In this essay I argue that Lucy's traumatic condition comes from her experience navigating an emerging economic phenomenon. She is an early participant in global migrant caregiving. Initially involved in an intensive, all-engrossing care dyad, she then moves into what Arlie Russell Hochschild calls “emotional labor,” the act of performing an inauthentic feeling publicly for money. Like modern caregivers, Lucy Snowe expresses a sense of invisibility and stress over her cultural alterity. When Madame Beck's surveillance forces Lucy to enact her teacherly persona constantly, Lucy fetishizes her inner truth and develops a disastrous split between these two versions of herself—a split that the novel represents both by her two love interests and by the costume of the nun. In Villette, moreover, Brontë invents specific narrative tropes that would be picked up by later writers on migration including Jamaica Kincaid. Although Lucy Snowe is the first protagonist to suffer from emotional labor, analyzing Lucy's condition helps us notice that throughout Victorian fiction, a host of minor characters—companions, governesses, nurses—share some of these characteristic traits. Villette therefore gives us an alternative way of understanding Victorian working women in fiction, and the effort to depict the inner life of a person whose work profoundly alienates her from her inner self accounts for the extraordinary literary innovations of Brontë's last novel.

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