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Full text of "The secret of Charlotte Brontë followed by some reminiscences of the real Monsieur and Madame Heger"

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! m 




THE SECRET OF 
CHARLOTTE BRONTE 






* And now I will rehearse the tale of Love, which I 
heard from Diotima of Mantineia, a woman wise in 
this, and many other kinds of knowledge. ... 

... "What then is Love," I asked: "Is he 
mortal ? " " He is neither mortal nor immortal, but in 
a mean between the two," she replied. " He is a great 
Spirit, and, like all spirits, an intermediate between the 
divine and the mortal." "And what," I said, " is his 
power ? " " He interprets," she replied, " between gods 
and men ; conveying to the gods the prayers and 
sacrifices of men j and to men the commands and 
replies of the gods." "And who," I said, "is his father ? 
and who is his mother?" "His father," she replied, 
"was Plenty (Poros), and his mother Poverty (Penia), 
and as his parentage is, so are his fortunes. He is always 
poor, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in j on 
the bare earth exposed he lies under the open heaven, 
in the streets, or at the doors of houses, taking his rest, 
and like his mother he is always in distress. Like his 
father, too, he is bold, enterprising, a philosopher at 
all times, terrible as an enchanter, sorcerer, sophist. 
As he is neither mortal nor immortal, he is alive and 
flourishing one moment, and dead another moment ; 
and again alive, by reason of his father's nature." ' 

(Symposium. Plato's Dialogues. Translator, Jowett, 
vol. ii. pp. 54, 55.) 



THE SECRET OF 
CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

FOLLOWED BY 

SOME REMINISCENCES OF THE REAL 
MONSIEUR AND MADAME HEGER 

BY 

FREDERIKA MACDONALD, D.LITT. 

AUTHORESS OF * XAVIER AND I,' * THE ILIAD OF THE EAST ' 

*A NEW CRITICISM OF J. - J. ROUSSEAU,' * THE FLOWER 

AND THE SPIRIT,' ' THE HUMANE PHILOSOPHY 

OF ROUSSEAU,' ETC. 






LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK 

67 LONG ACRE, W.C. 

AND EDINBURGH 

1914 



PR 

^(i 

Mte 



JUL 101964 







Vo 

Portrait by Richmond 




CONTENTS 

PART I 
CHARLOTTE BRONTE'S LETTERS TO M. HEGER 

(These Letters supply the Key to tbe Secret of Charlotte Bronte) 
CHAPTER I 

PAGE 

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM OF CHARLOTTE 
BRONTE, CREATED BY A FALSE CRITICAL 
METHOD ....... I 

CHAPTER II 

THE KEY TO THE PROBLEM . * * . 28 

CHAPTER III 
CHARLOTTE'S LAST YEAR AT BRUXELLES, 1842-43 48 

CHAPTER IV 

THE CONFESSION AT STE. GUDULE ... 69 

CHAPTER V 

THE LEAVE-TAKING THE SCENE IN THE CLASS- 
ROOM 'MY HEART WILL BREAK* . . 78 

CHAPTER VI 

THE LOVE-LETTERS OF A ROMANTIC 108 



CONTENTS 



PART II 

SOME REMINISCENCES OF THE REAL 
MONSIEUR AND MADAME HEGER 

CHAPTER I 

PAGE 

THE HISTORICAL DIFFICULTY : TO DISENTANGLE 

FACT FROM FICTION . . . .145 

CHAPTER II 

MY FIRST INTRODUCTION TO CHARLOTTE 

BRONTE'S PROFESSOR . . . .167 

CHAPTER III 

MONSIEUR AND MADAME HEGER AS I SAW THEM : 
AND BELGIAN SCHOOLGIRLS AS I KNEW 
THEM . . . . . . 183 

CHAPTER IV 

MY SECOND INTERVIEW WITH M. HEGER. THE 
WASHING OF 'PEPPER.' THE LESSON IN 
ARITHMETIC 2OO 

CHAPTER V 

THE STORY OF A CHAPEAU o'UNIFORME . . 224 

CHAPTER VI 

MADAME HEGER'S SENTIMENT OF THE JUSTICE 

OF RESIGNATION TO INJUSTICE . ; . 239 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

CHARLOTTE BRONTE .... Frontispiece 

M. HEGER AT SIXTY .... facing p. 82 

DRAWING BY CHARLOTTE BRONTE OF 

ASHBURNHAM CHURCH . . ,. Il8 

(Copyright of Author] 

THE FRONT OF THE SCHOOL IN THE RUE 

D'ISABELLE ,,144 

MADAME HEGER AT SIXTY 194 

(Copyright of Author) 

THE ALLEE DEFENDUE 206 

( Copyright of Author) 

THE GALERIE AND GARDEN IN WINTER 234 

(Copyright of Author) 



THE SECRET OF 
CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

PART I 
CHAPTER I 

THE ' PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM ' OF CHAR- 
LOTTE BRONTE, CREATED BY A FALSE 
CRITICAL METHOD 

WE live in an epoch when impressionist 
methods of criticism, admissible, and often 
illuminative, in the domains of art and of 
imaginative literature, have invaded the 
once jealously guarded paths of historical 
criticism, to the detriment of correct stand- 
ards of judgment. Leading critics, whose 
literary accomplishments, powers of per- 
suasive argument, and unquestionable good 
faith, lend great influence to their decisions, 
show no sort of hesitation in undertaking 
to interpret the characters and careers of 



THE SECRET OF 



famous men and women, independently of 
any examination of evidence, by purely 
psychological methods. I am not denying 
that, as literary exercises, some of these 
impressionist portraits of men and women 
of genius, seen through the temperament 
of writers who are, some time s> endowed with 
genius themselves, are very interesting. 
But what has to be remembered (and what 
is constantly forgotten) is, that if these 
psychological interpretations of people who 
once really existed are to be accorded any 
authority as historical judgments, they must 
have been preceded by an attentive enquiry, 
enabling the future interpreter, before he 
begins to employ psychology, to feel per- 
fectly certain that he has clearly in view the 
particular Soul he is undertaking to pene- 
trate, with its own special qualities, and 
placed amongst, and acted upon by, the real 
circumstances of its earthly career. Where 
the preliminary precaution of this enquiry, 
into the true facts that have to be penetrated, 
and explained, has been neglected, no 
psychological subtlety, no pathological 
science, no sympathetic insight, can protect 

2 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

the most accomplished literary impressionist 
from forming, and fostering, false opinions 
about the historical personages he is judging 
from a standpoint of assumptions that do 
not allow him to exercise the true function 
of criticism, defined by Matthew Arnold as : 
' an impartial endeavour to see the thing as 
in itself it really is.' 

In the case of Charlotte Bronte, her first, 
and, still, classical biographer, Mrs. Gaskell, 
carried through, now fifty-seven years ago, 
with great literary skill, and also with 
historical exactitude, the study of her 
parentage and youth ; of her experiences in 
England as a governess ; of her family trials 
and losses ; of the sudden development of 
her talent, or rather, of her genius as a 
writer, that, at one bound, after the publica- 
tion of her first novel, made her famous 
throughout England ; and soon famous 
throughout Europe : and that proved her 
(since Charlotte has been c dead ' as people 
use the phrase more than half a century, 
and since her books are still living spirits, 
we may be allowed to affirm this) one of 
the immortals. 



THE SECRET OF 



But now whilst all these epochs in Mrs. 
Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte were studied 
by exact historical methods, there was one 
epoch in her heroine's career that this, else- 
where, conscientious biographer neglected 
to study at all : in the sense, of subjecting 
facts and events and personages, belonging 
to its history, to careful examination. Here, 
on the contrary, we find that Mrs. 
Gaskell left exact methods of enquiry behind 
her ; and adopted arbitrary psychological 
methods, of arguments, and assumptions, 
where, not only no effort was made to 
consult the testimony of facts, but where 
this testimony was ignored, or contradicted, 
when it stood in the way, of preconceived 
theories. And this period, thus inade- 
quately, or, rather, thus mischievously, dealt 
with, happened to be precisely the one 
where the key must be found to the right 
interpretations of Charlotte's personality ; 
and of the emotions and experiences she 
had undergone and that called her genius 
forth to life : and stamped it with the seal 
and quality that made her, amongst our 
great English Novelists, the only representa- 

4 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

live prose-writer in our literature of the 
European literary movement that French 
critics praise, and attack, under the name 
of le Romantisme. 

The period in Charlotte's life that I am 
speaking of is, of course, the interval of two 
years (from Feb. 1842 to Jan. 1844) that 
she spent at Bruxelles, in the school in the 
Rue d'Isabelle, whose Director and Direc- 
tress, Monsieur and Madame Heger, are 
supposed to have been painted in the char- 
acters of ' Paul Emanuel ' and of c Madame 
Beck,' in the famous novel of Villette. 

How far that supposition is justified, and 
to what extent Villette is an autobiograph- 
ical reminiscence, thinly disguised as a novel, 
can be now, but has never been up to this 
date, satisfactorily decided, by an attentive 
historical enquiry. What is established 
securely to-day, and cannot be removed from 
the foundation of documentary evidence that 
serves as the basis upon which all future 
theories must rest, is, that it is in this period 
that Charlotte Bronte not as an enthusiastic 
and half-formed school-girl, as some reckless 
modern impressionist critics, careless of the 

5 



THE SECRET OF 



evidence of facts, would have us believe, 
but as a woman, profoundly sincere, im- 
passioned, exalted, unstained, and unstainable, 
who, between twenty-six and twenty-eight 
years of age, had long left girlish extrava- 
gance behind her underwent experiences 
and emotions, that were not transient feel- 
ings, nor sensational excitements. But they 
were transforming and formative spiritual 
influences causing, no doubt, bitter anguish, 
and intolerable regrets, that ' broke her heart,' 
in the sense that that they destroyed personal 
hope or belief in happiness, and even the 
personal capacity for happiness : yet that 
from this grave of buried hope, called her 
genius forth to life ; and stamped and sealed 
it, with its special quality and gift : the 
gift that made her a c Romantic/ So that 
at this hour one has not to deplore any longer, 
for Charlotte's sake, this tragical sentiment, 
of predestined, hopeless, and unrequited love, 
that broke her heart, but that gave her im- 
mortality. For, whilst the broken heart is 
healed now, or, at any rate, has slept in 
peace for more than half a century, the 
genius, born from its sorrow, is still a living 

6 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

spirit ; and will probably continue to live on, 
from age to age, whilst the English tongue 
endures. 

At the present hour all this can be posi- 
tively affirmed. But even before the final 
settlement, for every critic who respects 
historical evidence, of the now incontro- 
vertible fact, Mrs. Gaskell's method of 
dealing with this momentous period could 
not satisfy an attentive student who compared 
her account with Charlotte's correspondence : 
and also with eloquent impassioned passages 
in Villette and the Professor^ where the 
authoress is plainly painting emotions and 
impressions she has herself undergone. And 
the effect that was left upon thoughtful 
readers of the Life of Charlotte Bronte was 
that the biographer was, not negligently, 
but deliberately, altering the true significance, 
by underrating the importance, of Char- 
lotte's experiences in Bruxelles, and of her 
relationships with Monsieur and Madame 
Heger. 

This biographer's theory was (and the 
doctrine has been vehemently defended by a 
certain clique of devotees of Charlotte 

7 



THE SECRET OF 



Bronte down to the present day) that 
Charlotte obtained, certainly, great intellec- 
tual stimulus, as well as literary culture, from 
the lessons of M. Heger, as an accomplished 
Professor ; but that, outside of these influ- 
ences, her relationships with M. Heger were 
of an entirely ordinary and tranquil char- 
acter, and that she carried back with her to 
Haworth, after her two years' residence in 
Bruxelles, no other sentiments than those of 
the grateful regard and esteem a good pupil 
necessarily retains for a Professor whose 
lessons she has turned to excellent account. 

How far Mrs. Gaskell did believe, or was 
able to make herself believe, what she pro- 
fessed, it is difficult to determine now. My 
own opinion is she did not believe it ; but 
that she esteemed it a duty to respect the 
secret that had not been confided to her : and 
to pass by in silence, and with averted eyes, 
the place where, forsaken by hope, Charlotte 
had fought out bravely and all alone this 
battle, with a hopeless passion (that, after 
all, when it comes across any woman's path, 
she must fight out alone ^ because nowhere, 
outside of her own soul, is there any help), 

8 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and then, having won her battle, had gone 
on, leaving her broken heart buried in that 
silent, secret place, to face her altered 
destiny. And to write stories as a method 
of salvation from despair. But to return, 
now and again, to visit that silent, secret 
grave : and to gather the magical flowers 
that grew there, and breathe their bitter, 
sweet perfume. And to take large hand- 
fuls of these flowers home with her, and, 
in the air saturated with the bitter-sweet 
perfume of these magical flowers, to write 
her stories. So that the stories themselves 
come to us, not like other stories, but steeped 
in this strange perfume thrilled through 
with the magical life belonging to flowers 
of remembrance, gathered from the grave 
of a tragical romance. And this explains 
why the stories are themselves romantic : 
and why, as Harriet Martineau complained, 
Villette^ especially, has this quality, which, 
to the authoress of Illustrations in Political 
'Economy ', appeared a defect, that c all events 
and personages are regarded through the medium 
of one passion only the passion of unrequited 
/ove.' 



THE SECRET OF 



To return to Mrs. Gaskell and her 
criticism of Charlotte Bronte. The question 
of whether she, like Harriet Martineau, 
committed a critical blunder, as a result of 
studying Charlotte's character and genius 
by wrong methods, or whether out of 
loyalty she endeavoured to cover in her 
friend's life the secret romance that Char- 
lotte herself never revealed, does not need 
to trouble us much, because the answer does 
not greatly matter. However laudatory 
Mrs. Gaskell's motive may have been, the 
fact remains, that, as a result of her endeavour 
rather to turn attention away from, than to 
examine, the true circumstances of Char- 
lotte's relationships with Monsieur and 
Madame Heger, an inadequate, or else a 
false, criticism was inaugurated by her influ- 
ence of the most popular in Europe of our 
distinguished women novelists, and who, 
outside of England, is judged by right 
standards as a 'Romantic,' but who, in 
her own country, has been criticised from 
1857 down to 1913, in the light of one 
of two contradictory impressions both of 
which we nowknow were historical mistakes. 

10 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

The first of these impressions is that 
Charlotte Bronte has painted, not only her 
own emotions, but her own actual ex- 
periences, in Villette ; and that Lucy Snowe, 
Paul Emanuel, and Madame Beck, are 
pseudonyms, under which we ought to 
recognise Charlotte herself, and the Direc- 
tor and Directress of the Pensionnat in the 
Rue d'Isabelle. 

The second, and almost equally mischie- 
vous impression is that no romantic nor 
tragical sentiment whatever characterises 
the relationships between Charlotte Bronte 
and her Bruxelles Professor in literature ; 
and that she derived her inspirations as a 
writer solely from the drab dreariness and 
the desolation of disease and death, of her 
life in the shadow of Haworth churchyard. 
It is impossible from the standpoint of 
either of these impressions to form right 
opinions about Charlotte Bronte, either as 
a distinguished personality, or as a writer of 
genius, whose place in English literature is 
that amongst our prose writers she is the 
representative c Romantic ' who counts with 
George Sand ; but differs from her, as an 

1 1 



THE SECRET OF 



English and not a French exponent of the 
sentiment of romantic love. 

Judged both as a distinguished personality 
and as a writer of genius from the stand- 
point of the impression that Villette is an 
autobiographical story, Charlotte Bronte 
suffers injustice, both as a woman of fine 
character, and as an imaginative painter of 
emotions rather than an observer of events, 
or a critic of manners. Accepted as a real- 
istic picture of her own adventures in Brussels, 
the book does not testify to her accuracy 
or skill in portraiture, from the purely 
literary point of view. And from the 
moral and personal standpoint, she remains 
convicted (if she be held to be telling her 
own story) of the baseness of a half-con- 
fession ; and of a dishonourable and a success- 
ful, not a romantic and tragical, love for a 
married man. And of the treacherous wrong 
done a sister-woman, who threw open her 
home to her, when she was a friendless alien 
in a foreign city. And, if this were so, 
this traitress would have further aggravated 
the dishonest betrayal of her protectress, by 
holding up the woman she had wronged 

12 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

to the world's detestation, either as the 
contemptible and scheming Mile. Zorai'de 
Reuter, of the Professor : or the less con- 
temptible but more hateful Madame Beck, 
in Villette. 

If, then, Charlotte did mean, or even 
suppose, that others could be induced to 
believe that she meant, to paint her own re- 
lationships to Monsieur and Madame Heger 
in the story, she would stand convicted, not 
only as a woman of bad character, but as one 
who had a wicked and vindictive heart. 

Nor yet does the second impression, 
patronised by devotees of Charlotte Bronte 
(who seem to imagine that the revelation 
of an entirely innocent and indeed beautiful, 
though tragical, romantic attachment in the 
life of this romantic writer, is the disclosure 
of a sin), help us to find any solution of the 
'problem' as psychological critics present 
it to us, of the ' dissonance ' between her 
personality and dull existence, and her 
literary distinction, as our chief English 
Romantic, and the authoress of those 
amazing masterpieces Jane Eyre and Villette. 
What a contrast, in effect, between the char- 

'3 



THE SECRET OF 



acteristics of these masterpieces and the char- 
acteristics of her circumstances at Haworth 
and of the circle of her familiar acquaint- 
ances ! The characteristics of Charlotte's 
books are emotional force, the exaltation 
of passion over all the commonplace 
proprieties, the low -toned feelings, the 
semi-educated pedantries that are the 
characteristics of the people who surround 
Charlotte ; who are her correspondents and 
her friends ; and whose mediocrity weighs 
on the poor original woman's spirit (and 
even on her literary style) like lead : so 
that the letters she writes to them are, 
really, nearly as dull as the letters they write 
to her ; and one finds it hard to believe that 
some of the letters, to Ellen Nussey, for 
instance, come from the same pen that 
wrote Villette : or even that wrote from 
Bruxelles some of her letters to Emily. 

And again, if we leave out of account the 
tragical romantic sentiment for M. Heger, 
how are we to solve the problem as these 
psychologists present it to us, and that 
states itself in this conviction : that the 
creator of 'Rochester* and 'Paul Emanuel' 

H 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

found her own romance, only at forty years 
of age, in her marriage with the Rev. A. B. 
Nicholls, an event she announces thus : 
c / trust the demands of both feeling and duty 
will be in some measure reconciled by the step in 
contemplation ' ; adding on to this the fol- 
lowing description of the future bride- 
groom : ' Mr Nicholls is a kind, considerate 
fellow : with all his masculine faults, he enters 
into my wishes about having the thing done 
quietly ' ? 

From the standpoint of the impression 
that the romance in Charlotte's life, was the 
marriage she speaks of as c the thing,' that 
she wishes ' may be done quietly* and that 
the highest pitch of personal emotion she 
attained to, is expressed by her in the 
temperate confidence that by 'the step in 
contemplation ' c the demands of both feeling 
and duty may in some measure be reconciled^ 
( only in some measure ? Poor Charlotte ! 
But she died within a year) from this 
standpoint, I say, one really cannot solve 
the problem of the c dissonance ' between 
Charlotte's personality and her books. 

But there is one conclusion we are bound 



THE SECRET OF 



to reach. The influences of Haworth, no 
doubt the drab dreariness of everything; 
and then the desolation after Bramwell's 
death, and Emily's death, and Anne's death 
and the father threatened with blindness 
and also the mediocrity of all those dull, 
dull people, who represented her familiar 
friends and correspondents, so satisfied with 
themselves, all of them ; so dissatisfied with 
life, and who saw it through the medium 
not of a romantic tragical sentiment, not of 
one great passion, but through the medium 
of small grievances of superior nursery 
governesses : the sort of people who dislike 
children, and want overdriven mothers to 
be always occupied with their governesses' 
sentiments, instead ^ r ith the baby who 
is cutting its teeth. xJ"o doubt the influ- 
ences of Haworth and of Charlotte Bronte's 
' Circle ' there, before she became famous, 
did help to plant in her the immense depres- 
sion and fatigue of a spirit that had known 
the stress of great emotions, and could bear 
no more^ expressed in the letter announcing 
her decision to marry one of the curates she 
had laughed at in Shirley who 'with all 

16 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

his masculine faults ,' she says, 'is a kind, con- 
siderate fellow* who doesn't expect her to 
pretend she thinks this marriage (' the thing ') 
a Festival. Well, but the conclusion we 
must form is this, that if it be at Haworth, 
and after 1846, that we must find the causes 
of the depression that brought about Char- 
lotte's marriage with Mr. Nicholl, it is not 
here that we must seek the ''Secret of Charlotte 
Bronte* \ the romance that broke her heart, 
true but made her an immortal, whose 
claim to live for ever is based upon no 
moderate well-balanced sentiment, where 
c the demands of both feeling and duty will 
be in some measure reconciled ' but upon 
passionate emotions, compelling expression, 
and forming a new w ^.iage almost ; as M. 
Jules Lemaltre has 'said c introducing new 
ways of feeling, and as it were a new vibra- 
tion into literature.' 

And in the place where the romance in 
Charlotte's life is found must we seek, also, 
the source of this power of emotion: creating 
powers of expression to which much more 
accomplished literary artists than Charlotte 
(Jane Austen and Mrs. Gaskell, for instance) 

17 B 



THE SECRET OF 



never reached ; and to an intimate know- 
ledge of moods and ecstasies and raptures, 
that rule and torture and exalt human souls, 
that much more subtle and scientific psycho- 
logists than herself (George Eliot, for 
instance, and Mrs. Humphry Ward) never 
discovered. 

The supreme gift of the authoress of 
Villette and Jane Eyre y as a painter of emo- 
tions, an interpreter of intimate moods, a 
witness in the cause of ideal sentiments, an 
incessant rebel against vulgarity and common 
worldliness, and the stupid tyranny of custom, 
an upholder of the sovereignty of romance, 
cannot be weighed against, nor judged by, the 
same standards as the accomplished literary 
gift of such finished artists as the authors 
of Pride and Prejudice and Cranford, such 
subtle students of character as the authors 
of Middlemarch and Robert Elsmere, such 
vigorous fighters for intellectual and moral 
ends as are represented by the author of the 
Illustrations upon Political Economy, and the 
Atkinson Letters. And it is because, as a re- 
sult of judging her genius and her personal- 
ity from the standpoint of false impressions, 

18 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

Charlotte Bronte has not been recognised in 
England as a painter of personal emotions, a 
Romantic in short, but has been judged as the 
advocate of a general doctrine (one very 
agreeable to the convictions of the average man, 
but especially exasperating to the aspirations 
and principles of the superior woman) I 
mean, the doctrine that to obtain the love of a 
man whom she feels to be^ and rejoices to recognise 
as^ her * Master * is the supreme desire and 
dream o^ every truly feminine hearty it is because, 
I say, of this mistake, that Charlotte has 
become the idol of a class of critics least 
qualified perhaps to appreciate the merits 
of a romantic rebel against conventional 
domesticity ; whilst amongst more naturally 
sympathetic judges, the peculiar perfume 
and power of these novels, steeped in and 
saturated with the passionate essence of 
a personal romance, has not been recognised 
either for what it really is, the c magic ' of 
Charlotte Bronte ; the special quality in 
her work that gives it originality and 
distinction ; but this very quality the 
personal note ' that makes her our only 
English Romantic Novelist, has been signal- 



THE SECRET OF 



ised by many sincere admirers of her books 
as a defect ! 

I have already mentioned the judgment 
passed upon Villette by an admirable woman 
of letters, Charlotte Bronte's personal friend, 
and a critic whose good faith, and honest 
desire to serve the interests of this sister- 
authoress with whom she found fault it is 
quite impossible to doubt. 

When Villette appeared, Charlotte 
Bronte had been for some little time on very 
friendly terms with Harriet Martineau : and 
she did not fear to incur the risk always 
a perilous one to friendship of asking 
Harriet to tell her, quite frankly, what she 
thought of her book. Harriet responded 
with perfect frankness to the invitation ; and 
the almost inevitable result followed. The 
event wrecked their friendship. And no 
one was to blame : Harriet Martineau, 
without disguise, but without malice, said 
what she thought was true. But neither 
was Charlotte in the wrong, for she felt 
herself unjustly judged ; and her feeling was 
right, because Harriet used false standards. 

' As for the matter which you so desire to 
20 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

know/ wrote the frank Harriet; C I have 
but one thing to say : but it is not a small 
one. I do not like the love either the kind 
or the degree of it and its prevalence in the 
book, and effect on the action of it, help to 
explain the passages in the reviews which 
you consulted me about, and seem to afford 
some foundation for the criticism they 
afford/ 

Charlotte was deeply offended : ' I pro- 
test against this passage/ she wrote ; ' I know 
what love is as I understand it, and if man or 
woman should be ashamed of feeling such 
love, then there is nothing right, noble, 
faithful, truthful, unselfish in this earth, as 
I comprehend rectitude, nobleness, fidelity, 
truth and disinterestedness.' 

Here spoke the Romantic. But Harriet 
Martineau was not a Romantic but an 
Intellectual, and she judged Charlotte's 
books and her genius through her own 
temperament, and by intellectual standards. 
She followed up the private rebuke to her 
friend for making too much of love, in a 
review of Villette^ contributed to the Daily 
News. 

21 



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' All the female characters/ she wrote, < in 
all their thoughts and lives, are full of one 
thing, or are regarded in the light of that 
one thought, love ! It begins with the 
child of six years old, of the opening (a 
charming picture), and closes with it at the 
last page. And so dominant is this idea, so 
incessant is the writer's tendency to describe 
the need of being loved, that the heroine, who 
tells her own story, leaves the reader at last 
under the uncomfortable impression of her 
having either entertained a double love, or 
allowed one to supersede another, without 
notification of the transition. It is not thus 
in real life. There are substantial, heartfelt 
interests for women of all ages, and, under 
ordinary circumstances, quite apart from 
love ; there is an absence of introspection, 
an unconsciousness, a repose, in women's 
lives, unless under peculiarly unfortunate 
circumstances, of which we find no admis- 
sion in this book ; and to the absence of it 
may be attributed some of the criticism 
which the book will meet with from readers 
who are no prudes, but whose reason and 
taste will regret the assumption that events 

22 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and characters are to be regarded through 
the medium of one passion only.' 

The critical blunder in this judgment is 
that here the authoress of the Illustrations 
in Political Economy and of the Atkinson 
Letters sees the authoress of Villette through 
her own temperament, as an intellectual 
like herself: a humane sociologist, and 
a philosophical freethinker, whose literary 
purpose is to use her talent as a writer in the 
service of her ideas and principles. Judging 
Vilette and its authoress from this point of 
view and by these standards, Harriet 
Martineau decides that because ' all events 
and characters in Villette are regarded 
through the medium of one passion, love,' 
therefore the literary motive and purpose 
of the authoress must have been to deny 
or at any rate to ignore that there are 
substantial heartfelt interests for women of all 
ages^ and in ordinary circumstances^ quite apart 
f rom /ove.' 

The mistake lay in assuming that Char- 
lotte Bronte was an intellectual, instead 
of an imaginative genius ; and that her 
literary purpose was to affirm, or deny, 

2 3 



THE SECRET OF 



or ignore deliberately, any principle; or in 
any way to make her genius the servant of 
her intellect ; whereas her intelligence was 
so coloured by her imagination, so sub- 
servient to her genius, that if one were to 
measure her by intellectual standards with 
Harriet Martineau, for instance she would 
remain as vastly Harriet's inferior in en- 
thusiasm of humanity, in practical benevol- 
ence and warm interest in social reform, 
and in emancipations from prejudice and 
insularity and bigotry, as she was Harriet's 
superior in power of passionate feeling, in 
wealth of imagination, and in superb gift 
of expression. But any such comparison 
would be out of place. Let us admit that 
Charlotte's thoughts and aspirations, as we 
find them scattered through her writings, 
express the ordinary vigorous prejudices of 
an English gentlewoman of her period, 
brought up under the influences of a father 
who was a good sort of Tory clergyman ; 
that her attitude of condescension toward, 
rather than of sympathy with, the c common 
people,' regarded as the 'lower orders,' 
who should be kindly treated of course, 

24 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

but kept in their place, and taught to 
c order themselves lowly and reverently to 
their betters/ indicates a defective humani- 
tarianism ; that her almost rabid patriotism 
her conviction that not to be English is a 
misfortune, and a stamp of inferiority that 
weighs heavily as an impediment to nobility 
and virtue, upon every member of every 
other foreign race, is distinctly narrow ; 
and that her staunch and straitened pro- 
testantism, leaves her as far away as the 
'idolatrous priests' she denounced, from any 
claim to enlightened tolerance. 

Yet this lack of any particular height 
or breadth or distinction in Charlotte 
Bronte's social, political, critical, or even 
religious views, does not in any way detract 
from the height, depth and distinction of 
her powers of noble emotion and splendid 
expression ; nor from the rare gift of trans- 
lating words into feelings that quicken her 
readers' sensibility to a finer perception of 
the ideal beauty that lies at the heart of 
common things. 

Here is the gift by which we have to 
judge, or, to speak more becomingly, for 

25 



THE SECRET OF 



which we have to praise and thank, our 
only English c Romantic ' novelist, who 
stands in rank with George Sand, and 
who has been studied in comparison with 
her by Swinburne. And we have to praise, 
and thank our Charlotte all the more, 
because she has a national as well as a 
personal note : and brings to this European 
literary movement the characteristic qual- 
ities of imagination and sentiment that 
belong to our English literary temperament, 
and that do us honour, as a romantic 
people who are romantic in our own, and 
nobody else's way. 

But now if we want to appreciate the 
' magic ' of Charlotte Bronte as a Romantic 
we must not look for the sources of her 
inspiration at Haworth ; nor in the circle 
of dull people, to whom she wrote, brilliant 
writer as she was, dull letters, because their 
mediocrity weighed upon her spirit like 
lead. 

Twenty years ago, now, I attempted (but 
was not especially successful in the task) 
to establish upon the personal knowledge 
that my own residence as a pupil in the 

26 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

historical Pensionnat in the Rue d'Isabelle, 
at Bruxelles gave me of the facts of 
Charlotte Bronte's relationships to Monsieur 
and Madame Heger, right impressions about 
the experiences and emotions she underwent 
between 1842 and 1846, and that supply 
the key and clue to the right interpretation 
of her genius. Every opinion I then ventured 
to state, not upon the authority of any special 
power of divination or of psychological in- 
sight of my own, but solely upon the 
authority of this personal knowledge of 
Monsieur and Madame Heger in my early 
girlhood, and also of the information I owed 
to the friendship and kind assistance given me, 
in my endeavour to rectify false judgments, 
by the Heger family, has quite recently, 
not only been confirmed, but established 
upon entirely incontrovertible evidence, by 
the generous gift made to English readers 
throughout the world of the key needed to 
unlock once and for ever the tragical but 
romantic c Secret ' of Charlotte Bronte. 



27 



THE SECRET OF 



CHAPTER II 



THE KEY TO THE PROBLEM 

THE common saying, that c people must be 
just before they are generous,' becomes at 
once less common and more correct when it 
is formulated differently. ' One needs to be 
very generous before one can be really just ' is 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's way of stating the 
proposition. And one calls this sentence to 
remembrance when recognising how much 
generosity is revealed in the act of justice 
recently performed by Dr. Paul Heger in 
his gift to the British Museum (that is to 
say to English readers throughout the world) 
of the four tragical, but incomparably beauti- 
ful, Letters written by Charlotte Bronte to 
his father, the late Professor Constantin 
Heger, within two years of her return to 
England. 

No doubt this gift 'was an act of justice. 
Without the conclusive evidence these 

28 




CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

Letters afford, there would have been no 
means of rectifying the arbitrary, false, and 
inadequate criticism of the personality, and 
thus, indirectly, of the writings, of a great 
novelist misjudged especially in her own 
country. 

But whilst, for these reasons, the publica- 
tion of these Letters was a duty to English 
literature, the son of the late Director and 
Directress of the Bruxelles Pensionnat un- 
warrantably supposed to have their literal 
counterparts in the interesting Professor Paul 
Emanuel, and in the abominable Madame 
Beck might well, in view of the unintelli- 
gent and ungenerous criticism of his parents 
by English readers, have refused to recognise 
any obligation on his side to concern him- 
self with the rectification of the dull 
laudatory, or the malicious condemnatory, 
judgments passed, from a false standpoint, 
on the authoress of Villette. 

We find Dr. Paul Heger able to rise 
entirely above all personal rancour, and to 
recognise that Charlotte Bronte herself is 
not to be made responsible because a good 
many of her critics have blundered. Indeed, 

29 



THE SECRET OF 



the conduct of the whole Heger family since 
the publication of Villette^ and the death of 
Charlotte Bronte, has been distinguished by 
this fine spirit of disinterestedness ; and by 
a dignified indifference to undeserved re- 
proaches. The answer to all charges, of 
unkindness to Charlotte on Madame Heger 's 
part, or of injudicious kindness first, followed 
by heartless indifference, on M. Heger's 
side, was in their hands ; and they had only 
to publish the present Letters to establish 
the facts as they really were. But this 
could not have been done in the time when 
Villette appeared, nor even immediately after 
Charlotte's death, without wounding others. 
Villette appeared in 1 853. In 1 854 Charlotte, 
then in her fortieth year, married the Rev. 
A. B. Nicholls ; and she died less than a 
year after this marriage. Mr. Nicholls 
survived her more than forty years. No 
doubt he would have been wounded in his 
sensibilities by the disclosure of his late wife's 
entirely honourable, but very romantic and 
passionate earlier attachment to somebody 
else. Intimate personal friends of Charlotte, 
also, would have been afflicted, not by her 

3 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

revelations, but by the commentaries upon 
them that a certain type of critic would 
have infallibly indulged in. Whilst these 
conditions lasted, the Heger family scrupu- 
lously refrained from publishing these docu- 
ments. Twenty years ago, when I was 
collecting the materials for my article pub- 
lished in the Woman at Home, and when, in 
the light of my own recollection of M. and 
Madame Heger, as their former pupil, I 
endeavoured to rectify, what / knew to be^ 
false impressions about their relationships 
with Charlotte Bronte, I was told by my 
honoured and dearly loved friend, Made- 
moiselle Louise Heger, about the existence 
of these Letters ; but they were not shown me. 
And I was further assured that, whilst they 
would be carefully preserved, they would 
not be published, until every one had dis- 
appeared who could in any way be offended 
by their disclosure. After the lapse of more 
than half a century since Charlotte's death, 
these conditions have now been reached. 
And in his admirable Letter to the Principal 
Librarian of the British Museum, Dr. Paul 
Heger explains his reasons for making this 

3 1 



THE SECRET OF 



present to the English people of documents 
entirely honourable to the character of one 
of our great writers, and that explain the 
emotions and experiences that formed her 
genius : 

c SIR, In the name of my sisters and 
myself (thus runs the opening sentence of 
the Letter reprinted in the Times), c as the 
representatives of the late M. Constantin 
Heger, I beg leave to offer to the British 
Museum, as the official custodian on behalf 
of the British People, the Letters of Char- 
lotte Bronte, which the great Novelist 
addressed to our Father. These four im- 
portant Letters, which have been religiously 
preserved, may be accepted as revealing the 
soul of the gifted author whose genius is 
the pride of England. We have hesitated 
long as to whether these documents, so 
private, so intimate, should be scanned by 
the public eye. We have been deterred 
from offering them sooner, by the thought 
that, perhaps, the publicity involved in the 
gift might be considered incompatible with 
the sensitive nature of the artist herself. 
But we offer them the more readily, as they 

3 2 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

lay open the true significance of what has 
hitherto been spoken of as the " Secret of 
Charlotte Bronte," and show how ground- 
less is the suspicion which has resulted from 
the natural speculations of critics and bio- 
graphers ; to the disadvantage of both parties 
to the one-sided correspondence. We then, 
admirers of her genius and personality, 
venture to propose that we may have the 
honour of placing these Letters in your 
hands ; making only the condition that 
they may be preserved for the use of the 
nation.' 

' Doubtless,' continues Dr. Paul Heger, 
when dealing with the actual relations be- 
tween Charlotte and the Director and 
Directress of the school in the Rue d'Isabelle, 
' Doubtless, my parents played an important 
part in the life of Charlotte Bronte : but she 
did not enter into their lives as one would 
imagine from what passes current to-day. 
That is evident enough from the very cir- 
cumstances of life, so different for her, and 
for them. There is nothing in these Letters 
that is not entirely honourable to their 
author, as to him to whom they are ad- 

33 c 



THE SECRET OF 



dressed. It is better to lay bare the very 
innocent mystery, than to let it be supposed 
that there is anything to hide. I hope that 
the publication of these Letters will bring 
to an end a legend which has never had any 
real existence in fact. I hope so : but 
legends are more tenacious of life than sober 
reality.' 

The last observation shows that Dr. Paul 
Heger, an experienced litterateur^ foresaw 
what has actually happened, and that the 
defenders of the two ' legends ' of Charlotte 
Bronte, patronised by writers who derive 
the authority for their opinions about her, 
not from the study of the facts of her life 
and character, but from their own impres- 
sions and convictions, are not going to admit 
that the legends are overthrown, simply 
because it has been proved that they are 
founded upon mistakes. At the same time, 
no statement can be more true than that 'facts 
are stubborn things,' and that, when these 
c stubborn things ' are found arrayed in stern 
and uncompromising opposition to the 
impressions and convictions of the most 
accomplished psychological theorists well, 

34 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

it is the psychological theorists who must 
give way. 

And this is the situation that has to be 
faced to-day by critics of Charlotte Bronte, 
who have either formed their opinions about 
her in the light of their impression that 
Villette represents an autobiographical study, 
or else who have founded their judgments of 
her personality and genius as a writer upon 
their conviction that it is a 6 silly and offensive 
imputation ' to suppose that her sentiment for 
M. Heger was a warmer feeling than the 
esteem and gratitude a clever pupil owes an 
accomplished professor. 

In connection with the tenacity of life of 
this last theory (after the publication of the 
evidence which proves it is a mistake), we 
have to consider with serious attention the 
account rendered in the Times of the 3Oth 
July 1 9 1 3, of an interview with Mr. Clement 
Shorter, known to be the most distinguished 
supporter, in the past, of the doctrine that 
Charlotte's sentiment for Professor Heger 
was * literary enthusiasm,' and nothing more. 
And this serious attention is needed, because, 
in Mr. Clement Snorter's case, it is not 

35 



THE SECRET OF 



allowable to dismiss lightly the judgment of 
a critic who (after Mrs. Gaskell) has done 
more than any one else to throw light upon 
the family history of the Bronte's, and also 
upon and around those three interesting and 
touching personalities Emily, Anne, and, 
the greatest of them all, Charlotte, amongst 
the familiar scenes and personages of their 
environment at Haworth, both before and 
after they had conquered their unique place 
in English literature. One cannot for a 
moment suppose that Mr. Clement Shorter 
wilfully refuses to see things as they really 
are, simply because it pleases him to see 
them differently ? No ! One realises per- 
fectly that, as with Mrs. Gaskell fifty-seven 
years ago, so with this modern conscientious 
and generous critic to-day there exists an 
entirely noble, and, from a given point of 
view, justifiable reason, for refusing to handle 
or examine a matter with which (so it is 
alleged) historical and literary criticism has 
no concern a purely personal, and intimate 
secret sorrow, in the life of an admirable 
woman of genius ; the sanctuary of whose 
inner feelings it is by no means necessary to 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

explore : and still less necessary to throw 
open to the vulgar curiosity and malevolent 
insinuations of a generation of critics, in- 
fected with hero-phobia, and the unwhole- 
some delight of discovering c a good deal to 
reprobate and even more to laugh atj in the 
sensibility of men and women of genius, 
who have honoured the human race, and 
enriched the world, because they have pos- 
sessed through power of feeling, power also 
of doing fine work, that the critics who 
find much in them * to reprobate and more 
to laugh at ' have not the power even to 
appreciate. Now, if the point of view of 
Mrs. Gaskell and Mr. Clement Shorter 
were a correct one, with all my heart and 
soul I, for my part, should approve of their 
action in slamming the door in the face of 
invading facts that threatened to leave 
the way open for scandal - hunters and 
hero-phobists to enter with them, and 
to deal with the honoured reputation of 
Charlotte Bronte in the same way that 
more to the discredit of English letters 
than to that of two French writers of 
genius recent critics have dealt with the 

37 



THE SECRET OF 



love - letters of Madame de Stael and 
George Sand. 

This point of view, however, is a mis- 
taken one in the present case, because, to 
commence with, Charlotte Bronte's romantic 
love for M. Heger affords no game to the 
scandal-hunter ; but, on the contrary, it is 
serviceable to the just appreciation of her 
character, as well as of her genius, that her 
true sentimentfor her Professor that explains 
her attitude of mind 'when 'writing c Villette ' 
should be rightly understood. Then also, 
whilst Madame de Stael's infatuation for 
Benjamin Constant neither adds to nor 
diminishes her claims, as the authoress of 
Corinne and de rAllemagne^ to the rank of a 
fine writer and a great critic, and while 
George Sand's tormenting and tormented 
love for the ill-fated, irresistible, unstable 
'child of his century,' de Musset, is a poi- 
gnant revelation of the passing weakness 
(through immense tenderness) of a splen- 
didly strong and independent spirit, that 
one is almost ashamed to be made the spec- 
tator of, Charlotte Bronte's valorous martyr- 
dom, undergone secretly and silently, and 

38 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

'rewarded openly,' fills one with an extra- 
ordinary sentiment of respect for her : and 
justifies Mr. Clement Snorter's own fine 
and generous utterances upon the impression 
that the Letters that betray the anguish she 
endured, and overcame, alone, produces 
upon him. 

c Charlotte Bronte^ said Mr. Clement 
Shorter, by the report of an interviewer who 
recorded his opinions in the Times, 3Oth July, 
immediately after the publication of these 
Letters, c is one of the noblest figures in life as 
well as in literature ; and these Letters place 
her on a higher pedestal than ever.' 

Let me quote from the same report in 
the Times the further statement of his 
opinions given by this well-known critic, as 
to the sentiments revealed in these Letters : 

'Mr. Shorter,' affirmed the interviewer, 'wel- 
comed the publication of the letters in the 'Times 
" as giving the last and final word on an old and 
needless controversy." " Personally," he said, " I 
have always held the view that those letters were 
actuated only by the immense enthusiasm of a 
woman desiring comradeship and sympathy with a 
man of the character of Professor Heger. There 

39 



THE SECRET OF 



was no sort of great sorrow on her part because 
Professor Heger was a married man, and it is 
plain in her letters that she merely desired 
comradeship with a great man. When Charlotte 
Bronte made her name famous with her best- 
known novel, she experienced much the same 
adulation from admirers of both sexes as she 
had already poured upon her teacher. She 
found that literary comradeship she desired in 
half a dozen male correspondents to whom she 
addressed letters in every way as interesting as 
those written by her to Professor Heger. There 
is nothing in those letters of hers, published now 
for the first time, that any enthusiastic woman 
might not write to a man double her age, who was 
a married man with a family, and who had been 
her teacher. When one considers that half a 
dozen writers have, in the past, declared that 
Charlotte Bronte was in love with Professor 
Heger, it is a surprising thing that Dr. Heger did 
not years ago publish the letters. They are a 
complete vindication both of her and of his father, 
and, as such, I welcome them, as I am sure must 
all lovers of the Brontes." 

In his first contention Mr. Clement Shorter 
is undeniably right : it is quite true that * the 
publication of these Letters places Charlotte 
Bronte on a higher pedestal than -ever. 9 But 

40 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

why is this true ? Because these are love- 
letters of a very rare and wonderful character^ 
because the passionate tragical emotion that 
throbs through them is a love that, recog- 
nised as hopeless, as unrequited, makes only 
one claim ; that, precisely because it makes no 
other^ it has a right to be accepted and to 
live. Now this sort of love is a very rare 
and wonderful emotion^ that only a noble being 
can feel ; and that although it is hopeless , 
tragical^ is nevertheless a splendid fact^ that 
renders it absurd to deny that sublime unselfish- 
ness is a capacity of human nature. And, 
again, these letters place Charlotte Bronte 
'on a higher pedestal than ever,' because in 
them her vocation and gift of expressing 
her own emotions in a way that makes 
them ' vibrate ' in us like living feelings is 
here carried to its height. So that these 
personal letters, more even than the pictured 
emotions of Lucy Snowe, stand out as a 
record of romantic love that (in so far as 
I know) has never before been rivalled. It 
is true we have the romantic love-letters of 
Abelard and Helo'ise, and the letters in the 
New Helo'ise of Saint-Preux to Julie, and of 



THE SECRET OF 



Julie to Saint-Preux, after their separation, 
as beautiful examples of love surviving hope 
of happiness; and Sainte-Beuve has quoted, 
as examples of the tragical disinterested 
passion of a love that claims no return, but 
only the right to exist, the letters of some 
eighteenth-century women : Mademoiselle 
de TEspinasse, Madame de la Popeliniere, 
and Mademoiselle d'Aisse. But in none 
of these historic love-letters (so, at least, it 
seems to me) does one feel, with the same 
truth and strength as in these recently 
published letters of Charlotte Bronte to 
M. Heger, the ' vibration ' of this tragical, 
hopeless, romantic love, that asks for no- 
thing but acceptance, that does not c seek its 
own ' the love that only asks to give, 
compared with which all other sorts of love, 
that do seek their own and claim return, are 
as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. 

But now, if we were to accept the view of 
these letters, that they do not express love at 
all, but merely the writer's * desire of 'comrade- 
ship with a great man'' : and that * 'after she had 
become famous "she found that literary comrade- 
ship she desired^ in half a dozen male correspon- 

42 






CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

dents ) to whom she addressed letters in every way 
as interesting as those written by her to M. 
Heger"*\ and that * there is nothing in these 
letters that any enthusiastic woman might not write 
to a man double her age, who was a married man 
with a family \ and who had been her teacher* 
if we could accept all these views, could we 
then hold the opinion that ' the publication 
of these letters places Charlotte on a higher 
pedestal than ever ' ? 

It seems to me, on the contrary, that then 
we should find ourselves compelled to admit 
that Charlotte Bronte had fallen very much 
in our esteem as a result of the publication 
of these Letters. For whilst romantic love 
is a noble sentiment that does honour to the 
heart that feels it, an ' immense enthusiasm 
for literary comradeship with great men ' is not 
necessarily^ nor generally even, a commend- 
able sentiment. It is very often merely a 
rather vulgar and selfish persistency in claim- 
ing the time and attention of busy people 
who don't want the comradeship; and I 
suppose there are very few people in the 
least degree famous who have not been 
harrassed by the c enthusiasm ' of professing 

43 



THE SECRET OF 



admirers who have nothing to do them- 
selves, and who want busy men or women 
of letters to correspond with them. And 
if a desire of comradeship with M. Heger 
had really been the sentiment and motive 
of Charlotte's letters to him, after she left 
Bruxelles, then the fact that she continued 
to write to him although he did not answer 
her letters would prove that she was insist- 
ing upon being the c comrade ' of some one 
who did not want her. Again, if the tone 
and terms of these Letters to M. Heger in 
1845 were the same that she employed with 
c half a dozen other male correspondents^ after 
she became a famous writer, well Charlotte 
would 'fall in our estimation, both as a writer, 
who ought to know how to avoid extra- 
vagant language, and as a self-respecting 
woman who should not have allowed her 
enthusiasm for literary comradeship to in- 
duce her to repeat experiences that, without 
loss of dignity, one cannot pass through 
more than once in a lifetime. 

Happily, however, attention to facts 
proves that none of the conditions that, if 
they had existed, would have rendered the 

44 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

writing of these Letters discreditable to Char- 
lotte's reputation, can be accepted as in the 
least credible. It is not credible that her 
sentiment for M. Heger was that of intel- 
lectual enthusiasm for a great man double 
her age ; because, to begin with, M. Heger 
was not double Charlotte Bronte's age, but 
only seven years her senior. About this 
question there can be no dispute. M. Heger 
was born in 1809 ; and Charlotte Bronte in 
1 8 1 6. In 1 844 Charlotte then was twenty- 
eight, and M. Heger thirty-five years of 
age, and given the fact that women lose 
their youth first, M. Heger had precisely 
the age that would render him most sym- 
pathetic to a woman who was still young 
but who had left girlhood behind her. 
Again, M. Heger was not a * Great Man? in 
the sense of being either a celebrity, or an 
original genius with gifts or qualities of an 
order calculated to kindle intellectual hero- 
worship ; and he was further a dictatorial 
and ingrained Professor, the very last person 
on earth to offer literary comradeship to a 
former pupil. The Director of the Pension- 
nat in thejRue d'Isabelle, and the former 

45 



THE SECRET OF 



Prefet des iLtudes at the Brussels Athene e (who 
had resigned this post when religious instruc- 
tion, made a free subject, was excluded, as 
a compulsory Catholic training from the 
college curriculum) was a man of talent, 
who had weight in Catholic circles, and was 
recognised in his character of a Professor as 
one with an admirable gift for teaching, even 
by the enemies of his religious convictions ; 
but he was not in any way, save as a teacher, 
a distinguished or famous personage ; and 
in all probability if this English writer of 
genius had not immortalised him in the 
character of 'Paul Emanuel,' M. Heger 
would not have outlived the affectionate 
and respectful remembrance of his family 
and personal friends. 

The method of testing the question of 
whether intellectual enthusiasm, or tragical 
romantic love is the sentiment revealed in 
these Letters is to read the Letters themselves 
in the light of a true impression of the real 
relationships (when they 'were written) between 
Charlotte Bronte and M. Heger ^ that is to say 
in the first twelve months that followed 
Charlotte's farewell to the Director and the 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

Directress of the Pensionnat in the Rue 
d'Isabelle, in January 1 844. And to obtain 
this right impression, we have to see what 
had taken place, to alter the original entirely 
friendly terms between Madame Heger and 
the English under-mistress, who during the 
first year of her stay in Brussels had been 
a parlour-boarder : for the story told in 
Villette of Lucy Snowe's arrival at the Pen- 
sionnat in the Rue d'lsabelle late at night, 
and with no place of shelter, having lost her 
box and been robbed of her purse on the 
voyage, is, to start with, an incident that has 
no place in the true history. 



47 



THE SECRET OF 



CHAPTER III 






CHARLOTTE'S LAST YEAR AT BRUSSELS 
1842-43 

WHAT were Charlotte Bronte's real relation- 
ships with Monsieur and Madame Heger 
when, in January 1844, she bade them, 
what was to prove, a final farewell ? This 
is what has to be understood before we can 
read with a full sense of their true meaning the 
tragical impassioned Letters to M. Heger, 
written within the first two years of 
Charlotte's return to England, Letters that 
not only place the authoress of Jane Eyre 
and Villette (as a devotee, and an exponent 
of Romantic love) on a 'higher pedestal 
than ever,' but that, also, explain at what 
cost of personal anguish she attained as a 
writer her extraordinary power of translating 
emotions into words, that, by the impres- 
sion they produce retranslate themselves to 
her readers' imagination and sensibilities as 
feelings. 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

We have always to remember that the 
relationships between Charlotte and her 
former Professor were not those that existed 
between Lucy Snowe and her ' Master.' 
Paul Emanuel was unmarried, and in love 
with Lucy, although Madame Beck and 
the Jesuit, Pere Silas, and in the end 
Destiny prevented the love-story from 
reaching a happy ending. 

Nor were these relationships, as the facts 
of the case reveal them, those imagined by 
Mr. Clement Shorter ; where e it was no cause 
of grief to Charlotte that M. Heger was 
married* because her enthusiasm for him 
was that of simple hero-worship for a 
great man. Nor yet were these relation- 
ships, when she left Bruxelles in 1844 (nor 
had they been for some ten months before 
that date), the same relationships (of trustful 
friendship on the one hand and sympathetic 
interest on the other) that had existed 
between Charlotte and the Director and 
Directress of the Pensionnat in the Rue 
d'Isabelle when, a year earlier (in January 
1843), Charlotte had returned to Bruxelles 
alone, in response to Madame * s as well as 

49 D 



THE SECRET OF 



Monsieur's invitation, to perfect her own 
French, and to receive a small salary as 
English Mistress. These first relationships 
had continued untroubled for the first few 
months after Charlotte's return. Thus, in 
March 1843, writing to her friend Ellen 
Nussey, she qualifies her complaints of 
loneliness in the Pensionnat (without the 
companionship she had enjoyed the 
previous year of her dearly loved sister 
Emily) by reference to the kindness of 
Madame, as well as of Monsieur Heger. 

* As I told you before,' she writes, e M. and 
Madame Heger are the only two persons in 
the house for whom I really experience 
regard and esteem ; and of course I cannot be 
always with them, nor even very often. 
They told me, when I first returned, that I 
was to consider their sitting-room my 
sitting-room, and to go there whenever I 
was not engaged in the schoolroom. This, 
however, I cannot do. In the daytime it 
is a public room, where music-masters and 
mistresses are constantly passing in and out ; 
and in the evening I will not, and ought 
not, to intrude on M. and Madame Heger 

5 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and their children. Thus I am a good deal 
by myself; but that does not signify. I 
now regularly give English lessons to 
M. Heger and his brother-in-law. They 
get on with wonderful rapidity, especially 
the first. 1 

So that, up to this date, no cloud is vis- 
ible. But by May 29 there is a cloud above 
the horizon. It is no bigger than ' a man's 
hand ' as yet : but it is charged with elec- 
tricity, and one knows the storm is gather- 
ing. This time Charlotte is writing to 
Emily, who never liked M. Heger for her 
part. c Things wag on much as usual here, 
only Mile. Blanche and Mile. Hausse are at 
present on a system of war without quarter. 
They hate each other like two cats. Mile. 
Blanche frightens Mile. Hausse by her white 
passions, for they quarrel venomously ; 
Mile. Hausse complains that when Mile. 
Blanche is in a fury " elle rfa pas de /evres." 
I find also that Mile. Sophie dislikes Mile. 
Blanche extremely. She says she is heartless, 
insincere and vindictive, which epithets, I 
assure you, are richly deserved. Also IJind 

1 Life ofC. B., p. 254. 
51 



THE SECRET OF 



she is the regular spy of Madame Heger, to 
'whom she reports everything. Also she invents^ 
which I should not have thought. I am [not] 
richly off for companionship in these parts. 
Of late days^ M. and Madame Heger rarely 
speak to me; and I really don't pretend to care a 
Jig for anybody else in the establishment. You 
are not to suppose by that expression that I 
am under the influence of warm affection for 
Madame Heger. / am convinced she does not 
like me : why, I can't tell. (O Charlotte !) 
Nor do I think she herself has any definite reason 
for this aversion. (!) But for one thing, she 
cannot understand why I do not make 
intimate friends of Mesdames Blanche, 
Sophie and Hausse. M. Heger is won- 
drously influenced by Madame: and I should 
not wonder if he disapproves very much of 
my unamiable want of sociability. He has 
already given me a brief lecture on universal 
bienveillance ; and perceiving that I don't 
improve in consequence, I fancy he has 
taken to considering me as a person to be let 
alone, left to the error of her ways, and 
consequently he has, in a great measure, 
withdrawn the light of his countenance ; 

5* 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and I get on from day to day, in a Robinson 
Crusoe like condition, very lonely. That 
does not signify ; in other respects I have 
nothing substantial to complain of, nor is 
even this a cause of complaint. Except for 
the loss of M. Heger' s goodwill (if I have lost 
it,} I care for none of 'em.' * 

Let us see what this letter, written eight 
months before Charlotte left Bruxelles, tells 
us about the altered facts of the relationships 
between herself and the Directress and 
Director of the School. First, it is no longer 
Monsieur and Madame Heger who are the 
only people Charlotte cares about in the 
establishment, but it is only the goodwill of 
M. Heger that she would grieve to lose. And 
Madame Heger, who so kindly invited 
her to consider the family sitting-room 
hers, now takes no notice of her, and, 
Charlotte knows it, has taken an aversion to 
her. And when M. Heger says, ' Don't 
you think, " Mees Charlotte," who is lonely 
without her sister Emily, should be taken 
more notice of?' Madame Heger replies 
coldly: 'If "Mees" is lonely, it is her own fault. 

1 Life, p. 258. 

53 




THE SECRET OF 



Why does she not make friends 'with her com- 
peer 's, Mesdemoiselles Blanche^ Sophie and Hausse? 
They are of her rank ; they follow the same 
profession ; no, this young Englishwoman is 
full of the pride and narrowness of her race ! 
She is without bienveillance : she esteems 
herself better than others, she makes her 
own unhappiness ; and it is not for her good to 
single her out amongst the other excellent under- 
mistresses as we have done. Let her make 
herself friends amongst them : let her learn to 
be amiable? And M. Heger, who thinks 
there is something true in this, because his 
unalterable opinion is that it belongs to the 
English character, and to the Protestant 
creed, to be proud, narrow, unamiable and 
without benevolence, lectures Charlotte"* 
in this sense. Here are the facts of the 
situation in May 1843. 

Now what has happened in these few 
months to so change the relationships be- 
tween Charlotte and Madame Heger, and 
to render Monsieur Heger under Madame *s 
influence less friendly and helpful than he 
had formerly been, in his efforts to en- 
courage the studies, and brighten by gifts 

54 






CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

of books, and talks about them, the solitude 
of the English teacher ? It is not very 
difficult to discover the cause of the change, 
if only critics with psychological insight 
would employ this quality, not to fabricate 
problems out of false impressions, but to 
penetrate the true significance of the 
evidence that lies open to one, of the actual 
circumstances and facts. 

The circumstance that explains the fact 
of Madame Heger's altered conduct and 
feeling towards the English under-mistress 
whom only a few months earlier she had 
invited to use her own sitting-room, and 
to regard herself as a member of the family, 
and whom now she scarcely speaks to, and 
thinks should find companions with the 
other under-mistresses, is a discovery that 
Madame probably made, before even Char- 
lotte herself had fully recognised what had 
happened ? This discovery is that a 
change has taken place in Charlotte's 
sentiment towards her c Master in litera- 
ture ' ; a sentiment that at first had not 
transgressed the limits of a cordial and 
affectionate appreciation of his kindness 

55 



THE SECRET OF 



and of his talent and charm and power as a 
teacher approved of by Madame Heger as 
a becoming sentiment in this young person, 
convenient, c convenable.' But as Char- 
lotte's exclusive pleasure in M. Heger 's 
society and conversation increases, with 
her distaste for the society and conversa- 
tion of every one else with whom she is 
now in daily contact, and as the charm of 
his original personality grows, with her 
sense of the natural disparity between her- 
self and the self-controlled Directress, whose 
rule of life is respect for what is con- 
venient, in the French sense of la convey- 
ance (i.e. what is becoming) and of revolt 
against the vulgarity and profligacy she 
finds as the distinguishing characteristics 
of her fellow-governesses, this sentiment 
becomes transformed (insensibly and fatally, 
without her knowledge or will) into a 
passionate personal devotion in other 
words, into a sentiment that does transgress 
very seriously indeed the limits of the sort 
of feeling that Madame Heger, in her 
double character of directress of a highly 
esteemed Pensionnat de Demoiselles, and of 

56 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

the wife of Monsieur Heger esteems e con- 
venient/ in the case of an under-mistress 
in her establishment. It was not a question 
of ordinary jealousy at all. Madame Heger, a 
much more attractive woman than Charlotte 
Bronte in so far as her personal appearance 
was concerned, was absolutely convinced of 
the affection and fidelity of her husband, 
and of the entirely and exclusively profes- 
sorial interest he took in assisting this 
clever and zealous and meritorious daughter 
of an evangelical Pastor, to qualify herself 
for a schoolmistress in her own country. It 
was entirely a question of the c inconvenience ' 
the unbecoming character of this un- 
fortunate infatuation, that renders it entirely 
intolerable ; something that must be got rid 
of at once ; but as quietly as possible, with- 
out exciting remark, and with as much 
consideration for this imprudent, unhappy 
' Mees Charlotte ' as possible. The whole 
affair is a misfortune, of course, ' un 
malheur ' : but what one has to do, now it 
has arrived, is to guard against even 
greater * malheurs ' for everybody con- 
cerned. For 'Mees Charlotte' herself, 

57 



THE SECRET OF 



first of all what a c malheur ' should this 
'infatuation/ involuntary and blameless in 
intention, no doubt, but so utterly incon- 
venient, betray itself in some regrettable 
exhibition of feeling, most humiliating to her- 
self, and most distressing to her only parent, 
the respectable widowed evangelical Pastor 
in Yorkshire ! And then for the Pension- 
nat, what a 'malheur' should any gossip arise: 
and what sort of an effect would it produce 
upon the mind of parents of pupils, who 
most naturally would object to the know- 
ledge of the existence even of a sentiment 
so inconvenient as this being brought to 
the knowledge of their young daughters ? 
And confronted with these perils, Madame 
Heger's conclusion upon the only way of 
avoiding them, is really not a very 
unreasonable nor unkind one. It is that 
the sooner ' Mees Bronte ' returns to her 
home in Yorkshire, the better for herself, 
and for the interests and the tranquillity 
of the Director and the Directress of the 
Pensionnat in the Rue d'Isabelle : who 
wish to sever their relationships with 
her on friendly terms ; who, in the future, 

58 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

when she has cured herself of this unhappy 
extravagance (as no doubt her good sense 
and excellent upbringing will assist her 
to do) hope to renew their intercourse 
with her ; but who, in the circumstances 
that have arisen, think it better all in- 
timacy should be suspended. 

Nor, having formed this conclusion, was 
Madame Heger's method of endeavouring 
to force Charlotte to adopt it also, either 
wilfully unkind or inconsiderate. Her 
method was to convey forcibly to Charlotte's 
knowledge without any needless humiliating 
explanations^ that she, the Directress of the 
Pensionnat where Charlotte was under- 
mistress, has penetrated the secret of her 
feelings towards M. Heger, and conse- 
quently that the old terms between herself 
and Charlotte have become impossible, and 
that the necessity has arisen to assert her 
claims and to establish the rules that must be 
observed in the ordering of the Pensionnat 
and of the staff of teachers for which she 
is responsible. Without discussions or re- 
criminations in connection with the reasons 
for this decision, these mere reasons, well 

59 



THE SECRET OF 



known to Miss Bronte herself, convince 
her that it is not convenient c Mees ' should 
continue a teacher, or even an inmate, in 
her school any more ; and surely this 
circumstance alone should point out to 
' Mees ' herself, what she ought to do ? 
Let her do this, let her take the opportunity 
offered her of relieving Madame Heger of 
the painful necessity of touching upon 
distressing subjects, and the secret they 
share shall never be made known to any 
one, not even to M. Heger himself, who is 
entirely unconscious of it. An explanation 
could easily be found by c Mees ' for the 
necessity of her return to England : her 
aged father's infirmities, the establishment 
of the school that she is now qualified to 
manage, etc. and all this matter will 
arrange itself quietly. To bring Charlotte to 
dismiss herself vf$s Madame Heger 's purpose : 
but in view of the slowness and reluctance 
of this obstinate Englishwoman to recognise 
what was 'becoming/ and expected from 
her, the immediate object became to guard 
against any self-betrayal by Charlotte of her 
state of feeling to other members of the 

60 




CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

establishment, and especially to M. Heger, 
whom Madame knew to be entirely innocent 
of any warm feeling resembling romantic 
sentiment for the homely but intelligent and 
zealous Englishwoman, whose progress under 
his instruction and capacity for appreciating 
good literature made her interesting to him 
as a pupil, whilst her meritorious courage 
in working to qualify herself to earn her 
own bread as an instructress herself claimed 
his approval but whom he had not as 
yet suspected of a tragical passion for 
him. And Madame Heger esteemed it most 
undesirable he should ever make the discovery. 
And therefore her immediate care was to 
guard against the occasion of such a revela- 
tion being given : and therefore she endeav- 
ours to stop private lessons given by M. 
Heger to Charlotte, or English lessons 
given by her in return ; therefore too, she 
works to prevent any intercourse or 
meetings between the Professor and this 
particular pupil, outside of the presence of 
spectators and listeners, whose unsympathetic 
but attentive eyes and ears will impose 
restraint upon this extravagant Charlotte ; 

61 



THE SECRET OF 



so little under the control of good sense and 
respect for what is becoming. 

But now these tactics followed by 
Madame Heger, although from her own 
point of view they were as considerate and 
judicious as the interests of Charlotte, the 
Pensionnat, and c convenience ' permitted, 
and although no personal jealousy, vindic- 
tiveness nor malice entered into them, 
nevertheless from Charlotte s point of 'view 
were intolerable 1 and cruel ; and the torments 
they inflicted upon her during the long 
seven months she lived through this inces- 
sant conflict with Madame Heger, under 
cover of an outer show of politeness on both 
sides, were precisely the same torments of 
cheated expectancy, suspense, thwarted hope, 
disappointments, that she has painted in 
Villette, and the Professor, as inflicted upon 
the hapless governesses Lucy Snowe and 
Frances Henri, by those two cruel, pitiless 
head-mistresses Madame Beck and Mile. 
Zora'ide Reuter, Yes : but there was all 
the difference in the world between the cir- 
cumstances arranged by the authoress in her 
two novels, and the circumstances as a mis- 

62 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

chievous destiny had entangled them in the 
true history. 

In the stories made to please her fancy by 
Charlotte, we have in Villette Paul Emanuel 
unmarried and in love with Lucy Snowe ; 
but by the base contrivances of Madame 
Beck, a Jesuit priest, Pere Silas, has been called 
in, to stir up superstitious dread of allying 
himself with a heretic in the mind of the 
good Catholic that Paul was, and so prevent 
him from carrying through certain tentative 
indications of the state of his affections that 
have awakened and justified the passionate 
but timid and self-despising Lucy Snowe. 
Nothing then can be more plain than the 
position here Paul Emanuel and Lucy 
Snowe are being divided, and trouble is 
being created, by a horrid, jealous, mis- 
chievous Madame Beck, who wants Paul 
Emanuel to marry her, although she knows 
he loves Lucy, and that Lucy is in love 
with him, but too little self-confident, too 
feeble, in her dependent position, to assert 
her claims. In the Professor it is much the 
same case, only Mile. Zoraide Reuter is more 
of a cat than Madame Beck, and less an evil 

63 



THE SECRET OF 



genius, who demands admiration for her clever- 
ness whilst Mile. Zora'ide, who makes coarse 
love to the Professor, provokes contempt. 

Well but now here is the real case. 
Madame Heger knows that here is the 
English daughter of an Evangelical Pastor, 
who (although she is old enough to look 
after herself), is nevertheless under her 
(Madame's) protection, and behold this 
young woman has taken it into her head to 
conceive a most inconvenient infatuation for 
her husband, M. Heger ! Now how is one 
to meet this situation in the best way for 
everybody ? Happily the secret lies between 
herself and Mees Charlotte : it rests with 
Mees to take herself out of harm's way : and 
all is safe. But that is what she will not do. 
So here you have the position : this grown- 
up, obstinate Englishwoman, with her c in- 
convenient ' passion, always on the verge of 
exhibiting her sentiments in a way that 
may inform M. Heger who is the best .of 
men ; most honourable, but still a man 
who may or may not see how serious this 
is : who may tell one, ' Let me talk reason to 
her,' which is the last course to take ! It 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

is true, Madame will have said to herself, 
' I might take matters into my hands ; 
and since she has no sense of < convenience ' 
herself, I might say : ' Mees, I exact this 
of you : immediately you make up your 
trunks, and return to Yorkshire ; you start 
to-morrow.' Yes, but what happens then ? 
There are observations, indignation is ex- 
cited. M. Heger will say to me, 'What 
now is this sudden attitude you take up 
towards Mees ? it is not just.' And if I 
explain, he may say : c You imagine things ; 
you women are not good to each other.' 
Or he may say : ' Let me talk to Mees 
Charlotte^ and then there will be attaques de 
nerfs who can say ? No, there is only 
one thing to do : as this Englishwoman has 
not herself any sense of c convenience.' We 
must be patient until the end of the year, 
when her term is finished. Then she goes, 
arrive what may. And, meanwhile, one 
must support it ; only she must not meet 
M. Heger alone : and one must constantly 
take precautions, in this sense, against 
scenes.' 

Well, was there anything very cruel, or 
65 E 



THE SECRET OF 




hard-hearted, or vindictive, in Madame 
Heger's conduct ? If you are a psychologist, 
put yourself in her place. What could she 
have done with this entanglement of cir- 
cumstances, all menacing what she most 
valued, a watchful preservation of ' con- 
venience,' most necessary in a Pensionnat de 
Jeunes Filles of high repute ? If any one 
will suggest a plan that would have been 
more considerate to Charlotte than the one 
she took, I should very much like to hear 
what plan ? Even then, in the light of what 
I know of Madame Heger's incapability of 
a deliberate desire to torture, or inflict 
severe punishment on any pupil, or teacher, 
or living thing, I should still protest confi- 
dently that in all she did that sweet and 
kind old schoolmistress of mine in the 
days when she was twenty years younger 
than when I knew her she meant to be 
considerate and kind. 

Without attempting to decide who, be- 
tween Charlotte and Madame Heger, was 
to blame, or whether either of them were 
to blame, here, at any rate, we have the 
conditions of feeling between these two 

66 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

women : each exasperated against the other, 
under the strain of a forced politeness, during 
the last seven months of Charlotte's resid- 
ence in Bruxelles. No doubt, for both of 
them the strain was great. All this time 
(without saying it out aloud) Madame 
Heger was forcing upon Charlotte's atten- 
tion, the ' inconvenience ' of her presence in 
the Pensionnat ; the necessity for her return 
to England. All this time Charlotte out- 
wardly compliant with all the demands 
made upon her, that keep her writing letters 
at Madame's dictation (in the hours when 
Monsieur is giving bis lessons in class) , that 
send her upon messages to the other end 
of Bruxelles (upon holidays when Monsieur's 
habit is to trim the vine above the Berceau in 
the garden) all this time, Charlotte's bitter 
protest spoke out in the gaze she fastened 
on the Directress : ' Merciless woman that 
you are! you who have everything ; who 
are his wife, the mother of his children, 
whom he loves; who will enjoy his con- 
versation and his society, and the pleasant 
home you share with him, all your life; 
and who grudge me I, who have nothing 



THE SECRET OF 



of all this, but who love him more I, who 
in a few months must go out into the dark 
world, without the light his presence is to 
me ; without the music his voice makes for 
me; without the delight his conversation is 
to my mind, and the complete satisfaction his 
society brings to my whole nature and you 
grudge me these few months of happiness ? 
Rich and cruel woman, who, in your selfish 
life possess all this, you are more cruel than 
Dives was to Lazarus ; you grudge me even 
the crumbs that fall from your table.' 



68 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 



CHAPTER IV 

THE CONFESSIONS AT ST. GUDULE 

WE are now in a position to realise the 
emotions and experiences that lasted up to 
the eve of Charlotte's return to England. 
But there are two events that vary the in- 
cessant conflict with Madame Heger ; and 
that help to form the basis of real experi- 
ences, expressed in the portraits (that are 
not historical pictures) of Zoraide Reuter 
and of Madame Beck. These two events 
also re-appear, as scenes in Villette^ that did not 
take place in the <way the authoress relates them ; 
but that put us in possession of the parallel 
facts in Charlotte's true career : where she 
felt the very same emotions she describes in 
the novel. The first event gives us the 
actual, the original history, of what in Villette 
reappears in the imaginary account of Lucy 
Snowe's Confession: and serves there to intro- 
duce us to the Jesuit who is half a spy and 



THE SECRET OF 

Y - 

half a saint Pere Silas. In Charlotte's life 
the event, as it is related by her in a letter 
to Emily, took place during that long and 
solitary vacation in the empty Pensionnat, 
where, from August to October 1843, Char- 
lotte was left to face the position now made 
for her by Madame Heger's discovery of the 
Secret that, possessed by her enemy, could 
not remain hidden from Charlotte herself. 

Charlotte's letter to Emily begins by de- 
scribing the desolation of this large house, 
with its deserted class-rooms, % and silent 
garden, and galerie, and for her solitary 
companion only the repulsive-minded and 
malicious Mademoiselle Blanche, whom she 
has described in an earlier letter as a spy 
of Madame Heger's. 

' I should inevitably,' she writes, c fall into 
the gulf of low spirits if I stayed always by 
myself. . . . Yesterday I went on a pil- 
grimage to the cemetery, and far beyond it, on 
to a hill where there was nothing but fields 
as far as the horizon. When I came back 
it was evening, but I had such a repugnance 
to return to the house which contained 
nothing that I cared for, that I kept tread- 

7 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

ing the narrow streets in the neighbourhood 
of the Rue d'lsabelle, and avoiding it. I 
found myself opposite to Ste. Gudule ; and 
the bell, whose voice you know, began to 
toll for evening salut. I went in quite 
alone (which procedure you will say is not 
much like me), wandered about the aisles 
(where a few old women were saying their 
prayers), till vespers. I stayed till they were 
over. Still I could not leave the church 
nor force myself to go home to school, I 
mean. An odd whim came into my head. 
In a solitary part of the cathedral six or 
seven people still remained, kneeling by the 
Confessionals. In two Confessionals I saw 
a Priest. I felt as if I did not care what I 
did, provided it was not absolutely wrong, 
and that it served to vary my life and yield 
a moment's interest. I took a fancy to 
change myself into a Catholic, and go and 
make a real Confession to see what it was 
like. Knowing me as you do, you will 
think this odd, but when people are by them- 
selves they have singular fancies. A penitent 
was occupied in confessing. They do not 
go into the sort of pew or cloister the priest 

7 1 



THE SECRET OF 



occupies, but kneel down on the steps and 
confess through a grating. Both the con- 
fessor and the penitent whisper very low: 
you can hardly hear their voices. After I 
had watched two or three penitents go, and 
return, I approached at last, and knelt down 
in a niche which was just vacated. I had 
to kneel there ten minutes waiting, for 
on the other side was another penitent, in- 
visible to me. At last that one went away, 
and a little wooden door inside the grating 
opened and I saw the Priest leaning his ear 
toward me. I was obliged to begin, and 
yet I did not know a word of the formula 
with which they always commence their 
confessions ! . . . I began by saying I was 
a foreigner and had been brought up as a 
Protestant. The Priest asked if I was a 
Protestant then. I somehow could not tell 
a lie, and said yes. He replied that in 
that case I could not "jouir du bonheur de la 
confessed but / 'was determined to confess^ and 
at last he said he would allow me, because 
it might be the first step towards returning 
towards the true Church. I actually did con- 
fess a real Confession. When I had done he 

72 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

told me his address, and said that every 
morning I was to go to the Rue du Pare 
to his house, and he would reason with me 
and try to convince me of the error and 
enormity of being a Protestant. I promised 
faithfully. Of course, however, the adven- 
ture stops here : and / hope I shall never see 
the Priest again. I think you had better not 
tell Papa this. He will not understand that 
it was only a freak, and will perhaps think I 
am going to turn Catholic.' 

Only ' a freak ' ? an c odd whim ' ? 
Even without the knowledge of the special 
facts we now possess, could any serious 
student of Charlotte Bronte believe it ? 
Given what we know of her seriousness, 
of her religious temper, that cannot take 
spiritual things lightly, of her rational 
Protestant piety, of her antipathy to Catholic 
formulas given all this as characteristic 
of her aspirations, and as characteristics 
of her personality, shyness, and reserve 
carried almost to morbidness can any one 
believe that mere ennui, a craving for 
variety, excitement, flung this normally 
shamefaced, timid Englishwoman down 

73 



THE SECRET OF 



on her knees, on the stone steps of the 
Sainte Gudule Confessional ; inspired her 
with the determination needed to withstand 
the Priest's objections to allow her, as 
a Protestant, de jouir du bonheur de la confesse ; 
compelled her to insist upon her claim, 
by virtue of her dire need of this ' happiness ' 
(or at any rate of this relief) of unburthen- 
ing her soul by a c real Confession ' ? A 
real Confession of what ? What crime has 
this poof innocent Charlotte on her con- 
science that stands in such need of confes- 
sion ? No crime, we may be sure. Only 
the weight, the misery of this tragic 'Secret' ; 
too intimate, too sacred to be confided even 
to those nearest to her, even to Emily. 
But now that her c enemy ' holds it, too 
grievous a secret to remain unshared with 
Some One, who is not an enemy, nor yet 
a friend a stranger, who will not blush 
nor tremble for her, will not see her whilst 
she whispers through the grating : whom 
she will not see, or meet again ; Some 
One, who by profession, is God's Delegate 
of Mercy to deliver the unwilling offender, 
who repents him of his secret sins, Some 

74 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

One who is pledged, when he has given 
pardon and consolation, never to betray what 
be has heard to forget it even. Some One 
who, experienced in offering counsel and 
consolation, may (who can say ?) offer some 
comfort or advice, assisting her to extricate 
herself from the snare into which she has 
fallen, and to recover safety. 

Does one not know what the c Con- 
fession,' whispered through the grating, 
really was ? Or can one doubt what the 
Priest's advice was ? Was it not necessarily 
the same advice so urgently forced upon 
her by Madame Heger ? She must escape 
from the peril of temptation : she must 
not show this tragic passion any mercy : 
she must break this spell : she must go 
back to England. She felt she could not 
do this thing of herself without c God's 
special grace preventing her ' ? Therefore 
she must diligently seek to obtain this 
grace by the aid of the Holy Catholic Church 
and she must call in the Rue du Pare 
next morning. In so far as the last 
recommendation went, we know Charlotte 
did not follow it. The adventure as she 

75 



THE SECRET OF 



says herself, stopped there. Nor is there 
anything in her own story to indicate 
the existence of any real Jesuit, taking the 
place of the mischief-making Saint, Pere 
Silas, familiar to readers of Villette. The 
Priest of Ste. Gudule comes to us as a more 
impressive personage just because Charlotte 
never met him again. 

But his advice remained vividly present 
to her recollection we may feel sure. 
On the 23rd October, about a month 
after this event, she writes once more to 
Ellen Nussey : 

' It is a curious position to be so utterly 
solitary in the midst of numbers. One day 
lately I felt as if I could bear it no longer 
and I went to Madame Heger and gave 
her notice. If it had depended upon her I 
should certainly have soon been at liberty. But 
M. Heger having heard of what was in 
agitation^ sent for me the day after and pro- 
nounced with vehemence his decision that I 
could not leave. I could not at that time 
have persevered in my intentions without ex- 
citing him to anger ; and promised to stay a 
little while longer? 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

And so what had to be done in the 
end was postponed: and the old hidden 
enmity between Charlotte and Madame 
Heger went on for another three months. 



77 



THE SECRET OF 



CHAPTER V 

THE LEAVE-TAKING THE SCENE IN THE 

CLASS-ROOM CHARLOTTE LEAVES BRUSSELS 

Two other events that we know must have 
happened within a few days of Charlotte's 
departure from Brussels, and January 1844, 
are lit up by the emotions painted in Villette. 
We cannot doubt that these emotions were 
suffered by the woman of genius who de- 
scribes them, because it is, not imagination, 
but remembrance, that has given these pages 
the magical touch of life, the < vibration ' 
that translates words c into feelings,' so that 
we are not readers, but witnesses, of what 
this tormented heart endures. 

Anguish of suspense ; heart-sickness of 
hope deferred ; despair, following on re- 
peated disappointment ; rage and indigna- 
tion at the cruelty and injustice of this 
outrage done to a Love, that has wronged 
no one, robbed no one, that has no desire 

78 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

to inflict injury on others ; yet that is re- 
fused the right that even the condemned 
criminal is not refused, to bid farewell 
to what he holds most dear on earth be- 
fore he goes forth to execution all these 
feelings are painted in the wonderful pages, 
where the circumstances of the story never- 
theless are legendary, and belong to the 
parable of Lucy Snowe : but where the suf- 
ferings Lucy endures on the eve of her 
separation from Paul Emanuel were facts 
stored up in the experiences of Charlotte 
Bronte. 

Like the incident of Lucy Snowe's ' Con- 
fession,' the passages that in Villette describe 
the efforts made by Madame Beck and the 
Jesuit, Pere Silas, to prevent Paul Emanuel 
from bidding Lucy farewell, before he starts 
for his voyage to Basseterres in Gaudeloupe, 
are pages from the spiritual life of Charlotte 
Bronte taken out of their proper frame 
of circumstances, and altered in some im- 
portant details. But outside of these altera- 
tions, one recognises their truthfulness, in 
the vivid light they throw upon the facts 
told us in Charlotte's correspondence. 

79 



THE SECRET OF 



In the novel, Paul Emanuel is expected 
to visit the class-room at a certain hour 
and to take farewell of his pupils. In con- 
nection with the real events, it has to be 
remembered that Charlotte left Bruxelles 
on the and January, that is to say, in a 
period when, from Christmas day to perhaps 
the 7th January, there would be holidays, 
and the Bruxelles pupils would have gone to 
their homes. It is probable then that the 
English teacher, before the breaking-up, 
would have taken her farewell of her pupils 
in the class-rooms this was the usual prac- 
tice when a teacher was leaving for good 
and that M. Heger, whom she hoped to 
have seen upon this occasion, would have 
been absent. 

There would have been also a last lesson 
in class given by M. Heger before the 
breaking-up for these short Christmas holi- 
days the last lesson of his, that Charlotte, 
before she quitted the Pensionnat for ever, 
would have had the chance of attending. 
But, like Madame Eeck^ Madame Heger 
would have kept her English teacher em- 
ployed in writing letters at her dictation, in 

80 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

her private sitting-room, whilst this class 
was going on. Like Lucy, Charlotte would 
have broken away at the end, when she 
heard the sound of moving forms, and shut- 
ting desks, proving the lesson ended. But 
here also Madame Heger would have fol- 
lowed her (even as Madame Beck followed 
Lucy Snowe) have kept the under-mistress 
in the background, and then have taken 
possession of M. Heger, on the plea of some 
business matter demanding his attention. 

Certainly also (it seems to me) we may 
believe in the incident of the scrap of paper, 
handed by one of the smallest girls in the 
school, to Charlotte, after these two exploits 
of Madame Heger 's diplomacy, intended to 
avoid the danger and was not the danger 
real ? of an emotional scene of leave-taking, 
that might thwart her endeavour to get 
Charlotte safely out of the house, without 
any c inconvenient ' revelations. M. Heger 
may, or may not, have been as ignorant 
of all that was going on between his wife 
and ' Mees Charlotte ' as Madame Heger 
desired him to be. But it would have 
been entirely like him, whether he knew 

81 F 



THE SECRET OF 



what was happening or not, to wish for 
an emotional leave-taking with his English 
pupil. M. Heger liked to foster a certain 
amount of sensibility in his relationships 
with his pupils it did not amount to 
more than a taste for dramatic situations 
where he had an interesting part to play 
that gave his histrionic talents a good 
field of exercise. But the message warn- 
ing Charlotte c that he must see her at 
leisure before she //?, and talk with her at 
length* appears to me just the sort of message 
M. Heger would have sent. And more 
especially he would have acted thus if in 
reality he had forgotten all about Charlotte** 
near time of departure and then had suddenly 
remembered it, and that c Mees J would feel 
hurt, and think he had behaved coldly to 
her. In this case he would have tried to 
put himself right and to persuade her that 
he had not forgotten at all, but had arranged 
a special opportunity for a long talk, etc. 
And Charlotte believing it all, upon the 
strength of this note, would have lingered 
on in his class-room, expecting M. Heger, 
who never appeared. 

82 




M. HEGER AT SIXTY 

(He was born in 1809 : hence thirty-four, in 1543, when Charlotte 
bade him farewell) 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

It seems to me that, whilst it is possible 
that Madame Heger may have prevented 
her husband from keeping the appointment, 
it is also quite possible that M. Heger may 
have again forgotten all about it ? That 
would have been like him too, as I shall 
show by and by. 

But what I believe to have certainly hap- 
pened is that the scene between Madame Heger 
and Charlotte took place just as the authoress of 
' Vilette ' described. That interview wears, to 
my mind, the stamp of truth. 

The last day broke. Now would he visit us. 
Now would he come and speak his farewell, or he 
would vanish mute, and be seen by us nevermore. 

This alternative seemed to be present in the 
mind of not a living creature in that school. All 
rose at the usual hour ; all breakfasted as usual ; 
all, without reference to, or apparent thought of, 
their late professor, betook themselves with 
wonted phlegm to their ordinary duties. 

So oblivious was the house, so tame, so trained 
its proceedings, so inexpectant its aspect, I scarce 
knew how to breathe in an atmosphere thus stag- 
nant, thus smothering. Would no one lend me a 
voice ? Had no one a wish, no one a word, no 
one a prayer to which I could say Amen ? 

83 



THE SECRET OF 



I had seen them unanimous in demand for the 
merest trifle a treat, a holiday, a lesson's remis- 
sion ; they could not, they would not now band to 
beseige Madame Beck, and insist on a last inter- 
view with a master who had certainly been loved, 
at least by some loved as they could love ; but, 
oh ! what is the love of the multitude ? 

I knew where he lived ; I knew where he was 
to be heard of or communicated with. The dis- 
tance was scarce a stone's-throw. Had it been in 
the next room, unsummoned I could make no use 
of my knowledge. To follow, to seek out, to 
remind, to recall for these things I had no 
faculty. 

M. Emanuel might have passed within reach of 
my arm. Had he passed silent and unnoticing, 
silent and stirless should I have suffered him to 
goby. 

Morning wasted. Afternoon came, and I 
thought all was over. My heart trembled in its 
place. My blood was troubled in its current. I 
was quite sick, and hardly knew how to keep at 
my post or do my work. Yet the little world 
round me plodded on indifferent ; all seemed 
jocund, free of care, or fear, or thought. The 
very pupils who, seven days since, had wept 
hysterically at a startling piece of news, appeared 
quite to have forgotten the news, its import, and 
their emotion. 

8 4 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

A little before five o'clock, the hour of dis- 
missal, Madame Beck sent for me to her chamber, 
to read over and translate some English letter 
she had received, and to write for her the answer. 
Before settling to this work, I observed that she 
softly closed the two doors of her chamber ; she 
even shut and fastened the casement, though it 
was a hot day, and free circulation of air was 
usually regarded by her as indispensable. Why 
this precaution ? A keen suspicion, an almost 
fierce distrust, suggested such question. Did she 
want to exclude sound ? What sound ? 

I listened as I had never listened before ; I 
listened like the evening and winter wolf, snuffing 
the snow, scenting prey, and hearing far off the 
traveller's tramp. Yet I could both listen and 
write. About the middle of the letter I heard 
what checked my pen a tread in the vestibule. 
No door-bell had rung ; Rosine acting doubtless 
by orders had anticipated such reveille. Madame 
saw me halt. She coughed, made a bustle, spoke 
louder. The tread had passed on to the classes. 

* Proceed,' said Madame ; but my hand was 
fettered, my ear enchained, my thoughts were 
carried off captive. 

The classes formed another building ; the hall 
parted them from the dwelling-house. Despite 
distance and partition, I heard the sudden stir of 
numbers, a whole division rising at once. 

85 



THE SECRET OF 



* They are putting away work/ said madame. 
It was indeed the hour to put away work, but 

why that sudden hush, that instant quell of the 
tumult ? 

' Wait, madam ; I will see what it is. 1 
And I put down my pen and left her. Left 
her ? No. She would not be left. Powerless 
to detain me, she rose and followed, close as my 
shadow. I turned on the last step of the stair. 

* Are you coming too ? ' I asked. 

' Yes/ she said, meeting my glance with a 
peculiar aspect a look clouded, yet resolute. 
We proceeded then, not together, but she walked 
in my steps. 

He was come. Entering the first classe, I saw 
him. There once more appeared the form most 
familiar. I doubt not they had tried to keep him 
away, but he was come. 

The girls stood in a semicircle ; he was passing 
round, giving his farewells, pressing each hand, 
touching with his lips each cheek. This last 
ceremony foreign custom permitted at such a 
parting so solemn, to last so long. 

I felt it hard that Madame Beck should dog 
me thus, following and watching me close. My 
neck and shoulder shrank in fever under her 
breath ; I became terribly goaded. 

He was approaching ; the semicircle was almost 
travelled round ; he came to the last pupil ; he 

86 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

turned. But Madame was before me ; she had 
stepped out suddenly ; she seemed to magnify her 
proportions and amplify her drapery ; she eclipsed 
me ; I was hid. She knew my weakness and 
deficiency ; she could calculate the degree of 
moral paralysis, the total default of self-assertion, 
with which, in a crisis, I could be struck. She 
hastened to her kinsman, she broke upon him 
volubly, she mastered his attention, she hurried 
him to the door the glass door opening on the 
garden. I think he looked round. Could I but 
have caught his eye, courage, I think, would have 
rushed in to aid feeling, and there would have 
been a charge, and, perhaps, a rescue ; but already 
the room was all confusion, the semicircle broken 
into groups, my figure was lost among thirty 
more conspicuous. Madame had her will. Yes, 
she got him away, and he had not seen me. He 
thought me absent. Five o'clock struck, the loud 
dismissal bell rang, the school separated, the room 
emptied. 

There seems, to my memory, an entire dark- 
ness and distraction in some certain minutes I 
then passed alone a grief inexpressible over a 
loss unendurable. What should I do oh ! what 
should I do when all my life's hope was thus 
torn by the roots out of my riven, outraged 
heart ? 

What I should have done I know not, when a 

87 



THE SECRET OF 



little child the least child in the school broke 
with its simplicity and its unconsciousness into 
the raging yet silent centre of that inward 
conflict. 

' Mademoiselle/ lisped the treble voice, c I am 
to give you that. M. Paul said I was to seek you 
all over the house, from the grenier to the cellar, 
and when I found you to give you that/ 

And the child delivered a note. The little 
dove dropped on my knee, its olive leaf plucked 
off. I found neither address nor name, only 
these words, 

' It was not my intention to take leave of you 
when I said good-bye to the rest, but I hoped to 
see you in classe. I was disappointed. The in- 
terview is deferred. Be ready for me. Ere I 
sail, I must see you at leisure, and speak with you 
at length. Be ready. My moments are num- 
bered, and, just now, monopolized ; besides, I 
have a private business on hand which I will 
not share with any, nor communicate, even to 
you. PAUL.' 

1 Be ready ! ' Then it must be this evening. 
Was he not to go on the morrow ? Yes ; of that 
point I was certain. I had seen the date of his 
vessel's departure advertised. Oh ! / would be 
ready. But could that longed-for meeting really be 
achieved ? The time was so short, the schemers 
seemed so watchful, so active, so hostile. The 

88 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

way of access appeared strait as a gully, deep as a 
chasm ; Apollyon straddled across it, breathing 
flames. Could my Greatheart overcome ? Could 
my guide reach me ? 

Who might tell? Yet I began to take some 
courage, some comfort. It seemed to me that I 
felt a pulse of his heart beating yet true to the 
whole throb of mine. 

I waited my champion. Apollyon came trail- 
ing his hell behind him. I think if eternity held 
torment, its form would not be fiery rack, nor its 
nature despair. I think that on a certain day 
amongst those days which never dawned, and will 
not set, an angel entered Hades, stood, shone, 
smiled, delivered a prophecy of conditional pardon, 
kindled a doubtful hope of bliss to come, not now, 
but at a day and hour unlocked for, revealed in 
his own glory and grandeur the height and com- 
pass of his promise spoke thus, then towering, 
became a star, and vanished into his own heaven. 
His legacy was suspense a worse born than despair. 

All that evening I waited, trusting in the dove- 
sent olive leaf, yet in the midst of my trust 
terribly fearing. My fear pressed heavy. Cold 
and peculiar, I knew it for the partner of a 
rarely-belied presentiment. The first hours 
seemed long and slow ; in spirit I clung to the 
flying skirts of the last. They passed like drift 
cloud like the rack scudding before a storm. 



THE SECRET OF 



Prayers were over ; it was bed- time ; my co- 
inmates were all retired. I still remained in the 
gloomy first classe, forgetting, or at least dis- 
regarding, rules I had never forgotten or disre- 
garded before. 

How long I paced that cla sse, I cannot tell ; I 
must have been afoot many hours. Mechanic- 
ally had I moved aside benches and desks, and 
had made for myself a path down its length. 
There I walked, and there, when certain that the 
whole household were abed and quite out of hear- 
ing, there I at last wept. Reliant on night, con- 
fiding in solitude, I kept my tears sealed, my sobs 
chained, no longer. They heaved my heart ; 
they tore their way. In this house, what grief 
could be sacred ! 

Soon after eleven o'clock a very late hour in 
the Rue Fossette the door unclosed, quietly, but 
not stealthily ; a lamp's flame invaded the moon- 
light. Madame Beck entered, with the same 
composed air as if coming on an ordinary occasion, 
at an ordinary season. Instead of at once address- 
ing me, she went to her desk, took her keys, 
and seemed to seek something. She loitered 
over this feigned search long, too long. She was 
calm, too calm. My mood scarce endured the 
pretence. Driven beyond common rage, two 
hours since I had left behind me wonted respects 
and fears. Led by a touch and ruled by a word 

90 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

under usual circumstances, no yoke could now 
be borne, no curb obeyed. 

* It is more than time for retirement,' said 
madame. * The rule of the house has already 
been transgressed too long/ 

Madame met no answer. I did not check my 
walk. When she came in my way 1 put her 
out of it. 

* Let me persuade you to calm, Meess ; let me 
lead you to your chamber,' said she, trying to 
speak softly. 

' No ! ' I said. * Neither you nor another shall 
persuade or lead me.' 

' Your bed shall be warmed. Go ton is sitting 
up still. She shall make you comfortable. She 
shall give you a sedative.' 

4 Madame,' I broke out, * you are a sensualist. 
Under all your serenity, your peace, and your 
decorum, you are an undenied sensualist. Make 
your own bed warm and soft ; take sedatives and 
meats, and drinks spiced and sweet, as much as 
you will. If you have any sorrow or disappoint- 
ment (and perhaps you have nay, I know you 
have) seek your own palliatives in your own 
chosen resources. Leave me, however. Leave 
me, I say ! ' 

' I must send another to watch you, Meess ; I 
must send Goton.' 

' 1 forbid it. Let me alone. Keep your hand 

91 



THE SECRET OF 



off me, and my life, and my troubles. O madame ! 
in your hand there is both chill and poison. You 
envenom and you paralyse/ 

'What have I done, Meess ? You must not 
marry Paul. He cannot marry/ 

' Dog in the manger ! ' I said, for I knew she 
secretly wanted him, and had always wanted him. 
She called him ' insupportable ' ; she railed at him 
for a * devot.' She did not love ; but she wanted 
to marry that she might bind him to her 
interest. Deep into some of madame's secrets I 
had entered, I know not how by an intuition or 
an inspiration which came to me, I know not 
whence. In the course of living with her, too, I 
had slowly learned that, unless with an inferior, 
she must ever be a rival. She was my rival, heart 
and soul, though secretly, under the smoothest 
bearing, and utterly unknown to all save her and 
myself. 

Two minutes I stood over madame, feeling 
that the whole woman was in my power, because 
in some moods, such as the present, in some 
stimulated states of perception, like that of this 
instant, her habitual disguise, her mask, and her 
domino were to me a mere network reticulated 
with holes ; and I saw underneath a being heart- 
less, self-indulgent, and ignoble. She quietly 
retreated from me. Meek and self-possessed, 
though very uneasy, she said, ' If I would not be 

92 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

persuaded to take rest, she must reluctantly leave 
me/ Which she did incontinent, perhaps even 
more glad to get away than I was to see her 
vanish. 

This was the sole flash-eliciting, truth-extorting 
rencontre which ever occurred between me and 
Madame Beck ; this short night scene was never 
repeated. It did not one whit change her manner 
to me. I do not know that she revenged it. I 
do not know that she hated me the worse for my 
fell candour. I think she bucklered herself with 
the secret philosophy of her strong mind, and 
resolved to forget what it irked her to remember. 
I know that to the end of our mutual lives there 
occurred no repetition of, no allusion to, that 
fiery passage. 

Is it possible to doubt that this 'fiery 
passage, 5 or one strangely like it went to 
the building up of the impressions and 
emotions that transformed the early mem- 
ories of Madame Heger, of whom Charlotte 
once spoke so kindly in her letters, as a gen- 
erous friend who had offered her a post in 
her school more from a kind wish to help 
her than from selfish motives ? 

We have another scene of which again, 
it seems to me, we cannot doubt the auto- 

93 



THE SECRET OF 



biographical reality. If one need proof of 
this, it may be found in the admirable criti- 
cism of Villette by Mrs. Humphry Ward, 
who judges the book exclusively as the 
author's literary masterpiece. In this master- 
piece, Mrs. Humphry Ward finds one notable 
flaw : // is this very passage which the 
critic affirms (and no doubt she is quite 
right) does not strike her as a convincing nor 
even as a credible account of the sentiments 
or behaviour that could have belonged 
to Lucy Snowe, the heroine in Villette. 
6 Lucy Snowe/ this critic complains, ' could 
never have broken down, never have appealed 
for mercy, never have cried " My heart will 
break" before her treacherous rival Madame 
Beck in Paul Emanuel's presence! A reader 
by virtue of the very force of the effect pro- 
duced upon him by the whole creation has 
a right to protest, incredible. No woman, 
least of all Lucy Snowe, could have so 
understood her own cause, could have so 
fought her own battle.' 

I am ready to accept this sentence as an 
entirely authoritative literary sentence, first 
of all on account of the unquestionable 

94 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

claims of the critic who utters it to pro- 
nounce judgment on these matters ; and 
then because I feel myself entirely unable, 
by reason of my personal acquaintanceships 
with the real people dressed up in strange 
disguises in this book, and placed in posi- 
tions that the real people never occupied, to 
judge this particular novel, Villette^ from a 
purely literary standpoint. Thus I agree that 
Mrs. Humphry Ward is right when she 
says that Lucy Snowe, by virtue of the 
very force of the effect produced by this crea- 
tion^ could not have said, 'My heart 'will 
breakj before her treacherous rival Madame 
Beck) in Paul EmanueFs presence. I admit 
this, because Lucy Snowe, Madame Beck 
and Paul Emanuel, if not absolutely c crea- 
tions,' in the sense of being imaginary 
characters, are nevertheless different people 
from Charlotte Bronte, Madame Heger and 
Monsieur Heger, and their relationships to 
each other are different. Thus, in the novel 
Lucy Snowe is not only in love with Paul 
Emanuel, but she has a perfect right to be 
in love with him, not only because he is 
unmarried, but also because he has given 

95 



THE SECRET OF 



her very good reason to believe he is in love 
with her : and Madame Beck has no sort 
of right to interfere with the lover of her 
English governess, and her cousin the Pro- 
fessor ; and all her schemes to keep these 
two sympathetic creatures apart are abso- 
lutely unjustifiable, and the results of jeal- 
ousy and selfishness. In other words, Lucy 
has the beau role in the piece, she has no 
reason to say, ' My heart will break,' be- 
cause Madame Beck intrudes upon her 
interview with Paul Emanuel. 

But Charlotte had not the beau role^ but the 
tragic one, in the real drama. The Direc- 
tress, who stands between her and the 
beloved Professor, is not her rival, but the 
Professor's wife. And the beau role^ in the 
sense of having the right to stand in the 
way, and also in being the woman preferred 
by the man whom both women love, is 
Madame Heger's in every way, for Madame 
Heger is charming to look at, and Charlotte 
plain. Therefore it is not in the least in- 
credible, but it seems so natural as to be 
almost inevitably true, that when in the 
very moment that poor Charlotte has ob- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

tained, after so much suspense and waiting, 
and as the result of a heaven-sent accident, 
the almost despaired of chance of a personal 
interview with her loved Professor, before 
she loses sight of him, perhaps for ever, and 
when in this moment, and just when he has 
taken her hand in his, . . . Madame Heger 
enters, and thrusts herself between them, and 
commands her husband, ' Come., Constantin* 
and Charlotte believes he will obey, it seems 
to me so eminently credible as to be almost 
inevitably true, that what Charlotte describes 
happened, and that tben 9 in dread of this 
new frustration of the hope so long de- 
ferred, an anguish that 'defied suppression* 
rang out in the cry c My heart will break ! ' 
Put oneself in Charlotte's place, and it 
seems to me the emotion startled to expres- 
sion by this new shock, expresses just what 
one knows she felt. And, therefore, I find it 
myself impossible to doubt that this account 
is literally true, and may and should be 
studied in the light of the assurance that we 
have here the faithful description of what 
really took place, upon the very day, perhaps, 
when Charlotte left Bruxelles. 

97 G 



THE SECRET OF 



Let us leave Lucy Snowe's love-story on 
one side, and judge this page as one torn out 
of Charlotte's life and then decide whether 
it rings true. 

Shall I yet see him before he goes ? Will he 
bear me in mind ? Does he purpose to come ? 
Will this day will the next hour bring him ? or 
must I again essay that corroding pain of long 
attent, that rude agony of rupture at the close, 
that mute, mortal wrench, which, in at once up- 
rooting hope and doubt, shakes life, while the 
hand that does the violence cannot be caressed to 
pity, because absence interposes her barrier. 

It was the Feast of the Assumption l ; no school 
was held. The boarders and teachers, after attend- 
ing mass in the morning, were gone a long walk 
into the country to take their gouter^ or afternoon 
meal, at some farmhouse. I did not go with 
them, for now but two days remained ere the 
Paul et Vlrgime must sail, and I was clinging to 
my last chance, as the Hying waif of a wreck clings 
to his last raft or cable.' 

There was some joiner- work to do in the first 
classe, some bench or desk to repair. Holidays 
were often turned to account for the performance 

1 New Year's Day, perhaps ? Charlotte left Bruxelles 2nd 
January 1843. 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

of these operations, which could not be executed 
when the rooms were filled with pupils. As I sat 
solitary, purposing to adjourn to the garden and 
leave the coast clear, but too listless to fulfil my 
own intent, I heard the workmen coming. 

Foreign artisans and servants do everything by 
couples. I believe it would take two Labasse- 
courian carpenters to drive a nail. While tying 
on my bonnet, which had hitherto hung by its 
ribbons from my idle hand, I vaguely and 
momentarily wondered to hear the step of but one 
ouvrier. I noted, too as captives in dungeons 
find sometimes dreary leisure to note the merest 
trifles that this man wore shoes, and not sabots. 
I concluded that it must be the master-carpenter 
coming to inspect before he sent his journeymen. 
I threw round me my scarf. He advanced ; he 
opened the door. My back was towards it. I 
felt a little thrill, a curious sensation, too quick 
and transient to be analysed. I turned, I stood 
in the supposed master-artisan's presence. Look- 
ing towards the doorway I saw it filled with a 
figure, and my eyes printed upon my brain the 
picture of M. Paul. 

Hundreds of the prayers with which we weary 
Heaven bring to the suppliant no fulfilment. 
Once haply in life one golden gift falls prone 
in the lap one boon full and bright, perfect 
from Fruition's mint. 

99 



THE SECRET OF 



M. Emanuel wore the dress in which he pro- 
bably purposed to travel a surtout, guarded with 
velvet. I thought him prepared for instant de- 
parture, and yet I had understood that two days 
were yet to run before the ship sailed. He looked 
well and cheerful. He looked kind and benign. 
He came in with eagerness ; he was close to me 
in one second ; he was all amity. It might be 
his bridegroom-mood which thus brightened him. 
Whatever the cause, I could not meet his sun- 
shine with cloud. If this were my last moment 
with him, I would not waste it in forced, un- 
natural distance. I loved him well too well not 
to smite out of my path even Jealousy herself, 
when she would have obstructed a kind farewell. 
A cordial word from his lips, or a gentle look 
from his eyes, would do me good for all the span 
of life that remained to me. It would be comfort 
in the last strait of loneliness. I would take it 
I would taste the elixir, and pride should not spill 
the cup. 

The interview would be short, of course. He 
would say to me just what he had said to each of 
the assembled pupils. He would take and hold 
my hand two minutes. He would touch my 
cheek with his lips for the first, last, only time, 
and then no more. Then, indeed, the final 
parting, then the wide separation, the great gulf 
I could not pass to go to him, across which, 

100 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

haply, he would not glance to remember 
me. 

He took my hand in one of his ; with the other 
he put back my bonnet. He looked into my 
face, his luminous smile went out, his lips ex- 
pressed something almost like the wordless lan- 
guage of a mother who finds a child greatly and 
unexpectedly changed, broken with illness, or worn 
out by want. A check supervened. 

* Paul, Paul ! ' said a woman's hurried voice 
behind * Paul, come into the salon. I have yet 
a great many things to say to you conversation 
for the whole day and so has Victor ; and Josef 
is here. Come, Paul come to your friends. 1 

Madame Beck, brought to the spot by vigilance 
or an inscrutable instinct, pressed so near she 
almost thrust herself between me and M. Emanuel. 
' Come, Paul ! ' she reiterated, her eye grazing me 
with its hard ray like a steel stylet. She pushed 
against her kinsman. I thought he receded ; I 
thought he would go. Pierced deeper than I 
could endure, made now to feel what defied 
suppression, I cried, 

' My heart will break ! ' 

What I felt seemed literal heartbreak ; but the 
seal of another fountain yielded under the strain. 
One breath from M. Paul, the whisper, ' Trust 
me ! * lifted a load, opened an outlet. With many 
a deep sob, with thrilling, with icy shiver, with 

IQI 



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strong trembling, and yet with relief, I 
wept. 

' Leave her to me ; it is a crisis. I will give 
her a cordial, and it will pass,' said the calm 
Madame Beck. 

To be left to her and her cordial seemed to me 
something like being left to the poisoner and her 
bowl. When M. Paul answered deeply, harshly, 
and briefly, c Laissez-moi ! ' in the grim sound I 
felt a music strange, strong, but life-giving. 

4 Laissez-moi ! ' he repeated, his nostrils open- 
ing, and his facial muscles all quivering as he spoke. 

'But this will never do,' said madame with 
sternness. 

More sternly rejoined her kinsman, 

< Sortez d'ici ! ' 

' I will send for Pere Silas ; on the spot I will 
send for him/ she threatened pertinaciously. 

' Femme ! ' cried the professor, not now in his 
deep tones, but in his highest and most excited 
key ' femme ! sortez a 1'instant ! ' 

He was roused, and I loved him in his wrath 
with a passion beyond what I had yet felt. 

' What you do is wrong/ pursued madame ; ' it 
is an act characteristic of men of your unreliable, 
imaginative temperament a step impulsive, in- 
judicious, inconsistent a proceeding vexatious, 
and not estimable in the view of persons of 
steadier and more resolute character.' 

102 






CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

'You know not what I have of steady and 
resolute in me/ said he, c but you shall see ; the 
event shall teach you. Modeste,' he continued, 
less fiercely, * be gentle, be pitying, be a woman. 
Look at this poor face, and relent. You know 
I am your friend and the friend of your friends ; 
in spite of your taunts you well and deeply know 
I may be trusted. Of sacrificing myself I made 
no difficulty, but my heart is pained by what I 
see. It must have and give solace. Leave 
me!' 

This time, in the 'leave me' there was an in- 
tonation so bitter and so imperative, I wondered 
that even Madame Beck herself could for one 
moment delay obedience. But she stood firm ; 
she gazed upon him dauntless ; she met his eyes, 
forbidding and fixed as stone. She was opening 
her lips to retort. I saw over all M. Paul's face 
a quick rising light and fire. I can hardly tell 
how he managed the movement. It did not seem 
violent ; it kept the form of courtesy. He gave 
his hand ; it scarce touched her, I thought ; she 
ran, she whirled from the room ; she was gone, 
and the door shut, in one second. 

The flash of passion was all over very soon. 
He smiled as he told me to wipe my eyes ; he 
waited quietly till I was calm, dropping from time 
to time a stilling, solacing word. Ere long I sat 
beside him once more myself reassured, not 



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desperate, nor yet desolate ; not friendless, not 
hopeless, not sick of life and seeking death. 

' It made you very sad, then, to lose your 
friend ? ' said he. 

' It kills me to be forgotten, monsieur,' I said. 
4 All these weary days I have not heard from you 
one word, and I was crushed with the possibility, 
growing to certainty, that you would depart with- 
out saying farewell.' 

< Must I tell you what I told Modeste Beck 
that you do not know me ? Must I show and 
teach you my character? You will have proof 
that I can be a firm friend ? Without clear proof 
this hand will not lie still in mine, it will not trust 
my shoulder as a safe stay ? Good. The proof 
is ready. I come to justify myself. 1 

' Say anything, teach anything, prove anything, 
monsieur ; I can listen now.' 

After this, in Villette^ the story drifts 
away from the real experience of Charlotte 
herself, not only in the circumstances related, 
but even in the emotions pictured, now 
painted, not from what she has felt herself, 
but from what she imagines for her heroine, 
that other happier self, lifted up into the 
heaven of romance, who, assured of Paul 
Emanuel's love, and his betrothed, waits 

104 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and works in the school where he has 
appointed her Directress ; in patient expec- 
tation of his return, that never comes to 
pass! For (why or wherefore, no literary 
critic of Villette who measures the book by 
simply artistic standards can find any reason 
to explain) Charlotte won't let Lucy Snowe, 
the heroine, who is her other self, find 
happiness at last with Paul Emanuel : or 
even find him again, after that cruel separa- 
tion, all due to the wicked craft and selfish 
jealousy of Madame Beck. Destiny inter- 
feres ; a storm ; a shipwreck one is not told 
'what has happened : one is made to hear 
wailing winds and moaning ocean, that 
is all ; we know nothing further than this : 
Lucy Snowe waited and hoped ; hoped and 
waited \ but Paul Emmanuel never came back. 

But, at any rate, before he sailed on that 
last fatal voyage, all misunderstandings, all 
doubts had been swept away. He had 
driven Madame Beck from the room, and 
shown her his contempt and indignation. 
He had, with tenderness and passion, de- 
clared his love for Lucy ; and had asked her to 
be his wife. This is what had followed 

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after those scenes between Lucy and 
Madame Beck in the late night scene in 
the class-rooms and between Lucy and Paul 
Emanuel, when Madame Beck is put out of 
the room by Paul Emanuel, who insists 
upon saying good-bye to Lucy. 

All that we know of what followed 
these scenes, enacted under different circum- 
stances, in Charlotte's life, must be gathered, 
not by a quite literal acceptance, but by an 
intelligent and impartial weighing, of her 
statements, contained in a letter written on 
the 23rd January 1844, three weeks after 
her return to Haworth. 

' I suffered much before I left Brussels. 
I think, however long I live, I shall not 
forget what the parting with M. Heger cost 
me : it grieved me so much to grieve him, 
who had been so true, kind and disinterested 
a friend. At parting, he gave me a kind of 
diploma certifying my abilities as a teacher 
sealed with the seal of the Athenee Royal 
of which he is a professor. ... I do not know 
whether you feel as I do, but there are 
times when it appears to me as if all my 
ideas and feelings, except a few friendships 

106 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and affections, are changed from what they 
used to be. Something in me which used 
to be enthusiasm is tamed down and broken. 
I no longer regard myself as young indeed 
I shall soon be twenty-eight and it seems 
as if I ought to be working and having the 
rough realities of the world as other people 
do/ 1 

1 Lift, p. 273. 



I0 7 



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CHAPTER VI 

THE LOVE-LETTERS OF A ROMANTIC 1 

TAKING up the study of Charlotte's letters 
written to M. Heger after her return to 
Haworth, and reading them in the light of 
what we know of the circumstances and 
emotions that have formed the feelings, and 
decided the tone and attitude of the writer, 
what do we find to be the sentiment they 
reveal to us ? 

Is it the 'enthusiasm for a great man/ 
and the desire (for the sake of vanity, or of 
amusement) to keep up a correspondence 
with him ? 

Or is it the intellectual need of this 
teacher's instructions and advice, as a means 
of mental improvement ? 

Or is it the want of a companion to 
exchange ideas with, who is a brighter and 

1 I have to thank Mr. Clement Shorter, who has purchased 
the copyright of Charlotte Bronte's manuscripts, for his 
generous permission to quote from these letters freely for 
the purposes of my criticism. (F. M.) 

1 08 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

more cultivated being than the Nusseys, 
Taylors, Woolers, and the others ? 

Or is it the pleasure of having a man friend, 
in the case of a woman who is neither 
pretty, nor young, nor silly, enough to 
indulge in an ordinary flirtation ? 

Or is it none amongst these several forms 
of desire, or want, that seeks its own good ? 

Is it love ? a love so exalted, so pas- 
sionate, so personal, so distinct from any 
other instinct or interest, physical, social or 
intellectual, that this sentiment stands out, 
in the order of human feelings, as honourable 
not only to the heart that feels it, but to 
human nature : so that brought into touch 
with it, one's own heart is uplifted above the 
common world, and gladdened * by the sense* 
as Byron said, 1 c of the existence of Love in its 
most extended and sublime capacity and of our 
own participation of its good and of its glory? 2 

My contention is that it is this romantic 

1 Childe Harold^ note 9 to canto iii. 

2 The author of Cbilde Harold adds on this note as a com- 
ment upon what he has said of ' Love ' as the inspiration of 
the greatest of all Romantics, J.-J. Rousseau : 

' His love was passion's essence as a tree 
On fire by lightning j with ethereal flame 

IO9 



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Love that reveals itself in Charlotte's letters 
to M. Heger. And for this reason, I agree 
with Mr. Clement Shorter that they put her 
upon a higher pedestal than ever. For to 
have a heart capable of this great and 
glorious, albeit often tragical, romantic Love, 
that 'seeketh not its own,' and compared 
with which all other sorts of love, that 
do seek their own, are as sounding brass 
and a tinkling cymbal is, independently of 
deeds or works^ greatly to serve mankind. 
For it is to stand as a witness, amongst the 
meanesses of mortal and worldly things, to 
the existence of Something personal and 
immortal in the soul and heart of man, help- 
Kindled he was, and blasted ; for to be 
Thus, and enamour'd, were in him the same. 
But his was not the love of living dame, 
Nor of the dead who rise upon our dreams, 
But of Ideal beauty, which became 
In him existence and overflowing teems 
Along his burning page, distemper'd tho' it seems. 

This breathed itself to life in Julie, this 

Invested her with all that 's wild and sweet $ 

This hallow'd too the memorable kiss 

Which every morn his fever'd lip would greet, 

From hers, who but with friendship his would meet: 

But to that gentle touch, thro' brain and breast 

Flash'd the thrilPd spirit's love-devouring heat ; 

In that absorbing sigh perchance more blest 

Than vulgar minds may be with all they seek possest.' 

I IO 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

ing him e to gild his dross thereby'^ Some- 
thing sovereign, that, quite independently of 
forms of belief, or fashions of opinion, c rules 
by every school, till love and longing die. y 
Something indestructible, confined to no 
epoch, ancient, mediaeval or modern, but, 
' that was, or yet the lights were sef, a whisper 
in the void ; that will be sung in planets young 
when this is clean destroyed.' In other words, 
I esteem human nature honoured in 
Charlotte Bronte, and Charlotte Bronte 
honoured in these Letters, because they are 
love-letters of a rare and wonderful sort 
amongst the most beautiful^ although they are 
the most sad ever written. If they were not 
love-letters, but expressed the enthusiasm of 
a woman wanting comradeship with a great 
man, I should esteem them discreditable to 
any hero-worshipper. Because one should 
not pester one's hero with letters, nor con- 
ceive the conceit of comradeship with an 
object of worship. And it is not true 
that Charlotte's letters to Thackeray, George 
Henry Lewes and other men of letters after 
she became famous, had the same character 

1 Rudyard Kipling. 
I I I 



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as these love-letters written to M. Heger 
before her name was known ; because in 
her letters to different celebrated writers. 
Charlotte talked about books or the criticism 
of books. But to M. Heger she throws 
open the secret chamber of her heart: she 
pours out its treasures of passionate feelings 
(as pure as they were passionate) at the feet 
of the man she loves ; all she asks for from 
him in return is not to reprove her, nor 
refuse the offering ; not to withdraw him- 
self from her life altogether. To let her 
hear from him sometimes : not to leave her 
utterly alone, in the darkness, without any 
knowledge of what good or evil may befall 
one so dear to her. 

Unfortunately we do not possess the first 
Letters of this correspondence. The four 
Letters given by Dr. Paul Heger to the 
British Museum all belong to a period 
when the Professor, who had answered (one 
does not know precisely in what way) 
Charlotte's first epistles, had left off replying 
to her ; and the consistent motive of these 
four appeals is for some tidings of him, 
some proof that the ' estrangement from 

I 12 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

her Master/ to which she says she will 
never 'voluntarily' consent, has not, in spite 
of her own unaltered devotion, irrevocably 
taken place. 

'Tell me about anything you like, my 
Master,' she writes, ' only tell me some- 
thing ! No doubt, to write to a former 
under-mistress (no, I will not remember my 
employment as under-mistress, I refuse to 
recall it), but to write to an old pupil, can- 
not be, for you, an interesting occupation. I 
realise this ; but for me, it is life. Your last 
letter served to keep me alive, to nourish 
me during six months. Now I must have 
another one ; and you will give me one. 
Not because you bear me friendship (you 
cannot bear me much !), but because you 
have a compassionate soul, and because you 
would not condemn any one to slow suf- 
fering, simply to spare yourself a few 
moments of fatigue ! To forbid me to 
write to you, to refuse to reply to me, 
would be to tear from me the only joy that 
I have in the world ; to deprive me of my 
last privilege, a privilege which I will 
never voluntarily renounce. Believe me, my 

113 H 



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Master ! by writing to me, you do a good 
action so long as I can believe you are not 
angry with me, so long as the hope is left 
me of news of you, I can be tranquil, and 
not too sad. But when a gloomy and pro- 
longed silence warns me of the estrangement 
from me of my Master, when from day to 
day I expect a letter, and when, day after 
day, comes disappointment, to plunge me in 
overwhelming grief; and when the sweet 
and dear consolation of seeing your hand- 
writing, of reading your counsels, fades 
from me like a vain vision, then fever 
attacks me, appetite and sleep fail : I feel 
that life wastes away/ l 

This passage is quoted from the Letter 
dated by Charlotte i%tb November, with- 
out any indication of the year. Mr. Spiel- 
mann (who is responsible for the order 
given the Letters in the Times) esteems this 
one to be the last of the series ; that is to 

1 See Letter, 18 Nov. I am giving my own translation 
from the French of Charlotte's Letters in these extracts, not 
certainly on account of any dissatisfaction with Mr. Spiel- 
mann's English versions of them, but in order to avoid the 
risk of any infringement of Mr. Spielmann's copyright in his 
Introduction. 

114 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

say, to have been written ten months after 
the Letter dated by Charlotte 8 January, 
supposed by him to belong to the year 1845. 
With Dr. Paul Heger, I believe, on the 
contrary, that the Letter of the i8th 
November is the first of the series : and 
that it belongs to the year 1 844 ; that is to 
say, was written ten months after Charlotte's 
return to England. This opinion seems to 
me established by the contents of the Letter, 
and by the account it gives of the conditions 
of affairs at Haworth, which were those 
that we find (if we consult Mrs. GaskeH's 
Life of Charlotte Bronte} did prevail in 
November 1844, but not in November 1845, 
and still less in November 1846. 

My father (she writes) is in good health, but 
his eyesight is all but gone ; he can no longer 
either read or write : and yet the doctors advise 
waiting some months longer before attempting 
any operation. This winter will be for him one 
long night. He rarely complains : and I admire his 
patience. If Providence has the same calamity in 
reserve for me, may it grant me the same patience 
to endure it. It seems to me, Monsieur, that 
what is most bitter in severe physical afflictions, 

"5 



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is that they compel us to share our sufferings with 
those who surround us. One can hide the 
maladies of the soul ; but those that attack the 
body and enfeeble our faculties cannot be hidden. 
My father now allows me to read to and to write 
for him. He shows much more confidence in me 
than he has ever done before ; and this is a great 
consolation to me. 

Charlotte's account in this Letter of her 
father's patient resignation and increased 
confidence in her under the trial, to a man 
of his independent and somewhat domineer- 
ing temper, of compulsory reliance on the 
assistance of a daughter from whom he had 
exacted complete submission heretofore and 
from her childhood upwards, is confirmed 
in Mrs. Gaskell's biography by the testi- 
mony of other letters belonging to the first 
year of her return from Belgium. But by 
November 1845 Mr. Bronte's philosophy, 
before his own unmerited misfortune, had 
been troubled and transformed into acute 
misery and anxious forebodings by the down- 
fall, both moral and physical, of his favourite 
amongst his children, Bramwell, the un- 
happy son the only one in this family 

116 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

of gifted daughters, whose perversion seems 
also to have had something of the irresponsi- 
bility of genius about it. Writing on 
the 4th November 1845 to Ellen Nussey, l 
Charlotte says : 

I hoped to be able to ask you to come to 
Haworth. It almost seemed as if Bramwell had 
a chance of getting employment ; and T waited to 
know the results of his efforts, in order to say 
{ Dear Ellen, come and see us.' But the place is 
given to another person. Bramwell still remains 
at home, and whilst he is here, you shall not 
come.' 

Here is Mrs. Gaskell's account of Mr. 
Bronte's experiences in this period, that 
are not to be reconciled with the account 
given of his good health and philosophical 
patience and resignation to dependence 
upon Charlotte given by her a year earlier : 

For the last three years of his life, Bramwell 
took opium habitually, by way of stunning 
conscience : he drank, moreover, whenever he 
could get the opportunity. . . . He slept in 
his father's room ; and he would sometimes 
declare that either he or his father would be 

1 Mrs. Gaskell's Life, p. 290. 

117 " 



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dead before the morning ! The trembling sisters, 
sick with fright, would implore their father not 
to expose himself to this danger. But Mr. 
Bronte was no timid man ; and perhaps he felt 
that he could possibly influence his son to some 
self-restraint more by showing trust in him than 
by showing fear. The sisters often listened for 
the report of a pistol in the dead of night, till 
watchful eye and hearkening ear grew heavy and 
dull with the perpetual strain upon their nerves. 
In the mornings, young Bronte would saunter out 
saying, with a drunkard's incontinence of speech, 
' The poor old man and I have had a terrible night 
of it ; he does his best, the poor old man, but it's 
all over with me.' 

One may safely affirm that if Charlotte 
had been writing in November 1845 it 
would not have been only his patience under 
the trial of loss of sight that she would 
have found to admire in her father. In 
November 1846 Mr. Bronte had success- 
fully undergone the operation for cataract 
that saved him from blindness : and Char- 
lotte herself, ten months after the over- 
whelming evidence of her ' master's 
estrangement/ given in his silence after her 
Letter of the 8th January, had saved her own 

118 




REDUCED FROM A DRAWING BY CHARLOTTE BRONTE 
OF ASHBURNHAM CHURCH SENT TO M. HEGER 

The drawing showing the date 1846 was given to the author 
by Mile. Louise Heger 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

soul from the malady she had endured 
without sharihg her sufferings with any one ; 
and was already writing Jane Eyre ... so 
that the conclusion is surely forced upon us 
that the Letter of the i8th November 
belongs to the year 1 844, and written ten 
months after her return to Haworth, 2nd 
January 1844, and represents the first, and 
not the last of these four Letters. 

It is important to establish this, because 
one has to read these Letters in their right 
order before one can understand the story 
they disclose of the long training in deferred 
hope, in expectation, crowned with dis- 
appointment, in vain pursuit of shadows 
that eluded her grasp, and of illusions that 
reveal themselves as forms of self-deceit 
only in the very hour when they have con- 
quered belief ; in other words, of the long 
training in personal suffering it took to 
create and fashion the genius of a writer 
whose magical gift was to be the power of 
transforming words into feelings. 

Carrying through the examination of 
these documents by the rule that recognises 
the Letter of the i8th November as written 

119 



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ten months after Charlotte's return to 
England, we discover in the opening 
sentence the fact that the last letter 
Charlotte had received from her Professor 
must have been in May of this same year ; 
that is to say, four months after the 
sentimental leave-taking with her Professor, 
which sent Charlotte home to England 
with illusions about the extent to which 
her own passionate grief at their separation 
was shared by M. Heger. By November 
these illusions have been dispelled ; Charlotte 
understands perfectly now (although this 
does not make her any more just to Madame 
Heger) that the 'grief of her 'Master,' 
that she had said she would e never forget, 
never mind how long she might live,' was 
a very short-lived affair on his side ; merely 
the transient regret of a teacher who will 
miss a favourite pupil from his class. 

* Que ne puis-je avoir pour vous juste autant 
d'amitie que vous avez pour moij she writes 
to him, ' ni plus, ni moms ? Je serais alors si 
tranquil le, si libre : je pourrais garder le silence 
pendant six mois sans effort.' 

There is a note of bitterness in . this. In 

120 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

what precedes it there is no bitterness, but 
we have one of the passages in these wonder- 
ful letters that seem to me to place them 
above all the other love-letters preserved in 
the world, as immortal records of the 
Romantic Love that honours human nature 
in the hearts that cherish it. 

e The six months of silence are over : we 
are now at the i8th of November,' she 
writes : 

I may, then, write to you, without breaking 
my promise. The summer and winter have 
seemed very long to me : in truth, it has cost 
me painful efforts to endure up to now the pri- 
vation I have imposed upon myself. You, for 
your part, cannot understand this ! But, Mon- 
sieur, try to imagine, for one moment, that one 
of your children is a hundred and sixty leagues 
away from you ; and that you are condemned to 
remain for six months, without writing to him ; 
without receiving any news from him ; without 
hearing anything about him ; without knowing 
how he is ; well, then you may be able to 
understand, perhaps, how hard is such an obliga- 
tion imposed upon me. 

In connection with the opening phrase, 
we must recognise in it the confirmation of 

121 



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an assertion made in my article in the 
Woman at Home published twenty years 
before these Letters were published, but 
which had for its authority the information 
given me by Dr. Paul Heger upon the occa- 
sion of a conversation, when he very kindly 
talked over with me the questions connected 
with events in his parents' life that, inas- 
much as they happened before his birth, he 
knew as family traditions chiefly but still 
as traditions derived from the only authentic 
sources of information that exist : Dr. Paul 
Heger's theory was that until Charlotte 
had left Bruxelles and commenced to write 
to his father letters in a tone of exaltation 
that announced an exaggerated attachment, 
Monsieur Heger himself had never sus- 
pected the existence of any such sentiment ; 
and that he, and Madame Heger (?) were 
disposed to regard it as an attack of morbid 
regret for the more animated life she had led 
in Bruxelles, and the dulness of her home 
surroundings. And that, acting upon this 
supposition, they had thought it advisable 
(and this in Charlotte's own interests chiefly) 
to let her know that they were both of them 

122 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

distressed and displeased by the tone of her 
letters ; and that if she wished to keep up 
the correspondence, she must become more 
reasonable and temperate in her way of ex- 
pressing herself; and that, as the exchange of 
letters between busy people became onerous, 
there must be only two letters every year at 
intervals of six months. We find Charlotte 
acknowledging this condition, as one that 
she had accepted, but that she complained of 
as a great ' privation ' : and she then goes on 
to explain (as only one taught by romantic, 
that is to say by unselfish, and unsensual, 
love, that 'does not seek its own,' could 
explain it) in what this 'privation' consists. 
Did any woman, neglected by the man 
she loves, ever discover a device, at once so 
passionate, and so poetically pure as Char- 
lotte's, who makes the man who does not 
love her, but whom she knows is an adoring 
father, try to realise what she feels, so far 
away from him, and left without tidings 
by asking him to picture what he would feel 7f 9 
separated by a hundred and sixty leagues from 
his little child) he 'were left 'without news of 
him ? 

123 



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But now if we consult honestly our own 
impressions, does this letter reveal that c it is 
no cause of grief to Charlotte that M. Heger is 
married ' ? Is it true that there ' is nothing in 
it that any enthusiastic woman might not write 
to a married man with a family who had been 
her teacher* ? 

What the letter does reveal (thus it seems 
to me at least) is one supreme thing before 
all others : that the writer of it is past 
saving, by this time, from the destiny she 
prophesied for herself ten months ago in 
Bruxelles. c My heart will break* Charlotte 
said then: when fate (in the garb of 
Madame Heger) thrust herself between her 
and her beloved Professor. 

And now, touching and eloquent as it all 
is, what escape is there from the conclusion 
that the writer of this letter must break her 
heart ? 

What else can happen ? Let us recognise 
her plight. Here one has an entirely honour- 
able, passionately tender, tenderly passionate, 
very serious woman, her mind dominated (as 
she says herself) by one tyrannical fixed idea ; 
let us rather say by one tragical passion ; 

124 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and who sees her own life, and her claims 
upon the man she loves through the medium 
of this tragical passion : and 'who gives her 
life an impossible purpose ; and who makes im- 
possible claims. They are very small claims, 
she pleads. And so they are, very small in 
comparison with what she gives, her whole 
life's devotion poured out at the feet of her 
' Master,' from whom she only asks in return 
that he will not forbid her worship; that, now 
and again, he will give her the joy of seeing 
his handwriting, and of knowing that he is 
well. But small as these claims are, they are 
unreasonable:'/^ the last degree" inconvenient" 
and impossible* as Madame would have said, 
in the particular case of this 'Master'; 
a married man and an attached husband with 
five children, the Director of a Pensionnat 
de Jeunes Filles who has need to be especially 
circumspect ; and who cannot discreetly, 
nor even honourably, allow a former under- 
mistress to address him passionate, romantic 
love-letters, even every six months. Nor 
can this loyal husband and self-respecting 
Catholic and Professor undertake to appear 
to sanction this indiscretion, by keeping 

125 



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her informed of his health and welfare 
at regular intervals. So that, building her 
heart's desires upon false hopes, that, from 
day to day, wear themselves out in dis- 
appointment, and looking for consolation 
to things necessarily withdrawn ; and that 
she pursues in vain like * fading visions/ 
how is our poor Charlotte to find any 
escape from the heart-break that is the 
natural term of the path along which this 
Love, that has become her destiny, leads 
her ? No way of escape is there for 
Charlotte : not in heaven above, nor on the 
earth beneath, nor in the waters under the 
earth. For no miracle can give her love a 
happy ending ; say that even a thunderbolt 
fell from heaven to remove Madame Heger, 
it would be extremely unjust but admit 
that a murderous miracle be granted even 
so, it would not alter the fact that M. Heger 
is not in love with Charlotte. And no 
earthly scheme either can bridge the separa- 
tion wider than the 160 leagues between 
Yorkshire and Brussels that now severs 
Charlotte, breaking her heart in Yorkshire, 
from her Master in literature, carrying on, 

126 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

as stormily and triumphantly as when she 
assisted at them, his lessons in the class- 
rooms in the Rue d'Isabelle : those memory- 
haunted class-rooms she will never see 
again ; because although we find her in these 
Letters speaking of projects of earning money 
that she may return to Bruxelles, if only to 
see her professor once again, one knows that 
there would be Madame to count with ; 
and even Monsieur Heger's obstinate neglect 
to reply to these appealing Letters does not 
indicate any answering wish on his side to 
see his former pupil again. Nor yet does 
there exist in the waters under the earth 
any pool of magical power of healing 
sufficient to soothe these bitter regrets and 
reproaches ; nor any well deep enough to 
drown rebellious desires and memories : for 
Charlotte has too splendid a soul to think 
of suicide ; or to quench anguish by drugs. 
So that one knows that Charlotte's fate is 
sealed : and that we must follow her through 
these last steps to the end, with pity and 
admiration and love for her but still not 
with injustice to others. Because no one 
outside of herself, not Madame Heger, nor 

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Monsieur Heger, is responsible for what 
has happened, and what is going to happen ; 
but only the Love that has Charlotte's soul 
in thrall, the Love that 'seeketh not its 
own,' romantic, or if it be preferred, Pla- 
tonic Love ; who as the wise woman, 
Diotima, told Socrates, is c not a god, but 
an immortal spirit, who spans the gulf 
between heaven and earth, carrying to the 
gods the prayers of men, and to the earth 
the commands of the gods.' Love, who is 
' the child of plenty and of poverty, often, 
like his mother, without house or home 
to cover him ' (and who consequently is 
not highly esteemed by respectable house- 
holders). Love, the ' instinct of immortality 
in a mortal creature,' leading him amongst 
mortal conditions to where Charlotte is 
being led to, the grave of hope, but not 
leaving hope there entombed, but raising it, not 
clogged 'with the pollution of mortality. 

All this, that the wise Diotima related, is 
a true parable of Charlotte Bronte. And 
the proof that Diotima was a good psycho- 
logist, and had based her opinions upon 
the study of facts, is found in the assertion 

128 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

that Love, although an immortal spirit, is 
not a god. Because a god sees clearly, and 
does not make mistakes : whereas Love, as 
every one knows, is often blind, and never 
very clear-sighted ; and is liable to make 
mistakes, and to be unjust even : and to 
attribute his own errors to other people. 
Thus Charlotte, under the dominion of 
Love, was unjust, and made mistakes : she 
attributed to Madame Heger disappoint- 
ments and misadventures and pangs, that 
were not of Madame Heger's preparation 
at all, but were simply the imprudences of 
this ' Child of plenty and poverty,' who in- 
herits from both parents and is so often 
extravagant and houseless, and consequently 
in bad odour with householders and the wor- 
shippers of 'convenience/ because 'he has 
no home to cover him.' Charlotte should not 
have attributed, for instance, malevolence 
or jealousy or the cruel pleasure of tanta- . 
lising and torturing her in Bruxelles to 
Madame Heger, simply because, as the 
Directress of a Pensionnat de Jeunes Filles 
and wife of M. Heger, she did not want to 
take in Romantic Love as a boarder ; nor to 

129 i 



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permit this ' Child of plenty and poverty' to 
disorganise the well-balanced domestic and 
conjugal relationships between herself and 
M. Heger. In all this Madame Heger was 
not persecuting Charlotte, but protecting 
her own rights. And if we examine the 
circumstances even in the narrative of the 
scene in the class-room between the Direc- 
tress and her English teacher, and the scene 
of the farewell interview between the Pro- 
fessor and his pupil, where the Directress 
of the Pensionnat is put out of the room 
because she objects to this sentimental 
leave-taking, we shall find that recognising 
the true relationships between these three 
people, if Madame Heger behaved exactly 
as Madame Beck is said to have done, then 
there is not any fault whatever to be found 
with Madame Heger. Nay, one does not see 
how she could have been more considerate. 
Another false impression of Charlotte's 
that Madame Heger intercepted her letters, 
and that M. Heger did not answer because 
he did not receive them has no evidence to 
support it. Nor is this all ; there is un- 
deniable proof that the letter we have just 

130 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

considered (which M. Heger did not answer) 
was received by him : and that he was not 
very much affected by the passionate homage 
of his worshipper. ' On the edge of this 
letter he has made some commonplace notes 
in pencil one of them is the name and 
address of a shoemaker/ Mr. Spielmann 
tells us. 

There is a natural feeling of indignation 
against this masculine insensibility to a 
woman's tragical passion, even though one 
recognises that honour stood in the way of 
any responsive sentiment. But one must 
not forget M. Heger's special vocation and 
his daily occupations and preoccupations. 
Here you have a Professor of literature in a 
Pensionnat de Jeunes Filles who spends, 
week by week, several days in correcting 
and improving ' compositions ' and exercises 
in c style ' of numberless schoolgirls, full of 
the eloquent sentimentality that belongs to 
young writers between the ages of fourteen 
and sixteen. Monsieur Heger had been 
Charlotte's master in literature, remember : 
and there is another fact to be realised also, 
one that upon the authority of my own know- 



THE SECRET OF 






ledge of him, in the character of my own 
Professor, I am allowed to testify to : he was 
before all things a born teacher^ and one who 
saw the world as his class-room, and his 
fellow-creatures in the light of pupils. Apply- 
ing this knowledge of him to the criticism 
of what we know about his relations with 
Charlotte Bronte, we arrive at entirely 
different opinions to those formed by people 
who either see M. Heger through the 
medium of Charlotte's passion for him and as 
she painted him in Villette ; or outside of 
any personal knowledge of him at all, as he 
appears to them judged in the light of the 
impression that he played with Charlotte's 
feelings : first of all encouraging by senti- 
mental flattery her affection for him, and 
then, when he found that she had become 
inconveniently fond of him, behaving with 
cruel indifference. None of these decisions 
is based on a correct knowledge of M. 
Heger, nor of his true behaviour and 
character. The true M, Heger was not 
the Paul Emanuel who was the /over of Lucy 
Snowe, because he is very truthfully and 
admirably painted in the domineering but 

132 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

interesting, terror-striking but captivating, 
masterful and masterly Professor of litera- 
ture, so full of talent, and fiery captivating 
ardour for beautiful thoughts nobly expressed. 
The real Professor was not tender-hearted ; 
nor very tender in manner ; nor even very 
pleasant and considerate ; nor even kind, out- 
side of his professorial character : and he had 
no sympathy whatever to spare for people 
who were not his pupils. And his sympathy 
for his pupils, as his pupils^ led him to work 
upon their sympathies, as a way of inducing 
a frame of mind in them and an emotional 
state of feeling, rendering them susceptible 
to literary impressions, and putting them in 
key with himself, in this very fine enthu- 
siasm of his, not only for enjoying literature 
himself, but for throwing open to others, and 
to young votaries especially, the worship of 
beautiful literature as the record of the 
best that has been thought and said in the 
world. 

But the very exclusive literary tempera- 
ment of M. Heger left him rather cold- 
blooded than particularly warm-hearted, 
where his pupils' feelings interfered with 

'33 



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their good style in writing ; or good accent 
when speaking ; or with their sense of the 
first importance of a warm appreciation of 
the beauties of literature. If one reversed 
directly the description of Charlotte Bronte 
herself, as a writer whose words became 
feelings^ one might justly say of M. Heger 
that for him, feelings were chiefly good 
with reference to their effects upon words, 
and the creation of beautiful language so 
that Charlotte's love-letters to him would 
be no more than the c Devoirs de Style ' of a 
former pupil sent him for criticism. The 
shoemaker's address may have been jotted 
down by accident, when he was running his 
eye down the page ? If the further notes 
signified by Mr. Spielmann on this page, 
where poor Charlotte's heart's Secret lay 
exposed and quivering, had been 'Eon mats 
un peu trop d* exaltation la Ponctuation nest 
pas soignee* no one who knew M. Heger 
would blame him for voluntary unkind- 
ness. But upon this matter no more must 
be said at present : we have to return to 
Charlotte, and her Letters. 

The second in the order in which I am 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

studying them (that seems to me un- 
mistakably indicated by the context) would 
have been written if we take the year 1845 
as the date eight, instead of six, months 
after the one, dated November, that refers 
to a preceding letter in the May of the same 
year when Charlotte would have accepted 
the obligation laid upon her not to write 
again for six months. This Letter, dated 
24th July, indicates by the opening sen- 
tence, not that she is writing outside of the 
appointed time, but outside of her turn : that 
is to say, it shows that M. Heger had not 
answered her November Letter ; that she 
had waited for his reply, but could not wait 
longer, and so wrote a second letter, before 
M. Heger's reply to the first. The custom 
shows us that poor Charlotte is uneasily 
conscious that her former one in November 
may have given offence. She apologises for 
it, as we shall see ; and works hard to write 
with cheerfulness in a more temperate 
tone : 

Ah, Monsieur ! I know I once wrote you a 
letter that was not a reasonable one, because my 
heart was choked with grief ; but I will not do 

135 



THE SECRET OF 



it again ! I will try not to be selfish ; although I 
cannot but feel your letters the greatest happiness 
I know. I will wait patiently to receive one, until 
it pleases you, and it is convenient to write one. 
At the same time, I may write you a little letter 
from time to time ; you authorised me to do that. 

The effort she is putting upon herself in 
this Letter is evident. She has become reason- 
able ; she does not reproach him for not 
writing, but only asks him to remember how 
much she desires it. She tells him of her 
plans, as she was recommended to do, instead 
of dwelling on her feelings. She humours and 
flatters his vanity and taste by her acknow- 
ledgment of all she owes him ; and of her 
unfailing gratitude and wish to dedicate a 
book to him she even sends a message to 
Madame ! 

Please present to Madame the assurance of my 
esteem. I fear that Maria, Louise and Claire will 
have forgotten me. Prospere and Victorine 
never knew me, but I remember all five of them, 
and especially Louise. There was so much 
character, so much naivete expressed in her little 
face. Farewell, Monsieur Your grateful pupil, 

C. BRONT. 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

July 24. I have not begged you to write to 
me soon, because I am afraid of troubling you, 
but you are too kind to forget how much I desire 
it. Yes ! I do desire it so much. But that is 
enough. After all, do as you like, Monsieur, for 
if I received a letter from you and I thought you 
wrote it out of pity, it would hurt me very much. 
. . . Oh I shall certainly see you some day. It 
must come to pass. Because as soon as I earn 
any money, I shall go to Bruxelles and I shall 
see you again, if only for a moment. 

It is all of no avail ! No answer does 
M. Heger vouchsafe. October comes round, 
and she writes again. This time she ima- 
gines that she has found a means of making 
her Letter reach its destination. In other 
words, she is convinced, or tries to be con- 
vinced, that it is all Madame Heger's fault 
again ; she it is who will not allow her 
husband to receive Charlotte's Letters. 

October 24. Monsieur I am quite joyous 
to-day. A thing that has not often happened 
during the last two years. 1 The reason is that a 

1 Charlotte had been a year and ten months in England in 
October 1845. This phrase, however, proves that the Letter 
belongs to this year and not to 1844, and consequently that 
the Letter that follows it, January 8, is 1846. 

137 



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gentleman amongst my friends is passing through 
Bruxelles, and he has offered to take charge of a 
letter for you, and to give this same letter into 
your hands ; or else his sister will do this, so that 
I shall be quite certain that you receive it. 

Now comes the final blow to this faith- 
ful worshipper. Up to this hour, she has 
hoped and waited, waited and hoped. But 
all this time there has been the suspicion of 
Madame Heger that has kept alive in her 
the belief in M. Heger's friendship, who 
(perhaps ?) writes, although his letters never 
arrive : who (perhaps ?) never receives her 
letters, although whenever she dares, and 
even in defiance of the terms laid down for 
her, she writes him letters where the vibra- 
tion of her passionate attachment is felt. 
Now, however, he has received her letter 
placed in his own hand. Had he written 
she would now have held in her turn the 
talisman of the beloved handwriting her 
eyes were weary with waiting to see again. 
But he remained obdurate and silent. 

Mr. Taylor has returned (she writes) : I asked 
him if he had no letter for me. ' No : nothing/ 
Be patient, I told myself: soon his .sister will 

138 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

return. Miss Taylor came back: C I have nothing 
for you from Monsieur Heger,' she said; f neither 
letter, nor any message.' 

Understanding only too well what this meant, 
told myself just what I should have told any one 
else in the same circumstances : Resign yourself 
to what you cannot alter, and before all things do 
not grieve for a misfortune that you have not 
deserved. I would not allow myself to weep nor 
complain. But when one refuses to oneself the 
right to tears and lamentations in certain cases, 
one is a tyrant ; and natural faculties revolt ; so 
that one buys outward calm at the price of an 
inner conflict that cannot be subdued. 

Neither by day, nor by night can I find rest 
nor peace : even if I sleep, I have tormenting 
dreams, where I see you, always severe, gloomy 
angry with me. Forgive me, Monsieur, if I 
am driven to take the course of writing to you 
once more. How can I endure my life, if I am 
forbidden to make any effort to alleviate my 
sufferings ? 

She continues in this piteous strain. 
She pleads with him not to reprove her 
again as she has been reproved before, 
for exaggeration, morbidness, sentimentality. 
She tells him all this may be true she is 
not going to defend herself but the case is 

139 



THE SECRET OF 



as she states it. She cannot resign herself 
to the loss of her master's friendship without 
one last effort to preserve it. 

I submit to all the reproaches you may make 
against me ; if my master withdraws his friend- 
ship from me entirely, I shall remain without 
hope ; if he keeps a little for me (never mind 
though it be very little) I shall have some motive 
for living, for working. 

Monsieur (she continues), the poor do not 
need much to keep them alive ; they ask only 
for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's 
table, but if these crumbs are refused them, then 
they die of hunger ! For me too, I make no 
claim either to great affection from those I love ; 
I should hardly know how to understand an 
exclusive and perfect friendship, I have so little 
experience of it ! But once upon a time, 
at Bruxelles, when I was your pupil, you did 
show me a little interest : and just this small 
amount of interest you gave me then, I hold to 
and I care for and prize, as I hold to and care for 
life itself. . . . 

... I will not re-read this letter, I must send 
it as it is written. And yet I know, by some 
secret instinct, that certain absolutely reasonable 
and cool-headed people reading it through will 
say : c She appears to have gone mad.' By 

140 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

way of revenge on such judges, all I would wish 
them is that they too might endure, for one 
day only, the sufferings I have borne for eight 
months then, one would see, if they too did not 
* appear to have gone mad.* 

One endures in silence whilst one has his 
strength to do it. But when this strength fails 
one, one speaks without weighing one's words. 
I wish Monsieur all happiness and prosperity. 

HAWORTH, BRADFORD, YORKSHIRE, 
8/ January. 

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. 



END OF PART I. 



141 



X 

PART II 

SOME REMINISCENCES OF THE 
REAL MONSIEUR AND MADAME HEGER 






THIS SECOND PART IS 
DEDICATED TO 

MY BROTHER 

THE LATE ABBE AUSTIN RICHARDSON 
WHO DIED SUDDENLY, 20TH AUG. 1913 

Dearest, before you went away 

And left me here behind you, 
How often would you talk to me, 

And I, too, would remind you 
Of stories in this book retold, 

That for us two could ne'er grow old ; 
Of scenes that we could live through yet, 

Just you and I, and not forget : 
And now I feel, since you are gone, 

I wrote this book for you alone. 



PART II 
CHAPTER I 

THE HISTORICAL DIFFICULTY: TO DIS- 
ENTANGLE FACT FROM FICTION 

THE purpose of the First Part of this study 
was to show that with the knowledge of 
the Secret of Charlotte Bronte, brought to 
us by Dr. Paul Heger's generous gift of 
these pathetic and beautiful Love-letters, the 
'Problem of Charlotte Bronte,' as so many 
very clever but inattentive psychological 
critics have stated it, has lost all claim to 
serious attention. 

The basis of the ' Problem ' was the 
alleged ' dissonance ' between Charlotte's 
personality and her genius between her 
dreary, desolate, dull, well-tamed existence, 
uncoloured, untroubled by romance (as 
Mrs. Gaskell painted it), and the passionate 
atmosphere of her novels, where all events 

H5 K 



THE SECRET OF 



and personages arc seen through the medium 
of one sentiment tragical romantic love. 

We now know that the dissonance did 
not exist ; that from her twenty-sixth year 
downwards. Charlotte's life was, not only 
coloured, but governed by a tragical ro- 
mantic love : that, in its first stage, threw her 
into a hopeless conflict against the force of 
things and broke her heart : but that, be- 
cause the battle was fought in the force, 
and in the cause, of noble emotions, saved 
her soul alive ; and called her genius forth 
to life: so that it rose as an immortal spirit 
from the grave of personal hopes. 

Understanding this, we know that there 
is no c Problem ' of Charlotte Bronte : but 
that her personality and her genius and 
her life and her books were all those of a 
Romantic. But although there is no 
psychological Problem, a difficulty that con- 
cerns the historical criticism of Charlotte's 
life and her books does remain. And this 
difficulty has to be faced and conquered, 
not by speculations nor arguments, but by 
methods of enquiry. 

When we study Charlotte Bronte's 
146 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

masterpiece Villette in comparison with 
what we now know about the romance in 
her own life, we recognise two facts : the 
first is that, in this 'work especially^ she has 
painted with such power the emotions she 
has undergone that her words become feel- 
ings that lift and ennoble the reader's sensi- 
bility : and thus serve him in the way that 
it belongs to Romantics to serve mankind. 

But the second fact we discover is that, 
again, in this book particularly^ historical 
personages and real events are used as the 
materials for an imaginary story, in a way 
that has produced critical confusion : and 
what is graver still has caused false and 
injurious opinions to be formed about his- 
torical people. And the difficulty we have 
to face is, not what amount of blame belongs 
to Charlotte for misrepresenting historical 
facts, nor even need we ask ourselves what 
reason she had for thus misrepresenting them. 
Because the reason becomes plain when we 
take the trouble to realise that the motive 
the writer of this work of genius had in 
view was one that concerned her own per- 
sonal liberation from haunting memories, 

'47 



THE SECRET OF 



rather than any motive concerning the 
impressions she might produce. 

There can be no doubt that Charlotte's 
motive in Villette^ judged as a method of 
personal salvation, was not only a permis- 
sible, but a noble one. It is the one that 
Pater attributed to Michael Angelo : c the 
effort of a strong nature to attune itself ^ to 
tranquillise vehement emotions by withdrawing 
them into the region of ideal sentiments ' : c an 
effort to throw off the clutch of cruel and 
humiliating facts by translating them into the 
imaginative realm^ where the artist^ the author^ 
the dreamer even^ has things as he wills ^ because 
the hold of outward things ' (such a stern and 
merciless one in the case of Charlotte 
Bronte!) c is thrown off at pleasure* 

But, judged as a literary and historical 
method, was Charlotte Bronte's manner of 
treating the real Director and Directress of 
the Pensionnat in the Rue d'Isabelle a 
justifiable or fair one ? Can she be held 
without fault in this ; that in Paul Emanuel 
and in Madame Beck she painted Monsieur 
and Madame Heger in a way that rendered 
them visible to every one who knew them ; 

148 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and then placed them in fictitious circum- 
stances that altered the character of their 
actions and feelings, in such a way as 
to misrepresent their true behaviour ? It 
seems to me that we must admit that the 
authoress of the Professor and of Villette 
adopted an unjust literary and historical 
method in so far as these real people are 
concerned: and that in the case of Madame 
Heger especially, passion and prejudice be- 
trayed her : and rendered her guilty of a 
fault that must be recognised as a very grave 
one. But when this fault has been recog- 
nised and admitted, it seems to me a con- 
scientious critic's duty does not compel him 
to scold this woman of genius for having the 
passions of her kind. A great Romantic is 
not an angel : and in this case the main facts 
about Charlotte are not her shortcomings as 
a celestial being, but her transcendent merits 
as an interpreter of the human heart. For 
my own part, I confess that after reading 
Charlotte's Love-letters, I am in no mood to 
look for faults in her, nor even to lend much 
attention to some faults that, without look- 
ing for them, one is bound to recognise. For 

149 



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what a thankless and unseemly, as well as 
what an unprofitable, sort of criticism is that 
represented in ancient days by the youngest 
amongst Job's Friends, who had such a 
delightfully expressive name, Elihu, the son 
of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of 
Ram ! Elihu's criticism of Job (the man 
of genius, plunged into dire misfortune, not 
by any fault or folly of his own, but by the 
will of the Higher Powers, who desired to 
prove his virtue and to call forth his genius), 
is exactly the same method of criticising 
men and women of genius in the same case 
as Job, practised by Elihu's intellectual de- 
scendents, Buzites of the kindred of Ram, 
in all countries and in every age, down to 
England in the twentieth century. The 
fundamental doctrine of this critical method 
was, and is, that ' great men are not always 
wise! and that it is the vocation of smaller 
men to teach them wisdom, without ' re- 
specting their persons or giving them flatter- 
ing titles ' (truly, as a matter of fact, by 
calling them names knaves, hypocrites, 
sentimental cads, blackguards, etc.) . In other 
words, the rule with these Buzites is that the 

150 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

main purpose of criticising great people is 
to find fault with them ; to surprise them in 
their ' unwise ' moments, to concentrate 
attention upon the faults they may, or may 
not, have committed in these moments ; and 
to build upon these occasional real, or 
imaginary, faults, psychological and patho- 
logical theories about the madness, wicked- 
ness, or folly of people capable of them. 
And to conclude that there is ' very much 
to reprobate and a great deal to laugh at ' 
in these men and women of genius and 
that the fact that they had genius, and that 
as witnesses to the ' instinct of immortality 
in mortal creatures ' they have served and 
honoured mankind, and also have bequeathed 
to us treasures of ideal beauty, is a mere 
accident, and may be left unnoticed. 

But let not my portion ever be with these 
fault-finders, who ''darken counsel by words 
without knowledge ',' as the original Elihu was 
told, 'out of the Whirlwind/ by the 
Supreme Critic ; c in whose stead ' the son 
of Barachel had arrogated to himself the 
right to scold and scoff at Job ; and to tell 
him that his misfortunes were all the result 



THE SECRET OF 



of his bad character and of his uncontrolled 
emotions. I refuse, then, to recognise as a 
question of vital importance Charlotte's 
forgetfulness of historical exactitude in 
Villette ; and I do not myself understand how 
any one (except a Buzite) who has read these 
Letters given to us by Dr. Paul Heger, and 
especially the last one, that received no 
answer, can help feeling that the suffering 
the writer of the Letters must have under- 
gone, in the unbroken silent solitude that 
followed her unanswered appeal, must have 
made the hold upon her memory of ' out- 
ward things ' so hard to bear, that to break 
that hold, to live in the realm of imagina- 
tion free from it, having things as she would, 
justified almost any method of self-liberation. 
Still the fact of the critical confusion of the 
personages in the novel with the historical 
Director and Directress of the Pensionnat 
in the Rue d'Isabelle does create difficulties 
in the way of forming right opinions. 
And to remove them, we have to follow 
the plan already recommended, to make 
sure of our facts, before calling in the 
aid of psychological arguments. And in 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

this case, to see the position clearly, we 
must disentangle from the imaginary story 
in Villette the real personages and events 
woven into the fabric of a parable where, 
as I have said, they appear amongst fictitious 
circumstances and produce consequently 
false impressions. In other words, we have 
to recover a clear knowledge of the true 
Monsieur Heger before we can deter- 
mine where c Paul Emanuel ' resembles, and 
where he differs from, the Professor, whom 
Charlotte loved : but who never showed any 
particle of love for Charlotte^ such as Paul 
Emanuel bestowed on Lucy Snowe. And 
then we have to re-establish in her true 
place, as Monsieur Heger's wife and the 
mother of his five children, the true 
Directress of the Pensionnat in the Rue 
d'Isabelle who must be contrasted, rather 
than compared, with the crafty, jealous 
and pitiless Madame Beck of the novel, 
selfishly and cruelly interfering with the 
true course of an entirely legitimate and 
romantic attachment between her English 
teacher and her cousin, the Professor of 
literature. And the relative positions of 

'53 



THE SECRET OF 



these two Directresses clearly seen, we 
have to ask ourselves, Whether the real 
Madame Heger is proved to have had 
the base and detestable character of the 
hateful Madame Beck ? and whether she 
really was^ in any voluntary or even in- 
voluntary, way, the direct cause of poor 
Charlotte's anguish, suspense and final 
heart-break ? And whether, given the posi- 
tions and the different views of life and 
sense of duty of the different people whose 
destinies become entangled in this tragical 
romance, we can find fault with any person 
concerned in these events, unless, indeed, 
we follow Greek methods, and drag in the 
Eumenides ? Or, else, suppose it a parallel 
case with Job's : and decide that it was the 
will of the Higher Powers to prove Char- 
lotte's virtue and to call forth her genius ? 
But in so far as mere mortals are concerned, 
we have to see whether anything else could 
have happened, and whether poor Charlotte 
was not bound to break her heart ? 

So that the purpose of the Second Part 
of this study of the ' Secret of Charlotte 
Bronte ' really lies outside of the ' Secret ' 

J 54 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

itself, and becomes an effort to know 
' as in themselves they really were,' and 
independently of their relationships with 
Charlotte, the Professor whom she loved 
(probably much more than he deserved), 
and the Directress of the Pensionnat 
in the Rue d'Isabelle whom she certainly 
hated, without any reasonable cause for this 
hatred, although this hatred had a natural 
cause that if only we will use psychology 
for the purpose of penetrating facts, and 
not for playing with such fictions as that 
it was ' no serious grief to Charlotte that 
Monsieur Heger was married ' we may easily 
discover. After all, one must not ask for 
entire 'reasonableness' from Romantics, who 
see personages and events through the 
medium of one great Passion. And one 
must not demand from them absolute im- 
partiality, when judging the impediment 
that divides them from the object of this 
passion. 

We are not judges then in this case, but 
enquirers into the facts of the personality 
and true characters of the Director and 
Directress of the Bruxelles school and of 

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their environment, as the influences that so 
largely created the Romantic atmosphere 
where Charlotte's genius lived and moved 
and had its being. And, by the special 
circumstances of my own life, I am able 
to assist in a way that is not (so I am 
tempted to believe) possible to any other 
living critic. The difficulty that stands in 
the way of most modern investigators is that 
long ago the historical people with their 
environment ' have become ghostly.' Long 
ago, for most readers of Villette^ the once 
famous Pensionnat de Jeunes Filles in the 
Rue d'Isabelle, with its memory-haunted 
class-rooms, with its high-walled garden in 
the heart of a city whose voices reached 
one, as from a world far away, and 'down 
whose peaceful alleys it was pleasant to stray 
and hear the bells of St Jean Baptiste peal out 
with their sweet, soft, exalted sound,' have 
vanished out of life. Tes but out of my life 
they have not vanished! For me the his- 
torical Monsieur and Madame Heger exist 
quite independently of all associations with 
the imaginary personages Paul Emanuel and 
Madame Beck. For me the .old school, 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

the class-rooms, the walled garden, with its 
ancient pear-trees that still 'faithfully re- 
newed their perfumed snow in spring and 
honey-sweet pendants in autumn,' remain 
as they were planted vivid images and 
visions in my memory half a century ago, 
when, as a schoolgirl, I knew nothing about 
Charlotte Bronte nor Villette : but when I 
sat, twenty years after Charlotte, in the class- 
rooms where she had waited for M. Heger, 
on the eve of her departure from Bruxelles, 
myself an attentive pupil of her Professor, 
and a witness, half terrified, and half exas- 
perated, of his varying moods. And when, 
too, I saw, rather than heard, Madame 
Heger, moving noiselessly, where M. Heger's 
movements were always attended with shock 
and excitement ; only to me, Madame Heger 
appeared always a friendly rather than an 
adverse presence an abiding influence of 
serenity that reassured one, after sudden re- 
current gusts of nerve-disturbing storms. 

And I would point out that the value of 
my testimony about the personal impres- 
sions I derived, quite independently of any 
knowledge of Charlotte Bronte's residence 

J S7 



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in what was for me my school, and of her 
enthusiasm for my Professor, or her dislike 
of my schoolmistress, is enhanced both by 
the resemblances and by the differences of 
our several points of view. Thus like 
Charlotte I was an English pupil and a 
Protestant in this Belgian and Catholic 
school. Like her my vocation was to be 
that of a woman of letters. And although, 
when she was brought under M. Heger's 
influence, she was a woman of genius, already 
well acquainted with good literature, and not 
without experience as a writer, whereas I 
was only an unformed girl, with very little 
reading and no culture : and merely by force 
of an inborn desire to follow a certain pur- 
pose in life that filled me with happiness, 
even in anticipation, justified in supposing 
that I had a literary vocation at all, and 
although no doubt I have not turned my 
advantages to account as Charlotte did, yet I 
myself owe to M. Heger, not only admirable 
rules for criticism and practice, that have 
always claimed and still claim my absolute 
belief, but also I owe to him, as she did, a full 
enjoyment of beautiful thoughts,, beautifully 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

expressed, and of treasures of the mind and 
of the imagination, that, lying outside of the 
recognised paths of English study, I might 
never have found, nor even have recognised 
as treasures, had I not been cured of insu- 
larity of taste by M. Heger. 

So that upon this point I am able to say 
of M. Heger what Charlotte said : he was 
the only master in literature I ever had ; 
and up to the present hour I esteem him, 
in this domain of literary composition, the 
only master whose rules I trust. 

But if my judgment of M. Heger, as a 
Professor, coincides with Charlotte's, my 
judgment of him, outside of this capacity, 
does not show him to me at all as the model 
of the man from whom she painted Paul 
Emanuel. In other words, I never found 
nor saw in the real Monsieur Heger the 
lovableness under the outward harshness, 
the depths of tenderness under the very 
apparent severity and irritability, the con- 
cealed consideration for the feelings of 
others, under the outer indifference to the 
feelings of any one who ruffled his temper ; 
nor yet did I ever discover meekness and 

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modesty in him, under the dogmatic and 
imperious manner that swept aside all 
opposition. In fact, I never found out that 
M. Heger wore a mask. But, irritable, im- 
perious, harsh, not unkind^ but certainly the 
reverse of tender, and without any con- 
sideration for any one's feelings, or any 
respect for any one's opinions, thus, just as 
he seemed to be^ so in reality ', in my opinion^ M. 
Heger actually 'was. And what one must 
remember is that Charlotte's point of view, 
from which she formed the opinion that 
M. Heger 'was tender-hearted, and modest 
and meek, was the point of view of a 
woman in love ; and this standpoint is not 
one that ensures impartiality. 

My own point of view, between 1859 
and 1 86 1, was that of an English schoolgirl, 
under sixteen, of a Belgian schoolmaster, 
over fifty, who in his capacity of a literary 
Professor, was almost a deity to her ; but 
who, outside of this capacity, was not a 
lovable, but a formidable man : a c Terror/ 
in the sense children and nursery-maids give 
the term ; that is to say, some one who is 
sure to appear upon the scene when one is 

1 60 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

least prepared to face him, and who is 
constantly finding fault with one. Now a 
c Terror/ in this popular sense of the term, 
although he is not a lovable, is not necessarily 
a hateful personage. There may belong to 
him an interest of excitement, and even a 
secret admiration for his cleverness in fulfill- 
ing his role of taking one unawares and 
finding something in one to quarrel about. 
And most certainly this interest of excitement, 
and even of a sense of amusement, entered 
into my sentiment for M. Heger, whom I 
recognised as a double-being, an admirable 
literary Professor, but an alarming and irri- 
tating personality. But although I never 
hated him, I yet had some special grievances 
against this 'Terror, 5 not only because he had 
a trick of surprising me in weak moments, 
and of finding out my worst sides, but also 
because he was really, in my own particular 
case, unjust ; and full of prejudice and im- 
patience against my nationality, and personal 
idiosyncrasies that were not faults ; and that 
I couldn't help. Thus he stirred up in me 
rebellious protests, that could not be uttered ; 
because how was an English schoolgirl of 

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fifteen to protest against the injustice of a 
Belgian ' Master,' in his own country, and 
his own school : who was a man past fifty, 
too ; and what was more, in his capacity of 
literary Professor, if not quite a deity, at 
least, in my own opinion, the keeper of the 
keys of palaces where dwelt the Immortals ? 

And that my opinion of M. Heger's 
personality, as that of a * Terror ' (in the 
childish and popular sense) did really show 
me the man apart from the Professor very 
much as he really was, is confirmed by 
the first impression he made upon Char- 
lotte herself before the glamour of romantic 
love had interfered with her critical perspi- 
cacity. Here is the original description of 
M. Heger, in the early days of her resid- 
ence in Bruxelles : 

' There is one individual of whom I have 
not yet spoken,' she wrote to Ellen Nussey, 
* M. Heger, the husband of Madame. 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 a tom-cat : 

162 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

sometimes those of a delirious hyena : 
occasionally, but very seldom, he discards 
these perilous attractions and assumes an air 
not above one hundred degrees removed 
from mild and gentleman-like. He is very 
angry with me just now, because I have 
written a translation which he stigmatises 
as pen correct. He did not tell me so, but 
wrote the word on the margin of my book 
and asked me, in very stern phrase^ how it 
happened that my compositions were always 
better than my translations, adding that the 
thing seemed to him inexplicable. The 
fact is that three weeks ago in a high-flown 
humour he forbade me to use either dic- 
tionary or grammar when translating the 
most difficult English composition into 
French. This makes the task rather ardu- 
ous, and compels me every now and then to 
introduce an English word, which nearly 
plucks the eyes out of his head when he 
sees it. Emily and he don't draw well 
together at all.' 

I am quoting this view of M. Heger's 
personality, taken by Charlotte Bronte 
before she became a partial witness, because, 

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by and by, when I am giving my own 
reminiscences, it will be found that in 1 842 
M. Heger was very much the same Pro- 
fessor whom I knew in 1861. 

And Madame Heger ? Here too my 
impressions are obtained from a point of 
view unquestionably more impartial than 
Charlotte Bronte's. And it will be found 
that, when the alteration of clear power of 
vision that personal prejudices make has 
been realised, my opposite judgment of the 
Directress of the Pensionnat to the judg- 
ment of the authoress of Villette^ is not the 
result of any difference in the facts of 
Madame Heger's characteristics and be- 
haviour, but in the difference between the 
standpoints from which we severally judge 
them. 

Charlotte's standpoint was the one of 
the devotee, of the great spirit who is neither 
a god nor a mortal, but the 'Child of plenty 
and poverty, who is often houseless and 
homeless J and who cannot well see c as in 
herself she really is/ the Mistress of the 
house ; who prudently, not necessarily with 
cruelty^ closes the doors of her home against 

164 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

intruders that standpoint also is not one 
conducive to impartial judgments. 

My own point of view was that of a girl 
on the threshold of womanhood, who saw 
in Madame Heger an embodiment of two 
qualities especially, that, perhaps because 
I did not possess them and could never 
possess them (passionate as I was by nature 
and with strong personal likings and dis- 
likings), inspired me with a sentiment of 
reverence and wonder, as for a remote per- 
fection, that, though unattainable, it did one 
good to know existed somewhere ; just as it 
does one good, with feet planted on the 
earth, to see the stars. The qualities I saw 
in Madame Heger were serene sweetness, 
a kindness without preferences, covering her 
little world of pupils and teachers with a 
watchful care. Tranquil/it^ Douceur,, Bonte : 
the French words express better than English 
ones the commingled qualities I felt existed 
in Madame Heger as she moved noiselessly 
(as Charlotte Bronte has described), whilst 
the more brilliant and gifted Professor's 
movements were always stormy. 

When relating these reminiscences of 



THE SECRET OF 



Monsieur and Madame Heger and of 
the old school and garden, as I myself 
treasure them, and quite independently of 
their associations with Charlotte Bronte, 
I shall not be losing sight of the purpose 
that justifies this record (as an endeavour 
to disentangle fact from fiction) if, in so 
far as the facts that concern my own 
experiences are concerned, I ask now to 
be allowed to relate them in a different 
tone that is to say, not any longer in the 
tone of a literary critic, nor as one sup- 
porting any thesis or argument, but simply 
as a story-teller ' who has been young and 
now is old.' And who, before the darkening 
day has turned to night, calls to remem- 
brance scenes and personages long since 
vanished out of the world, but still alive 
for me, bathed in the light that shines 
upon the undimmed visions of my yonth 
although to almost every one else now alive 
these scenes have become c as it were a tale 
that is told/ 



1 66 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 



CHAPTER II 

MY FIRST INTRODUCTION TO CHARLOTTE 

BRONTE'S PROFESSOR l 

' Madame, quelquefois, donncr, c'est semer ' 

Speech made to my Mother by M. Heger. 



IN 1859 this niemorable thing happened : 
I was introduced by my mother to M. 
Heger as his future pupil. I was fourteen 
years of age : but I remember everything 
in connection with this event as though 
it had happened yesterday. We were 
staying at Ostend, where my mother had 
taken my brother and myself for a long 
summer holiday, because she believed we 
had been previously overworked at our 
former schools, from which she had re- 
moved us. She was convinced that we 
both of us stood in need of sea-air, exercise 
and healthy recreation, before we could 

1 This chapter is reproduced from the Cornhill by the 
kind permission of Messrs. Smith, Elder and Co, 

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take up our studies again, after the strain 
we had undergone. Upon this point my 
brother and I were entirely of one mind 
with our mother. 

But after a holiday of three months, we 
had also begun to feel, with her, that this 
state of things could not go on for ever, and 
that as she expressed it 'something had 
to be done with us.' What was done with 
us was the result of circumstances that 
I cannot but regard as fortunate, in my 
own case at any rate. They brought 
into my life, at a very impressionable age, 
influences and memories that have always 
been, and that are still, after more than 
half a century, extraordinarily serviceable 
and sweet to me. 

The first of these fortunate circumstances 
was the renewal (due to an accidental 
meeting at Ostend) of my mother's friend- 
ship with a relative whom she had lost 
sight of for a great many years ; who had 
married a Dutch lady and settled in 
Holland. The eldest daughter of these 
re-discovered cousins was an exceptionally 
charming girl of nineteen ; and upon en- 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

quiry my mother found out that she had 
been educated at a school in Brussels, 
situated in the Rue d'lsabelle^ and kept by a 
certain Madame Heger. How it came to 
pass that, only four years after the publica- 
tion of Villette^ and two years after Mrs. 
Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontf, it did 
not occur to my mother to identify this 
particular Brussels school with the one 
where the Director was the fiery and peril- 
ously attractive ' Professor Paul Emanuel 
and where the Directress was painted 
as the crafty and treacherous c Madame 
Beck/ I really cannot say ; but, so it was. 
There can be no doubt that it was solely 
because the account rendered by her de- 
lightful young kinswoman of the school 
where she had spent three years was 
thoroughly satisfactory to my mother, and 
because the unaffected and accomplished girl 
herself was an excellent proof of the happy 
results of the education she had received, 
that my mother made up her mind that 
the best thing that could be c done with 
me,' was to send me to Madame Heger's 
school. She had entered into correspond- 

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ence with this lady, and the plan had 
developed into a further arrangement, that 
my brother was to be placed with a French 
tutor recommended by Madame Heger, and 
who was the Professor of History at her 
establishment. All these conditions were 
very nearly settled, when M. Heger came 
to visit my mother at Ostend ; to talk 
matters over and to make final arrange- 
ments. 

Of course from the point of view of 
my own humble interest I recognised that 
the visit of this Brussels Professor was 
an event of great importance. I was fully 
conscious of this, because my cousin had 
told me a great deal about M. Heger, 
explaining that he was the ruling spirit 
in the Pensionnat ; that he was rather a 
terrible personage ; and that if he took a dislike 
to one, welly he could be 'very disagreeable. I 
had received so much advice upon this 
particular subject from my cousin that 
I had talked the matter over very seriously 
with my brother afterwards, and asked 
him what he thought I ought to do in 
order to avoid the misfortune of offending 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

M. Heger. My brother's advice was sound : 
c Don't let the man see you are afraid 
of him/ he said, c and then, whatever you 
do, don't show off.' 

Keeping these counsels in mind, after M. 
Heger's arrival, I sat upon the extreme edge 
of the rickety sofa that filled the darkest 
corner in the little salle-a-manger of our 
Ostend apartments over the Patissier's shop 
in the Rue de la Chapelle I remember the 
very name of the Patissier ; it was Dubois 
watching and listening eagerly to the 
conversation of the Professor with my 
mother, who, strange to say, did not 
seem to be in the least afraid of him ; 
nor to recognise that he was in any way 
different to ordinary mortals ! And I 
must say, looking back to that September 
afternoon to-day, and realising our attitude 
of mind, my mother's and mine, towards 
this interesting personage to us, but interest- 
ing solely in his character of my future 
teacher, there does seem to me something 
amazing so amazing as to be almost 
amusing in our total unconsciousness of 
his already well-established real, or rather 

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ideal claims as a personage immortalised 
in English literature, by an illustrious 
writer who, four years before my birth, 
had been his pupil ; and whose romantic 
love for him, whilst it had broken her 
heart, had served as the inspiration of 
her genius ; so that her literary master- 
piece was precisely a book where the very 
school I was going to inhabit was painted, 
with extraordinary veracity, in so far as out- 
ward and local points of resemblance were 
concerned. 

As for my own ignorance of all these 
circumstances there is nothing strange 
in that. Fifty-four years ago a school- 
girl of my age was not very likely to have 
read Villette. But what one may pause to 
inquire is whether if by any accident the 
book had come into my hands, and thus re- 
vealed to me my true position, should I have 
gone down on my bended knees to my 
mother, or to express the case more exactly, 
should I have flung my arms round her dear 
neck, and prayed, c Don't send me to this 
school ; I am afraid of Professor Paul Eman- 
uel ; I loathe Madame Beck; I shall never 

172 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

make friends 'with these horrid Lesbassecouri- 
ennes ? ' Well, really, I don't think I should 
have done anything of the sort ! At four- 
teen one adores an adventure. It seems to 
me probable that the excitement of going 
to the same school, and learning my lessons 
in the same class-rooms, and treading the 
paths of the same garden, and being instructed 
by the same teachers as a writer of genius, 
who had left these scenes haunted by 
romance, would have made me hold under 
all apprehensions of the Lesbassecouriennes 
as school-fellows, of the perfidious Directress 
with her stealthy methods of espionage, of 
the explosive, nerve-wrecking Professor, 
always breaking in upon one like a clap of 
thunder. Yes ; but though held under, the 
apprehension would have troubled my inner 
soul a good deal all the same ; and this 
would have been a pity. Because, in so far 
as the real Directress and real Belgian school- 
girls whom I was going to know in the Rue 
d'lsabelle went, these apprehensions would 
have been superfluous and misleading. 

But now if there were no danger of my 
finding in the real Pensionnat any spiritual 

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counterparts of either the fictitious Madame 
Beck, or of the perverted Lesbassecouriennes 
pupils, was it equally certain that, if I had 
read Villette^ I should not have recognised 
and been justified in recognising in Monsieur 
Heger the original model and living image 
of that immortal figure in English fiction, 
' the magnificent-minded \ grand-hearted^ dear^ 
faulty little man ' Professor Paul Emanuel ? 

We shall perhaps be able to decide this 
question better at the end of these reminis- 
cences than here. But what must be realised 
is, that the very fact that lends some general 
interest to my mother's first impressions and 
my own about M. Heger is chiefly this : 
that it expresses observations made from a 
purely personal standpoint ; out of sight of 
any literary views about ' Paul Emanuel,' or 
historical judgments upon his relations with 
Charlotte Bronte. The perfectly simple 
purpose we had in view was to see clearly 
what sort of a Professor M. Heger was 
going to prove, and whether I was going to 
do well as his pupil, and get on satisfactorily, 
amongst these foreign surroundings. 

My mother formed a most favourable 

'74 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

opinion of our visitor, and decided that I 
was fortunate in obtaining such a Professor. 
What had especially impressed her was a 
sentence delivered by M. Heger, with a mas- 
terly little gesture, that, as she herself said, 
entirely won her over to his opinions upon 
a question where elaborate arguments might 
have left her unconvinced. And I may 
observe here, that this belonged to M. 
Heger's methods, not so much of arguing, 
as of dispensing with arguments. His 
mind was made up upon most subjects, 
and as he had got into the habit of regarding 
the world as his class-room, and his fellow- 
creatures as pupils, he did not argue ; he 
told people what they ought to think about 
things. And in order to make this method 
of settling questions not only convincing, 
but stimulating, to his most intelligent pupils, 
he held in reserve a store of these really 
luminous phrases, that he would use as little 
Lanterns, flashing them, now in this direc- 
tion, now in that, but always with a 
special and appropriate direction given to the 
illuminative phrase, so that it lit up the 
point of view upon which he desired to fix 

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attention. The particular sentence that 
conquered my mother's admiration and 
acquiescence in M. Heger's point of view 
was the one I have made the heading of this 
chapter. Here was how he contrived to 
introduce it. After discussing the plan of 
my studies, and the arrangements for my 
being taken to the English church by my 
brother every Sunday, and allowed to take 
walks with him upon half-holidays (to all 
of which of course I listened with passionate 
attention), they passed on to discuss the 
terms asked by the tutor whom the Hegers 
had recommended. My mother had been 
told by her Dutch cousin that they were 
exorbitant terms ; and, as a matter of fact, 
I believe they were exactly twice the amount 
charged by the Hegers themselves : ' / am 
not a rich woman,* my mother had said, 
apologetically, c and I have put aside a fixed 
sum for my children s education ; I doubt if I 
can give this.' . . . Then did the Professor 
see, and seize, his opportunity : * Madame* 
he said, with a gesture, ' quelquefois, donner, 
c'est semer" My mother, dazzled with this 
prophetic utterance, remained speechless and 

176 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

vanquished. In the evening of the same 
day I heard her quote to the Dutch cousin, 
who did not approve of her consent to these 
charges, ' what that clever man^ Professor 
Heger, said so we//,' as though it had been 
unanswerable. In the course of the next two 
years I often heard the same luminous phrase 
used, with equal appropriateness, to light up 
other propositions. (I have heard M. 
Heger use it in a sense where it became a 
different formula for expressing a fundamental 
doctrine of Rousseau, thus, c Instruire, ce rfest 
pas donner^ c'est semerj) but I never heard 
the words without going back to the first 
impression, and to the vision it called up. I 
would see again the little salle-a-manger in 
the Rue de la Chapelle at Ostend, I would 
watch the masterly gesture of the Profes- 
sor's hand when he delivered his triumph- 
ant sentence, that is not an argument, but is 
worth more; I would see the look of admira- 
tion and sudden conviction come into my 
dear mother's face ; I would feel myself 
sitting upon the little rickety sofa in the 
dark corner, and I 'would shudder 'with the 
foreknowledge of what was coming^ for, woe- 

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betide me that I should have to tell it, this 
first interview did not leave 'with me the same 
impression of confidence in M. Heger as my 
future teacher and guardian that it did 'with my 
mother; it left with me, on the contrary, 
the miserable conviction that the very worst 
thing that could have happened had 
happened ; that M. Heger had taken a 
vehement dislike to me, and consequently 
that all hope of happiness for me in the 
Pensionnat in the Rue d'Isabelle was over 
and done with. 

And the worst of it was, that it was all 
my own fault ; or rather, to be just, it was 
my misfortune. 

For I had had a really very bad time of 
it, sitting on that rickety little sofa. My 
mother, who had only too flattering an 
opinion of me in every way, had meant 
to say the kindest things about me to 
M. Heger, and I knew this perfectly. But 
unfortunately, although she spoke French 
with the greatest fluency and self-confidence 
(because as she was a very charming woman, 
and as Frenchmen are always polite in their 
criticism of the French of charming English 






CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

women, she had been very often compli- 
mented upon her command of the language), 
unfortunately, I say, her French was 
really English, literally translated ; and every 
one who has experience of what false mean- 
ings can be conveyed by this sort of French 
will realise what I had suffered, because, 
though I only spoke French badly at this 
time, I understood the language better than 
my mother. And this is how I had heard 
myself described to my future Professor. 
My mother had wished to say that I was 
more fond of study and of reading than was 
good for the health of a girl of my age ; 
but what she actually said was that I was 
fond of reading things that were not healthy 
or suitable (convenable) for a young girl. 
Again, she had meant to say that as I had 
worked too hard, she had let me run wild 
a little ; and that consequently I might find 
it difficult to get into working habits again ; 
but that as I had a capital head of my own, 
and plenty of courage, I should, no doubt, 
soon get into good ways again. But in- 
stead of all these flattering things (that 
might have been rather irritating too, only 

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a Professor of experience knows how to 
forgive a parent's partiality), I had heard 
this fond mother of mine say that her 
daughter had recently contracted the habits 
of a little savage ; and that it would require 
courageous discipline, as she was very head- 
strong, to bring her into the right way 
again. It will be understood that to sit 
and listen to all this about oneself was an- 
guish. But, carefully watching M. Heger's 
face, I had a notion that he had found out 
there was some mistake. Still I was de- 
pressed and bewildered ; and in dread of what 
I was going to say, when the time came, as 
I knew it must, when he would say some- 
thing to me, and I should have a chance of 
answering for myself. And the misfortune 
was, that when the critical moment came, I 
wasn't expecting it ; because, here, at least, 
what the author of Vilette says of Professor 
Paul Emanuel was true of M. Heger 
everything he did was sudden ; and he 
always contrived to take one by surprise. 

It was immediately after he had won his 
triumph over my mother, and in the moment 
when I myself was under the spell of ad- 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

miration for his talent, that he turned upon 
me, in a sort of flash, smiling down upon 
me (very red and startled to find him so 
near), and nodding his head with an irritating 
look of amusement as his penetrating eyes 
searched my doleful face. e Aa-ah* he said, 
in a half-playful, but as it sounded to me, 
more mocking, than kindly tone, 'Aa-ah ' 
(another nod of the head), 'so this is the 
little Savage I have to discipline and van- 
quish, is it? And she is headstrong (tetue). 
Tell me, Mees, am I to be too indulgent ? or 
too severe ? (Dois-je etre trop indulgent? ou 
trop severe ? ') Now, if only I had made the 
natural reply, the one obviously expected from 
me the one any girl in my position would 
have made, and which I myself should have 
made if I hadn't been addressed as c a little 
savage/ and if I hadn't been smarting under 
the sense that he must have the worst pos- 
sible opinion of me, and that I ought to 
vindicate my honour in some way, if only, 
in short, I had remembered my brother's 
wholesome advice, 'Don't show off? that is to 
say, if only I had said, amiably and nicely, with 
a timid little smile, * Trop indulgent, s'il vous 

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plait^ Monsieur 1 THEN all would have been well 
with me ; M. Heger would have continued 
to smile ; we should have exchanged amiable 
glances and parted the best of friends. . . . 
But of what use are these speculations ? 
What I did reply to his question of whether 
he was to be too indulgent or too severe 
was 'NiFun ni Fautre, Monsieur; soy ez juste, 
cela suffit ' . . . and I listened to the broad- 
ness of my own British accent, whilst I said 
it, in despairing wonder ! M. Heger's 
smiles vanished ; there came what I took 
to be a c look of undying hatred ' into his 
face it was not perhaps so bad as all that, 
but . . . well, I certainly hadn't conquered 
his favour. He said something disagreeable 
about Les Anglaises being over wise, too 
philosophical for him, which my mother 
thought was a compliment to my clever- 
ness. But I knew what I had done, and 
that it could never be undone, henceforth . . . 
Well, but the case really was not quite 
so desperate perhaps ? 



182 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 



CHAPTER III 

MONSIEUR AND MADAME HEGER AS I SAW 
THEM ; AND BELGIAN SCHOOLGIRLS AS I 
KNEW THEM 

LET me give here my mother's, and my 
own, account of the impressions made upon 
us by M. Heger's personal appearance at 
this time. 

c He is very like one of those selected 
Roman Catholic Priests,' my mother told 
her Dutch relatives, ' who go into society 
and look after the eldest sons of Catholic 
noblemen. He has too good a nose for a 
Belgian and, I should say, he has Italian 
blood in him/ 

My own report, to my brother, who 
made anxious inquiries of me, was less 
flattering perhaps, but it was not intended 
to be disrespectful. I always see M. Heger 
as I saw him then : as too interesting to be 
alarming ; but too alarming to be lovable. 

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c He is rather like Punch/ I said, e but 
better looking of course ; and not so good- 
tempered.' 

Let me justify these two descriptions by 
showing that both of them werebased upon 
an accurate observation of the man himself. 

M. Heger, as I remember him, was no 
longer what Charlotte called him, angrily, in 
her letter to Ellen Nussey, a little Black 
Being, and, affectionately, under the disguise 
of Paul Emanuel, 4 a spare, alert man, showing 
the velvet blackness of a close-shorn bead, and 
the sallow ivory of his brow beneath? M. 
Heger in 1859 was still alert, but he was 
not spare, he was inclining towards stout- 
ness. His hair was not velvet black, but 
grizzled, and he was bald on the crown of 
his head, in a way that might have been 
mistaken for a tonsure ; and this no doubt 
added to the resemblance my mother saw in 
him to a Priest. He did not look in the 
least old, however. His brow, not sallow 
but bronzed, was unwrinkled ; his eyes 
were still clear and penetrating (Charlotte 
said they were violet blue ; and certainly 
she ought to have known. Still, do violet 

184 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

eyes penetrate one's soul like points of steel?") 
The Roman nose, that my mother thought 
too good a nose to be Belgian, and that 
reminded me of Punch (but a good-looking 
Punch) was a commanding feature. And 
the curved chin (also suggesting a good- 
looking Punch, to a young and irreverent 
observer), although it indicated humour, 
meant sarcasm, rather than a sense of fun. 
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 

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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. 
For with all these qualities of intellect, power, 
humour, and a little kind-heartedness, one 
quality was totally lacking : there was no 
love in M. Heger's face, nor in his character, 
as I recall it ; and, oddly enough, looking 
back now to him as one of the personages in 
my own past to whom I owe most, and 
whose mind I most admire, I have to recog- 
nise that in my sentiment towards M. Heger 
to-day even, made up as it is half of admira- 
tion and half of amusement, there is not one 
particle of love. 

I have said in connection with my first 
impression, that c undying hate ' was the 
sentiment that M. Heger had conceived for 
me that really c it was not so bad as all that.' 
Still, what happened at this first interview, 
if it did not determine any deep-rooted 
antipathy to me, planted from this moment 
in M. Heger's breast, did indicate, to a 
certain extent, what the character of our 
future relationships was to be out of lesson- 
hours. In these hours, our relationships 

1 86 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

of Professor and pupil were ideal. Seldom 
did an occasional misunderstanding trouble 
them. Certainly, in my own day, no other 
pupil entered with so much sympathetic 
admiration into the spirit of M. Heger's 
teaching as I did. He saw and felt this ; 
and here I, too, was for him, and as a pupil^ 
sympathetic. But in our personal relation- 
ships, there were certain things in me that 
were antipathetic to M. Heger, and that 
rubbed him so much the wrong way, that 
he was constantly (so it still seems to me) 
unjust to what were not faults, but idiosyn- 
crasies, that belonged to my nationality and 
my character. First of all, there was my 
English accent : and here this singular 
remark has to be made : I never spoke such 
purely British French to any one as to M. 
Heger ; and this was the result of my 
constant endeavour to be very careful to 
avoid the accent he disliked, when speaking 
to him. The second cause of offence in me 
was also due to my nationality, or rather to 
my upbringing. Like all English children 
of my generation, I had been brought up to 
esteem it undignified, and even a breach of 



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good manners, to cry in public : and 
although I was tender-hearted and emotional, 
I was not in the least hysterical ; and 
except under the stress of extreme distress, 
it cost me very little self-control not to 
weep, as my Belgian schoolfellows did, very 
often, at the smallest scolding ; or even 
without a scolding, and simply because they 
were bored c ctmuyeeS I remember now my 
surprise, at first hearing the reply to my 
question to a sobbing schoolfellow : c Pour- 
quoi pleures-tu?' 'Parce que je mennuie? 
c Why ? * ' Mais je te le dis farce que je 
rrfennuie? Well, but M. Heger liked his 
pupils to cry, when he said disagreeable 
things : or, in any case, he became gentle, 
and melted, when they wept, and was 
amiable at once. But when one did not 
weep, but appeared either unmoved, or 
indignant, he became more and more 
disagreeable : and, at length, exasperated. 
A third idiosyncrasy in me that he disliked 
was not national, but personal. It was due 
to a sort of incipient Rousseau-ism, that 
must have been inborn, because I was never 
taught it, even in England. And yet there 

188 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

it was, implanted in me as a sentiment, 
long before I recognised it as an opinion or 
conviction, that I could express in words ! 
This natural sentiment, or principle, was the 
belief that ' / was born free : that my soul was 
my own : and that there was no virtue, wisdom, 
nor happiness possible for me outside of the laws 
of my own constitution' Unformulated, but 
inherent in me, this fundamental belief in 
myself as a law to myself, no doubt betrayed 
itself in a sort of independence of mind and 
manner very aggravating to my elders and 
betters, and to those put in authority over 
me. And especially aggravating to an 
authoritative Professor, who was, in all 
domains, opposed to individualism, and the 
doctrine of personal rights and liberty. 
Thus in literature M. Heger was a classic ; 
in religion he was a dogmatic Catholic ; in 
politics he was an anti-democrat, a lover of 
vigorous kings ; and by constitution he was 
a king in his own right : a masterful man, 
not only a law to himself, but a lord, by 
virtue of his sense of superiority, to every- 
one else. 

For these reasons, M. Heger and myself 
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on ideal terms as Professor and pupil 
were on bad terms outside of lesson- 
hours. We could not quite dislike each 
other ; but our relationships were stormy. 
There were, however, intervals of calm. 

I have said that with a good deal of 
admiration, gratitude, and some amusement, 
there is no love for M. Heger intermingled 
with my remembrances of him. 

There is, on the contrary, a good deal of 
love in the sentiment I retain for Madame 
Heger, although, as a matter of fact, in 
the days when I was her pupil I never 
remember any strong or warm feeling of 
personal affection for her ; nor have I any 
distinct personal obligation to her, as to one 
who, like M. Heger, rendered me direct ser- 
vices by her instructions or counsels. Nor 
yet again had Madame Heger any strong 
personal liking for me ; nor did she show 
me any special kindness. But her kindness 
was of an all-embracing character. And so 
was her liking for, or rather love of, all the 
inhabitants of the little world she governed : 
a world that extended beyond the boun- 
daries of the actual walls of the Pensionnat, 

190 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

in any stated year ; a world, made up of all 
the girls who, before that year, and after- 
wards, through several generations, had been 
and ever would be, her c dear pupils ' ; ' mes 
cberes e/eves'; terms that, uttered by her, 
were no mere formula, but expressed a true 
sentiment, and a serious and, so it seems to 
me, a beautiful and sweet idealism. This 
idealism in Madame Heger, this constant 
love and care and watchfulness for the 
community of girls, who, passing out of her 
hands, were to go out into the world by and 
by, to fulfil there what Madame Heger 
saw to be the kind and sweet and tranquil, 
and sometimes self-sacrificing and sorrowful, 
mission of womanhood, enveloped the ideal 
school-mistress with a sort of unfailing 
benevolence, that became a pervading influ- 
ence in the Pensionnat, singling out no par- 
ticular pupils, and withdrawn from none ot 
them. 

Here, it seems to me, and not at all in the 
reasons imagined by Charlotte in the case 
of Madame Beck, we have the secret of 
Madame Heger's system of government. I 
really am not, at this distance of time, able 

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to say positively whether there was, or was 
not, a surveillance that might be called 
a system of espionage carried on, keeping the 
head-mistress informed of the conversation 
and behaviour of this large number of girls, 
amongst whom one or two black sheep 
might have sufficed to contaminate the 
flock. I was not a faultless, nor a model 
girl by any means : but I was a simple 
sort of young creature with nothing of the 
black sheep in me ; and I never remember 
in my own case having my desk explored, 
nor my pockets turned inside out. But if 
even this had been done, it would not have 
gravely affected me ; because neither in my 
pockets nor in my desk, would anything 
have been found of a mysterious or interest- 
ing character. But I should think it very 
probable that, in this very large school, a 
watchful surveillance was kept up ; and 
that if any of these schoolgirls, most of 
them under sixteen, had attempted, after 
their return from the monthly holiday, to 
bring back to school illegal stores of sweets, or 
a naughty story book, and had concealed such 
things in their school desks, well, I admit, I 

192 




CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

think it possible, that the sweets or naughty 
book might have been missing from the 
desk next day. And also that, in the course 
of the afternoon, a not entirely welcome 
invitation would have been received by the 
imprudent smuggler of forbidden goods to 
pay Madame Heger a visit in the Salon ? 
These things took place occasionally I 
know : and naturally, amongst the girls 
public sympathy was with the smuggler. But 
I am not sure, if one takes the point of view 
of a Directress, if a large girls' school could 
be carried on successfully, were it made 
a point of honour that there should be no 
surveillance, and that pupils might use their 
lockers as cupboards for sweets, or as hiding- 
places for light literature. 

But, apart from the fact that Madame 
Heger was, no doubt, both watchful and 
uncompromising in her surveillance, based 
upon a firm resolution that nothing ' incon- 
venient ' must be smuggled in, or hidden 
out of sight, as a source of mischief in the 
school, there was in her no resemblance to 
the odious Madame Beck ; that is to say, 
no moral resemblance. In physical appear- 

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ance, the author of Villette did use Madame 
Heger evidently as the model for the picture 
of an entirely different moral person. c Her 
complexion 'was fresh and s anguine ^ her eye blue 
and serene. Her face offered contrasts its 
features were by no means such as are usually 
seen in conjunction with a complexion of such 
blended freshness and repose ; their outline was 
stern ; her forehead was high^ but narrow ; it 
expressed capacity and some benevolence^ but no 
expanse. . . . I know not what of harmony 
pervaded her whole person? * 

Taking this portrait from Villette^ as it is 
given of Madame Beck, and comparing it 
with my own recollections, and also with 
the photograph I am fortunate enough to 
possess of Madame Heger at the age of sixty, 
it seems to me that this is a very accurate 
physical description of the real Directress of 
the school in the Rue d'Isabelle; who morally 
was as unlike the fictitious Madame Beck as 
truth is unlike falsehood. About the physi- 
cal resemblance, I may say that, if I had 
trusted to my own impressions, I should have 
rejected the assertion that the 'outline of 

1 See yillette, chapter viii. 

194 




MADAME HEGER AT SIXTY 

(She was thirty years younger when Charlotte knew her) 

From a portrait given to the author by Madame Heger's daughter 

(Author's Copyright) 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

her features was stern.' I never remember 
associating sternness with Madame Heger ; 
though her supreme quality of serenity 
imposed a sort of respect that had a little 
touch of fear in it. Upon re-examining 
the photograph attentively, however, I find 
that it is true that the outline of the features 
is stern ; but I do not think that this im- 
pression was conveyed by the younger face, 
remembered with softened colouring ; and 
lit up, as a characteristic expression, by a 
normal expression of serenity and of kind- 
liness. ' I know not what of harmony pervaded 
her whole person ' : that sentence of Charlotte's 
(used by her of the unspeakable Madame 
Beck) exactly expresses the impression I 
still retain of the very estimable and, by 
myself, affectionately remembered, Madame 
Heger. 

In the same way, as I have said, the 
apprehensions as to my future companions 
in this foreign school, that would infallibly 
have been awakened in me if I had read, 
before meeting them, the account given by 
the author of Villette of Belgian schoolgirls, 
as differing, not only in nationality, but in 

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human nature, from English schoolgirls, 
would have been groundless. When I call 
up around me to-day the recollections of my 
Bruxelles schoolfellows, amongst whom I 
was the only English girl and the only 
Protestant, there does not come back to me 
any painful remembrance that I ever felt 
myself an alien amongst them. On the 
contrary, I remember privileges granted me 
as 'la petite Anglaise,' who was further 
away than others from home, and must be 
treated with special kindness. I see around 
me in this large company of girls, no ' per- 
verted ' nor precociously formed young 
women, whose c eyes are full of an insolent 
light^ and their brows hard and unblushing as 
marble' In brief, I see no 'swinish multitude' 
such as insular prejudice, and a disturbed 
imagination, showed Charlotte ; but I see 
very much the same mixed crowd of youth- 
ful faces, fair and dark, pretty and plain, 
smiling and serious, stupid and intelligent, 
coarse and fine, sympathetic and unlikeable, 
that one would get in such a large collection 
of English schoolgirls ; but in all this crowd 
of my Belgian schoolfellows just what my 

196 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

memory does not show me anywhere, are the 
* eyes full of an insolent light, and the brow 
hard and unblushing as marble* 1 that are not 
characteristics of the schoolgirl in any nation 
or country I have ever known ; and I have 
been a traveller in my time, and enjoyed 
opportunities of observing different national 
peculiarities, that never fell in the way of 
Charlotte, who spent two years in Bruxelles ; 
but lived the rest of her life in Yorkshire. 

As for the hundred (or more perhaps 
than a hundred) schoolgirls that made 
up in my day the little world ruled by 
Madame Heger as the administrator of 
a system based on the authority of Douceur, 
Bonte, and les Convenances (in the sense of 
what was seemly, and opposed to viol- 
ence and ugliness), amongst them were 
many girls whom I only knew by name 
and sight ; many of whom I knew slightly 
better, and whom I rather liked than dis- 
liked ; a few whom I disliked heartily 
(very few of these) and a few whom 
I loved dearly (very few again) but 
amongst these friends, chosen because their 

Villette, chapter viii. 

197 



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hearts were in tune with my own, the 
difference of nationality and creed did not 
stand in the way of mutual affection. 
In some cases, it is true, life, with its exact- 
ing claims of duties and occupations and cares, 
rushed in to divide me afterwards from these 
companions of my best years ; when every- 
thing that I am glad, and not sorry, to 
have been, and to have done, in a long 
life, was prepared and made possible for 
me but at least one of these friendships 
formed with a Belgian schoolgirl in those 
days, I may describe as a life-long friend- 
ship : because it remains an unaltered senti- 
ment that lives in me to-day, unquenched 
by the fact that, only a few years ago 
after half a century had passed since 
we met my girl friend that had been 
then, a white-haired woman now, died ; in 
the same year, as it strangely happened, 
that our old school (transformed into 
a boys' college during the last twenty years 
of its existence), that had stood in the Rue 
d'Isabelle until 1909, was swept away, with 
its beautiful old walled garden and time- 
honoured pear-trees, that to the end of their 

198 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

lives ' renewed their perfumed snowy blos- 
som every spring.' 

I am told a handsome building now re- 
places the long, plain straggling fa$ade of 
the historic school but I have no wish 
to see it. 



199 



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CHAPTER IV 

MY SECOND INTERVIEW WITH M. HEGER. 

THE WASHING OF c PEPPER.' THE 

LESSON IN ARITHMETIC 

I HAD been an inmate of the school in 
the Rue d'Isabelle a fortnight. In this 
interval I had lived through a great deal. 
Thanks to attentive self- doctoring and a 
strict regime, where no luxuries in the way 
of private crying were allowed, I had pulled 
myself through the first acute stage of the 
sort of sickness that attacks every ' new ' girl, 
as the result of being plunged into the cold 
atmosphere of a strange, and especially of a 
foreign, school. Now I was out of danger 
of the peril that had threatened me during 
about a week, the possible disaster of some 
sudden access of violent weeping over my 
sense of desolation, in the sight of these 
foreign teachers and pupils, that would have 
seemed to me profoundly humiliating, on 

200 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

patriotic, as well as upon private grounds. 
For, as the one English girl in this Belgian 
school, was not the honour of my country, 
or, at any rate, of the girls of my country, 
at stake ? And then I realised, also, that 
politeness to the foreigner, as well as duty 
to myself and my country, forbade any ex- 
hibition of vehement home-sickness. Thus, 
might not these Belgian teachers and girls 
reasonably take offence, and say, ' Why do 
you come to school in our country if you 
don't like it ? We didn't ask you to come 
here. Why don't you go home ? ' 

By these methods, then, of what it pleased 
me to regard as a sort of philosophy of my 
own, I had lived through the worst, and if 
I was not entirely cured of occasional in- 
ward sinkings of the heart and the feeling 
of desolation, I felt I had mastered the 
temptation to make any public display of 
them. And having reached this point by 
my own effort, now help came to me in the 
shape of a friendly tribute and encouragement 
from a girl who was a sort of philosopher, 
also by a rule of her own, which she kindly 
explained to me, and which I entirely ap- 

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proved of. This girl was fair and small, and 
had broad brows and clear green eyes under 
them. Her name was Marie Hazard. She 
had not spoken to me before, but on several 
occasions had shown me little kindnesses, and 
given me nice smiles and nods of greeting. 
Finally she came up to me in the garden 
and took my arm : 

c Do you know why I have a friendship 
for you ? ' she asked. 

' No,' I answered. c But have you really ? 
I am so glad.' 

'Yes/ she proceeded to explain; ' I like 
you, because you are reasonable, and don't 
sit down and cry, as, of course, you could 
if you liked. I have as much heart as an- 
other ; but it irritates me, and does not 
touch me one bit, to see some of the pupils 
here, the big ones too, crying and crying, 
and why? because they have come back to 
school, and 'would rather be at home ! Evi- 
dently that is the case with all of us. And 
evidently, what is more, it 's going to be 
the case for ten months. But for some 
insignificant holidays at the New Year, 
from now until August, thus it will be with 

202 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

us. We shall be all of us in this school, 
and we would all of us prefer to be in our 
homes. But why cry, then ? or if one 
begins to cry, why leave off ? Is one, then, 
to cry for ten months ? And what eyes 
will one have at the end ? And what good 
is it ? ' 

I laughed, not only because she seemed 
to me to put it humorously, but because 
I was full of happiness that I had found a 
friend. 

'Yes,' she said, 'you laugh, and that is 
well, too. It 's the thing to do. Now, if 
you cried there might be an excuse ; you 
are farther away from your people than we 
are. But you ask yourself, What is the 
good ? And you say to yourself, No, I 
won't discourage the others. And that is 
English. And that is why I like the 
English ; they are at least reasonable.' 

This was balm to me. The sense of 
desolation had vanished. Here was the 
proof that I had been a good witness, and 
served to uphold the good name of Eng- 
land, and also that I had conquered a 
friend. 

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I think it was the same afternoon, be- 
cause there were Catechism classes, from 
which, as a Protestant, I was exempted, 
that I was sent out into the garden, for the 
first time, at an hour when no other pupils 
were there. Later on this privilege was 
very often accorded me, for the same reason ; 
so that, in my own day at any rate, no one 
else in the school had the opportunity I had 
given me, and that I used, of taking posses- 
sion of the enchanted place and making it 
my very own. And this was so because 
there was no knowledge in my mind at the 
time that Some One had been beforehand 
with me here ; and that although for my 
inner self it became (and must always be 
for me exclusively) my own beautiful, well- 
enclosed, flower-scented, turf-carpeted, Eden 
where the spirit of my youth had its home 
before any worldly influences, or any know- 
ledge of evil, had come between it and the 
poetry of its aspirations and its dreams, yet 
for every one but myself, it is Charlotte 
Bronte's Garden of Imagination, where 
she used to Astray down the pleasant alleys 
and hear the bells of St. Jean Eaptiste 

204 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

peal out with their sweet, soft, exalted 
sound.' 1 

And although no angel with a flaming 
sword no, nor yet any Belgian architects 
and masons, who have broken down the 
walls and uprooted the old trees, and 
made the old historical garden in the Rue 
d'Isabelle a place of stones can drive me 
out of my garden of memories where still 
(and more often than before as the day 
darkens) I walk ' in the cool of the even- 
ing ' with the spirit of my youth ; yet, for 
English readers, it is not I, but Charlotte 
Bronte who must describe, what I could 
never dare nor desire to paint after her, the 
famous Allee defendue that holds such a 
romantic place in her novel of Lucy Snowe, 
and that was also the scene of my second 
meeting with M. Heger. 

' In the garden there was a large berceau? 
wrote the author of Villette, ' above which 
spread the shade of an acacia ; there was a 

1 From Mile. Louise Heger I have this note : l Les cloches de 
St. Jacques et non pas St. Jean Baptiste, eglise qui se trouve a 
rautre cote de la ville pres du canal: quartier du Tere Si/as 
dans "Alette." > . 

205 



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smaller , more sequestered bower , nestled in the 
vines which ran along a high and grey wall and 
gathered their tendrils in a knot of beauty ; and 
hung their clusters in loving profusion about 
the favoured spot^ where jasmine and ivy met 
and married them . . . this alley ^ which ran 
parallel with the very high wall on that side of 
the garden^ was forbidden to be entered by the 
pupils ; it was called indeed r Allee def endue' 

In my day there was no prohibition of 
the Allee def endue ^ although the name sur- 
vived. It was only forbidden to play noisy 
or disturbing games there ; as it was to be 
reserved for studious pupils, or for the mis- 
tresses who wished to read or converse 
there in quietude. 

If I had a lesson to learn, it was to the 
Allee defendue that I took my book ; and in 
this allee I had already discovered and 
appropriated a sheltered nook, at the furthest 
end of the berceau^ where one was nearly 
hidden oneself in the vine's curtain, but 
had a delightful view of the garden. 
Before reaching this low bench, I had 
noticed, when entering the berceau^ that a 
ladder stood in the centre ; and. that, out of 

206 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

view in so far as his head went, a man, in 
his shirt sleeves, was clipping and thinning 
the vines. I took it for granted he was a 
gardener, and paid no attention to him ; but, 
in a quite happy frame of mind, sat down 
to learn some poetry by heart. My im- 
pression is that it was Lamartine's Chute 
des Feuilles. Shutting my eyes, whilst 
repeating the verses out aloud (a trick I had), 
I opened them, to see M. Heger. He it was 
who had been thinning the vine ; it was a 
favourite occupation of his (had I read 
Villette I should have known it). 1 Once 
again he took me by surprise, and I was 
full of anxiety as to what might come of it. 
Since I entered the school I had, indeed, 
caught distant views of him, hurrying 
through the class-rooms to or from his 
lessons in the First and Second divisions. 
But until my French had improved I was 
placed in the Third division, where M. 
Heger only taught occasionally, so that I had 
not yet received any lesson from him. 

It was a relief to see that he looked 
amiable, and even friendly ; if only I didn't 

1 Villette, chapter xii. 
207 



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lose my head and say the wrong thing again ! 
One thing I kept steadily in view; nothing 
must induce me to forget my brother's 
advice this time ; there must be no attempt 
at fine phrases, this time nothing that could 
possibly appear like showing off. . . . But all 
my anxieties upon this occasion were dis- 
pelled by the purpose of my Professor's 
disturbance of my studies. He invited me to 
assist him in washing a very stout but very 
affectionate white dog, to whom I was told 
I owed this service as he was a compatriot 
of mine, an English dog, with an English 
name : a very inappropriate one, for he was 
sweet-tempered and white, and the name 
was Pepper. For this operation of washing 
Pepper, I was invited upstairs into M. 
Heger's library, which was, in this beauti- 
fully clean and orderly house, a model of 
disorder ; clouded as to air, and soaked as to 
scent, with the smoke of living and the 
accumulated ashes of dead cigars. But the 
shelves laden from floor to ceiling with books 
made a delightful spectacle. 

Upon the occasion of this first visit to his 
library, M. Heger made me the present of a 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

book that marked a new epoch in my life, 
because, before I was fifteen, it put before me 
in a vivid and amusing way the problem of 
personality, Le Voyage autour de ma Chambre 
of Xavier de Maistre, was my introduc- 
tion to thoughts and speculations that led 
me to a later interest in Oriental philosophy, 
and especially in Buddhism. I must not 
forget another present in the form of one 
more of those luminous little sentences that, 
as I have said, he used as Lanterns, turning 
them to send light in different directions. I 
had confided to him, not my own methods 
of philosophy I did not dare incur the risk 
but my newly found friend's methods of 
helping herself to be 'reasonable.' M.Heger 
showed no enthusiasm, nor even approval: 
and I found out that he had a strong dislike 
to my elected friend. Personally he would 
have preferred and recommended Religious 
methods of prayer, and docile submission to 
spiritual direction, to any philosophy, especi- 
ally in the case of women. But he quoted 
to me and wrote down for me, and exhorted 
me to learn by heart and repeat aloud (as I 
actually did), a definition of the philosophy 
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of life of an Eighteenth-century Woman, as 
c Unefaf on de tirer parti de sa rats on pour son 
bonbeur.' I discovered this sentence a great 
many years afterwards in a book of the de 
Goncourts. But M. Heger first gave it to 
me in my girlhood. 

Although it was, of course, as Professor 
of Literature that M. Heger excelled, he 
was in other domains in every domain he 
entered an original and an effective teacher. 
Let me give the history of a famous 
Lesson in Arithmetic by M. Heger that 
took place, I am not quite sure why, in the 
large central hall, or Galerie as it was called, 
that flanked the square, enclosing the court 
or playground of daily boarders, whilst the 
Galerie divided the court from the garden. 
For some special reason, all the classes 
attended this particular lesson ; where the 
subject was the Different effects upon value ^ of 
multiplication and division in the several cases of 
fractions and integers. Madame Heger and 
the Mesdemoiselles Heger, and all the 
governesses were there. I had been pro- 
moted into the first class (passing the second 
class over altogether) before this, so that I was 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

a regular pupil of M. Heger's in literature, 
and certainly in this class, a favourite. But 
I was a complete dunce at arithmetic, and 
it was a settled conviction in my mind that 
my stupidity was written against me in the 
book of destiny ; and I admit that, as it did 
not seem of any use for me to try to do 
anything in this field, I had given up trying, 
and when arithmetic lessons were being 
given I employed my thoughts elsewhere. 
But a lesson from M. Heger was another 
thing ; even a lesson in arithmetic by him 
might be worth while. So that I really 
did, with all the power of brain that 
was in me, try to apply myself to the under- 
standing of his lesson. But it was of no 
use ; after about five minutes, the usual 
arithmetic brain-symptoms began ; words 
ceased to mean anything at all intelligible. 
It was really a sort of madness ; and there- 
fore in self-defence I left the thing alone 
and looked out of the window, whilst the 
lesson lasted. It never entered my head 
that /was in any danger of being questioned : 
no one ever took any notice of me at the 
arithmetic lessons. It was recognised that, 

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here, I was no good ; and as I was good 
elsewhere, they left me alone. Yes, but 
M. Heger wasn't going to leave me alone. 
Evidently he had taken a great deal of 
trouble, and wanted the lesson to be a 
success. And it had not succeeded. He 
was dissatisfied with all the answers he 
received. He ran about on the estrade getting 
angrier and angrier. And then at last, to 
my horror, he called upon me ; and what 
cut me to the soul, I saw that there was a 
look of confidence in his face, as if to say 
' Here is some one who will have under- 
stood ! ' 

. . . Well of course the thing was hopeless. 
I had a sort of mad notion that a miracle 
might happen, and that Providence might 
interfere, and that if by accident I repeated 
some words I had heard him say there might 
be some sense in them but, as Matthew 
Arnold said, miracles don't happen. It was 
deplorable. I saw him turn to Madame 
Heger with a shrug of the shoulders: and 
that he must have said of the whole 
English race abominable things, and of this 
English girl in particular, may be taken 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

for granted ; because Madame Heger hardly 
ever spoke a word when he was angry. But 
now she said something soothing about the 
English nation, and in my praise. Well, 
my case being settled, M. Heger began : 
and he did not leave off until the whole 
Galerie was a house of mourning. In the 
whole place, the only dry eyes were mine, 
and here I had to exercise no self-control ; 
for although at first I had been sorry for 
him, now I was really so angry with him for 
attacking these harmless girls, and attributing 
to them abominable heartlessness, although 
the place rang with their sobs, that 1 don't 
think I should have minded a slight attack 
of apoplexy only I shouldn't have liked 
him to have died. 

It was really a bewildering and almost mad- 
dening thing, because on both sides it was 
so absurd. First of all, what had all these 
weeping girls done to deserve the reproaches 
the Professor heaped upon them ? ' They 
said to themselves,' he told them : " What 
does this old Papa-Heger matter ? Let him 
sit up at night, let him get up early, let him 
spend all his days in thinking how he can 

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serve us, make difficulties light, and dark 
things clear to us. We are not going to 
take any trouble on our side, not we ! why 
should we ? Indeed, it amuses us to see 
him navre for us, it is a good farce." 

The wail rose up c Mais non, Monsieur ', ce 
nest pas vrai, eel a ne nous amuse pas ; nous 
sommes tristes, nous pleurons, voyez. 9 

The Professor took no heed ; he continued. 
c They said to themselves "Ah ! the old man, 
le pauvre vieux, takes an interest in us, he 
loves us ; it pleases him to think when he is 
dead, and has disappeared, these little pupils 
whom he has tried to render intelligent, and 
well instructed, and adorned with gifts of 
the mind, will think of his lessons, and wish 
they had been more attentive. Foolish old 
thing ! " not at all," they say, " as if we 
had any care for him or his lessons." 

The wail rose up 'Ce rfest pas gentil ce que 
vous dites /a, Monsieur: nous avons beaucoup de 
respect pour vous, nous aimons vos lemons ; out, 
nous travail lerons bien, vous allez voir, par- 
donnez-nous? 

' Frankly, now, does that touch you ? ' 
I heard behind me. ' It is not reasonable ! 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

I find it even stupid (je le troupe meme 
bete)' Marie Hazard, of course. I made a 
mistake when I said my eyes were the only 
dry ones. Here was my philosopher-friend, 
amongst the pupils in the Galerie, and her 
eyes were quite as dry as mine. 

But the story of the Lesson in Arithmetic 
does not finish here ; and nothing would be 
more ungrateful were I to hide the ending : 
by which I was the person to benefit most. 
To my alarm, in the recreation hour next 
day, M. Heger came up to me, still with 
a frowning brow and a strong look of dis- 
like, and told me he wished to prove to 
himself whether I was negligent or incap- 
able. Because if I was incapable, it was 
idle to waste time on me so much the worse 
for my poor mother, who deceived herself ! 
On the other hand, if I was negligent, it 
was high time I should correct myself. 
This was what had to be seen. I followed 
him up to his library, not joyously like the 
willing assistant in the washing of Pepper, 
but like a trembling criminal led to execu- 
tion. I felt he was going again over 
'fractions' and the 'integers/ I knew I 

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shouldn't understand them ; and that he 
wouldn't understand that I was c incapable/ 
that when arithmetic began my brain was 
sure to go ! 

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. // took him rather less than a 
quarter of an hour. 

On the table before us he had a bag of 
macaroon biscuits, and half a Brioche cake. 
He presented me with a macaroon. There 
you have one whole macaroon (integre) : well, 
but let us be generous. Suppose I multiply 
my gift, by eight : now you have eight 
whole macaroons and are eight times richer^ 
hein ? But that 's too many ; eight whole 
macaroons ! I divide them between you and 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

me. As the result, you have half the eight. 
But now for our ba/f-Briocbe ; we have one 
piece only: and we are two people, so we 
multiply the pieces. But each is smaller, 
the more pieces, the smaller slice of cake ; 
here are eight pieces ; they are really too 
small for anything, we will divide this 
collection of pieces into two parts. Now 
does not this division make you better off, 
hein ? Then he folded his arms across his 
chest in a Napoleonic attitude, and nodding 
his head at me, asked, * Que c'est difficile, 
n'est-ce pas ? ' 

Of course in this, and indeed in all his 
personal and special methods, M. Heger 
followed Rousseau faithfully. But, then, 
where is the modern educationalist since 
1762 who does not found himself upon 
Rousseau ? 

It was not, however, in rescuing one 
from the slough of despond, where natural 
defects would have left one without his 
aid, that M. Heger excelled it was 
rather in calling out one's best faculties ; 
in stimulating one's natural gifts ; in lifting 
one above satisfaction with mediocrity ; 

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in fastening one's attention on models of 
perfection ; in inspiring one with a sense 
of reverence and love for them, that 
M. Heger's peculiar talent lay. 

I may attempt only to sum up a few 
maxims of his, that have constantly lived 
in my own mind : but I feel painfully 
my inability to convey the impression they 
produced when given by this incomparable 
Professor ; whose power belonged to his 
personality ; and was consequently a power 
that cannot be reproduced, nor continued 
by any disciple. The Teacher of genius 
is born and not made. 

The first of these maxims was that, 
before entering upon the study of any 
noble or high order of thoughts, one had 
to follow the methods symbolised by the 
Eastern practice of leaving one's shoes 
outside of the Mosque doors. There were 
any number of ways of 'putting off the 
shoes ' of vulgarity, suggested to one's choice 
by M. Heger : the reading of some beauti- 
ful passage in a favourite book ; the repeti- 
tion of a familiar verse : attention to some 
very beautiful object : the deliberate recol- 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

lection of some heroic action, etc. With 
different temperaments different plans might 
be followed : what was necessary was that 
one did not enter the sacred place without 
some deliberate renunciation of vulgarity 
and earthliness : by some mental act, or 
process, one must have 'put off one's 
shoes.' There is here a strange circum- 
stance that I was too young to feel the 
true importance of at the time, but that 
I have often wondered over since then. 
There can be no doubt of M. Heger's 
rigid orthodoxy as a Catholic. Yet whilst 
the recitation of the Rosary inaugurated 
the daily lessons, M. Heger had a special 
invocation 1 of e the Spirits of Wisdom^ 
Truth^ Justice^ and Equanimity ',' that was 
recited by some chosen pupil ; who 
had to come out of her place in class 

1 Esprit de Sagesse, conduisez-nous : 
Esprit de Verite, enseignez-nous : 
Esprit de Charite, vivifiez-nous : 
Esprit de Prudence, preservez-nous : 
Esprit de Force, defendez-nous : 
Esprit de Justice, e'clairez-nous : 
Esprit Consolateur, apaisez-nous. 

Here is the invocation, sent me by Mile. Heger; who 
has, with extreme kindness, endeavoured to recover it for me. 

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and stand near him ; and who was not 
allowed by him to gabble. And this 
was the invariable introduction to bis 
lesson. I can't feel it was an ortho- 
dox proceeding : There was not a Saint's 
name anywhere ! But I feel the infallible 
impression it produced upon me now. 
One effect, in the sense of 'putting off 
one's shoes,' that it had for myself was 
that the Professor of Literature appeared 
to me without any of the dislikable quali- 
ties of the everyday M. Heger. 

Another maxim of M. Heger's was 
certainly borrowed from Voltaire : That 
one must give one's soul as many forms as 
possible. II faut donner a son dme toutes les 
formes possibles. Again, that every sort of 
literature and literary style has its merits, 
except the literature that is not literary and 
the style that is bad : here again, one has, 
of course, Voltaire's well-known phrases: 
4 fadmets tons les genres -, hors le genre en- 
nuyeuxJ 

A third maxim was that one must never 
employ, nor tolerate the employment of, 
a literary image as an argument. The 

220 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

purpose of a literary image is to illuminate 
as a vision, and to interpret as a parable. 
An image that does not serve both these 
purposes is a fault in style. 

A fourth maxim is that one must never 

neglect the warning one's ear gives one of a 

fault in style ; and never trust one's ear 

exclusively about the merits of a literary style. 

Ajifth rule : One must not fight with a 
difficult sentence ; but take it for a walk 
with one ; or sleep with the thought of it 
present in one's mind ; and let the difficulty 
arrange itself whilst one looks on. 

A sixth rule : One must not read, before 
sitting down to write, a great stylist with a 
marked manner of his own ; unless this 
manner happens to resemble one's own. 

Now I shall be told that these rules and 
maxims, whether true or false, are c known 
to nearly every one,' and are of assistance 
to no one ; because people who can write 
do not obey rules : and people who can't 
write are not taught to do so by rules. 
If this were literally true then there would 
be no room in the world for a Professor of 
Literature. My own opinion is that there 

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are very few good writers who do not obey 
rules ; and that these rules are, if contracted 
in youth, of great use as a discipline that 
saves original writers from the defect of their 
quality of originality, in a proneness to 
mannerisms and whims. 

In connection with the possible complaint 
that I am putting forward as M. Heger's 
maxims, sentences that were not originally 
invented nor uttered by him, my reply is 
that I do not affirm that he invented his 
own maxims, but simply that he chose them 
from an enormous store he had collected by 
study and fine taste and by a sound critical 
judgment, the result of an extensive acquaint- 
anceship with the best that has been said 
and thought in the world by philosophers, 
poets, and literary artists and connoisseurs. 
In his character of a Professor of literature 
I find it hard to imagine that any gift of 
original thought, or personal power of ex- 
pressing his own thoughts, could have placed 
M. Heger's pupils under the same obliga- 
tions as did his knowledge of beautiful ideas, 
beautifully expressed, gathered from north, 
south, east and west, in classical, mediaeval 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and modern times. To be given these 
precious and luminous thoughts in one's 
youth, when they have a special power 
to 'rouse, incite and gladden one,' is a 
supreme boon : and in my own case my 
gratitude to M. Heger has never been in 
the least disturbed by the discovery that he 
was not the inventor of the maxims that 
have constantly been a light to my feet 
and a lantern to my path during the half- 
century that has elapsed since I received 
them from him in the historical Pensionnat, 
that stood for many years, after Monsieur 
Heger himself had vanished out of life, but 
that stands no longer in the Rue d'Isabelle. 



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CHAPTER V 

THE STORY OF A CHAPEAU D'lJNIFORME 

IN connection with the particular Belgian 
schoolgirls whom I knew, who still, in 
1860, learnt their lessons in the class-rooms 
where Charlotte Bronte once taught, and 
who were still taught by M. Heger, and 
still surrounded with the benign and serene 
influences of Madame Heger, let me prove 
that these schoolgirls had not the charac- 
teristics of the Lesbassecouriennes ; and that 
Charlotte Bronte displayed insular prejudice, 
as well as an imagination coloured by the 
distress of an unhappy passion, when she 
said of them, ' The Continental female is quite 
a different being to the insular female of the 
same age and class' * 

Inasmuch as the story I have to tell is the 
story of a Bonnet, it will be recognised as 
one that is calculated to display the quali- 

1 Villette, chapter viii. 
224 




CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

ties and intimate and essential peculiarities of 
the e Continental female ' (under sixteen) in 
a light, and under the stress and strain of 
passions and interests, too serious to permit 
of any tampering with, or disguise of, nature. 
One has to realise, also, that the question is 
not merely of a bonnet, but of a Best 
Bonnet, a Sunday Bonnet. For, in the 
remote days of which I am now writing 
modern young people should realise even 
schoolgirls of ten or twelve wore bonnets on 
Sunday, and even upon week-days, when 
they went beyond the borders of their garden: 
a hat was thought indecorous on the head of 
any girl in her 'teens a form of undress 
rather than of dress. To wear a hat was 
like wearing a pinafore a confession that 
one had not forgotten the nursery. To save 
one's best Sunday Bonnet, in the garden, one 
might go about in a hat, and in the bosom 
of one's family wear a pinafore to save a 
new dress ; but in the same way that one did 
not go into the drawing-room with a pina- 
fore on, one did not, in those days, pay visits 
in a hat: and to go to church in one would 
have been thought irreverent. So that a 

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Sunday Bonnet meant that childish ways 
were done with, and that one had attained 
the age of reason. Like a barrister's wig 
it imposed seriousness on the wearer, who 
had to live up to it. Madame Heger, when 
establishing the rules for the uniform that 
was worn by all the pupils of the school in 
the Rue d'Isabelle, paid great attention to the 
Sunday Bonnet. Following the sense she lent 
to the law of her system of government, the 
love of dress was not to be allowed amongst 
her pupils to become an encouragement to 
vanity and rivalship, and hence one uniform, 
for rich and poor alike, avoided any chance 
of vain, unkind, and envious feelings ; but at 
the same time the love of dress was not to 
be discouraged altogether ; because it was 
serviceable to taste, and the care for appear- 
ance, without which a young person remains 
deficient in femininity. Therefore although 
every boarder wore the same uniform, what 
this uniform was to be was made quite an 
important question : and the girls were in- 
vited to choose a committee to decide it, in 
consultation with their head-mistress. And 
to this consultation Madame Heger brought 

226 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

a large spirit of indulgence, especially where 
the Sunday Bonnet was concerned. The 
Sunday Dress had to be black silk about 
the fafon there might be discussion, but not 
about the colour or material. On the other 
hand, about the Bonnet, everything was left 
an open question. It might be fashionable: 
it might be becoming : and even serviceable- 
ness was not made a too stringent obligation. 
Indeed in the first year of my school career 
the Sunday Bonnet selected for the summer 
months was the reverse of serviceable. It 
was white chip ; it was decorated with pink 
rosebuds, where blonde and tulle mingled 
with the rosebuds ; it had broad white 
ribands edged with black velvet in short, 
a very charming Bonnet : but sown with 
perils. Everything about it could get easily 
soiled ; and nothing about it would stand 
exposure to rain. 

Madame Heger, recognising these material 
inconveniences, had nevertheless seen that, 
on the educational side, there were com- 
pensating advantages the cultivation of 
neatness and order. She had not then dis- 
couraged the white chip, rosebuds and the 

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rest ; at the same time, she had stated the 
case for a yellow straw, with a plaid-ribbon 
that would not easily soil. 

' On the one hand,' she had said, ' you 
may, with merely simple precautions, carry 
your Bonnet through the summer to the big 
holidays, without anxiety. On the other 
hand, no doubt there will be anxiety : the 
white chip is extremely pretty, but do not 
forget that it will require almost incessant 
care. Never must this Bonnet be put on 
one side without a clean white handkerchief 
to cover it. Not only so, one storm, if you 
have no umbrella, will suffice ; everything 
will need renewal. And I warn you, my 
children, that if this misfortune arrive, it is 
not I, but you> who will have to ask your 
good mammas for another Bonnet. I ask 
from your parents a chapeau d^uniforme^ and 
one only, each term : no more. So now 
decide as you please.' 

The decision had been for the 'white chip^ 
arrive what may. My own point of view, 
whilst the subject was being discussed around 
me, was that nothing could interest me less. 
Fancy troubling one's head about a Bonnet ! 

228 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

I did not say it, because I had no wish to 
make myself unpopular, but the interest in 
the affair appeared to me puerile. Happily 
these trifling matters had no importance for 
me ; it did not matter to me at all what sort 
of chapeau d^uniforme they chose. 

How wrong I was ! It mattered to me 
more than to any one else in the whole 
school, because no one wore their 
chapeau d'uniforme so much, and no one 
took the poor thing out so frequently into 
storm and rain. All the other boarders 
attended early mass on Sunday mornings in 
a convent chapel, within five minutes' walk 
of the school. The other occasions when 
they wore the fragile white chip chapeau 
were safe occasions, when, if it rained, they 
took shelter in their own homes on the 
monthly holidays, or were sent back to 
school in a fiacre. My case was different. 
Every Sunday morning, in accordance with 
the arrangement made by my mother, my 
brother called at the Rue d'Isabelle to take 
me to the English Church, which in those 
days was a sort of hall, known as the c Temple 
Anglic an J situated in a passage near the 
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Bruxelles Museum. The service was gener- 
ally over by noon ; but it was too late for 
me to return to school in time for the 
dejeuner at mid-day, and this authorised 
the custom of my taking lunch with my 
brother and enjoying a short walk after- 
wards ; so that I was taken back by him 
to the Rue d'Isabelle before four o'clock. 
Now it will be easily understood that this 
agreeable arrangement had temptations : and 
that sometimes, on very fine days, there would 
occur forgetfulness of the 'Temple Anglican ' 
altogether ; and the whole of these four or 
five hours would be spent in our favourite 
haunt, the Bois de la Cambre, where we 
would picnic, on cakes and fruit, when 
there was pocket-money enough, or on two 
halfpenny 'pistolets, 5 when, as often happened, 
ten centimes, that ought to have gone into 
the plate at the Temple, was all we had. 
And whether the lunch was of cakes, or of 
dry bread, it did not alter the fact that we 
talked of home incessantly ; and were 
supremely happy. Yes ; but no doubt our 
conduct was reprehensible, and did not 
deserve the favour of Heaven. And my 

230 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

recollection is that almost invariably these 
picnics in the Bois de la Cambre, to which 
an exceptionally fine day had tempted us, 
ended in a downpour of rain. And how it 
rains at Brussels, when it does rain ! So 
now, think of the state of the white chip 
Bonnet, and of the bunch of rosebuds, inter- 
woven with blonde, and of the white silk 
ribbon edged with black velvet, that I took 
back with me to the Rue d'Isabelle. 

And it is here where the beautiful nature 
of Belgian schoolgirls, or of these particular 
Belgian schoolgirls who were my companions 
and contemporaries, stands revealed. For 
upon one particular Sunday, having hastily 
and silently fled to the dormitory upon my 
return, and being discovered there, in dis- 
mayed contemplation of the lamentable satu- 
rated mixture of mashed up tinted pulp and 
wires, that had once been rosebuds and blonde, 
my depths of despondency moved these sym- 
pathetic young hearts to compassion. As it 
was Sunday afternoon, one was allowed to 
loiter over getting ready for dinner ; a circle 
of consolers gathered round me, and from 
it, forth stepped two rival aspirants to the 
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honour of sacrificing themselves on the altar 
of friendship. The first said : ' Now nothing 
is more simple : we shall wrap up this un- 
happy rag in my handkerchief as you see ; 
You shall have my chapeau auniforme^ and I 
shall tell Maman everything she interests 
herself in you ; for when she was young, she 
was at school in England. She will send me 
another chapeau (funiforme^ and all is said.' 

The other girl, whose name was 
Henriette I forget her surname said, 
c My plan is easier : for here is an accident, 
as though it were done on purpose. Now 
what do you say : I have two chapeaux 
d'uniforme^ if you please ! The first my 
mother sent me as a model to show Madame 
Heger, and from this model she chose it. 
But now Madame had ordered mine with 
the others : and when I told my mother, she 
said, c Say nothing : an accident may happen, 
the Bonnet will not support rain, you will 
have this one at hand if a misfortune arrive. 
Well, and here is the misfortune : there's no 
difficulty at all.' 

Both of these girls had their homes in 
Brussels, and both of them I knew had 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

everything their own way with two fondly 
indulgent mammas. I had no scruple in 
accepting their generous sacrifice, and I 
hugged them both, and was really (I who 
despised tears) on the verge of crying. 
Between the two, I hardly knew which 
offer to take, but it seemed to me that as 
Henriette had two Bonnets, it was most 
reasonable to take hers. And we all went 
down to dinner happily. And the ' Un- 
happy rag' 'cette malheureuse loque> was buried 
in the hangar^ the wood-house at the bottom 
of the garden. 

But under cloudless skies one is prone to 
forget the lessons of misfortune. It took 
some time but the Sunday came when, once 
again, it seemed 'almost wrong ' to waste sum- 
mer hours in the Temple Anglican, when one 
felt so good under the beautiful trees in the 
Bois de la Cambre. And then there was 
pocket-money in hand, and a lunch of cakes, 
and not halfpenny pistolets, could be obtained. 

c I suppose you don't think it will rain ? ' 
I suggested. 

c Rain ! ' My brother said with scorn. 
c Look at that sky ! How could it rain ?' 

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It managed to do it. True, it was only a 
brief shower : but the water came down in 
sheets. In despair I took off the chapeau 
d'uniforme^ and my brother, who wore an 
Inverness cape, sheltered it under the flap. 
I stood to hold the cape at a right angle, 
so that the precious object might not be 
crushed, and we were watching it under this 
sheltering wing, and my brother was assuring 
me it was all right when, as I stood there 
bareheaded and rain-beaten, beneath a tree 
by the side of the broad path . near the 
entrance to the wood a short, stoutish man, 
buttoned up to the chin in his greatcoat, 
and holding his umbrella tightly, walked by 
us at a great pace, without (so at least it 
seemed) looking at us at all. And that 
man was M. Heger. We gasped, and looked 
at each other. 

6 He didn't see us,' said my brother 
cheerily. 4 What a bit of luck ! ' 

* You may be quite sure he did see us/ 
I answered. c Well, I wonder what will 
happen now ? ' 

With this new anxiety on our hands, 
even the precious chapeau d* uniform* be- 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

came a secondary consideration. But the 
shower having passed, we examined it care- 
fully. There was no disaster this time. 
The rosebuds were still rosebuds and the 
blonde still blonde. It is true that a splash 
had fallen on the white chip crown, but my 
brother was always ready with comfort. 

c When it 's dry, 5 he told me, ' you '11 easily 
get that off with a bit of bread/ 

This consoled me for the time being : but 
he was wrong as to the question of facts. 
Bread had no effect upon that blot. It 
remained an island, or, to speak more cor- 
rectly, a coast-line, on the white chip, to 
the end of that chapeau cTuniformes ex- 
istence. But one dusted the stain over 
with white powder before putting on one's 
Bonnet, and hoped no one noticed it ? So 
far as I know, no one did. But let it not 
be supposed that I escaped moral punish- 
ment : I, who had once boasted in my pride 
that nothing was less indifferent to me than 
my Sunday Bonnet, wore this one uneasily 
to the end of the term, always conscious 
that the tell-tale stain was there, and might 
suggest questions as to its origin. 

2 35 



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Nor did I escape scot-free from M. Heger 's 
hands, although he did behave with a certain 
generosity, for he kept the secret. But he 
used his own method of punishment. 

Happy in the confidence given me by 
my brother's assurance that I should easily 
get rid of the rain-blot, I went back to the 
Rue d'Isabelle, in some anxiety about M. 
Heger, but nearly persuaded that, after all, 
perhaps, with his umbrella to think of and 
grasp, and the hurry he was in, he very likely 
hadn't seen us. But when the pupil's door 
was opened in answer to my ring, and I was 
hoping to hurry through the corridor to 
the staircase leading to the dormitories, I 
found M. Heger waiting for me. He 
barred my path and looked down at me 
with his penetrating, mocking eyes, that, 
although I do not like to contradict 
Charlotte, I still think had more green 
and steel, than violet-blue, colour in them. 

'A-ah,' he said with his long-drawn sigh, 
c you are attentive at my lessons, Mees ; do 
you now listen with the same attention to the 
sermon of the Minister at your Temple ? ' 

Here was my opportunity ; of course I 
236 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

ought to have said, 'No, Monsieur, I don't 
listen to any one with so much attention as I do to 
you : no one interests me so much? When I 
had got upstairs and had taken off the 
chapeau d'uniforme, I realised that this was 
what any rational being would have said. 
But it was too late then all I did say was, 
c Je ne sais pas, Monsieur ' (a bad French 
accent too). 

c A-ah,' he repeated, tightening his mouth, 
* now I should like to see whether you profit 
by the instructions of your Minister : Thus 
I shall be glad if you will write me a resume 
in French of the sermon you heard to-day 
at the Temple. It will be a good exercise 
for you in the French language. And also 
I shall enjoy the happiness of knowing this 
wise Minister's advice. It is understood, you 
will give me the resume of this sermon to- 
morrow/ 

c Out, Monsieur.' 

All through the evening recreation hours, 
and at night when I fought against sleepi- 
ness in my bed, I worked over the com- 
position of that sermon. It is true that I 
did fall asleep in the middle of it myself; 

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but that does not prove it was a dull sermon, 
for I took it up again in the morning with 
renewed zest. I gave up my whole recrea- 
tion hour after dejeuner to writing it out. 
And I believed it to be as good a sermon as 
was ever preached. And there was no 
vanity in this belief: because it was not my 
own sermon, but one I had originally heard 
preached in my childhood in an old village 
church, and the arguments in favour of being 
good and simple had taken hold of my im- 
agination, partly on account of the associa- 
tions with the place where I heard it. 
Well, but now, can my readers deny that 
when I say M. Heger was a more irritating 
than lovable man, I have sound reasons for 
my statement ? After ordering me to 'write 
that sermon^ and 'when I had stolen several 
hours from my s/eep 9 and given up two recreations 
to obey him, he never asked for it ! And when 
I told him I had written the sermon and 
that it was ready for him, he merely looked 
down upon me with a strange twinkle in 
his eyes, and said, 'A-ab, c'est bien. Vous 
I'avez done bien retenu^ ce fameux sermon ? 
tant mieux, tant mieux.' 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 



CHAPTER VI 

MADAME HEGER'S SENTIMENT OF THE JUSTICE 
OF RESIGNATION TO INJUSTICE 

AT the end of these reminiscences I have 
now to relate the incident that stands out 
in my memory as, not only the most 
bitter experience I had ever, up to this 
date, undergone of personal injustice in my 
brief life of fifteen years, not only, what 
was of great moral importance to me, my 
first lesson in the philosophy of refusing 
to torment oneself in order to punish one's 
tormentors, but also the incident that re- 
vealed to me a secret sorrow hidden away 
under Madame Heger's serenity ; and that 
convinces me, now, that the tragical ro- 
mance of Charlotte Bronte was not to her, 
as it must have been to M. Heger, mis- 
understood, and regarded as an event of 
small importance ; but that it ' entered into 
her life,' and was to her a very serious 
trouble. 

2 39 



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One day in June, I am not able to 
remember now upon what especial occa- 
sion, nor in honour of what event, all the 
school was given an entire holiday : and, for 
its better enjoyment, the girls were invited 
by a former pupil in the Rue d'Isabelle, 
who had married and possessed a fine 
chateau and a large garden within walking 
distance of Bruxelles, to spend the whole 
day in her house and garden, where a 
mid-day collation was prepared for them. 
I remember very little about the day's 
enjoyments the cruel impressions that 
followed the pleasant holiday have effaced 
from my memory almost everything that 
preceded them. I know, however, that 
all was sunshine and good humour : that 
my companions whom I had trusted as 
friends were as friendly to me as ever ; and 
that with my two chosen companions, the 
philosopher Marie Hazard and the other 
still dearer friend, who was a philosopher 
in a different sense, as a profound Nature- 
worshipper, where / was supposed to be 
a philosopher in a sense of my own as 
a worshipper of ideas talked ' philosophy ' 

240 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

wisely and well in our own estimation, 
and ate red gooseberries. As we talked 
other girls discovered these gooseberry- 
bushes also, and came in flocks : so we 
three withdrew, and sat down under some 
shady tree, and were very happy and at 
peace. Near us, on a low cane chair, 
sat one of the under-mistresses, a French- 
woman, whom I liked extremely, and 
who also liked me : her name was Mile. 
Zelie she was too young to have been 
one of the mistresses known to Charlotte 
Bronte twenty years before. She may 
have been twenty-six : or she may have 
been thirty. 

As she sat there, doing embroidery, 
and watching all the time a swarm of 
girls picking gooseberries, we three, who 
had left off picking them, were at rest 
upon the grass, there came, suddenly, 
a servant in great haste sent from the 
Rue d'Isabelle by Madame Heger, with 
a letter : neither Monsieur nor Madame 
had arrived yet, they were to be there 
in time for the collation in the afternoon. 
The letter was an urgent order to Mile. 

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Zelie that the girls were not to touch the 
fruit in the kitchen garden this stipulation had 
been made by the generous hostess, who 
had invited all this company to a feast of 
cakes and cream and good things of every 
description, but who wanted her goose- 
berries and currants for jam. Here of 
course was cause of great dismay : although 
the bushes had not been entirely stripped, 
yet certainly thirty or forty girls amongst 
the gooseberry-bushes alone had made their 
mark. We three philosophers had trifled 
with one bush perhaps ; but our share in 
the depredation was comparatively slight. 
A bell was rung, and the message read aloud. 
I am convinced from that moment onwards 
no one touched any fruit : still the mis- 
chief had been done ; it was obvious to 
the naked eye that the gooseberry-bushes 
had been attacked. 

The person who seemed most distressed 
was poor Mile. Zelie : she blamed no one, 
but repeated constantly, c Why then did not 
Madame warn me ? Never should I have 
permitted it, had I not supposed that it 
was understood that these .gooseberries, 

242 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

without value for that matter, were in- 
tended to be eaten. It seemed to me, in 
the absence of instructions, so natural.' 

And a chorus of girls answered : * We 
thought it too, Mademoiselle : never would 
we have touched a gooseberry had we 
understood.' 

There the matter remained. We were 
not particularly unhappy : as a matter 
of fact all the gooseberries in the garden 
could have been purchased for five francs 
in Bruxelles. No harm had been done the 
bushes : it was a mat entendu what would 
you have ? The only person who seemed to 
take it to heart was poor Mile. Zelie. 

' Quel malheur,' she kept repeating. * Quel 
malheur! mais aussi, pourquoi Madame ne 
m'a-t-elle rien dit ? ' 

We continued, Marie Hazard and myself, 
sitting under our shady tree ; our third 
philosopher, the Nature-worshipper, always 
good at decoration, had been called off to 
assist at laying out the tables, and arranging 
flowers ; groups of other girls were sitting 
in circles on the grass or walking about 
arm in arm, when suddenly arrived upon 

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the scene M. Heger. He came up with 
an amiable expression : but in a moment 
the look changed to one black as night : 
he had seen the tell-tale signs of the 
depredations inflicted on the gooseberry- 
bushes. 

c Who is responsible for this ? ' he asked, 
c c'esf une bassesse ! Mile. Zelie, what does 
this signify ? Were you not told the fruit 
was to be respected ? ' 

Poor Mile. Zelie stood there quivering 
with terror. 

' Unhappily/ she said, c Madame's letter 
arrived too late : without bad intention, these 
young girls imagined themselves free to eat 
gooseberries : from the moment it was known 
that it was forbidden, I am sure there was no 
infraction of the rule : but alas ! what was 
done, was done. I regret it profoundly : and 
so I am sure do you, is it not so, my chil- 
dren ? ' she asked, turning to Marie Hazard 
and myself : there was a clear and empty 
space around us every other girl had some- 
how vanished. 

'Yes, Mademoiselle, we are very sorry,' 
both of us answered at once. 

244 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

M. Heger swooped round upon us in his 
wrath. 

'And so,' he said, 'it is you, is it ; you two 
who have so much pride, both of you ; who 
are so little sensitive to the counsels of your 
teachers, you, who are so superior in your 
own esteem, who are the guilty ones ? It 
is you two, and you alone in the entire 
Pension, who have been capable of this 
indignity ? And see what ruin you have 
made ! Are you not ashamed what 
gluttony ! ' 

'Mais non, Monsieur, non,' pleaded Made- 
moiselle Zelie, 'these young girls are not 
alone responsible ; many others also took the 
fruit ; you must not blame them for every- 
thing.' 

' Is that so, Mademoiselle Hazard ? Is 
that so, Mees ? ' 

' II ne faut pas nous demander cela, J said 
I, with my usual bad accent in agitated 
moments. ' C'est aux autres qu'il faut le 
demander.' 

' Mais oui,' he said, ' and this is what 
I intend to do ; Mile. Zelie, do me this 
pleasure : fetch me the e'/eves who were here 

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just now : call them together. I must get 
to the bottom of this. Je dois approfondir 
cela.' 

Mile. Zelie was some time about it : but 
in the end, she returned with a good com- 
pany of girls, forty or fifty at least ; amongst 
them nearly all of those who had been most 
busy amongst the gooseberry bushes. They 
stood round us in a sort of circle ; Marie 
Hazard, myself, and M. Heger. 

M. Heger delivered a little speech : he 
explained, and enlarged upon, the confidence 
that our kind hostess had placed in us ; she 
had thrown open her garden to us ; she had 
prepared a feast for us ; she had made only 
one condition respect my gooseberry-bushes. 
Was it possible, could one suppose it possible, 
that any one could be found base enough, 
greedy enough, to ignore her wishes ? 

c We were not told, 5 said Marie Hazard ; 
' This is not reasonable one would not 
have touched a gooseberry had one known. 
Is one a child of six then, to love goose- 
berries to this extent ? ' 

'Mile. Hazard, it is not to you I address my- 
self,' said M. Heger. c I have no question to 

246 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

ask you. You admit, and indeed it is not 
possible for you to deny, that you have com- 
mitted this act of gluttony inexcusable in a 
child of six. It is to you all, my dear pupils, 
outside of these two, who I know are guilty, 
that I ask it, and with confidence amongst 
you all, have any of you been guilty of this 
indignity ? ' 

Dead silence. Mile. Zelie was fidgeting 
about, snapping her fingers nervously. But 
she said nothing. 

M. Heger again addressed the girls round 
him, and there was a note of triumph in his 
voice : 

' Cela suffit,' he affirmed, c I shall ask no 
more. If any of you are guilty, you know it 
in your consciences : you know now what it 
remains for you to do. For me, I believe, 
and I love to believe, that the only pupil 
in this school capable of this unworthy 
conduct is a foreigner.' 

6 Pardon, Monsieur/ said a voice at my 
elbow, c je suis Beige ; et moi aussi j'ai 
mange des groseilles.' 

M. Heger bowed towards her profoundly. 

c Je fais une exception en votre 
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Mademoiselle Hazard] he said : and then he 
walked away. 

I remained at first almost stupefied : the 
first shock rendered me unable to distinguish 
between reality and fiction. I began to 
doubt my senses : was I really, were 
Marie Hazard and myself, the only girls 
in the school who had rifled the gooseberry- 
bushes f Did it mean that, if not deliber- 
ately base, in some way there was a peculiar 
deficiency in delicacy and honour in my 
constitution, rendering me capable of doing 
base things without knowing it f Was it 
true that in this foreign country I had 
disgraced my own ? This was my first 
impression, confusion of mind ; because up 
to this date I had never known nor suffered 
from real injustice. Here was an entirely 
new experience. And at first it baffled me. 
I suppose I must have shown this despera- 
tion in my face : for M. Heger was no 
sooner out of sight than attempts were 
made to console me : but I was beyond 
consolation. Mile. Zelie came first ; she laid 
a soothing hand on my shoulder. 

c Do not afflict yourself, my child/ she said. 
248 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

' This is a misunderstanding : I shall explain 
everything to Madame Heger.' 

Then several girls came bustling up, 
rather shamefacedly, assuring me that it was 
nothing : ' Quelle affaire* they ejaculated. 
* Et tout cela h propos de quelques groseilles / ' 

* It has nothing to do with the goose- 
berries,' I said ; c you are all cowards, and I 
detest you ; why couldn't you say you took 
them too ? ' 

' What good would it have been, with 
M. Heger f We shall all go to Madame 
and tell her everything. She will see how 
it is at once. Voyons^ Cbou : ne pleures pas.' 

c Je ne pleure pas ; vous mentez : ' and this 
was both impolite and incorrect : I ivas 
crying, but not ordinary tears, because they 
scalded one. 

What happens invariably with people who 
insist upon their own private grievances too 
much, and too long, happened in my case 
that afternoon : at first I had been an object 
of sympathy, but when I refused it, and was 
ungracious, I became a bore. The case was 
stated to me in reasonable terms : 

' Say that we should have done differently 
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and were cowardly. It was not out of ill- 
will to you, but because we were afraid of 
M. Heger, with whom one must not reason 
when he is in a bad humour, as every one 
knows. You and Marie Hazard, for instance, 
who must always be in the right with him, in 
what way does it serve you ? Voyons : be 
frank ; at least : cela vous reussit-il ? Listen 
then : we will make it all plain with 
Madame Heger. Mile. Zelie will tell her 
we knew nothing when we ate those goose- 
berries ; we thought they were there for us 
that it belonged to the feast to eat this fruit : 
they were not so very good, these goose- 
berries after all : it was a politeness on our 
part, not greediness. Every one nearly ate 
gooseberries. When we were told it was a 
mistake, we ate no more gooseberries, and 
were sorry. La petite Anglaise and Marie 
Hazard did as the others did : and here is the 
whole history. Now all this is known 
already to almost every one. It will be 
known to Madame Heger before we go home 
to-night. What then do you want f Look 
at Marie Hazard : she is in the same case 
as you are, and does not afflict herself.' 

250 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

e Marie Hazard is at home here, and I 
am not at home. I am English ; and I 
am told by M. Heger before you all, that 
because I am English I am capable of base- 
ness.' 

' And what does that do to you ? ' asked 
Marie Hazard, herself, turning upon me with 
her cruel reasonableness. 'English or Belgian, 
one is not capable of baseness, and one has 
not deserved any blame : that is what is 
serious ; the rest signifies nothing. One must 
not be a patriot to this extent. It is not 
reasonable. If even you had been in the 
wrong about those gooseberries, do you truly 
imagine to yourself that the honour of 
England would have been affected by it ? ' 

Just because this was so reasonable and 
true, it stung me to the soul. 'Ma chere 
et bonne amiej wrote Rousseau to Madame 
d'Epinay in the days of their friendship, 
when explaining why he had burnt a letter 
to her that seemed to him more reasonable 
than kind : c Pythagore disait qu'il ne faut 
jamais attiser le feu avec une epee. Cette 
sentence me parait etre la plus importante et 
la plus sacree des lois de ramitie* I knew 



THE SECRET OF 



nojthing about the sayings of Pythagoras, 
nor the writings of Rousseau in those days. 
But it did seem to me opposed to the sacred 
laws of friendship, to remind me, in this 
moment, that it was absurd in me to drag 
patriotism into this question. 

* Leave me alone,' I said, turning my 
back upon them, c you tire me, all of you ; 
none of you understand me.' 

Although I sulked the whole afternoon, 
and was, as I deserved to be, left to sulk, as 
'insupportable/ I yet came round to the con- 
viction before we returned, that everything 
had been explained, and that even M. Heger 
understood that an injustice had been done 
me ; and that although, of course, no apology 
could be looked for from such an obstinate 
man, still be knew be had been in the wrong 
and was secretly repentant. But I was to 
be undeceived. After our return to the Rue 
d'Isabelle, the lecture du soir in the refectory 
was given, as was the usual plan on holidays, 
by M. Heger, seated at the head of the 
room, with Madame Heger on his right 
hand, and a table before them, placed between 
the two long lines of tables with benches 

252 






CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

stretching the length of the room against 
the walls, and two ranges of chairs on the 
opposite side of the tables facing the benches, 
where sat all the pupils. Having finished 
the 'reading/ M. Heger summed up in a 
few words the sentiments that 'he was sure all 
there must feel of gratitude to their hostess, 
once an inmate of this school ; and who had 
contrived this little fete for her successors. 
He asked their consent to a message of 
thanks that was to be sent her ; and he wound 
up his expression of confidence in the enjoy- 
ment every one had derived from this holi- 
day, by stating the satisfaction of Madame 
Heger and himself at the good conduct of 
every one ; and then came this sentence : 
There was only one regrettable exception to 
be made to the perfect behaviour and sense 
of respect due to the lady who had thrown 
open her house and garden to them, and 
this exception, he was, at any rate, pleased to 
recognise, was not amongst those brought up 
in the sentiments of religion and convenience 
cherished by almost all of them : and hence 
though one had to deplore the fault, in 
the case of a foreigner (une etrangere) 

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one was more disposed to regard it with 
indulgence.' 

Marie Hazard rose from her seat : but 
there really was no time for any protest 
or objection. There was a shuffling of 
chairs, a movement of benches. Monsieur 
and Madame Heger walked out of the 
Refectory by a folding door behind them 
that opened into a passage leading to their 
own part of the house ; and the pupils filed 
out, under the surveillance of the mistress 
in charge, by the opposite door towards the 
staircase leading to the Oratory, for evening 
prayers. I alone remained sitting on my 
bench, in my usual place in the Refectory, 
about half-way down the right-hand line of 
tables. No one paid any attention to me, 
until the room was nearly empty, and then 
the mistress at the door looked round, and 
seeing me sitting there, said, ' Make haste, 
Mees ; you will be late for prayers : what 
are you doing ? ' 

I remained sitting there. She looked at 
me a moment ; evidently didn't like my 
looks ; shrugged her shoulders, agitated her 
hands, said 

254 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

c One cannot wait for you any longer 
mademoiselle, vous etes notee* and vanished. 

I do not know now, and I hardly think I 
knew then, what I meant by the resolution 
that was the only one firmly present to me, 
that no one, nothing, should move me from 
the place where I was sitting in the 
Refectory : that there I was going to 
remain all night, and for ever if necessary, 
until this wrong was redressed, and until 
just excuses were made to me. What had 
at first been a new and astonishing dis- 
covery to me, that injustice could be done, 
and that people whom I respected and even 
loved, could be unjust to me, had now 
become a well-established and common fact, 
and I saw injustice everywhere and felt no 
use in living at all, because I had become 
convinced that people would always be un- 
just to me, always ; it was the common rule 
of the world evidently. What was I to do 
then ? Resist, perish in resisting ? Very 
possibly, but not submit. 

There I sat at fifteen years of age, on the 
bench, with my elbows planted on the 
Refectory table, and my burning, throbbing 

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head between my hands, in the frame of 
mind in which Anarchists are made. 

But the influence was already approach- 
ing that was to transform anarchy into the 
ideal socialism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 
where the bitter bitter rage of rebellious- 
ness against the wrong done oneself be- 
comes the generous sympathy with all 
injustice throughout the world: 'Ce premier 
sentiment de f injustice est reste si profondement 
grave dans mon dme^ que toutes les idees qui s'y 
rapportent me rendent ma premiere emotion ; et 
ce sentiment^ relatif a moi dans son origine^ a 
pris une telle consistance en lui-meme^ et s*est si 
bien detache de tout interet personnel^ que mon 
cceur s'enflamme au spectacle ou au recit de toute 
action injuste^ que I quen soit Fobjet^ et en que I- 
que lieu quelle se commette^ comme si Feffet en 
retomboit sur moi. y 

The lesson that the author of the Con- 
fessions learnt at an even earlier age than I 
did was taught me by a Victim of injustice 
who continued throughout her life so 
courageously undisturbed by it in kindness 
and consideration for others, that her sensi- 
bility to it became a less powerful feeling 

256 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

in her than her compassion for the suffering 
and passionate woman who had wronged 
her. 

I cannot say how long I had sat in the 
Refectory, when I saw the folding doors 
at the head of the room open, and quietly 
and composedly as usual, Madame Heger 
entered and approached me. She sat down 
on the chair opposite my bench on the 
opposite side of the table. 

' My child,* she said, ' you are wrong to 
take so seriously the reproach addressed to 
you by M. Heger as the result of a mis- 
take. Mile. Zelie 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 re- 
main here, when prayers are already over, 
and without permission ? You know well 
it is forbidden.' 

I broke out passionately complaining that 
I could not be expected to obey rules when 
I was unjustly treated : I could bear any- 
thing else, but I could not support injustice. 

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c Pas rinjustice,' I protested, 'j'obeirais a 
tout, je supporterais tout : mais, pas Tinjus- 
tice, non, madame, non, je ne saurais 
supporter rinjustice.' 

' Cependant, mon enfant, il faut savoir 
la supporter. Que faire ? Seriez-vous la 
seule personne au monde qui ne connaitrait pas 
rinjustice ? ' 

I shook my head obstinately : I made a 
show of resistance : but I was already under 
Madame Heger's influence. A tremendous 
change had taken place in me. I was no 
longer an Anarchist. It had already come 
to me as a conviction that there was no- 
thing grand, but rather something mean, in 
refusing to bear anything that my other 
fellow-creatures had to bear, that better and 
nobler people than I had borne. 

c It saddens me, 5 continued Madame 
Heger c (Gela nfattriste) to see a young 
girl like you, who soon must enter life, and 
who takes the habit of saying, " I cannot 
support this, everything else you like, but 
not this": or "I will renounce everything 
else, but not that" It does not depend upon 
us, my child, what we must support, nor 

258 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

what we may, because les convenances or 
the interests of others demand it, have to 
renounce. Amongst the many pupils I have 
known, there have been some passionate 
like yourself and exalted, who have said like 
you to-day, I cannot support injustice, who 
have seen injustice, where there was no 
intention to be unjust ; who have refused 
counsel with anger and impatience, and who 
in their refusal to bow to necessary obliga- 
tions have been themselves unjust. And 
they have been unhappy in their lives ; most 
unhappy. Dominated by some fixed idea, the 
slave of some desire that cannot be accomplished^ 
they have seen enemies in those who would 
have been their friends. They have created 
for themselves a sad fate ; and I know one 
of them who died of it (J'en connais une qui 
en est morte).' 

Something in Madame Heger's voice sur- 
prised me, for her even tones quavered and 
broke. I looked up suddenly, her face was 
ashen white and her lips blue. I was struck 
to the heart. I knew not why, but in some 
way I instinctively felt that, through my 
fault, she was in pain : I was full of remorse. 

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The table was between us, or I should have 
thrown myself upon my knees before her. 
My emotion had the usual effect upon my 
French accent. ' Forgive me, oh forgive 
me,' I wanted to say, ' I am ashamed of 
myself.' I said, 'Pardong, O pardong, j'ai 
honte de moi.' 

As it happened, nothing could have been 
better timed than my relapse into English 
barbarism. In a moment Madame's unusual 
emotion was under control : the soft colour 
returned to her cheek and lips, she shook 
her head gently, and said in her ordinary 
voice 

4 You must take care of your accent, my 
child. One says " pardon," not " pardong " ; 
and one does not say "J'ai honte de moi," but 
one says " Je suis honteuse," or "J'ai honte." 

c But I see you are now in a good disposi- 
tion,' she went on, ' and I am pleased to see 
it. Thus then, go quietly to bed without 
disturbing your companions, and I will send 
Clothilde to you with some flower-of-orange 
water that will tranquillise this hot head. 
Good night, and be very wise in the future: 
and all will be well.' 

260 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

Ever since I have known the story of 
Charlotte Bronte I have had the firm con- 
viction of what was in Madame Heger's 
mind when she spoke to me of one who had 
imagined enemies in friends, and who, com- 
plaining 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. 

So then we may decide finally, that 
Madame Heger was not Madame Beck. 
And of M. Heger we may decide that he was 
not Paul Emanuel either ; for Paul Emanuel 
having learnt that he had committed an in- 
justice, would have called his whole school 
together, and in full class-room repaired his 
involuntary fault. But the real M. Heger 
did nothing of the sort. For a time there 
was a great coldness towards him in my 
heart. But in the hours of his lessons he re- 
mained, as ever, the c Professor ' of unrivalled 
merit. 

Summing up what may be gathered from 
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these reminiscences, I think the facts that 
can be affirmed are these : 
;'(-: No moral likeness, but a physical resem- 
blance, between Madame Heger and the 
portrait of Madame Beck. A strong and 
lifelike resemblance, between Paul Emanuel 
and M. Heger, up to the point when the 
Professor Paul falls in love with Lucy Snowe. 
After this event, a dwindling resemblance 
between the Professor in Villette^ and the 
real Professor in the Rue d'Isabelle, who 
was never in love with Charlotte Bronte, 
and who was the lawful and attached hus- 
band of the Directress of the Pensionnat. 

But when Professor Paul Emanuel becomes 
the docile disciple of Pere Silas, when he is 
caught in the 'Jesuitical cobwebs of mother 
Church,' then he ceases to resemble the real 
man in the very least. M. Heger 's role in 
life was not that of a disciple but of a 
Master of other people, and a very arbitrary 
and domineering Master too, for whom the 
world was his class-room. He was under 
the thumb of no priest, nor spiritual director. 
As for Jesuitical 'cobwebs,' the notion of 
M. Heger caught in any cobweb is absurd ! 

262 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

Every one knows what happens when a 
bumble-bee in its courses comes in contact 
with a cobweb. It is a mere incident in 
the career of the bumble-bee but it is a 
disaster for the cobweb. 



THE END 



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