Ambiguity has often been associated with the ending of the novel, which leaves it to the reader to decide whether Lucy's fiancé M. Paul returns from his voyage or not. However, the text is characterized throughout by ambiguous instances, both on the level of language and of content. The thesis approaches the topic of ambiguity with the protagonist as a starting point. Being a fictional autobiography, the novel centres on the narrator Lucy Snowe. She remains elusive and enigmatic, both in the dialogues with other characters and in the communications addressed to the reader. For both cases, the dissertation will examine the choice of vocabulary and rhetorical figures (e.g. antitheses), trying to depict the relations between linguistic ambiguity and ambiguities of content.
One of the topics related to the character of the narrator are the secrets occurring in Villette. They can be divided into two main types: Firstly, there are the actual secrets connected to one of the characters, e.g. the fact that the mysterious nun haunting the school turns out to be Ginevra's lover; secondly, the allusive rather than factual information appertaining to Lucy Snowe herself, e.g. concerning her parents' identity, the traumatic events of her childhood and her love for Graham Bretton. Connected to the latter topic is the theme of cognition: Lucy does not know herself (meaningfully, the pronoun "I" first occurs in the phrase "I know not"). Writing thus functions not only as an attempt at being understood by her reader, but to gain insight into her own being. The material manifestations associated with both types of secrets, such as the mirrors present in different scenes, the many gilded surfaces of Lucy's surroundings and the casket containing her letters provide examples for the study of the textual 'embodiments' of ambiguity.
Villette's uses of ambiguity will moreover be placed in the context of contemporary rhetorical and linguistic concepts of ambiguity, including those mentioned in pertinent reference works, such as Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres or the most popular dictionaries, among them Johnson's Dictionary and Cooper's Thesaurus, as well as the biblical dictionary used in the Brontë household. Of course, other literary texts (including Charlotte Brontë's other works) with a focus on ambiguity will be considered to investigate the concept(s) of ambiguity in Villette.