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 9 januari 2011

Charlotte Brontë's feelings for Heger

The extent of Charlotte Brontë's feelings for Heger were not fully realised until 1913, when her letters to him were published for the first time. Heger had first shown them to Mrs. Gaskell when she visited him in 1856 while researching her biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë, but she concealed their true significance. These letters, referred to as the 'Heger Letters', had been ripped up at some stage by Heger, but his wife had retrieved the pieces from the wastepaper bin and had meticulously glued or sewn them back together. Paul Heger, Constantin's son, and his sisters, gave these letters to the British Museum, and they were shortly after printed in The Times newspaper

The Life of Charlotte Brontë, the posthumous biography of Charlotte Brontë by Gaskell, was the first of many biographies about Charlotte to be published. Though frank in places, Gaskell suppressed details of Charlotte's love for Heger, a married man, as being too much of an affront to contemporary morals and as a possible source of distress to Charlotte's still-living friends, father and husband.

Charlotte continued to write to C. Heger well into 1845.
Charlotte's portrayal of the temperamental M. Heger as she first saw him in 1842 describes a striking man:

“He is professor of rhetoric, a man of power as to mind, but very choleric and irritable in temperament; a little black being, with a face that varies in expression. Sometimes he borrows the lineaments of an insane tom-cat, sometimes those of a delirious hyena; occasionally, but very seldom, he discards these perilous attractions and assumes an air nor above 100 degrees removed form mild and gentlemanlike.

Later letters to Constantin Heger.

“If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely I shall be altogether without hope; if he gives me little – just a little – I shall be satisfied – happy; i shall have reason for living on, for working .... Nor do I, either, need much affections from those I love .... But you showed me of yore a little interest, when I was your pupil in Brussels, and I hold on to the maintenance of that little interest – I hold on to it as I would hold on to life.

On this day in 1890 Mme Heger died in Brussels.

On this day in 1890 Mme Heger died in Brussels.

In 1842, Charlotte and Emily attended a boarding school the Pensionnat Heger, run by Claire Zoé Parent Heger (1814-1891) and Constantin Heger (1809-1896), in Brussels.

The name of "Monsieur Heger" (Constantin Georges Romain Heger - Brussels, 1809-1896) comes up frequently in Brontë criticism, and it is by reading these biographies that we can create a portrait of him. Elizabeth Gaskell, in the Life, is giving a first characterization, after she went to Brussels to meet him. Another important work is ‘The Secret of Charlotte Brontë’ by Frederika MacDonald; she herself was a student at the Pensionnat Heger and knew from first-hand experience what M. Heger was like. She gives her own personal reminiscences of the real M. Heger in this biography, making it an invaluable source.

The Heger family, originally from the Palatinate in Germany, had been established in Belgium for three generations. It appears that his father once owned a jewellery shop at 78 Rue Royale, but was declared bankrupt in the 1815 after a friend failed to repay a loan. By 1825, the young Constantin had to move to Paris in search of employment. He worked as secretary to a solicitor, but was unable to pursue a career in law, due to lack of funds.
Heger was back in Brussels in 1829, where he became a teacher of French and mathematics at the Athénée Royale, in the Rue de Namur. The impressive neo-classical style building is still standing, close to Place Royale. In 1830 he married his first wife, Marie-Josephine Noyer. Revolution broke out in the streets of Brussels that same year. It is not known whether he was in the audience that stormed out of the Monnaie Theatre after the performance of a patriotic Italian opera, but he was definitely involved in the fighting that led finally to the creation of the Belgian state. From 23-27 September he fought at the barricades as a nationalist but his wife’s young brother was killed at his side. According to one legend, he sniped at Dutch troops from the rooftop of the future Pensionnat Heger. In September 1833, Constantin’s wife and child both died during a cholera epidemic.

Heger’s career took a step forward when he was appointed to teach languages, mathematics, geography and Belgian history at the veterinary college in the Rue Terarken. He continued to teach at the Athénée when it moved in 1839 to the Rue des Douze Apôtres, just north of the Pensionnat.

Heger met Mlle Claire Zoë Parent, the directress of the neighbouring girls’ boarding school, and began teaching at her school in the Rue Isabelle. They married in 1836 and had six children. He was paid the same salary as the other teachers at the school and even forced to sign for his salary in her ledger. Those who knew Heger were impressed by his powers as a public speaker. In 1834, at the age of twenty-five, he gave a speech at the Athénée prize ceremony giving in the town hall on Grand’Place. ‘It was remarkable,’ a newspaper wrote the following day, ‘for the originality of its ideas, for its correct appraisal of the duties of a teacher and a father, and for its wise and judicious views on education in general and the education of young people in particular.’ Charlotte certainly attended the same ceremony on 15 August 1843 to hear Heger deliver an address on emulation. She owned copies of both that speech and the one from 1834, when Charlotte later returned to Haworth.
Heger had a natural gift for teaching, and particularly liked to work with younger children; he was especially admired by them because of his open, unasuming approach. He was very intelligent, kind, wise, generous and religious. A devout member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, he helped the sick and needy, and gave evening lectures for the less well-off. He allowed Charlotte and Emily, daughters of a Protestant clergyman of only moderate means, to have extra special favours, lessons and terms.

Frederika MacDonald writes: ..."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 kind-heartedness, to be weighed against any amount of irritability.” … "The funny and pleasant thing about M. Heger was that he was so fond of teaching, and so truly in his element when he began it, that his temper became sweet at once ; and I loved his face when it got the look upon it that came in lesson-hours : so that, whereas we were hating each other when we crossed the threshold of the door, we liked each other very much when we sat down to the table ; and I had an excited feeling that he was going to make me understand. It took him rather less than a quarter of an hour. "

Charlotte's portrayal of the temperamental M. Heger as she first saw him in 1842 again describes a striking man: "He is professor of rhetoric, a man of power as to mind, but very choleric and irritable in temperament; a little black being, with a face that varies in expression. Sometimes he borrows the lineaments of an insane tom-cat, sometimes those of a delirious hyena; occasionally, but very seldom, he discards these perilous attractions and assumes an air nor above 100 degrees removed form mild and gentlemanlike…”

Constantin Heger observed the two English sisters and realized their exceptional talents. His remarkable system of education and his stimulation worked as a catalyst for Charlotte’s and Emily’s inspiration for writing. He was the first to recognize the genius of these women and he is therefore worthy of our recognition. After the Brontës’ stay at the Pensionnat, M. Heger became principal of the Athénée in 1853, but resigned again after two years because he could not accept the utilitarian methods advocated by the General Inspectors of the school. At his own request he resumed the teaching of the youngest class in the school. He continued to give lessons in his wife’s pensionnat until he retired in about 1882.

Constantin Heger died in 1896. His obituary in l’Indépendence Belge of 9 May praised his passionate belief in the importance of education and the dynamism and authority of his teaching. He is buried with his wife along with their daughter Marie, who died in 1886, in Watermael-Boitsfort municipal cemetery, on the edge of the Forêt de Soignes.

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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