Wednesday, February 29, 2012

L'ingratitude

Exciting news told by the Guardian:

A long-lost short story written by Charlotte Brontë for a married man with whom she fell in love is to be published for the first time after being found in a Belgian museum a century after it was last heard of.
The tale, written in grammatically erratic French and entitled L'Ingratitude, is the first-known piece of homework set for Brontë by Constantin Heger, a Belgian tutor who taught both her and her sister Emily, and is believed to have inspired such ardour in the elder sibling that she drew on their relationship for her novel Villette.
Brian Bracken, a Brussels-based archivist and Brontë expert, found the manuscript in the Musée Royal de Mariemont. He said the short story had been last heard of in 1913, when it was given to a wealthy Belgian collector by Heger's son, Paul. The London Review of Books (LRB) is to publish the story in full on its website on Wednesday and in its paper edition on Thursday.
"It was finished a month after Charlotte arrived in Brussels and is the first known devoir [piece of homework] of 30 the sisters would write for Heger," writes Bracken in the LRB. "It contains a number of mistakes, mainly misspellings and incorrect tenses … he [Heger] often returned their essays drastically revised – sadly, there are no comments on this copy of L'Ingratitude."
The fable-like story is dated 16 March 1842 and is about a thoughtless young rat who escapes his father's protective care in search of adventure in the countryside and comes to a sorry end. The tale contrasts the solemn paternal devotion of the father with the reckless abandon of his "ingrate" offspring.
Bracken believes it could well have been based on the works of the celebrated French fabulist, La Fontaine.
"By all accounts a gifted and dedicated teacher, [Heger] gave Emily and Charlotte homework … based on texts by authors they had studied in class," he writes. "They were to compose essays in French that echoed these models, and could choose their own subject matter."
After her first stay in Brussels was brought to an abrupt halt in November 1842 by the death of her aunt, Brontë returned to the city the following year to become an English teacher at the boarding house run by Heger's wife, Claire Zoë Parent. She left for good in 1844, "worn out", writes Bracken, "by her infatuation with Heger, and his wife's hostility towards her."
Brontë's feelings were made public when, in 1913, Paul Heger gave permission for four letters she wrote from Yorkshire to her teacher to be published. (Lizzy Davies)
The London Book Review website doesn't seem to have the story online yet, but we will keep an eye out for it. The Telegraph echoes the news and the Brussels Brontë Blog has a post about it too:
The manuscript was found in the Musée Royal de Mariemont, near Charleroi, along with some other Brontë related papers. In 1915 Paul Heger had given them to Raoul Warocqué, a wealthy collector. He also managed to acquire letters from, for instance, Rembrandt, Mozart and Erasmus.
For many decades these papers were accessible to anyone, but it was a fairly coincidental finding by Brian that led to this great discovery.
Special thanks go to Sue Lonoff, the expert on the Brussels devoirs, who also provided the translation of the manuscript.
EDIT: the devoir is now online at the London Review of Books website, together with the history of its provenance, a picture (source) and a podcast of Gillian Anderson reading it.
Un Rat, las de la vie des villes, et des cours; (car il avait joué son rôle aux palais des rois et aux salons des grand seigneurs) un rat, que l’expérience avait rendu sage, enfin, un rat qui de courtisan était devenu philosophe, s’était retiré à sa maison de campagne (un trou dans le tronc d’un grand ormeau) où il vivait en ermite et dévouait tout son temps et tous ses soins à l’éducation de son fils unique. (Read more; includes English translation by Sue Lonoff).
The Guardian also features the British Library exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands where
every item here will connect to another in some way and the best thing is, sometimes the connections will be obvious – Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath to the Brontës say – and sometimes they won't, like Ballard and Chesterton. (Mark Brown)
The Wuthering Heights 1939 Oscar has now been auctioned and, as Reuters reports,
Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland’s 1939 Oscar for his work in Wuthering Heights was sold for $226,876. In 2004, Hantman’s sold the Academy Award for $27,500.
William Boyd talks to the Irish Times:
“It’s very important for a novelist to retain a level of ignorance about what he or she does. You have to keep that in order to take risks, or make a fool of yourself, or shock people, or fall flat on your face, you know? Too much self-knowledge gets in the way. I taught English for years, so I know how to do it: but I don’t analyse myself in the way I would analyse, say, Emily Brontë.” He shakes his head in mock horror at the very idea. “Better that I don’t analyse it too thoroughly. If I’m too aware it might inhibit me in my next novel.” (Arminta Wallace)
Another writer also mentions Wuthering Heights today: Drew Thies on the Wake Forest University News Center:
Thies says that while he once thought the morbidity and violence in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights served only to jar the audience, he now understands that there is a deeper psychological desire behind it.
“There is something profound about studying such subject matter in a country that not only can lay claim to some of the greatest authors in this tradition, but also seems to be, much more so than in the States, eternally imbued with morbidity,” says Thies. “From the buildings – many of which out-date our own nation’s founding – to the graveyards whose permanent residents number in the hundreds of thousands, England, for all its rich countryside and jibes about tea and crumpets, is perhaps the best place to pursue that fulfilling curiosity with the morbid which Professor Wilson described so well.” (Katie Neal)
And don't miss the picture of him reading Wuthering Heights which goes with the article.

Tag Tuesday has made a Wuthering Heights-inspired tag.

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