Saturday, February 05, 2005

Charlotte Bronte's Love Letters

My dear husband and I finished watching Jane Eyre last night with William Hurt as Mr. Rochester. It was a good version and true to the book for the most part. Not as full of emotion as the Cirian Hinds one, but still very good. The book, of course, if 100 times better, but that goes without saying. In the "Extra Features" section there was a program about the film and about Charlotte Bronte. To say the Bronte's had a hard life would be understating it mildly, but there was one fact about her life I was completely unaware of. She wrote love letters to a former teacher in Brussels who just happened to be married. This was pretty surprising to me, but not for any particular reason. I think I just did not expect it. Here is the story:

Bronte love letters on show

Martin Wainwright
Saturday June 5, 2004
The Guardian

Four of the most poignant love letters in English literature have returned to the Yorkshire village where their misguided writer posted them 160 years ago. After a century in storage at the British Library, the heartfelt notes from Charlotte Bronte have gone on display at the parsonage in Haworth, where she agonised over their phrasing during periods of depression in 1844.

Their pathos is heightened by jagged tearmarks where their exasperated recipient, the Belgian schoolteacher Constantin Heger, ripped them up and threw them into the bin. They were saved by his suspicious wife who sewed the fragments together, probably as potential evidence that Charlotte, who trained as a teacher with the couple in Brussels two years earlier, might have tried to lead her husband on.

Written in French, the letters later became historically valuable as Charlotte's fame grew, but Heger attempted to bin them a second time when his daughter showed them to him as he lay dying. They were bequeathed to the British Museum by Heger's son to help an accurate record of the writer's tormented youth.

"They've spent most of the time in storage and accessible only to scholars," said Sarah Carr, collections assistant at the Parsonage Museum.

"So it's marvellous that visitors can now see them, especially in the house where they were written."

The letters are also important as source material for Villette, Charlotte's claustrophobic novel of a young English woman's unhappy passion for a Belgian teacher. Like her plain and gloomy heroine Lucy Snowe, the writer confesses to the agonies of fearing unrequited love.

One letter says: "If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely, I shall be absolutely without hope." Another confesses the naivety which led the writer to misread Heger's kindness: "I should not know what to do with a friendship entire and complete... I hold on to it as I would hold on to life.'

Heger is thought to have behaved honourably throughout the episode, spotting Bronte's writing skills during her stay in Brussels and strongly encouraging them. "It appears that she mistook his enthusiasm for something more," Ms Carr said.

Jane Eyre was published in 1847 followed by the rest of the great novels before her death aged 38. Heger became one of the most eminent professors at Belgium's Athenee Royal academy, dying in 1896, 41 years after his unhappy admirer.

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Love is so beautiful when it is in its right place. I am so grateful for my true love.

1 comment:

Kim said...

I have a version of Jane Eyre that stars Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester. It's much better than the William Hurt version, although now that you mention the Cirian Hinds version, perhaps I need to check that one out!

What a sad tale. My daughter just finished reading Villette. She said it was a sad story.