31 August 2010

Charlotte Bronte Letters -- Misc.

to W. S. WILLIAMS, 23 March 1853

I had a letter the other day announcing that a lady of some note who had always determined that whenever she married, her elect should be the counterpart of Mr. Knightley in Miss Austen's "Emma" -- had now changed her mind and vowed that she would either find the duplicate of Professor Emanuel or remain forever single!!! (138)


That's one thing I like in Miss Bronte, that her men are so much better than most women's men. (141)

to GEORGE SMITH, 26 March 1853

With regards to that momentous point -- M. Paul's fate -- in case any one in future should request to be enlightened thereon -- they may be told that it was designed that every reader should settle the catastrophe for himself, according to the quality of his disposition, the tender or remorseless impulse of his nature. 'drowning and Matrimony are the fearful alternatives' The Merciful...will of course choose the former and milder doom -- drown him to put him out of pain. The cruel-hearted will on the contrary pitilessly impale him on the second horn of the dilemma -- marrying him without ruth or compunction to that -- person -- that -- that -- individual -- "Lucy Snowe." (142)

to GEORGE SMITH, 26 March 1853

I deny, and must deny that Mr. Thackeray is very good or very amiable, but the Man is great. (143)


The difference between Miss Bronte and me is that she puts all her naughtiness into her books, and I put all my goodness. I am sure she works off a great deal that is morbid into her writing, and out of her life; and my books are so far better than I am that I often feel ashamed of having written them and as if I were a hypocrite. (150)


I like her more & (b) more. She is so true, she wins respect, deep respect, from the very first, -- and then comes hearty liking, -- and last of all comes love. I throughly loved her before she left, -- and I was so sorry for her! She has had so little kindness & affection shown to her. She said that she was afraid of loving me as much as she could, because she had never been able to inspire the kind of love she felt. (159).


The Letters of Charlotte Bronte, ed. Margaret Smith, Volume III


ksotikoula said...

Hi! I am glad that I find another Charlotte Bronte devoted fan. I have bought too the three volumes of her letters but haven't read them all yet. What biographies about her have you read?

HelenW said...

It is nice to meet you!

I'm jealous that you actually own two of her volumes of letters. They are very expensive. I am currently loaning the third volume from a college library.

I have read a wonderful biography on Charlotte (and all the Brontes) called -- aptly -- "The Bronte's" by Juliet Barker. It is the definitive biography on the Brontes. It is very detailed and probably the newest biography on the Bronte's. A lot of people also read -- as have I -- Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Life of Charlotte Bronte." She knew Charlotte a few years before Charlotte's death and used a lot of her letters in the biography. However, Gaskell did have a tendency to exaggerate some of her information and there is of course some facts of Charlotte's life that are missing in her biography as they did not come to light until many years later (such as her affection for M. Heger who provided the model for Rochester and M. Paul in her novels). Another noted biographer, Lyndall Gordon, wrote Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life. It was the first biography I read on her. Although not nearly as long as Barker's biography all the need-to-know details are provided. I would say that these three biography's are the best if you want to get to know Charlotte more, and any other you may find should be discarded. (and after you read these biography's pick up a book by Lucasta Miller called 'The Bronte Myth' which brilliantly explores the myths that have been spun over the years about the Brontes -- Elizabeth Gaskell's spirited but somewhat dilapidated biography is one area they study.

ksotikoula said...

Hi Helen!(we have the same Cristian name by the way)
I own all three volumes (I bought them used) and yes they were very expensive but there was no way I could find them in a library in my country. We have read exactly the same biographies (although I have also read Gerin's "Charlotte Bronte: evolution of a genius" which was quite good. I haven't read Barker's whole book yet, not only because it is vast and can not carry it around (like on the bus to work for example), but because she partly irritates me with her comments on Charlotte's personality. I think that she really dislikes her and loses no occasion to blame her (I don't know if it I am the only one to think so). I liked Gordon's better on that part. I would be interested on your opinion on the Heger case if you have the time and interest. What do you think happened there? It is quite late here and I have to say my goodnight for now. Bye!

HelenW said...

I haven't read Barker's biography in years. I do not remember her being particularly harsh on Charlotte. I haven't heard anyone else say the same. That's not to say people haven't. Perhaps Barker was trying to be unbiased -- trying to evaluate Charlotte on more of an intellectual level. Reading over her letters (for instance the ones I posted here on Nicholls) it does seem that Charlotte could be quite harsh in her judgment about people. She was certainly an opinionated lady -- for which we love her. Her comments about Emily's Wuthering Heights has always taken me off guard -- how Charlotte believed WH was too coarse a novel and her need to vindicate Emily after she died by writing in her preface to a subsequent edition of WH that Emily was not aware of what she was writing. Is there anything in particular Barker say's negatively about Charlotte? I would be very curious to know.

One day I may buy all three editions of her letters. Although it is very difficult to find volume one anymore -- that is the most prized edition of the letters, I think; it is definitely the most expensive to buy used -- and it doesn't seem like you can buy them any way but used. Perhaps they will re-issue them -- maybe in the less expensive paperback form.

I have not read Gerin's Evolution of a Genius. I will have to look at that one day. I do believe Gerin wrote a biography on Emily too, which I have also not read. Muriel Sparks had some interesting things to say about Charlotte as well, but I think I mostly dismiss them because they are so outdated.

The Heger case. I would give anything to find any letters he may have written her after she left Brussels. I believe they may still exist -- in some dusty attic or buried in the ground around Haworth, like Charlotte has Lucy bury her letters from Graham in Villette. Not too long ago someone found a letter of Charlotte's in their attic -- although its contents were mostly inconsequential. The common consensus seems to be that Heger flirted with her and she took it way too far, but nothing occurred beyond that. Most people, it seems, lay the blame on Charlotte's over-active imagination. This, however, is not Juliet Barker's side of the "affair", who writes:

"The vexed question of Charlotte's relationship with Monsieur Heger has haunted Bronte scholars since the revelation, at the beginning of the century, of the letters she wrote to him after her return to England. Their passionate and frank admissions of attachment might suggest that there was even an adulterous affair, particularly as Monsieur Heger's side of the correspondence is missing."

And then, if you remember, she copies a letter he wrote to another student several years later that begins, "I often give myself the pleasure when my duties are over, when the light fades. I postpone lighting the gas lamp in my library, I sit down, smoking my cigar, and with a hearty will I evoke your image.." (letter in full on page 419).

Personally I don't know what to make of their attachment. Whether it was entirely proper doesn't seem likely. Obviously Heger was a teasing, sensuous, provoking man -- which we also see in what he writes on her essay reports and I suppose one could say by what Charlotte writes of his doppelgangers (using term loosely) in her novels. But, whether it ever went beyond that, I don't know if we will ever know.

ksotikoula said...

I agree that Charlotte could be harsh in her opinions but she was equally harsh towards herself too. However to be presented as if she was only interested in controlling her sisters is kind of exaggerated. Barker claims that Charlotte was too infatuated with Weightman to even mention how Anne was doing in her second post (which is an indirect accusation of her being frivolous as if she hadn't had the right to fall in love - if she ever did - and that she neglected Anne). And then she says that Charlotte deliberately postponed to fulfill Anne's wish of going to the sea while Charlotte could simply have judged that she was too sick to be moved (and in fact she was taken to Scarborough on a wheel-chair and she died one day later). So she is always presented as overreacting and selfish. Even the resume of the book where the persons of the biography are presented says: "Charlotte, ruthlessly self-willed, ran roughshod over her sisters and went so far as to alter or destroy their manuscript when she disapproved...Anne[]was a more daring and revolutionary than Charlotte...Branwell was a talented poet who provided much of Charlotte's inspiration"
Now there are no definite proofs that Charlotte destroyed any manuscript of Emily's and I feel like she is presented as having enjoyed a fame that she did not deserved as she was according to Barker "less revolutionary a writer" and she was the only one (as neither Anne nor Emily are mentioned) to have been "inspired" by Branwell (meaning copy from life). She is presented in short much more scheming and sinister and selfish than she really was. I think Barker was writing under the agenda of destroying Gaskell's myth which was far from true in many parts but at least sympathetic.

About WH, I find easy to imagine that Charlotte loved its poetry and passion and strength but had some objections about the characters (most people do nowadays too). But she wanted to present it to Victorians in a way that would not provoke their feelings too much so I see her attitude like "I know it seems a harsh book but you must admire its strength and its author was not the monster that reviewers have presented but was generally known to be a simple girl in our parish". And indeed who could understand or know Emily otherwise than a reserved parson's daughter.

I like to read any biography that comes my way no matter how much outdated because I'm partly interested to see how her character and motives are interpret. All biographers work with more or less the same material, but it is the use they make out of this that is interesting. By the way, although I don't like fictional Biographies Jude Morgan's "The taste of sorrow" (Or Charlotte and Emily as is its title in America) is superb.

ksotikoula said...

second part:

I too like to imagine that someday Heger's letters will be found under a tree, inside a jar or something (Lol)! Although I don't expect they would tell us much. He urged Gaskell to find those letters in order to show that it contained nothing but valuable advise about CB's character and future. No, I don't think he would have written anything of importance there especially with Claire monitoring their correspondence. The damage was made in person when Charlotte was still in Brussels. I find it incredible that some people present the case with Heger as not having a clue that Charlotte was in love with him and the whole case being in Charlotte's mind. She certainly wouldn't travel so many miles just to go fall in love with a married man for no reason, being a shy and principled girl as she was. I believe the fact that he was married was in the fact that fooled them both. They had a sense of false security in their relationship, Heger because thought Charlotte wouldn't fall for him knowing him married, and Charlotte because she was not guarded in the way she would guard herself with a single man. I believe their relationship was platonic (there were too many witnesses and they were principled people in their way, plus there wouldn't be so much pain and unrequited feeling in her letters). For me there was something powerfully emotional between them. I find it hard to believe Heger totally indifferent to her, not only because she was a rare personality, brilliant, ambitious, creative, humorous and teasing (remember what Smith said about her, that he found her character as interesting or more than her novels) but because when Ellen Nussey asked him to give her the letters that Charlotte wrote to him, he said they would lose in translation "the way she whispered them to my heart's ear" (so he listened!). And then he said that in her letters are shown "the beatings of her sick heart (mal coeur)" and the he changes the adjective from "sick" to "wounded" and then again changes opinion and leaves "sick" - which for me shows that he was afraid to use wounded because it suggested that he was the one who wounded her. I don't mean that he deliberately tried to seduce her, but he certainly knew how to caress verbally (as the letter to his other student shows) and Charlotte being a novelist had a thing with words and a deep need to be loved and esteemed so she fell under his spell. I wish only he would be more considerate and responsible in his conduct both during the lessons and when he left her waiting for letters he would not sent. Anyway the bottom line is that Heger could have told us a lot of things about Charlotte because he really knew her, but he had to hide behind the responsible indifferent profile of a decorous married man. And that Gaskell woman! Is it possible that she never asked his opinion about JE and Villette? After all he was her teacher and inspiration. There is something else about the letters that I want to ask your opinion about but I am running out of time now. Talk to you tomorrow again.

HelenW said...

Wow! Like I said, I read Barker's bio many years ago -- I think it highly unlikely that Charlotte was infatuated with Weightman. I will have to one day -- if not soon -- review her biography, at least the parts specifically about Charlotte.

I agree whole-heartedly that Charlotte in her comments about Emily's WH was trying to protect her sister's reputation. As we know, Emily was the least of the sisters willing to come forward with her name ascribed to her novel. I think Charlotte thought she was doing right -- and she was also a bit scandalized by her sisters subject matter. JE may have been considered coarse, but nothing in comparison to WH, I think we can all agree. And you are right -- people even today are scandalized by it and so why should Charlotte, who knew the kindness of her sisters heart and sweet temper, not have felt the same.

I haven't read The Taste of Sorrow but I have read Sheila Kohler's Becoming Jane Eyre (which I enjoyed) and Jude Morgan's "Charlotte and Emily: a novel", which I found really refreshing for a modern day re-telling of the two sisters lives. It is very truthful -- does not exaggerate -- but there is a lot of dialogue which allows you to wonder what the Bronte's really did say in certain situations.

I have to admit (with a sullen heart) that I agree that probably not much occurred between Charlotte and Heger, although I certainly hope that some day we shall find a letter that states otherwise. And Gaskell -- as also I'm sure you know -- was aware of Charlotte's relationship with Heger but glossed over it in her biography. She even traveled to Brussels and spoke to Heger. I would like to write more about this but just this minute have to leave.

What is the question about the letters?

ksotikoula said...

Jude Morgan's "Charlotte and Emily: a novel" is the same novel as "the taste of sorrow". I know what you mean about dialogues though. I liked Heger's words to Charlotte about how Emily fights him like a man and how Charlotte does it differently. But I don't know if the real Heger would actually say something like this.

I forgot to say about Heger's doppelgangers that what I find noteworthy is that Rochester and Paul Emanuel are presented quite differently as regard to their sex appeal, which is of course part of the narration that Charlotte chose for her heroines, but I think also that she gave Jane Eyre full freedom to explore her sexual feelings for him, while restrained Lucy not only because she was a depressed person and less open than Jane, but more dangerously close to the real identity of Monsieur Heger. So in a way I think that Charlotte felt attracted sexually to Heger but tried to deny it to herself (which would be very difficult for her especially when she came in daily contact with him). She insisted that her feelings were pure and in a way they were because after all she wasn't after adultery but still it was natural for a woman to feel that way for the man she loves. I think that she came to full realization of her feelings for him when she returned to England. No matter how much you respect and admire a man you don't actually lose your sleep over it. :)

ksotikoula said...

Part two
About the letter question. The typical presentation of what happened is that Heger tore the letters up after reading them (some say because he was not interested in Charlotte, but I think it was because he thought that Charlotte was exposing herself unwittingly) and then his wife took the parts and stitched them together secretly, from which we can induce that when Gaskell came to talk to Heger he no longer had the letters himself. Then how he proved their existence? Of course Gaskell would have to be shown the letters in Charlotte's handwriting to be persuaded. And how were they presented? In what state? Torn and assembled? Wouldn't it be a little weird to explain the motives for collecting them after tearing them? Then again, one of her letters was whole so he could have shown this one. But the question still remains. What did the couple decide? Gaskell comes and get a full refusal to see Madame Heger, which considering that she was a calm calculating woman and what moreover some say was sorry for Charlotte - if you can believe such nonsense, I'm certain that she hated her guts - is a strange reaction. I mean if I were to bury the whole story I would accept Gaskell and say the best about Charlotte being a marvelous teacher and talented woman but that we lost touch with her once she returned to England and rectify it all. Instead she makes this scene and then Heger appears to explain. Why? Maybe because they wanted to borrow some fame from Charlotte? And what Madame said to Heger? You know I have been searching your bin and have her letters? And there is something even weirder: if the couple decided together to say the truth and Heger knew of the rescue of the letters then why- when he was at his last - he was astonished that Louisa still had them, as the family said? Someone is lying here.
So another guess is that perhaps Heger made the move to see Gaskell out of his own decision and maybe he had not destroyed the letters yet so he presented them, which could mean a lot considering that Charlotte had wrote them 10 years ago and for the first 5 years she was not a famous person to have any special worth. My point is why keep the letters of a woman for whom you never cared nothing about? I'm not implying Heger was in love with her, but he could esteem and admire and understand her somewhat (although I still condemn his choice to let the correspondence die away, instead of boldly say "I like you, I admire you even, but you letters disturb my marital peace and as I really value that I decided to end this once and for all" - poor Charlotte had to ask if her letters of six months ago had reached him). But then comes the question why tearing the letters at this point (after showing them to Gaskell) anyway? Maybe after Ellen Nussey's request Heger thought he would have no peace while holding the letters and decided to destroy them? It makes no sense. If you have any theory I would be glad to hear as well as any comment on the previous things we have discussed (namely the general Heger-Bronte relationship).

HelenW said...

Oh my. I have never understood why Madame Heger felt the need to keep those letters. Why she painstakingly put them back together! Juliet Barker in her THE BRONTES: A LIFE IN LETTERS writes (on pg. 124 of the paperback) that she "stored them away for future reference." Reference for what? -- Probably Margaret Smith is right when she suggests in THE OXFORD COMPANION TO THE BRONTES that Madame was keeping the letters as evidence that it was Charlotte and not her husband that was at fault. That seems likely to me. What do you think?

Barker also writes (in her Bronte biography on pg. 787) that Gaskell visited the Hegers but Madame Heger refused to visit her but Barker only hints that Heger let her view the letters. She say's only: "When she came to Brussels, he not only agreed to see her, but swiftly won both her liking and her respect, not least because he had refused to defend himself by publishing Charlotte's letters to him." However, for Gaskell's biography Barker alleges that he "transcribed carefully selected extracts from Charlotte's letters to him..."


By the way, while looking through THE BRONTE MYTH by Lucasta Miller, I found this gem: "Barker takes a far less sympathetic view of Charlotte than other recent writers, and in her desire to demystify her some critics felt that she had overnormalized her, almost forgetting the extraordinariness of what she did." (pg. 182, paperback)-- That is what you were telling me! However, Miller does go on to say that "Barker is one of the most trustworthy Bronte biographers: from the documentary viewpoint her work will prove a lasting achievement" (however) "it is far less certain that she gets to the core of Charlotte's genius."

HelenW said...

As regards why Monsieur did not write as often -- Margaret Smith writes in The Oxford Companion to the Brontes that Madame and he agreed that Charlotte should write him only every 6 months. She even provides a quote (not terribly reputable it seems to me) from a Frederika Macdonald to Robertson Nicoll stating that he "let Madame write for him stiffly but not unkindly." I can't quite imagine such a powerful, obstinate specimen as C. Heger allowing his wife to control his correspondence -- although it may be that Madame H. had some control over his decisions and actions.

ksotikoula said...

I think madame Heger really had a spite against Charlotte and was not just neutral and protecting her marriage. I don't really blame her. I too would wish Charlotte away from my husband especially if I knew how Heger was flirting and I was pregnant as she was both the years Charlotte stayed there. A friend of mine believed that she kept having children to keep and bind Heger but I don't think that, because they all had children at that same rate those times. Certainly however she was not of the kind of women that would let Heger to forget (and how subtly she would do that) how much he owed her because when she met him he was a poor professor and now he was teaching at her establishment and earning the recognition he was deserving. I believe she had the upper hand in their relationship but did not applied a too narrow restriction on him so that she let him have his temperamental fits that gave him an illusion of freedom. But he sure would listen to what Claire would say. That is why I think that despite the fact that he knew and was flattered that Charlotte "admired" him, he didn't make an issue when Claire suggested he should stop taking English lessons by Charlotte and not spending much time with her. He couldn't escape noticing the fact that he seldom ever saw her the second year. But, as my friend suggested, he stayed out of it and left the two women sort it out by themselves. And that reminds me strongly of Jane Eyre when Jane returning to Thornfield after her aunt died writes: "I dreamt of Miss Ingram all the night: in a vivid morning dream I saw her closing the gates of Thornfield against me and pointing me out another road; and Mr. Rochester looked on with his arms folded--smiling sardonically, as it seemed, at both her and me". Now have you seen the family picture of the Hegers. Claire is in the middle with the children and he is a little further back crossing his arms and half turning his back on them sarcastically. I sometimes wonder whether Charlotte had seen this painting while it was made or she had exactly the same inspiration with the painter. After all Van Gong was an admirer of hers because of the plasticity of her prose. She had a painter's eye and sometimes she was too astute in her estimation of people. The scene in Villette where Paul Emanuel attacks Madame Beck for her cruelty to Lucy is a wish-fulfillment. It is what Charlotte would like Heger to have done. To have restrained at least his wife from being so unjust to her as to deprive her of his company. That's why when she found out the reason of madame's dislike it made her other times to laugh and others to cry. It was ridiculous to her that a woman like Claire could feel jealousy for someone like her. Claire had everything Charlotte would ever dream: she was a successful businesswoman, she had married the perfect man and had his children and she could jealous of his attention and conversation to her? Anyway to return to what you asked me, I think Claire was ready for a war in case something was insinuated against her family and husband in relation to Charlotte and in a personal level she could justify her cruelty towards Charlotte reminding everyone that it was she who went for it. Claire was a careful Jesuit.

I know that Gaskell made Heger send her in a letter excerpts from Charlotte's correspondence but I think it certain that she saw the letters. Imagine being in her shoes. You go to Brussels unawares and hear that story. Wouldn't you want to be convinced of its truth? But were the letters torn then or not?

ksotikoula said...

I didn't remember that part on Lucasta Miller's book. I know she likes Charlotte and agrees more with Lyndall Gordon on her estimations. I am thankful for providing this. At least I am not the only one who finds that Barker deliberately tried to tone down both the work and personality of Charlotte's, not to say indirectly accusing her for various things in the majority of the book. Do you know only when I agree with her at her estimation of Charlotte's thoughts and acts? When she refers to her husband and how wrongly was the letter about her views on marriage interpreted and how Arthur was never a too domineering man as some think by Charlotte's letters. I really like that man. He was the best thing that ever happened to her and it took her so much time to see. I admire Charlotte very much but I always felt that she was quite unwise in her choice of love objects, if you believe that you can - even partially - choose whom you fall in love with. Both Heger and Smith were something of a bastard and the only reason they came off so wonderfully as male characters in her books is her love for them who saw their faults but accepted them nevertheless. On the other hand I can not but see why she did fall in love with them. It is not, like some people suggest, a masochistic trait of hers, but the fact that she enjoyed challenges and was antagonistic to male characters (ever since her common world with Branwell) and wanted to measure her own power, not simply drawn to men who had power over her. And then of course she was a very lonely woman and both those gentleman had interesting personalities.

I don't like much Frederica's novel. The only part I agree with that no one in this situation was to blame. It just happened. otherwise I found her too sallow and could in no way understand Heger's character (that incident with the essay on the lecture on the church is very telling), but when I reached the part where madame Heger implies that she was sorry for some other English girl who though she could not tolerate things and now she was dead (meaning - according to Frederika - Charlotte was the last drop). I could never believe that other than dictated by Claire's environment.

About the frequency and monitoring of the letters. Charlotte knew that her letters were read by Claire and some messages she sent seem clear of it (like when she said that some would think her mad and she would wish them to suffer only for a day what she is passing two years now). Perhaps Heger, who was lazy at times to write (as Paul Emanuel) dictated his letters to Claire in order for Charlotte to see that the couple was in this together. I don't know if Claire herself wrote though. I doubt it. This is getting too long. I have to leave you. Kisses!

HelenW said...

I just wanted to write to let you know that I am sick with a bad cold so won't be writing about dear Charlotte for a few days. I respond to your last comments, which I have read, when I do. I can't think straight right now.

Check out my newest post on Charlotte, if you haven't already. Charlotte talks about her rough personality and others perceptions of it. Interesting that even before there were biographers for Charlotte people -- through her books -- were viewing her as a harsh person.

ksotikoula said...

Hi Helen!
It's no problem, you can answer me whenever you can. I hope that you feel already better. I was wondering how would it be possible to exchange e-mails without the address seen in public? Because I don't get any notification when you answer me and I have only saved this page in my computer, which as newer posts will be adding, I will have a difficulty of checking. If you can, send me a message in youtube or something. Take care of your health and get some rest. Kisses!