A story written by “Jane Eyre” author Charlotte Brontë has resurfaced after nearly a century. Titled “L’Ingratitude,” the manuscript is the first piece of French homework that Brontë completed for her French tutor while she was living in Brussels in 1842.
The seven paragraph story was published on the London Review of Books website on Wednesday after writer Brian Bracken found it in Brussels’ Musée royal de Mariemont while researching a biography of Brontë's tutor, Constantin Heger. In a piece accompanying Brontë’s story, Braken points out several misspellings and incorrect tenses.
“L’Ingratitude” describes the last day of a young rat’s life, as he sets off to travel, free of the constrictions of his father. As the title suggests, no good came to the ungrateful rodent in the end.
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“Waking with the lark he felt his limbs numbed by the cold, his hard bed hurt him; then he remembered his father, the ingrate recalled the care and tenderness of the good old rat, he formed vain resolutions for the future, but it was too late, the cold had frozen his blood. Experience was for him an austere mistress, she gave him but one lesson and one punishment; it was death,” wrote Brontë.
Brontë moved in 1842 from her native England to Brussels at the age of 25 with her sister Emily to study with the plan to open a school of their own one day. While there, Brontë fell in love with Heger, who didn’t return the sentiment, Braken writes.
She left Brussels in 1844, “worn out by her infatuation with Heger, and his wife’s hostility towards her,” writes Braken. In England, she concentrated on her writing – this time in English – and her most famous work “Jane Eyre” catapulted her to fame in 1847. She eventually married, but died in 1855 only a year later.
It was only in 1913 that Brontë's infatuation with her tutor was made public, after Heger’s son Paul donated her letters to his father to the British Museum, “causing a sensation,” according to Braken. Not long after that, Paul Heger passed on “L’Ingratitude” to an eager collector, only to stay hidden until now.