Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

April 22, 2006

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The Cat by Emily Bronte

Now that exams are over, I can devote more time to blogging and transcribing and all of that good stuff! So, here is the English translation of Le Chat, Emily's Belgian devoir posted back in March. In this piece, Emily defends cats against those who despise them.

Aside from her arguments, there is another reason to like cats. Cats like the Brontës. Well, at least my cat does. She is a maine coon, known for their strange traits and above-average intelligence as well as size. Among other things she will read my books given the chance (unlike a human being, she prefers reading with her nose in my book rather than over my shoulder). Like some other maine coons she eats with her paws as though she had hands. She also sits upright on her tail with her hind legs out like a child, which gives the impression that she at least considers herself to be a little person as she sits thus on the couch.

She watches Brontë adaptations with me. The first time I noticed that she wasn't just spending time with me was when I was watching the musical of Jane Eyre. There's a line where Mr Rochester in Hay Lane describes 'Mr Rochester' as "a thoroughly unpleasant, violent fellow not to be trusted with man nor beast." At this, my cat turned to me and began to paw at my arm until I said: "Yes, I know it isn't true." Her favourite one is the 1973 version of Jane Eyre. It is the only one where she will come from wherever she is to watch it- sitting directly in front of the TV and following it closely (she seems most interested in Mr Rochester, Jane, and Mrs. Fairfax). The very first time she did this I remember her cocking her head to one side just as Jane was saying: "The eccentricity of the proceedings was piquant."

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.

March 13, 2006

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Filed under: Academic,E-texts,Emily Bronte,The Belgian Essays,Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 9:39 pm

Le Chat by Emily Bronte


Last night I decided to read some of the Belgian devoirs before I went to sleep. I had read a few of Charlotte's devoirs but none of Emily's. This one, Le Chat (The Cat) is the first. It was composed in 1842. The work is interesting, and I think there is enough of the author's opinion running through it that you wouldn't say she was simply adopting an argument set down by Monsieur Heger. I found it charming, in a sense. The topic might seem trifling at first glance, but she uses the occasion- defending cats- to comment on human hypocrisy, cruelty, and ingratitude. I think she finds her place somewhere towards the end where the narrator argues with the lady who prefers lap dogs to cats. The ending was nicely placed as well: "For, assuredly, the cat was not wicked in Paradise."

The criticism in this edition, however, is somewhat heavy handed. I have looked over a few of Emily's other devoirs. In each, the editor tells us how Emily's French shows her 'resistence' to the very end, in the from of syntax etc, to the domination of M. Heger, or this new language. I think this is absurd. It is very natural for someone learning a language to express themselves for a time in their customary forms. I recieved 13 years of French language training and yet I still prefer using French words which reflect 'English' ideas- I am not 'resisting' French. In fact, despite my preference for maintaining my… 'barbarisms' as M. Heger might say, when I compose in French, I 'think' in French as well. Also, at the moment I am a teaching assistant for a Latin class. In Latin, word order is fluid- quite the opposite from English. Very often students merely use Latin words in English word order on their assignments.

Since it is short, and one did not exist, I have transcribed Le Chat. There is an English translation in this book but I think the French is more vital, and more authentic- obviously since the French is the work of Emily herself and not a translator.

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