Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

March 14, 2006

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Filed under: Emily Bronte,The Belgian Essays,The Brontes' Works — by bronteana @ 8:32 pm

Excerpts from Emily Bronte's Devoirs

For the Anglophone readers, here are a few excerpts from Sue Lanoff's translations of Emily's Belgian devoirs. These quotes are more or less random, except that I particularly like Emily's conclusions, so several are from the end of her essays. The first one is from a devoir which is interesting for several reasons. There are several versions of it in this book, showing M. Heger's corrections, and then a rewrite he did for Elizabeth Gaskell- presenting it as emily's work when it clearly has been rewritten in a very different style. The ending is particularly unbalanced by Heger's recasting. Emily's line is full of quiet, natural nobility, while Monsieur's line is artificial and distant- not to mention clumbsy.

From Le Roi Harold (King Harold):

As visible to men as to his Creator, the soul divine shines in his eyes; a multitude of human passions awake at the same time, but they are exalted, sanctified, almost deified. That courage has no rashness, that pride has no arrogance, that indignation no injustice, that assurance has no presumption. He is inwardly convinced that a mortal power will not fell him. The hand of Death, alone, can bear the victory away from his arms, and Harold is ready to succumb before it, because the touch of that hand is, to the hero, what the stroke that gave him liberty was to the slave.

From L'Amour Filial (Filial Love) (about the commandment 'honour thy parents'):

The hour will come when conscience will awake; then there will be a terrible retribution. What mediator will plead then for the criminal? It is God who accuses him. What power will save the wretch? It is God who condemns him. He has rejected happiness in mortal life to assure himself of torment in eternal life.

Let angels and men weep for his fate — he was their brother.

From Le Papillon (The Butterfly):

God is the god of justice and mercy; then surely, every grief that he inflicts on his creatures, be they human or animal, rational or irrational, every suffering of our unhappy nature is only a seed of that divine harvest which will be gathered when, Sin having spent its last drop of venom, Death having launched its final shaft, both will perish on the pyre of a universe in flames and leave their ancient victims to an eternal empire of happiness and glory.

Of the devoirs I have read so far, Le Papillon is the most masterful. There isn't any other way to describe it. I believe Charlotte was right in saying that 'Ellis Bell' was at 'his' best as an essayist! I would also add that she seems to be an expert in sprezzatura. She manages to write in a precise Classical manner with language which is direct, unaffected, and natural. I can imagine these essays being composed in her head before setting them down, rather than working out a structure on paper before hand.

Incidentally Heger's version of the first passage reads as follows:

Harold is no more a man; his passions bubble up, they become exhalted, but shedding their egotism, they are purified; they are sanctified: his courage has no more rashness; his pride has no more arrogance — his assurance is without presumption; his indignation is without injustice.

Let the enemy come! still the victory is Harold's. He feels that all must retreat, fall, before him…..But Death?…–to him who fights in defense of his native soil, the stroke of death is the stroke given to the slave, to liberate him and set him free.

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2 Comments »

  1. La Pepillon is very Miltonic with the Sin/Death imagery.

    I liked Emily’s version of Le Roi Herald more.
    And why does Heger slightly undercut Herald’s submission to Death (or so it seems to me)?

    Comment by mysticgypsy — March 15, 2006 @ 1:23 am |Reply

  2. Most of Emily’s devoirs also are concerned with the violence, injustice, and grossness of nature. Earlier in Le Papillon the narrator expresses a doubt in the goodness of a God who could create the natural world when every creature works to destroy another.

    I think you are right about Heger’s alteration. He also changes the emphasis of Harold’s belief in his own invincibility to a belief in the victory. Emily has him think that HE will not fall, but Heger makes it the enemy that will fall. A complete shift in direction…

    Comment by Brontëana — March 16, 2006 @ 12:37 am |Reply


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