Thursday, November 13, 2008

Devoirs de Bruxelles - A Review

Our thanks to M. Augustin Trapenard for sending us a review copy of this book.
Devoirs de Bruxelles
Emily Brontë
Commentaries by Augustin Trapenard

Date : 10/09/2008
Publisher: Editions Mille et Une Nuits
Collection : La Petite Collection
ISBN: 9782755500677
Format (105 x 150)
Pages : 64
Devoirs de Bruxelles accomplishes what can be termed a moral debt with the French-speaking audience. One hundred and sixty six years after a young English student called Emily Brontë wrote several compositions in French in a pensionnat for young girls in Brussels. And now those
- grammatically speaking - clumsy but highly idiosyncratic scholar tasks are published in France in a cheap edition for a general audience.

This edition, in charge of Augustin Trapenard(1), contains the nine extant original devoirs which the future author of Wuthering Heights produced in 1842 during her ten-month stay at the Pensionnat de Demoiselles Heger, under the supervision of Professor Constantin Heger. The texts are presented as faithfully as possible to the original ones, preserving the misspellings and the (many) French grammatical mistakes(2). Only the ammends or inserts by Emily herself have been maintained, but not so with the corrections M. Heger(3) added afterwards. Obviously such an inclusion would largely exceed the characteristics of the Mille Et Une Nuits Petite Collection.

Evidently, such material (namely: Le Chat, Le Siège d'Oudenarde, Le Roi Harold avant la Bataille de Hastings(4), Lettre et Reponse, Lettre à Maman(5), L'Amour Filial, Lettre d'un frère a un frère, Le Papillon, Matière. Le Palais de la Mort) cannot be approached from a literary point of view. The literary value of the devoirs is arguable and their French is, to put it mildly, not very good. Their interest remains in the biographical and psychological hints which can be read between the lines. As M. Trapenard proposes in his suggestive, concise, to-the-point postface, the texts show the tension between M. Heger and his temperamental student(6): the ways in which Emily, very in character with herself, unconsciously resisted the French idioms and grammar and stuck to a literal translation of English to French in many of her writings. Exactly the opposite of Charlotte who, also in character, tried to please her teacher and tried hard to improve her French. Emily's irony is evident in Le Chat or Lettre et Reponse and her dislike of wordiness can be seen at the end of Lettre d'un frère a un frère...

The edition is completed with a brief bibliography (basically including French material) and a chronology.

Notes:
(1) Augustin Trapenard is the author of several Brontë-related scholar publications and is currently involved in his Ph.D. “L’Opération “Emily Brontë” : textes, hors-textes, contextes d’une invention d’auteur (1846-1869)” (under the direction of Frédéric Regard).
(2) Most of them are related to the use of many Anglicised French constructions. Curiously, this allows a much more comfortable read for an English-speaking reader than for a French one.
(3) Such an approach can be found in Sue Lonoff's scholarly impeccable The Belgian Essays, A Critical Edition, Yale University Press, 1996. This new edition owes much to Sue Lonoff's milestone in Brontë scholarship, as Mr. Trapenard acknowledges in his preface.
(4) A
corrected version of this devoir by M. Heger also exists.
(5) The only one still in possession of the Heger family.
(6) Emily's reaction to M. Heger's method of teaching by imitation of celebrated French authors is well known. From Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë (Chapter XI):

Emily spoke first; and said that she saw no good to be derived from it; and that, by adopting it, they should lose all originality of thought and expression. She would have entered into an argument on the subject, but for this, M. Heger had no time.
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