Frederika MacDonald, in 1859, was herself a pupil at the Pensionnat Heger where 17 years earlier Charlotte had been a student, and later a teacher. She knew from first-hand experience what life was like at the school, and even more interesting, what M. Heger and his wife Madame Heger were like in real life.
Frederika had been writing articles as an ex-pupil of the Pensionnat from 1894 onwards, but when Charlotte’s letters to Heger were made public in 1913 (when Paul Heger handed them over to the British Museum), she was the first to quote from these letters in a Brontë biography. They form a vital part of this publication, in which Frederika tries to unravel the ‘secret’ of Charlotte on the basis of these letters.
The book is separated in 2 parts:
Part I; CHARLOTTE BRONTË’S LETTERS TO M. HEGER
(These Letters supply the Key to the Secret of Charlotte Brontë). She ends this part by quoting Charlotte’s last desperate letter to Constantin Heger. She writes: “ The Letter obtained no answer.
And thus the end was reached. We now know where in Charlotte Bronte's life lay her experiences that formed her genius and made her the great Romantic whose quality was that she saw all events and personages through the medium of one passion: the passion of a predestined tragical and unrequited love.”
Part II; SOME REMINISCENES OF THE REAL MONSIEUR HEGER
Frederika MacDonald gives us a marvellous insight into her life at the Pensionnat and her own personal view of the teacher she and Charlotte both shared. She writes: “ But Monsieur Heger had one really beautiful feature, that I remember often watching with extreme pleasure when he recited fine poetry or read noble prose : - his mouth, when uttering words that moved him, had a delightful smile, not in the least tender towards ordinary mortals, but almost tender in its homage to the excellence of writers of genius.
In brief, what M. Heger 's face revealed when studied as the index of his natural qualities, was intellectual superiority, an imperious temper, a good deal of impatience against stupidity, and very little patience with his fellow-creatures generally; it revealed too a good deal of humour; and a very little kindheartedness, to be weighed against any amount of irritability. It was a sort of face bound to interest one; but not, so it seems to me, to conquer affection.” There are also some interesting illustrations, which you hardly find in any other publication or biography.
I strongly recommend this book as a wonderful addition of any good Brussels/Brontë collection.
If you are able to get your hands on a copy, don’t let it slip you by. There is however the possibilty to read the text, by clicking on this link: http://www.archive.org/details/secretofcharlott00macduoft
To see the digitalized original edition, click on ‘FLIP BOOK’ in the left panel where it says; ‘View the book’.
Some more information on Frederika’s book in the Australian Brontë Association Newsletter: