My continuing quest to learn more about Charlotte Bronte and her famous work Jane Eyre… and what links this book with a three week stay in Hathersage, Derbyshire in June and July 1845..
In my previous blogs I recorded my notes and observations about early parts of the first biography ever written on Chatlotte Bronte, by her friend and author Elizabeth Gaskell. This blog will continue the journey through that book.
1840 saw Charlotte living at home at Haworth for the full year. Writing to her good friend Ellen Nussey she makes clear how happy she is on home territory..
“Verily it is a delightful thing to live here at home, at full liberty to do just as one pleases.”
In 1841 she took up her second position as governess to another Yorkshire family. Gaskell does not reveal the name but my research has already discovered they were called White. The family lived quite close to Ellen Nussey, possibly in Birstall. She had two pupils, a girl of 8 and a boy of 6. This engagement lasted longer than her first position but by July Charlotte is back at Haworth once more. Gaskell mentions one of Charlottes habits and calls it making out……
“This habit of ‘making out’ interests for themselves that most children get who have none in actual life, was very strong in her. The whole family used to ‘make out’ histories, and invent characters and events.
We might call this day-dreaming but it was evidently something much stronger – day-dreaming with a purpose. She would look at a painting or picture intently seeking out every small detail. She did not join in with games at school and preferred to stand under a tree by herself and observe the sky. Her brother and sisters shared this making-out habit, even staring into an empty room and imagining what might be there.
On a visit home Charlotte discovers Anne is sick and there is talk about the three sisters opening their own school, even talk about setting one up at Burlington ( Bridlington)
“Papa and aunt talk, by fits and starts, of our–id est, Emily, Anne, and myself–commencing a school! I have often, you know, said how much I wished such a thing; but I never could conceive where the capital was to come from for making such a speculation. I was well aware, indeed, that aunt had money, but I always considered that she was the last person who would offer a loan for the purpose in question. A loan, however, she _has_ offered, or rather intimates that she perhaps _will_ offer in case pupils can be secured, an eligible situation obtained..”
By early August she was back working for the White family. The plans for the school continued and Charlotte heard that Miss Wooler was thinking of giving up her school on Dewsbury Moor. The plans continue but Charlotte realised her “attainments” may not yet be good enough to open her own school and there is some discussion about her going to the continent to improve her French and German,
“I so longed to increase my attainments–to become something better than I am…. I longed to go to Brussels; but how could I get there? I wished for one, at least, of my sisters to share the advantage with me. I fixed on Emily….”
Charlotte left her employers just before Christmas and her second spell as a governess was over. At Christmas all the Bronte’s were back together at Haworth. Plans were made and a few weeks into 1842 Charlotte and Emily Bronte set off for London with their father. They stayed overnight then took the Ostend Packet from London Bridge and made their way to the Pensionnnat of Madame Heger, situated on the Rue D’Isaabelle in Brussels. Patrick Bronte spent one night there then immediately returned to Yorkshire. Charlotte was to improve her French along with Emily under the guidance of Monsieur Heger. Charlotte also took lessons in German. There were between 80 and 100 pupils when Charlotte and Emily arrived in February 1842. They did not make any new friends and had a lot to learn…
“M. Heger’s account is that they knew nothing of French. I suspect they knew as much (or as little), for all conversational purposes, as any English girls do, who have never been abroad, and have only learnt the idioms and pronunciation from an Englishwoman. The two sisters clung together, and kept apart from the herd of happy, boisterous, well-befriended Belgian girls, who, in their turn, thought the new English pupils wild and scared-looking, with strange, odd, insular ideasabout dress.”
The original plan was to stay in Brussels just six months but that was changed,
“When the Brontes first went to Brussels, it was with the intention ofremaining there for six months, or until the _grandes vacances_ began in September. The duties of the school were then suspended for six weeks or two months, and it seemed a desirable period for their return”
Madame Heger had made on offer for Charlotte and Emily to stay on for another six months, she would dismiss her English master and Charlotte would take his place and Emily would teach music. There would be no charge for board and they could continue their language studies for no charge but they would not receive a salary. These plans were accepted and Charlotte and Emily spent the summer in Belgium and did not return to Haworth.
In late October 1842 they received a letter informing that Aunt Branwell was seriously ill. They raced back to Haworth but it was too late. She had died and the burial had already taken place. Aunt Branwell left the three sisters an inheritance and now they had the money they would need to start a new school. A decision was taken to set up in Haworth. These plans were talked over and Charlotte decided she needed to return to Brussels to continue improving her French.
In January 1843 she returned but Emily stayed at Haworth. This time she travelled alone to Brussels and did not find it a pleasant experience. She returned to teaching English and also gave English lessons to Mr Heger and his brother. She was however very lonely. In her first year she had the company of her sister Emily. She could also visit her old school friend Margaret Taylor and sister Mary who were living with the family nearby. She also became friend with Margaret’s cousins. By 1843 Martha was dead and Margaret and all her family had moved away. She did not mix with any of the other teachers and often went on solitary walks. In May 1843 she wrote to Ellen Nussey..
“I get on here from day to day in a Robinson-Crusoe-like sort of way, very lonely, but that does not signify. “
Writing to Ellen again in August her despair is clearly obvious as she yearns to return home,
“Brussels, August 1st, 1843.
If I complain in this letter, have mercy and don’t blame me, for, I forewarn you, I am in low spirits, and that earth and heaven are dreary and empty to me at this moment. In a few days our vacation will begin; everybody is joyous and animated at the prospect, because everybody is to go home. I know that I am to stay here during the five weeks that the holidays last, and that I shall be much alone during that time, and consequently get downcast, and find both days and nights of a weary length. It is the first time in my life that I have really dreaded the vacation. Alas! I can hardly write, I have such a dreary weight at my heart; and I do so wish to go home. Is not this childish? Pardon me, for I cannot help it. However, though I am not strong enough to bear up cheerfully, I can still bear up; and I will continue to stay (D. V.) some months longer, till I have acquired German; and then I hope to see all your faces again. “
One of the reasons for Charlotte’s unhappiness was an estrangement between herself and Madame Heger. Gaskell explains this away as some religious difference and intolerance between a Catholic and a Protestant. This is another example of Gaskell’s censor at work. Another and more likely reason was that Charlotte had grown close to Mr Heger, much close than Madame Heger was prepared to tolerate indeed some people believe she had fallen in love with him. A hopeless romantic notion that had no possible future. Heger was a married man and a catholic.
At the end of 1843 Charlotte resigned her position giving the reason that she was concerned for her father’s health and in particular his growing blindness. On January 3rd 1844 Charlotte arrived back at Haworth. Mr Heger had kindly given her a diploma so now she could prove her attainments in French to any prospective patron of her new school.
Writing to a friend in January 1844 she betrays her feelings for Mr. Heger,
“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 has 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 professor.”
In the same letter she explains the plans for a new school are put on hold. She makes clear that the reason is her father’s failing eyesight and she does not wish to leave him with both Anne and Branwell away. This shows she was at this time thinking of starting a school somewhere away from Haworth. During the summer months the position changed and a decision to open a school at Haworth was taken. Costs were worked out at £35 per annum, circulars were created and printed and Charlotte busily sent these out to her few contacts. One of these was Mrs White for who she formerly worked as a governess. Charlotte was disappointed to find that she was too late, her daughter had been promised to another school. As summer 1844 turned to autumn and then winter, there were still no takers and Charlotte began to realise this plan was not going to work,
“We have made no alterations yet in our house. It would be folly to do so, while there is so little likelihood of our ever getting pupils. I fear you are giving yourself too much trouble on our account. Depend upon it, if you were to persuade a mamma to bring her child to Haworth, the aspect of the place would frighten her, and she would probably take the dear girl back with her, instanter. We are glad that we have made the attempt, and we will not be cast down because it has not succeeded.”
The new Year of 1845 found Charlotte still at home at Haworth and looking after her father who was almost blind. Both Branwell and Anne were away working for the same employer. Writing in March to Ellen Nussey she explains her daily routine..
“March 24th, 1845.
I can hardly tell you how time gets on at Haworth. There is no event whatever to mark its progress. One day resembles another; and all have heavy, lifeless physiognomies. Sunday, baking-day, and Saturday, are the only ones that have any distinctive mark. Meantime, life wears away. I shall soon be thirty; and I have done nothing yet. Sometimes I get melancholy at the prospect before and behind me. Yet it is wrong and foolish to repine. Undoubtedly, my duty directs me to stay at home for the present. There was a time when Haworth was a very pleasant place to me; it is not so now. I feel as if we were all buried here. I long to travel; to work; to live a life of action. Excuse me, dear, for troubling you with my fruitless wishes.”
In Mid June 1845 Charlotte received two offers to stay with her friend Ellen Nussey. The first was to stay at the family house in Yorkshire. This was turned down as Charlotte did not wish to leave her “papa” on his own due his growing blindness. The second invitation was to join Ellen at a Vicarage in Hathersage Derbyshire. Ellen’s brother had recently secured the position of vicar at the parish Church of St Michaels and All Angels and Ellen requested Charlotte help her prepare the vicarage for his return from a honeymoon. Charlotte accepted this invitation,
“You thought I refused you coldly, did you? It was a queer sort of coldness, when I would have given my ears to say Yes, and was obliged to say No. Matters, however, are now a little changed. Anne is come home, and her presence certainly makes me feel more at liberty. Then, if all be well, I will come and see you. Tell me only when I must come. Mention the week and the day. Have the kindness also to answer the following queries, if you can. How far is it from Leeds to Sheffield? Can you give me a notion of the cost? Of course, when I come, you will let me enjoy your own company in peace, and not drag me out a visiting.”
This is all that Gaskell has to say about the three week stay in Hathersage in June and July 1845. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. There were no clues in her biography, not even the slightest hint about what if anything happened at Hathersage in those three weeks that helped to shape her book Jane Eyre. There was however an interesting letter about her return journey where she came across a Frenchman in her train carriage,
“On her return from this short visit to her friend, she travelled with a gentleman in the railway carriage, whose features and bearing betrayed him, in a moment, to be a Frenchman. She ventured to ask him if such was not the case; and, on his admitting it, she further inquired if he had not passed a considerable time in Germany, and was answered that he had; her quick ear detected something of the thick guttural pronunciation, which, Frenchmen say, they are able to discover even in the grandchildren of their countrymen who have lived any time beyond the Rhine….. And so her journey back to Haworth, after the rare pleasure of this visit to her friend, was pleasantly beguiled by conversation with the French gentleman; and she arrived at home refreshed and happy”
At the end of Chapter 14 of the Biography there was still no clue or hint of what inspired Charlotte to write Jane Eyre. Yes I had become aware that she was certainly using real people and places in her book, albeit it with changed names. It was easy enough to work out the inspiration and reason for the first part of the novel where Jane Eyre was a child….. but the Hathersage link was still missing and I had to find it….
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