It has come to be customary to read Villette as the story of Lucy Snowe: a self-defensive character, a ‘constitutionally nervous’ individual, ‘a nobody and a somebody’, an exemplary figure of ‘woman's growth into self-recognition and self-sufficiency’. However, there is a great deal in the novel that cannot be assimilated to a narrative such as this. Its images of visual bedazzlement and of devastating idolatry bespeak a different kind of engagement with rather different areas of mid-Victorian cultural debate. This other face of the novel is, it seems, no less expressive of Charlotte Brontë's concern with contemporary actualities than that psychologically realistic story which its readers usually abstract. The complexities of ‘dazzle’ — its challenge to perceptual mastery, its connotations both of splendour and of annihilation, as well as, more particularly, the blinding light of the sun — were in early Victorian England being pondered in another medium by an artist by whom Charlotte Brontë seems to have been deeply stirred as she began to conceive Villette.
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