting than reading an encyclopedia.
The ending of the book took my breath away. I still want to say "Wait - that can't be," but of course it can and for Bronte's purposes it can only be that way.