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- We are proud to announce the acquisition of Charlotte's 'devoir'

Never-published Charlotte Brontë homework essay saved for the nation
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The Brontë Society is delighted to announce its acquisition of a significant and exciting autograph manuscript by Charlotte Brontë: a previously unpublished homework essay – known as a devoir – on the subject ‘L’Amour Filial’ (the love of a child for parents), written during her time in Brussels, and marked by Constantin Heger, the married teacher with whom she was deeply in love.

Acquired by private sale for the sum of £50,000, and generously funded by private and public donors, the devoir was unknown until December 2012, when the Society was contacted with news of its discovery in a private library. Expert analysis of the handwriting confirmed its author was indeed Charlotte Brontë.

The single-page document, written on both sides, is composed in French and written on a topic assigned to Charlotte Brontë by Constantin Heger as part of her French lessons at the Pensionnat Heger school he and his wife ran in Brussels. Produced at a turbulent time in Charlotte’s life, it deals with the subject of love for parents in dramatic style, claiming that the child who treats a parent unlovingly is little more than a murderer in the eyes of God.

‘We know Charlotte had a deep love and respect for her father Patrick Brontë, but lost her mother at the age of just five, when she died from what is now believed to have been ovarian cancer,’ commented Brontë Society Executive Director Professor Ann Sumner today. ‘This new and exciting window on her love for her father, written at a time of great turmoil, is of incalculable value to our understanding of Charlotte’s interior life, and will form the focus of much new scholarship.’

Last month the Brontë Society launched a public appeal for donations to help fund the devoir’s purchase, and received over £3,000. ‘The response was magnificent,’ commented Brontë Society Chairman Sally McDonald today. ‘Many individual members of the public sent contributions, big and small, and the Society was also generously supported by the V&A Purchase Fund, which gave us a grant of £20,000, and Friends of National Libraries, which contributed £5,000.

‘To all these donors we offer our heartfelt thanks that we can now preserve this significant manuscript for the nation as part of our unparalleled collection of Brontë manuscripts and artefacts here at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.’

The devoir went on display to the public at the weekend, as part of the Society’s Annual General Meeting celebration weekend. News of its acquisition was conveyed to members during Saturday afternoon’s Annual General Meeting.


Although Heger was married with children, Charlotte fell deeply in love with him. Her affection, however, was never reciprocated. Several letters she wrote to him – now held by the British Library - were discovered torn to pieces in his waste-paper bin by his wife Claire, the school’s directrice, and painstakingly stitched back together, possibly to preserve evidence of Charlotte’s indiscretion. Charlotte wrote of Claire, ‘I no longer trust her,’ and that she ‘seems a rosy sugar-plum but I know her to be coloured chalk.’ Evidence of Charlotte’s doomed love affair was only made public when Heger’s son Paul donated her letters to the British Museum in 1913.

Another of Charlotte’s French homework assignments – an essay entitled L’Ingratitude – was discovered in February 2012 by Brussels-based architect Brian Bracken at the Musée Royal de Mariemont, Morianwelz, Belgium.

The V&A Purchase Fund website is at

The V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history. It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide work. The annual grants budget, currently £750,000, is provided by Arts Council England (ACE). Each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 200 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of over £3 million to go ahead. Visit the website here.

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