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

zondag 27 juni 2010

Brontë’s letters to Constantin Heger

In beginning her exploration of Brontë’s letters to Constantin Heger, Kauffman suggests that the letters reveal Charlotte Brontë’s transformation ‘from Heger’s correspondent into the novelist of Jane Eyre’ (Kauffman 1986: 160). Kauffman intends to connect the rhetorical strategies of the letters and of Jane Eyre to map ‘the metamorphosis of the rhetoric of passion from an authentic to a fictional discourse’ (p. 160).

To start with, Kauffman maps out the narrative of Brontë’s and Heger’s encounter including:
• Charlotte’s and Emily’s trip to Brussels in 1842 to learn languages;
• their return to England at the death of their aunt;
• Charlotte Brontë’s return to Brussels alone in 1843;
• and her final return to England in 1844.

Brontë began writing to Heger after her return and there is evidence to suggest that there were more letters than survive today. In the letters that do remain, Kauffman notes a variety of characteristics that fit the ‘amorous epistolary discourse’ on which her study focuses. These include:

• ‘the denial of the reality of separation’;
• ‘the desire for contact’;
• ‘despair at the master’s silence’;
• and ‘resigned desolation’ (p. 161).

In initial letters, Brontë is ‘submissive’ and puts ‘emphasis on having been given the authority to write’ (p. 161). However, when Heger write back with a firm, stern tone providing instruction as to how she must write, Brontë rebels and does the opposite; ‘she becomes more outspoken, more indignant, less submissive’ (p. 161-162). Kauffman notes that ‘[l]ike all amorous epistolary discourses, Charlotte’s letters are demands, pleas, threats, and confrontations, filled with the same marks of internal tension, contradiction, self-division, and torment’ (p. 163).

Like Mary Jacobus in ‘The Buried Letter’, Kauffman notes that the figure of student-governess-teacher is an ambiguous one in nineteenth-century British society. She describes Brontë as ‘simultaneously a family intimate and a family employee; the boundaries between belonging to and being excluded from the family are constantly shifting ones’ (p. 163). In Jane Eyre, Blanche Ingram tries to humiliate the governess-heroine and in her letters, Brontë expresses anguish at her humiliation in being a governess. In her letters to Heger, Brontë seems unsure as to whether to situate herself as governess or pupil as she tries to reconcile Heger’s warmth in past encounters and the coldness of his silence. Gaskell and others have tried to suggest that the romance between Heger and Brontë was imagined, but Kauffman provides much evidence that suggests that Heger exploited teacher-pupil relationships on a regular basis with his charismatic personality. Brontë’s letters are always a work of persuasion for him to break his silence and write to her again, which he never does. Silence is of course an obsession of Brontë’s novels too: ‘[i]h her letters, poems and novels Charlotte continued all her life to portray the intense misery of loneliness, exile and unrequited love’ (p. 170).

Kauffman, L. 1986, Discourses of Desire: Gender, Genre and Epistolary Fictions, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

2 opmerkingen:

  1. Kauffman writes very insightfuly about the letters and charts CB's emotional track though them .

    Indeed there were very likely more, earlier letters. It seems Mme Hegar started keeping them when Charlotte's tone began to lose control.

    It was very wise of Mme Hegar to pick them out of the trash. The letters meant little to CB's "Master" it seems, but I believe having them tucked away brought great comfort to Mme. They were powerful insurance at the time and a vindication today .

    Those in the teaching profession would understand her even more than the rest of us

  2. Having just finished" The Secret of Charlotte Brontë " by Frederika Macdonald,
    I recommend it to the Bronte enthusiast...it's on the must read Bronte book list imo

    Sometimes the older books, this one is from 1916, have much to tell us...because they are closer to the Bronte times and world view than the new ones

    Macdonald, is an excellent writer and was taught by the Hegers and so knew them

    The first part is about Charlotte's letters published three years before in 1913 ...and the 2nd part is about Macdonald,'s experiences at the Heger's school on the Rue d'Isabelle

    During her school days ,Frederika was wrongfully accused of something by M.Heger and in front of the whole school ...the injustice of it make her so angry she sat in that one spot . She could not leave the place of the injustice...though the rest of the school had gone about its business as usual.. Frederika stayed in the Refectory alone .Eventual Madame Heger came to her

    'My child,' she said, 'you are wrong to take so seriously the reproach
    addressed to you by M. Heger as the result of a mistake. Mlle. Zélie has
    explained to M. Heger and to me the accident. It was a pity, no doubt,
    that this happened: but you have not any more blame than the others. All
    is forgotten and forgiven. But you, my child, are wrong in this. Why do
    you remain here, when prayers are already over, and without permission?

    You know well it is forbidden.'

    The interview between them that Ms Macdonald, records is remarkable ...and breaks somewhat Madame Heger's life long silence on what it is like to be unjustly accused and how one goes on

    Macdonald, writs

    Ever since I have known the story of Charlotte Brontë I have had the
    firm conviction of what was in Madame Heger's mind when she spoke to me
    of one who had imagined enemies in friends, and who, complaining of
    injustice, had been unjust.

    But since I have read Charlotte's Letters, the unmistakable proof is
    that Madame Heger, so far as my memory serves me after all these years, actually
    quoted the very words of one of these letters, about one dominated by a fixed idea,
    and the slave of vain desires.


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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