I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

donderdag 29 oktober 2009

The Secret of Charlotte Brontë

This is probably the first and only book which is focused solely on Charlotte Brontë and Brussels, and would therefore be of great interest to everyone interested in that period of her life.

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:

(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.”

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:

1 opmerking:

  1. Charlotte Bronte had never experienced anyone like M. Heger before she and Emily walked into Zoe Heger's school.

    When she met him , for Charlotte it was like a drought dry forest contacting an open flame.....towering conflagration lay straight ahead.

    Charlotte's desperate clinging to M. Heger is also explained when one reflects no one near his quality of mind, learning and intellectual inquiring was in her life before and well after .

    Her letters are quite truthful when she says she must cling to her life, that is, his friendship. It was that much a case life or death for this woman of genius when you know her Haworth life before fame .

    Without him, she was back in a mentally void landscape ( save for her own family, and even they could not compare with his knowledge ) However it was this terrible desperation for his letters that cut them off just, as her desperation for his regard ruined life at the school . Her very need killed off the supply

    For Constantin Heger , he was simply being his kind , brilliant self . But for Charlotte ,he was a revelation she could not give up easily ...only when seen in these terms can her outrageous demands ( what else would you call them ? ) be seen in a piteous light .

    Charlotte and Branwell were twins still. But she kept her love crisis hidden and was eventually able to surmount it .

    This was due to her amazing fortitude...but also to society's expectations . It simply would not permit a woman to indulge in the public wallow Branwell was allowed without far graver consequences than a hang over .

    Charlotte was also lucky the object of her love and his long suffering spouse were people of great integrity. ...though she would not believe that of Madame Heger .

    Because in order to ease her guilt for loving a married man, Charlotte had to make his wife a dragon Bertha figure ...and we see this being in most of the novels

    It is interesting to look at Charlotte's relationship with George Smith later as a reenactment of Brussels in a minor key ...with Mama Smith cast in the role of a lesser Madame Beck...an older female who is keeping our heroine from the love object.

    When in fact the love object sought protection behind the lady dragon when Charlotte's demands grew too great,

    In Mr. Smith's case, Charlotte did not produce novels at a rate fast enough to warrant the interest he showed early on to stay at that level . Both he and M. Hager had no idea the fire they were contending with...but they learned.

    Her emotional volume was set much higher than most people's . It was a source of pain for her , but also an important part of her genius .

    However by the time Charlotte knew Smith , she could control herself far better . She had learned as well .

    We are lucky it was Frederika MacDonald who first used Charlotte's letters to M. Heger in a book, as she had a marvelous and vital perspective : She knew the real Hegers. I'm glad someone stood up for them


The Parlour

The Parlour



Charlotte Bronte

Presently the door opened, and in came a superannuated mastiff, followed by an old gentleman very like Miss Bronte, who shook hands with us, and then went to call his daughter. A long interval, during which we coaxed the old dog, and looked at a picture of Miss Bronte, by Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looking strangely out of place on the bare walls, and at the books on the little shelves, most of them evidently the gift of the authors since Miss Bronte's celebrity. Presently she came in, and welcomed us very kindly, and took me upstairs to take off my bonnet, and herself brought me water and towels. The uncarpeted stone stairs and floors, the old drawers propped on wood, were all scrupulously clean and neat. When we went into the parlour again, we began talking very comfortably, when the door opened and Mr. Bronte looked in; seeing his daughter there, I suppose he thought it was all right, and he retreated to his study on the opposite side of the passage; presently emerging again to bring W---- a country newspaper. This was his last appearance till we went. Miss Bronte spoke with the greatest warmth of Miss Martineau, and of the good she had gained from her. Well! we talked about various things; the character of the people, - about her solitude, etc., till she left the room to help about dinner, I suppose, for she did not return for an age. The old dog had vanished; a fat curly-haired dog honoured us with his company for some time, but finally manifested a wish to get out, so we were left alone. At last she returned, followed by the maid and dinner, which made us all more comfortable; and we had some very pleasant conversation, in the midst of which time passed quicker than we supposed, for at last W---- found that it was half-past three, and we had fourteen or fifteen miles before us. So we hurried off, having obtained from her a promise to pay us a visit in the spring... ------------------- "She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing. After she had tried to draw stories, and not succeeded, she took the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it. ----------------------She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She herself appealed to the world's judgement for her use of some of the faculties she had, - not the best, - but still the only ones she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a judgement on her from such a world?" elizabeth gaskell/charlotte bronte

Poem: No coward soul is mine

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life -- that in me has rest,
As I -- Undying Life -- have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Family tree

The Bronte Family

Grandparents - paternal
Hugh Brunty was born 1755 and died circa 1808. He married Eleanor McClory, known as Alice in 1776.

Grandparents - maternal
Thomas Branwell (born 1746 died 5th April 1808) was married in 1768 to Anne Carne (baptised 27th April 1744 and died 19th December 1809).

Father was Patrick Bronte, the eldest of 10 children born to Hugh Brunty and Eleanor (Alice) McClory. He was born 17th March 1777 and died on 7th June 1861. Mother was Maria Branwell, who was born on 15th April 1783 and died on 15th September 1821.

Maria had a sister, Elizabeth who was known as Aunt Branwell. She was born in 1776 and died on 29th October 1842.

Patrick Bronte married Maria Branwell on 29th December 1812.

The Bronte Children
Patrick and Maria Bronte had six children.
The first child was Maria, who was born in 1814 and died on 6th June 1825.
The second daughter, Elizabeth was born on 8th February 1815 and died shortly after Maria on 15th June 1825. Charlotte was the third daughter, born on 21st April 1816.

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (born 1818) on 29th June 1854. Charlotte died on 31st March 1855. Arthur lived until 2nd December 1906.

The first and only son born to Patrick and Maria was Patrick Branwell, who was born on 26th June 1817 and died on 24th September 1848.

Emily Jane, the fourth daughter was born on 30th July 1818 and died on 19th December 1848.

The sixth and last child was Anne, born on 17th January 1820 who died on 28th May 1849.

Top Withens in the snow.

Top Withens in the snow.



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