Τετάρτη, 25 Ιουλίου 2012

A Bronte related short story

After some very long time of absence, I remembered my allusion to my hypothetical intention of participating to that written competition for a Bronte-related short story, which I finally did. I didn't won of course and therefore didn't visit Haworth again, but I thought to post the story here anyway. The limit was 2000 words and so I couldn't develop it even further. Tell me your thoughts after reading it. Enjoy!

"George Smith meets Professor Heger"

            George Smith stretched his numb limbs wearily, as he was awakening. He found himself lying on the couch of his office, at his publishing house. The clock across the wall showed a quarter to eleven. He had missed dinner at his house, but Elizabeth wouldn’t mind. She was a patient, sweet kind of wife. His mother wouldn’t complain either. She knew what hard work meant. No, neither of the women occupied his thoughts right now. His mind was still bent on the subject of the vivid dream from which he had emerged.
            He was in a foreign country, standing at a leafy, scented inside-garden. His attention was focused on a dark little man dressed in black, who through a grand window of the near building was giving a lecture to a roughly thirty female students of around the age of sixteen. His movements were abrupt, semi-hysterical and his face was fierce with a scowl. “Don’t you understand?” he was yelling in French furiously, while his students were ready to burst into tears. George knew who that man was. Either he had been transported inside Charlotte Bronte’s novel, “Villette”, which he had published four years ago, or he was looking at the prototype of its hero, Paul Emanuel. His name was Constantine Heger and he had been Charlotte’s professor of literature and also her first love, as Mrs Gaskell, Charlotte’s biographer and close friend had informed him.
            He was in all probability the latter, as the next moment George was in Monsieur’s Heger office accompanying him to a cigar, both of them sitting in two comfortable armchairs. With the taken-for-granted logic of dreams, George found himself not obliged to explain his identity or reason of his visit. Their conversation inevitably turned to Charlotte Bronte herself. Her passion for Monsieur Heger had remained unrequited as he was married and a father of two by the time that she met him. She couldn’t help falling in love with him and after dealing with his wife’s antipathy and efforts to alienate her and make her feel unwanted, she left their school. Returning to England she had written him some desperate letters, where she confessed her feelings. The letters were not answered after a while and thankfully, for all sides, no scandal ever arose. Mrs Gaskell had ensured its continuing being so, by suppressing the whole story in her biography of Charlotte. For the above reasons George knew that some measure of tact was needed in his conversation with Monsieur Heger and so he simply noted that he must have known Charlotte for about two years.
            “No, Monsieur”, he cried, “I would say that my acquaintance with Miss (he pronounced it Meesss) Bronte lasted nearly four years, as she continued writing to me after she returned to her country”
            George felt relieved. Heger would talk to him about her after all. Still he proceeded with cautiousness:
            “I dare say you must not find it very comfortable talking about her, considering what Lily Gaskell told me on the matter. Your wife especially did not seem too pleased with your connection with Miss Bronte”, he said. “You understand that as the publisher of Charlotte’s biography I had to be consulted” he apologized.
“These are two different matters that you mention, Monsieur Smith. Let me separate them.” he replied. “Claire and I may be a couple, but we are of different dispositions and we experienced somewhat opposite feelings of this case. Claire had to suffer all the anxiety of keeping the matter a secret and protecting, as she saw it, both her marriage and reputation of our school. I from my side can not say that I regret having met Charlotte Bronte. She was a brilliant woman: imaginative, intellectual and very courageous. She knew what she wanted and she fought to find the means for it. Some people despise ambition in a woman, but I found it honorable. She seemed to know better than me what she was to become. I naturally encouraged her to remain a teacher, not because she lacked the talent, but because one never knows what this business will bring to one who has based his whole living on it. God knows she was stubborn enough to do as she liked, although if I apply this adjective to her, I don’t know how to call her sister Emily”. He chuckled for a while shaking his head, as if he was reminded of something. “Anyway, they were both the most precious pupils for a teacher. Excellent minds, yearning to learn…” he searched inside his pockets and drew out a box of bonbons. He helped himself to one and offered to his guest. George declined shaking his head negatively. The box was put back in Monsieur Heger’s pocket.
            “So, when she started writing to you, how did you feel? Were you aware of her feelings for you?”
            “At first I was quite surprised. I tried to bring her to her senses. I chided her, I forbade her to write to me in the same vein. It is not that I was offended by the feelings she expressed. I heard the very vibrations of her heart as she whispered them in my heart’s ear. And I knew and appreciated her very well to misunderstand her feelings for a base sentiment. In other circumstances I would be flattered that she showed me this kind of attachment, but you see I was a married man and could not risk my understanding to be mistaken for encouragement. I had little to offer her, other than my advice and the satisfaction of her wish to continue answering her letters. She did not need my physical presence, as the future showed. She kept the very best of me by fusing me in her art. She wrote in “Villette”: I thought I loved him when he went away; I love him now in another degree: he is more my own”. So you see the image was more important than the person itself and I would do her no good by continuing writing and keeping her a slave of a hopeless situation. I did not also want to carry the burden of being in a way responsible for her, as if her happiness depended on my actions. She would have to take control of her life again. You would say that I could have been more of a man and say it clearly, instead of waiting for her passion to wear off. But I was postponing the disagreeable duty until it didn’t matter anymore”.
            A pause ensued and while George was pondering, silently agreeing with his thoughts, Monsieur resumed once more:
            “You asked me previously if I knew her feelings before she confessed them herself. I was hardly aware of them. Now that I think of it in retrospection, I may have traced some indications: her brightening eye when she met me, an occasional trembling of her hand, if I happened to touch her, when stooping over her to correct her devoirs, her blushing and emotion when I kissed her goodbye. But you see part of a successful teaching process is the creation of exactly such feelings as respect and admiration: a kind of platonic love that facilitates learning, as a pupil tries his best to satisfy his master. And I thought them indications of such. Moreover it is my habit to try to understand better my students and in Charlotte’s case I felt more obliged to so, not by duty only, but because she was in a foreign country and she was of a very shy character and eventually – why not admit it? – because I liked what I saw and wanted to learn more. She was right that there was a mental bond between us.
You may ask – and I myself have occasionally wondered – whether I crossed some invisible line while trying to do so. Whether I encouraged her to develop those feelings. Well, if I did, it wasn’t intentional. I had nothing to gain. But I think the mistake was mutually ours. We inwardly believed that my marriage was a safeguard. I never suspected she would fall for me and she – being the ethical and upright character she was – would never have dreamt that she could fall in love with a married man and a father. We should both be more guarded. But we closed our eyes to the fact that you don’t love someone for his marital status, but for his qualities as a person”.
“What happened next?”
“I believe that to Charlotte’s difficult situation and misgivings was added Claire’s silent persecution after realizing her feelings for me. It was not that she didn’t trust us or was suspecting some possible adultery, but she didn’t comprehend exactly the nature of our bond and furthermore she was afraid of Charlotte because she didn’t understand her. Her being pregnant at the time and the fear of a possible scandal for our school, made her act more readily. She never said a word to me about it and only much later – partly because of Charlotte’s accounts in “Villette” – I realized the invisible barriers she had spread between us. Not that I complain. She was wiser than both of us to do so, but it cost Charlotte dearly. She wasn’t a happy person and her prospects didn’t please her at the moment. I often had lectured her about her “malade coeur”, her melancholy and now I see how I contributed to it myself.
But what could be done? I couldn’t have helped her then, but when her letters arrived – enabling me to have a clearer view of the situation – the least I could do was destroy them. Not for fear of my reputation, but for her. Who that didn’t knew her could understand, if Claire herself, who once liked her, was so negatively predisposed towards her now? However, Claire disagreed about destroying the letters and secretly mended them and kept them. Oh, we had a great fight about it, when I found it out! But she promised me she would not use them to take revenge on Charlotte’s memory, even though she was terribly aggrieved by her literary portrait in “Villette”. Charlotte kept a most unflattering mirror for Claire, who is not a bad woman at all, but they both chose to show their nastier side one to another. In the end it may have been easier for Charlotte to believe that Claire was the reason that she’d lost the favor of her master, but it was inevitable.
And now, Monsieur Smith, I have answered all your questions and even more. I should think that I deserve an answer to mine: why didn’t you respond to Charlotte’s feelings about you? You were single and free to do so. Didn’t you love her, then?”
“How…how did you know…?” asked George perplexed.
“My dear sir, we are in your dream. I can borrow elements from both your conscious and unconscious part. I can sense for example that you are feeling some guilt. How else to explain your choosing to question me on how my behavior hurt Charlotte today of all days? The anniversary of her death two years ago! Didn’t you hurt her the same? I guess the gratification of your curiosity about who was that little professor who supplanted your literary impersonation, John Graham, in “Villette”, came with the cost to know that you didn’t act any better. After two years of visiting and writing to each other to the point of causing rumors you would marry her, you didn’t have the courage to tell her about Elizabeth on your own. Why? If you were only friends as you insist? It‘s easy asking questions and ascribing blame, but try answering some of these to yourself…”
The voice and dream came to blur, as it was interrupted, and George passed to consciousness. Still he could swear that he heard a rushing of silk as this happened. Could the invisible Madame Heger be watching in his dream too?

23 σχόλια:

  1. I loved it! I also like t try to imagine conversations between people that Charlotte knew. I hadn't thought of one between George and Heger.

    1. I' m glad you liked it. Unfortunately I have to leave for work and I will return a couple of days later. We will catch up then, I promise. Have a nice day!

  2. Can you post the letter where Heger said "she whispered them in my heart’s ear" or whatever?

    1. I don't have the whole letter but only a quote from Lyndall Gordon's "Charlotte Bronte: a passionate life", Chapter 10, page 332. Ellen Nussey had asked him to give her or translate Charlotte's letters. His letter goes like this (I write its translation. If you speak French I can try to post the original):
      "As for the translation into French, whatever may be the merit of the translator, it seems to me that of all literary work it is the letters which lose most by being translated. In intimate correspondence, the associations, the freedom of expression, the veiled allusion, the half-hints, even the charming carelessness of their entire spontaneity, give the smallest things an untranslatable grace and charm."

      And Lyndall Gordon continues:
      He was convinced that intimacies of this kind "ou rien ne desguise le mouvement intime de sa pensee" [where nothing disguises the innermost movement of her thought], should not be published, much less translated: what was said "a voix baissee, a l' oreille de mon coeur" [whispered at the ear of my heart].
      The letter was written in 1863.

  3. I enjoyed reading your story very much. Please continue writing. Your insights are excellent, blog more about Charlotte esp. Shirley and Villette.

  4. Hi! I wanted to post a comment on @Caroline 's blog, but it wouldn't let me. I thought I would post it here and hope it will get to her. Here it is. It is on the post "Why Passion is pure in Charlotte Bronte".

    Hi! I love your blog! I'm a big fan of the Brontes.

    You said "In fact I do not know whether she was physically attracted to Heger." When I read that I thought of another quote from Villette - "his figure (such as it was, I don't boast of it)" in Chapter 29. I did notice the "I envied no girl her lover, no bride her bridegroom, no wife her husband" quote - "no wife her husband" was probably the most significant to Charlotte. That was in the part of Villette when Paul asks Lucy to be his "sister". I noticed in Shirley Caroline says "As for being his sister, and all that stuff, I despise it. I will either be all or nothing to a man like Robert."

    I do agree that Lucy and Paul's relationship is remarkably non-physical, but what does this mean? - "Do I displease your eyes much?" I took courage to urge: the point had its vital import for me. He stopped, and gave me a short, strong answer; an answer which silenced, subdued, yet profoundly satisfied." What was his "short, strong answer"? Many people seem to imply a kiss there. I love the part with - "he gathered me near his heart. I was full of faults; he took them and me all home. For the moment of utmost mutiny, he reserved the one deep spell of peace. These words caressed my ear:— "Lucy, take my love. One day share my life. Be my dearest, first on earth."

  5. Hi (I don't know how to pronounce your name), thanks for the interesting comment.

    I think what Charlotte meant was this. While she thought an emotional intellectual friendship much better than a physical one (see how Caroline tells Shirley that other girls have contemptible notions of love) she did like the romantic element. Lucy and Caroline want to be loved, not merely liked as a good friend, and this needs romance. Also it is the convention for people who fall in love to have some physical acts, which is why they enact (or expect) it. If Paul didn't find Lucy's features pleasing it wouldn't be like falling in love. The love wouldn't be complete, and they would suffer because they don't get what others get. The whole key is completeness. Charlotte did like certain conventions. I must, however, differ from you in that there is little sexual feeling. If there is sexual attraction, it is not as significant as the emotional connection between them. It is seen more as an extra thing to complete the love. The love between Lucy and Paul also seems more romantic than sexual.

    Don't know why you couldn't post on my blog. But if you have trouble with it again, you can email me at stuckinthevictorianera@gmail.com if you want to discuss the subject further. Glad you like Shirley as well. Have you read The Professor?

  6. Hi! My name is Luv.

    Yes I agree with what you said about Villette. I wonder what Charlotte really said when she went to the confessional. Yes I've read the Professor (5 times - I've read Jane Eyre 9 times and reading Villette for the 9th time).

    I'd like to talk about Charlotte's letters to Monsieur Heger.

  7. @Caroline

    How long have you been reading Bronte?

  8. I suspect she said she was lonely and sought advice. Whether she mentioned the being in love with a married man we will never know. That's certainly a lot of times! I never keep track how many times I've read, but I do read her books at least once a year, this year alone I read Shirley the most number of times I think. I didn't like it years ago and I like it now. I started with Jane Eyre 7 years ago when I was 14, but I only became a true Bronte fan since 6 years ago. I recall going to the bookshop buying The Professor and Shirley at one go! Since then, I've been trying hard to decipher everything in Charlotte's books,and only recently many of the incomprehensible things in her books suddenly makes sense to me. I like Anne as well but not as much.

    Don't know much about her letters to Heger (the biographers don't quote everything) but it is strangely touching and sad to read her line about the bread-crumbs. And yet it is not a woman begging her lover, it is a soul seeking the sustenance of an exalted soul.

  9. @ksotikoula @Caroline How many storms are there in Villette?

  10. Lol, I didn't count. Miss Marchmont mentions the night she was to meet her lover there was a storm. Then The blizzard when Lucy is visiting the Brettons with the Bassompierres. Finally, the storm which killed Paul Emmanuel. Is there any significance?

  11. 1) The storm when Polly arrives: "It was a wet night; the rain lashed the panes, and the wind sounded angry and restless."
    2) The metaphor at the beginning of chapter 4 - too long to quote here but read the first 2 paragraphs of chapter 4
    3) The one Miss Marchmont tells about
    4) In chapter 12:"One night a thunder-storm broke; a sort of hurricane shook us in our beds... the tempest took hold of me with tyranny: I was roughly roused and obliged to live. I got up and dressed myself, and creeping outside the casement close by my bed, sat on its ledge, with my feet on the roof of a lower adjoining building. It was wet, it was wild, it was pitch-dark... I could not go in: too resistless was the delight of staying with the wild hour, black and full of thunder, pealing out such an ode as language never delivered to man—too terribly glorious, the spectacle of clouds, split and pierced by white and blinding bolts."

    5) End of chapter 15: "If the storm had lulled a little at sunset, it made up now for lost time. Strong and horizontal thundered the current of the wind from north-west to south-east; it brought rain like spray, and sometimes a sharp hail, like shot: it was cold and pierced me to the vitals. I bent my head to meet it, but it beat me back. My heart did not fail at all in this conflict; I only wished that I had wings and could ascend the gale, spread and repose my pinions on its strength, career in its course, sweep where it swept."

    6) The blizzard you mentioned.
    7) In chapter 34: "Then the gleams of lightning were very fierce, the thunder crashed very near; this storm had gathered immediately above Villette; it seemed to have burst at the zenith; it rushed down prone; the forked, slant bolts pierced athwart vertical torrents; red zigzags interlaced a descent blanched as white metal: and all broke from a sky heavily black in its swollen abundance."
    8) The last storm.

    I also noticed how she always refers to M. Paul's personality/temperament as storm, hurricane, etc. : "As usual he broke upon us like a clap of thunder; but instead of flashing lightning-wise from the door to the estrade,"
    "It went off, however, as mildly as the menace of a storm sometimes passes on a summer day. I got but one flash of sheet lightning in the shape of a single bantering smile from his eyes"
    "There was a good strong partition-wall between me and the gathering storm, as well as a facile means of flight through the glass-door to the court, in case it swept this way."

  12. Girls sorry it took me so long to answer, but after the trip I had a lot of things to do, but it gave me more time to think about your dialogue and in the end I thought it better to write a full post.

  13. @Caroline @Ksotikoula

    This is something Charlotte wrote the day she made her will (Feb 17 1855) Who do you think she was talking about?

    "Only seven people have ever truly known me – five others almost – of the seven – all but one are gone – three gone from this world – two gone from my life, one was never mine – the other gone from this hemisphere. Of the five – two are gone forever – one from me. The other three are still here – true and faithful and I love them."

    Dissect it and let me know who you think she means and I'll share what I think.

    There is proof that Charlotte Bronte received proposals from 5 people - not just Henry Nussey, David Pryce, James Taylor & Arthur Bell Nicholls. Guess who the 5th is from. :)

  14. I have never heard of this. I can't find it in any letter or biography. What is your source?

    Anyway, if it is true, either I am a little weak in simple mathematics or I don't understand it very well. LOL.

    What is bothering me is that she says 6 out of seven people have gone, but when she explains I find that all 7 of them are gone. Or if I interpret it otherwise she speaks of the 5 that have gone and doesn't refer to the 6th person.

    Anyway if I were to guess, the 3 gone from this world would be Emily, Anne and Branwell or Tabby (the first one knew what she was thinking of when they were little, but the second stayed with her her whole life).

    The two gone from her life I believe are Smith and Heger (the one who was never hers) and of course the one in the other hemisphere was Mary Taylor.

    Now the person who is still with her could be Ellen or Arthur.

    Of the five the 2 that have gone for ever would be perhaps Martineau and James Taylor (the one of her). The other three are Papa, Gaskell and Ellen or Arthur (according to whom you believe was closer to her)

    If there was another proposal I believe it would be Smith's, but as for proof if you mean Ellen's conviction, I find it a little weak.

  15. I heard of the George Smith proposal story, but he never proposed in reality, unless there's some evidence we don't know about. Ellen Nussey thought he would, but I doubt she had proof that she did. It's curious she said of the 5, 2 are gone forever "one from me." what does the last sentence mean? It could mean that one of them purposely went away from her, the other just went away. The one who purposely went away from her could then be George Smith who then avoided her. The other who just went away could be James Taylor, who had business in India, or maybe Harriet Martineau, who offended Charlotte with a review on Villette. The remaining 3 could be Mrs Gaskell, Miss Wooler, Laetitia Wheelwright. What we have ignored is William Smith Williams, whom she wrote to on almost fatherly terms compared to the liveliness with Smith. William Smith Williams might be one of those gone forever, since when she stopped being friends with Smith her friendship with Williams wore out. Let's not underestimate the influence Williams had on her career.

  16. @Caroline @Ksotikoula
    I don’t remember where I found it. I will tell how I see it.
    “All but one are gone” – the one still there is Ellen I thought.
    “Three gone from this world” - I hadn’t thought of Tabby, but had thought of Branwell, Emily and Anne.
    “Two gone from my life, one was never mine” I had thought Smith and Heger, but did George Smith really know her that well or is he one of the people in the “almost knew her” category?
    Mary in New Zealand.
    Of the five – the two who are gone forever – are they Maria and Elizabeth? They only “almost” know her because they died so young.
    “One from me” – It might be Gaskell or James Taylor but I had thought of William Smith Williams, she told him so much stuff and talked about people to him and about her sisters so much.
    “The other three are still here” – that includes the first person – Ellen? And Papa and Arthur probably.
    “True, Faithful and I love them.” - In a letter to William Smith Williams talking about Ellen she said “She is good – she is true – she is faithful and I love her.”
    There is a letter from George Smith’s Daughter to Anne Thackeray about the proposal.

  17. Williams is important, in many ways she confided to him her heart and emotions she didn't with Smith. Smith she felt was not her equal. There were things she still concealed from him - he did understand her remarkably well, but he could not sympathise and accept her fully as an equal and good friend. So she probably thought "he almost knew her".

    Where did you hear about the letter?? How did Smith's daughter know?

  18. I don't remember where I found the letter. She said he told her before he died - and that he had always denied it before that.

  19. Where is the letter where Gaskell said Heger said it would be out of Charlotte's character to destroy his letters or whatever he said? I've read it before but I can't find it.

  20. Try checking Winifred Gerin's biography of Charlotte Bronte.

  21. @Caroline I'm commenting on Caroline's blog post about Hundsen, hope it gets to her.

    I know that Charlotte didn't meet Thackeray till after she wrote The Professor, but her relationship with him makes me think of Hunsden and Frances - he's always sarcastic and makes her flare up, people (George Smith) even compared her to a flame when she got angry at Thackeray.

    "On another occasion Thackeray roused the hidden fire in Charlotte Bronte's soul, and was badly scorched himself as the result."