Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

December 18, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 3:18 pm

The Lamps of Monsieur Heger

This summer a friend helped me buy a copy of The Belgian Essays, edited and translated by Sue Lonoff. I intended to write a paper about the ‘Athens Saved by Poetry’ devoir written by Charlotte, to be submitted for a Classics conference but I never got around to it. The book is very well arranged with the English translation followed by the original French on the facing page. The notes and corrections of Charlotte, Emily, or M.Heger are also shown. There is also a brief discussion of each devoir (essay) and some information about Heger’s method of teaching.

In the course of the book the most favourite sayings of M.Heger are recalled by a former student of his from some time after Charlotte and Emily had returned home from their stay at his school. These sayings were called his ‘lanterns’. Before writing, his student claims that he would begin by having them ‘put off the shoes’ by having a student speak the following:

Spirit of Wisdom, guide us: Spirit of Truthfulness, teach us: Spirit of Charity, invigorate us: Spirit of Prudence, preserve us: Spirit of Strength, defend us: Spirit of Justice, enlighten us: Comforting Spirit, soothe us.

The remainder of the ‘lanterns’ are more straightforward advice about writing. This first one is preparation for entering into a solemn act- writing. Some of them seem to require a little more explaination:

One must give one’s soul as many forms as possible.

One must never employ, nor tolerate the employment of, a literary image as an argument. The purpose of a literary image if 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.

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

One should 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.



  1. Speaking of M. Heger, I was interested in exploring the topic of Bronte and the mentor-lover. I find it really interesting how Charlotte herself was inspired (and disconcerted) by her teacher. The figure of the mentor-lover appears in Jane Eyre and Villette as well, and possibly in her other novels (which I have not yet read).

    I was just wondering what others might think of this. So far, the friends I’ve talked to consider student-teacher relationships to be a taboo subject. I wonder if it was the same in Bronte’s day. There is something about a student-teacher type of relationship which says a lot about a specific kind of oppression and the types of companions such oppressed women seek.
    Any thoughts?

    There is this one book I am waiting to get my hands on called “AUSTEN, ELIOT, CHARLOTTE BRONTË & THE MENTOR-LOVER” by Patricia Menon. I am not too fond of Austen but it is interesting to find this aspect in common with Bronte.

    Anyone read this?

    Comment by mysticgypsy — December 19, 2005 @ 12:12 am |Reply

  2. I think I have heard of it. I think a friend of mine has read it, or plans to. If I remember correctly, there is a ‘mentor-lover’ of sorts in all of Charlotte’s novels. I did read somewhere that in all of her novels except for Jane Eyre, the mentor-lover reads the ‘devoirs’ of his student. In Jane Eyre this is replaced with Mr Rochester critiquing her paintings. (The other mentor-lovers would be Louis Moore in Shirley and William Crimsworth in The Professor, BTW).

    Comment by Brontëana — December 19, 2005 @ 12:26 am |Reply

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