The novel is notable for portraying Lucy's depression very accurately, as well as for its mysterious and clever usage of the Unreliable Narrator.
This was Charlotte Brontë's final and most autobiographical novel, partly inspired by her own experiences in Brussels and her unrequited passion for Constantin Heger. Villette was written after all of Charlotte's siblings had died, and her outlook on life is decidedly bleaker than it was in Jane Eyre.
Contains examples of
- At the Opera Tonight: Lucy goes to the opera with the Brettons. Cue the pink/red dress discussion with M. Paul.
- Bolivian Army Ending: Lucy tells her readers that M. Paul's ship back to Villette was caught in a storm, and then basically tells the reader to pretend that their love had a happy ending. She never actually says that he died. Word of God had it that Paul did indeed die. Charlotte Bronte reputedly considered it a kinder fate than life with Lucy Snowe.
- Cabin Fever: Lucy is left alone during the vacation. It's dangerously close to Go Mad from the Isolation.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Lucy's undisclosed family tragedy. We only know she is left all alone in the world. Older and kind Mrs Bretton is her only reliable friend, but her situation is hard as well and Lucy must depend on herself only.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lucy. Most notable in her friendship with Ginevra Fanshawe, but also to Dr John when teasing him about the object of his admiration.
- Diabolus ex Machina: After finally gaining true love, Lucy very probably loses M. Paul in a storm.
- Gray Rain of Depression: It rains when Lucy is depressed and she seems to actually like when it rains.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Lucy Snowe puts up with a lot of crap from Dr. John because she is almost completely without any companions.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Dr. John showed romantic interest in Ginevra, Lucy objected because Ginevra was leading him on because he gave her gifts. When Dr. John showed romantic interest in Polly Home, Lucy approves because Polly is a decent lady.
- Language Barrier: Lucy is having a hard time in Villette at first, not speaking French and nobody around who would understand English.
- Licked by the Dog: M. Paul is the school dog's favorite.
- Love Dodecahedron: Lucy is romantically interested in Dr. John and M. Paul and they kind of reciprocate the interest but it is not sure how serious they are. Dr. John is really good friends with Lucy, but he's also way out of her league. M. Paul is more unapproachable, but less out of her league. Dr. John considers being with Lucy, is infatuated with Ginevra (who likes him back but they are both not serious about the relationship) and falls in love with and later marries Polly. Ginevra elopes with another guy.
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: Ginevra Fanshawe, a superficial pretty Gold Digger apparently popular among her peers who values Lucy's friendship, even when Lucy pushes her away.
- Meaningful Name: "Lucy Snowe" stands for all the contrasts she's filled with: a light name for someone with Dark and Troubled Past, a cold name for someone who's of a very passionate nature.
- Mushroom Samba: In the third volume, Madame Beck gives Lucy an unspecified drug that, instead of putting her to sleep, intensifies her emotions and sensations.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Vashti is the legendary French actress Rachel.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Ginevra is courted by two men and she chooses the rich one; she finds him much prettier anyway.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Dr John was based on Charlotte Brontë's publisher George Smith. Because Charlotte was in love with Smith and realised he didn't care for her, she decided not to make him the hero. It didn't go well with him. Also, those you love die and you are left alone. There can be no true love and happiness for people like Lucy. Guess where that attitude came from.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Lucy is hard to herself all the time. It would be Heroic Self-Deprecation if it wasn't that Lucy isn't involved in much heroicking.
- Roman à Clef: Based on Charlotte Brontë's life in Brussels, her feelings for Constantin Heger and George Smith and her morose attitudes to life.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Lucy encounters such a pair while traveling and is stunned to realize that the pretty young woman is quite happy and content, as the man is not only ugly in looks, but in personality.
- Unreliable Narrator: Lucy knows that Dr. John is Graham Bretton (and so does the audience), but she conveniently forgets to tell the reader until later in the book. There's generally a lot of unreliable narration regarding Dr. John. Lucy praises him a lot, yet his actions paint a very different picture...
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Lucy and Ginevra are a truly strange case of this, as they are hardly friends, but certainly vitriolic. They spend quite a lot of time together, thanks to both being Englishwomen in a foreign country and Ginevra being surprisingly clingy.