Wednesday 13 June 2007

The Secret of Charlotte Brontë

While I was in Haworth during this year’s AGM, I finally found and bought a most precious book, which had been on my wish list for years; The Secret of Charlotte Brontë, by Frederika MacDonald, published in 1914.

Perhaps some of you already have this book, but for those who haven’t, I would like to bring it to your attention.

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 beauti-
    ful 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 to-
    wards 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 kind-heartedness, 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:
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:

Discover the secret....

Monday 11 June 2007

The 2007 AGM

It had been two years since I was last in Haworth during the AGM, and though this visit would be but a short one, I was determined to savour every last minute and enjoy myself to the full.
Of our group, I knew only Helen would definitely be there.
This time Helen and I would be in Haworth for the first time together, whereas Brussels had been our meeting ground ever since we met each other. It was our Brontë meeting in a different surrounding. Quite special and very pleasant it was too.
I was already there on Thursday, so I had some time to myself, which I mainly used for walking up and down Main Street, around the Parsonage, and buying my first books.
I met up with Helen for lunch on Friday, when most members arrived for the weekend.
In my report on the Brontë Parsonage Blog, http://bronteparsonage.blogspot.com/ (June weekend 2),I am writing more about the several events.
I am sending a few more photos with this little report.
(From top to bottom:
- Victoria Glendinning during her talk Friday afternoon
- Auction of books on Friday evening
- Tea at Ashmount, Saturday afternoon
- Discussion panel with eminent Brontë biographers, Saturday evening)

Most exciting for me, and Helen too, was the fascinating panel discussion with the great Brontë biographers.
I was in great awe being so close to these wonderful researchers and writers. As I wrote in my report, I took the opportunity of speaking a few words with Juliet Barker, whose biography on the entire Brontë family I always call the ‘Brontë Bible’. She was very kind, but my nerves spoiled it for me, for I actually wanted to ask her autograph. If I had been brave enough, I so wished to ask the entire panel for their autograph. It was not to be.
I wonder what she made of my news about our Brussels group; would she be curious enough to have a look at our Website and Blog?
It was wonderful being back in this beautiful place; I enjoyed seeing so many friends and familiar faces again. I hope next time, the Brussels group may be even more present…