Villette (1853), Charlotte Brontë’s last novel, is famously riddled with ambiguity: its narrator-protagonist, Lucy Snowe, avoids disclosing details about her childhood, fails to reveal to readers the identity of characters she recognizes from her past, and refuses to confirm if her love interest, M. Paul, has died at sea. Believing Lucy’s ambiguous narrative style to be a tool she uses to train readers to better understand her, many critics have focused on trying to interpret Lucy’s silences and evasions “correctly,” thereby turning themselves into Lucy’s or Brontë’s “ideal” authorial readers. However, throughout her life, Lucy has resisted being read by people who assume they can fully know and fit her into their worldview. Unwilling to impose her views on others, Lucy’s autobiography encourages readers to make their own meaning without deciphering how she intends for it to be read. She maintains that she is ultimately unknowable to her readers, just as they are to her, and preserves, rather than erases, the distance between reader and author. By constructing an authorial reader who does not seek to think as Lucy does, Villette invites readers into an ethical relationship with Lucy in which otherness is respected and intimacy is possible despite differences.

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