Villette marks the culmination of Brontë's struggle against the authority of the ‘real.’ As in the 1834 story, ‘The Spell’, the reader is tempted into offering diagnoses of the protagonist, whilst simultaneously being shown how arbitrary, and inadequate any such readings would be. We form, as readers, one more layer of social surveillance which Lucy, our narrator, is determined to frustrate. Her autobiography operates not as a form of confession, which would then transfer power to the reader, but rather as a form of creative evasion which leads finally to a new vision of embodied selfhood. No longer do the real and the imagination, the outer world and inner feeling, stand in painful conflict; Brontë's text opens up a space where the metaphoric world of desire is actively embodied. In place of the reductive materialism of medical science, with its claims to authoritative interpretation of the symptoms of selfhood, we are offered a materialism which embraces the realm of imagination.
In foregrounding the interpretative conflict between the man of medical science, Dr John, and Lucy, Brontë makes explicit the concerns which had underpinned the narrative methodology of all her writing. Medical science, Rothfield has suggested, offers a paradigm for the realist novel in its ‘immanent power to penetrate and know the embodied self it treats’. Brontë's distrust of such claims to authority is encoded in the narrative form of all her writings, from the teasing, unreliable narrators of her earliest stories, to the conflictual, autobiographical forms of her major novels.