Charlotte Bronte and ‘Dr. John’

George Smith (charcoal on paper)

George Smith as a young man

‘Had I been too hasty? I used to ask myself; and this question would occur with a cruel sharpness after some brief chance interview with Dr. John. He still had such kind looks, such a warm hand; his voice still kept so pleasant a tone for my name, I never liked ‘Lucy’ so well as when he uttered it. But I learnt in time that this benignity, this cordiality, this music, belonged in no shape to me: it was a part of himself; it was the honey of his temper: it was the balm of his mellow mood; he imparted it as the ripe fruit rewards with sweetness the rifling bee; he diffused it about him, as sweet plants shed their perfume. Does the nectarine love either the bee or bird it feeds? Is the sweet briar enamoured of the air?

“Goodnight Dr. John; you are good, you are beautiful but you are not mine. Goodnight and God bless you!”'(1)

These lines extracted from the novel ‘Villette’ are amongst the most poignant I have ever read. They are directed from ‘Lucy’ (a character strongly representing Charlotte Bronte) towards ‘Dr. John’ (her real life publisher and object of love George Smith). As mentioned in an earlier post Villette chronicles Charlotte Bronte’s early experiences as a student/teacher in Brussels. In 1842 Charlotte and her sister Emily embarked upon the journey to Brussels with the intent of learning languages; French Italian and some German, all of which would, the sister’s hoped, give them a competitive advantage when they  returned to set up their own school in England. In exchange for lodging and lessons delivered by Constantin Heger at the Pensionnat, Charlotte taught English at the same boarding school and Emily music. Interaction with M. Heger provided deep intellectual stimulation for Charlotte, and lay the foundation for the strong feelings she came to harbour for him. M. Heger was a married man, and while he was solicitous of the welfare of both sisters, and deemed them to be no ordinary students, Charlotte’s feelings for him were not reciprocated. It is extremely unlikely that Charlotte sought a romantic liaison or affair of sorts with him, but in reading her frenzied and ardent letters to him, he was aware that her feelings had extended beyond the purely platonic realm. He consistently refused to reply to the letters she subsequently wrote on her return to Yorkshire, for fear that it might constitute encouragement.  Constantin Heger is the irascible and irrepressible ‘Paul Emanuel’ of Villette, cantankerous and difficult to get along with, and yet possessing some sterling good qualities.

Heger has been of sustained interest to Charlotte Bronte’s biographers, and they have devoted considerable space to investigating the nature of her association with him. One commentator has even deemed that Charlotte’s time in Brussels’ amounted to “the greatest single emotional experience of her life.” (2) I am inclined to take issue with this identification of M. Heger as the primary and most important love interest in Charlotte Bronte’s life. She probably did love him; Prior to Brussels she had lived a somewhat isolated existence, and he was the first man to leave a forceful intellectual impress upon her mind. However, while Villette, in a sense documents her contrary feelings towards Heger; her mingled respect and disdain, warmth and utter exasperation towards him, the novel is also a testament to her deep and passionate love for ‘Dr John’ or rather George Smith, her publisher. While biographers are obliged to comment on Charlotte’s association with Smith, the relatively little attention devoted to him is indeed surprising, given the strength of feeling ‘Lucy Snowe’ evinces for him and the directness with which this is expressed. ‘Dr. John’ as portrayed by Charlotte Bronte in Villette possesses a highly attractive personality. There are over a dozen allusions in the novel to how handsome and physically prepossessing he is, but more than that he is a thoughtful, feeling, talented and benevolent man. When you read the novel, it’s pretty clear that Charlotte Bronte was crazy about this guy. He and his mother Mrs. Louisa Bretton (a faithful representation of George Smith’s mother Elizabeth Smith) have braved considerable material adversity and Dr. John is a rising physician also living and working in Villette (Brussels). Louisa Bretton had acted as Lucy’s God-mother when the latter was a girl of fourteen, and Lucy has accordingly known both mother and son from childhood. Circumstances throw them apart, and Lucy is again acquainted with Dr. John nine years later when his services are secured by Madame Beck (the directress of the boarding school where Lucy is employed as English teacher). He fails to recognise her, but she soon enough identifies him as the ‘Graham’ of old. It is evident that Lucy has very strong feelings for him, but she never allows herself to fully express these sentiments; the prospect of their being together is remote, and (she feels) almost ludicrous. Charlotte Bronte remained acutely conscious of her unprepossessing exterior throughout her life, and Lucy Snowe is the medium through which these entrenched insecurities find expression.

For me, any incongruity in their union really arises from Lucy’s temperament, and not her external appearance. Lucy is a solitary figure with a desire to make her way in the world with integrity, and without having to take favours from anyone. She is also rather morbid and, one would think, needlessly inclined to take a pessimistic view of things. Indeed, her fixation with her appearance, and pretty premature conclusion that Dr. John can never be hers, was a source of frustration to me the first time I read the novel. Even looking at the novel retrospectively, persistent self-consciousness and insecurity about one’s looks is something I associate with adolescence, and by the time you hit your twenties you generally become a lot more at ease about your appearance. Accordingly, Lucy’s preoccupation with her lack of beauty, and belief that this removes any chance of marriage with Dr. John, did irritate me a little. Why should anyone be so morose about their prospects, I would wonder: Lucy clearly has a brain, and self-respect; aren’t those treasures in themselves?  I was aware that the novel had been written by Charlotte following a period of deep depression, ill-health, and melancholia experienced on the early deaths of her siblings, but these qualms about Lucy’s characterisation remained. In a November 1852 letter to George Smith, preceding the publication of Villette, Charlotte writes:

“Lucy must not marry Dr. John; he is far too youthful, handsome, bright spirited, and sweet tempered; he is a ‘curled darling’ of Nature and Fortune, and must draw a prize in life’s lottery. His wife must be young, rich, pretty; he must be made very happy indeed. If Lucy marries anybody, it must be the Professor-a man in whom there is much to forgive, much to ‘put up with’.”  (3)

In a subsequent letter she expands on this theme, writing:

“I must pronounce you right again, in your complaint of the transfer of interest in the third volume, from one set of characters to another. It is not pleasant, and it will probably be found as unwelcome to the reader, as it was, in a sense, compulsory upon the writer. The spirit of romance would have indicated another course; far more flowery and inviting; it would have fashioned a paramount hero, kept faithfully with him, and made him supremely worshipful: he should have been an idol, and not a mute unresponding idol either, but this would be unlike real LIFE-inconsistent with truth-at variance with probability.” (4)

If you think about it, it is quite extraordinarily that Villette was written and published at all, given the content it contains. It is an open declaration by Charlotte of her love (indeed passion) for her publisher, love which she knows is not requited (certainly not to the same extent). Smith obviously had regard for Charlotte (a distinguished author and literary genius) but whether he felt anything approaching love is open to question. Villette is in a large part a study and glowing delineation of George Smith, and was forwarded by Charlotte for publication by him. In Charlotte’s circle of literary friends and acquaintances ‘Dr. John’ and ‘Louisa Bretton’ could very easily be identified as George Smith and his mother. Hence Charlotte’s request that the novel be published anonymously. (5) This request was declined as the name of ‘Currer Bell’ (Charlotte Bronte’s pseudonym) was required to generate the requisite interest in the novel and assure sales. I also subsequently learned that Charlotte Bronte’s belief that her looks posed a serious hindrance to prospective marriage with Smith, was not without foundation.

In a letter written to Mrs Humphry Ward almost five decades later, George Smith discusses the sentiment he harboured for Charlotte Bronte:

“No, I never was in the least bit in love with Charlotte Bronte. I am afraid that the confession will not raise me in your opinion, but the truth is, I never could have loved any woman who had not some charm or grace of person, and Charlotte Bronte had none- I liked her and was interested in her, and I admired her- especially when she was in Yorkshire and I was in London. I was never a coxcomb enough to suppose that she was in love with me. But, I believe that my mother was at one time rather alarmed…”  (6)

It is questionable as to how far we can take this communication at face value.  I do not believe Smith when he says ‘I was never a coxcomb enough to suppose that she was in love with me”. That Charlotte was in love with him is plain enough; Villette is a powerful testament to this fact. Was he indeed romantically indifferent to her, their relationship being a “curious one-sided friendship which was half marble and  half life; only on one hand truth and on the other perhaps a jest”, as suggested by Bronte in Villette? There is his insistence in 1850 that Charlotte accompany him and his family on a trip to the Rhine, a proposal which was met with resistance by his mother. (7) There are also, in the written exchanges between them, fragments suggesting that at one stage he had seriously contemplated proposing to her. This was shortly after she declined to accompany his family to the Rhine (chiefly citing her health as the reason), and it is suggested by Sir Tresham Lever, that he was at this point on the brink of proposing to her, but lost his nerve. Parts of their correspondence (some of which was conspicuously withheld by Smith’s family members from subsequent publication) indicates that this was a distinct possibility. (8) All of this precedes Villette, the bulk of which was not written until mid 1852, in which he would have received a very clear indication of her feelings towards him.

Why, moreover, was he displeased on reading the third volume of Villette, where there was a transferal of interest from him to Paul Emmanuel (M. Heger)? What precisely was it that ‘stuck in his throat’? Was it merely a case of hurt ego and thwarted vanity; with George Smith wanting the focus to be retained on him right until the end of the novel? I find this rather puzzling: Charlotte furnishes him with a beautiful and interesting heroine, Countess Paulina de Bassompierre, and he is projected as a chivalric ideal and man of integrity throughout the third volume as well. Did he feel that readers might construe ‘Dr John’s’  failure to ever contemplate marriage with Lucy as manifesting a shallowness of mind? Villette is not written in a manner as to suggest this or to censure him for his preference for Paulina. If George Smith was not in love with Charlotte Bronte, why would he even want a book written which indicated otherwise? Or did his sentiments towards her, actually approximate to something akin to love, and did he feel that she had not adequately understood him? Clearly, there are more questions here than answers. We can really only speculate as to the precise nature and scope of his feelings towards Charlotte, and why he responded with displeasure to the third volume of Villette. When George Smith became engaged to the beautiful Elizabeth Blakeway, the daughter of a wealthy London wine merchant in 1853, this was Charlotte Bronte’s very telling communication to him:

“My Dear Sir,

In great happiness, as in great grief- words of sympathy should be few. Accept my meed of congratulation- and believe me

Sincerely yours

C. Bronte” (9)

Smith was a dauntless, enterprising person with a good head for business, and significant literary discernment. He also had a forthright, dynamic personality and cultivated strong professional and personal relationships with several intellectual luminaries of the day:  John Ruskin, William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Tennyson, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Matthew Arnold, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope are amongst the list of eminent writers whose works Smith published. He achieved tremendous success as a publisher, and also revived his publishing firm with skill and dexterity when it encountered severe debacles (whether due to the financial impropriety and fraudulent conduct of some of its employees, or events outside Smith’s control, such as the Indian mutiny which affected the company’s external branches). Margaret Smith, in her compilation of, and commentary on the letters of Charlotte Bronte, indicates that later on in his life George Smith did not always live up to Charlotte’s ‘princely ideal’ of him.  ‘Dr John’, however, as depicted in Villette is a very admirable man with many qualities which really draw you to him, and after reading the book, I certainly wanted to know more about the real life personage he was modeled on, even if the real did not always fully match up to the ideal. We can really only conjecture as to the exact feelings George Smith’s entertained for Charlotte Bronte. Perhaps she herself was right when she wrote the following:

‘I believe in that goodly mansion, his heart, he kept one little place under the sky-lights where Lucy might have entertainment, if she chose to call. It was not so handsome as the chambers where he lodged his male friends; it was not like the hall where he accommodated his philanthropy, or the library where he treasured his science, still less did it resemble the pavilion where his marriage feast was splendidly spread; yet, gradually, by long and equal kindness, he proved to me that he kept one little closet, over the door of which was written “Lucy’s Room.” I kept a place for him, too — a place of which I never took the measure, either by rule or compass: I think it was like the tent of Peri-Banou. All my life long I carried it folded in the hollow of my hand yet, released from that hold and constriction, I know not but its innate capacity for expanse might have magnified it into a tabernacle for a host.’ (10)

-Lucy Snow divulging her thoughts in the ‘Cloud’ chapter of Villette. ©



(1) Charlotte Bronte, Villette (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 1993), 376

(2) Gina Luria, “Review: Charlotte Bronte”The Self-Conceived by Helene Morgan”Elizabeth Gaskell: A biography by Winifred Geri; Jane Austen and the War of Ideas by Marilyn Butler” Signs, 4 (1978): 374

(3) Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Bronte London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1857)

(4) Ibid

(5) Ibid

(6) Margaret Smith, “George Smith, Prince of Publishers and William Smith Williams” Bronte Studies, 36 (2011): 75-84

(7) Tresham Lever, “Charlotte Bronte and George Smith” Bronte Society Transactions, 19 (1977): 106-114

(8) Ibid

(9) Ibid

(10) Charlotte Bronte, Villette, 474

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Luv Lubker
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 03:06:37

    Hi! I have been researching Charlotte’s relationship with George Smith for about a year and a half and can answer some of your questions.

    I first read Villette about 3 years ago, and I knew that Graham was based on Charlotte’s publisher, but I took it for granted that it was real and that George did not reciprocate her feelings. I had read the letters you quote shortly after that but I still believed that.

    About a year and a half ago, I read all three volumes (Margaret Smith) of Charlotte’s letters for the first time – and read some of her more personal letters to George aloud to my mother. We had read some about the etiquette from that time and that a young unmarried man and woman were not supposed to correspond (personally, not just business letters) unless they were childhood friends or they were engaged. She thought that these letters sounded much to familiar for him not to have proposed to her – and I said that I had read when I first started reading about Charlotte that Ellen Nussey – Charlotte’s best friend – had said that George proposed to Charlotte, but there was no other evidence and nothing about whether she accepted or not. I didn’t really believe it then.

    I started researching and I found proof – it is on websites that are only accessible through certain libraries and are hard to find – but George Did love Charlotte Bronte and did propose to her – and they were engaged for 2 ½ years (July 5, 1850-January 24, 1853). His mother disapproved and kept saying they had to wait longer and longer and then Charlotte’s father got really sick (had a stroke, went suddenly blind etc.) whenever he said he wanted to go to London and she wouldn’t leave him, so it was finally broken off. He told his daughter about it a little more than 2 months before he died – on the 48th anniversary of when they broke up. There are also letters Ellen Nussey wrote to two different biographers about it and letters from Dolly (George’s daughter) to Anne Thackeray – daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray – about when he had told her. So there is stuff from his side and from Charlotte’s so it is confirmed.
    Now to why George so disliked the third volume of Villette.

    Charlotte started writing Villette 6 days after the first time she stayed with George’s family, in December 1849 – the second time she saw him. She worked on the story all through their relationship. They had been supposed to get married July 8, 1851 (3 years after they first met – 1 year after they got engaged) but his mother said they had to wait another year. She worked on the story some after this visit and then stopped writing it for 8 months. When she started again was right after her father said he wanted to go to London, and then he had a stroke. It seems like it was then (August 1852) that she decided it wouldn’t work out. She started working on Villette again and finished it in 3 months.

    In the manuscript of Villette, there are lots of parts that were written and taken out – because they were private messages to him. In the part you quoted “Had I been too hasty?…” right before that it says “Was this feeling dead? I do not know, but it was buried.” In the manuscript, crossed out very lightly so it is perfectly readable, it says “Was this feeling dead? Not dead yet – no – to this day it is not dead.” She let she let him know she still loved him but it wouldn’t work out. “Goodnight Dr. John; you are good, you are beautiful but you are not mine.”

    I don’t know why the information was suppressed so much after everyone concerned was dead, he obviously did not want it to be forgotten – since he told his daughter and had her write it down.

    These are quotes from one of the biographers who knew about it.
    “Charlotte must have been more attractive than the world at one time believed her to have been, for she had several offers of marriage before Mr. Nicholls appeared upon the scene as a suitor. Mrs. Smith, the mother of Mr. George Smith, her publisher, was alarmed at the prospect of her son’s admiration for Charlotte’s genius developing into an affection for her.”
    “One real love affair she had in her life. It was with the original of Dr. John. He was younger than her; admired her and loved her; and she owned that she loved him. But his mother dreaded the idea of such a union; she (Charlotte) quietly put her good-looking and prosperous adorer aside.”
    If you have any more questions or would like to talk more – I have a facebook page –

    Luv Lubker


  2. Luv Lubker
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 03:07:44

    Another thing – Graham isn’t actually and idealization of George – people who knew George said that she made him more superficial than he really was.


  3. Luv Lubker
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 03:09:27

    “The Prince of Publishers” by Jenifer Glynn is a very good book about George Smith


    • silverambrosia
      Nov 11, 2013 @ 20:38:29

      That’s actually pretty ground-breaking if it’s true. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but I don’t have access to, and had previously never heard of this archival material you’re talking about: The letters from Dolly (George Smith’s daughter) and Anne Thackeray. I recall reading about Ellen Nussey’s belief that George Smith had actually proposed, or was going to propose to Charlotte, and I attributed it to a rather optimistic assessment of the situation by Ellen Nussey, with partiality for her friend clouding Ellen’s judgement. I would love to see the correspondence between Dolly and Anne Thackeray. There was obviously more to George and Charlotte’s relationship that what their published letters let on.

      However, the main thing holding me back from believing that George Smith and Charlotte were actually engaged is ‘Villette’ itself. The tenor of the novel goes very much against the suggestion that George actually intimated to Charlotte that he cared for her more than a friend, and sought her out as a wife. Much of the novel (including the first and second volumes) consists of Lucy continually quelling her feelings for him and seeking to adopt a realist attitude. In the chapter ‘Hotel Crecy’ of ‘Villette’ where they are having dinner Lucy states “Trying, then, to keep down the unreasonable pain which thrilled my heart, on thus being made to feel that while Graham could devote to others the most grave and earnest, the manliest interest, he had no more than light raillery for Lucy”. Why this fixation with her looks in the novel, if George had accepted her as she was? The opposition clearly came from his mother, so why identify an absence of romantic feeling on George’s part, and attribute it to her appearance? It seems that if George had loved Charlotte, and Charlotte had known this, with there being a formal engagement for two years, then this would have been a very happy, buoyant, expectant period in Charlotte’s life…and the tone of the first two volumes would have been considerably different to how it is- stoic, and often quite bleak.

      About the novel not being an idealization of George Smith, and projecting him as being more shallow then he actually was, the impression you have of Dr. John when you close the book, is overwhelmingly positive and I was quite taken with him when I first read the book, hence my interest in the subject we are discussing. I think he may have been slightly (if unconsciously) idealised by Charlotte in the novel for two reasons. 1) She herself hints at it when she states the following in the chapter “The Letter”:
      “I have been told since that Dr. Bretton was not nearly so perfect as I thought him: that his actual character lacked the depth, height, compass, and endurance it possessed in my creed. I don’t know: he was as good to me as the well is to the parched wayfarer–as the sun to the shivering jailbird. I remember him heroic.”
      2) Secondly, I can’t recall whether it was in Margaret Smith’s compilation of, and commentary on Charlotte Bronte’s correspondence or Juliet Barker’s book “The Bronte’s: A Life in Letters” (I read both a few years ago) but the author did reveal some incidents from George Smith’s life(when he was at a much later stage of life) where he decidedly fell short of Bronte’s chivalric ideal of him. There were a few incidents of which I’ve forgotten the precise details, but I’ll just relate one earlier ones when Charlotte was around. Charlotte had been promised 700 pounds for Villette; George was so displeased with the third volume that he ultimately just forwarded 500 pounds to her (an act which did seem slightly petty to me). But he ensured very handsome returns to people who were willing to bargain hard and exact the highest amount, such as George Eliot. E.g. He forwarded 10,000 pounds to George Eliot for the serial publication of ‘Romola’ in 1862 (inflationary pressure and the increased prosperity of the firm cannot account for the massive discrepancy made here). There were other incidents of a non-monetary nature which I don’t really wish to recount here. I am sure that George Smith had some really wonderful qualities (and Dr. John as portrayed by Charlotte Bronte was certainly a very attractive and admirable man) but George Smith didn’t always fully match up to Charlotte’s vision of him.

      I went through your CharlotteBrontefans facebook page, and was interested to see that you had put up some of the observations made by the phrenologist on him. I have read the phrenologist’s sketch of Charlotte’s character in a number of texts but have never seen his observations on George Smith. George Smith does not include it within his own memoirs. Where did you obtain that from? I would love to see his comments on George in their entirety. The phrenologist was so dead on about Charlotte: it was baffling. Phrenology is something which is now regarded with extreme disdain, particularly because the science was employed (and probably manipulated) to bolster racist ideologies, and further imperialist agenda’s, but when I read the phrenologists report on Charlotte, I was wondering whether there was anything in it after all. About whether George loved Charlotte and was engaged to her, I am (with the information I presently have at my disposal) inclined to doubt it. But access to these additional sources may well change that.

      I also found your observations on the code language Charlotte and George used interesting. Not having seen the original manuscript (I have just read the letters in print form) I was unable to make deductions of this sort. But it is a very interesting observation to have made, and dramatically changes the import of some of these letters! Especially the “No, I was _never_ in the least bit in love with Charlotte Bronte” statement. To think that he meant that he had always loved Charlotte Bronte. I will try to get hold of ‘Prince of Publishers’ by Jenifer Glynn.


  4. Luv Lubker
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 00:01:29

    The site where I found the letters has been taken down – I’ll let you know if I find them again.

    There are little things in Villette that make me think she had written the story somewhat differently – and things that were taken out of the manuscript – like what does she mean by “Had I been too hasty?” (the beginning of your post.)

    She started their break up through the manuscript of Villette – there are lots of things taken out that we will probably never get to see – he would never let anyone see the manuscript of the 2nd or 3rd volumes. I don’t know why she made it so much like he was not in love with her.

    In a letter to Ellen Nussey, right after she told her that she was engaged to George Charlotte said “If men and women married because they like each other’s temper, look, conversation, nature, and so on—and if, besides, years were more nearly equal—the chance you allude to might be admitted as a chance; but other reasons regulate matrimony—reasons of convenience, of connection, of money.” There are a lot of things in her letters where it seems like she is denying that they were more than friends but I read a thing that Ellen said that Charlotte often said the opposite of what she mean when she was talking about that.

    “They like each other’s temper, LOOK, conversation, nature, and so on” – so he did like her appearance.

    About him not paying as much money as he had said he would: It seems from stuff I have read that her refusal was probably in the third volume – in the stuff taken out of the manuscript. So it does kind of make sense that he wouldn’t pay her for breaking up with him.

    George’s “phrenological estimate” is on pages 660-661 of Volume 2 of Margaret Smith’s Letters of CB.

    About her idealization/nonidealization:

    In Villette it said this in a part where Lucy was watching Graham and Paulina:

    “How animated was Graham’s face! How true, how warm, yet how retiring the joy it expressed! This was the state of things, this the combination of circumstances, at once to attract and enchain, to subdue and excite Dr. John. The pearl he admired was in itself of great price and truest purity, but he was not the man who, in appreciating the gem, could forget its setting. Had he seen Paulina with the same youth, beauty, and grace, but on foot, alone, unguarded, and in simple attire, a dependent worker, a demi-grisette, he would have thought her a pretty little creature, and would have loved with his eye her movements and her mien, but it required other than this to conquer him as he was now vanquished, to bring him safe under dominion as now, without loss, and even with gain to his manly honour, one saw that he was reduced; there was about Dr. John all the man of the world; to satisfy himself did not suffice; society must approve—the world must admire what he did, or he counted his measures false and futile. In his victrix he required all that was here visible—the imprint of high cultivation, the consecration of a careful and authoritative protection, the adjuncts that Fashion decrees, Wealth purchases, and Taste adjusts; for these conditions his spirit stipulated ere it surrendered: they were here to the utmost fulfilled; and now, proud, impassioned, yet fearing, he did homage to Paulina as his sovereign. As for her, the smile of feeling, rather than of conscious power, slept soft in her eyes.”

    I said that people said she made him more superficial than he really was. Sidney Lee – who worked for George and wrote a memoir of him after his death – said that George had “an innate respect for those who pursued intellectual and imaginative ideals rather than mere worldly prosperity.”

    Sidney Lee and other people who had known him said that in his later life many of the manuscripts he owned were sold to museums and Charlotte’s were the only author’s who he would not sell, and they were the ones the most money was offered for. Someone said that he said that he considered each of her manuscripts of more value than all the others he had combined.


  5. silverambrosia
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 04:35:12

    I don’t know how I missed the phrenologer’s remarks on George Smith, will look that up once I am able to get hold of the book again. The stuff Ellen Nussey said (or rather the content concerning George in Charlotte’s letters to her) is equivocal; it’s possible to draw alternate constructions from it. The real proof of George and Charlotte’s engagement lies in the correspondence between Dolly and Anne Thackeray. About George’s being idealised/non-idealised in the novel, the incidents which allow us to consider this question more fully must have been related in Juliet Barker’s “The Bronte’s: A life in Letters”, if they aren’t contained within Margaret Smith’s “The letters of Charlotte Bronte”. It’s been an interesting chat, and it would be it would be good if you could let me know the website where you saw these letters (between Dolly and Anne Thackeray), once you can locate it again. 🙂


  6. Charlotte Key
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 17:17:12

    I was amazed to haer that Geo. Smith possibly (probably?) proposed to Charlotte. i read Villette often — esp. in April around CB’s birthday — and find new beauties in the prose every time. But one thing to remember: it is fiction. Mme. Beck is a widow, and M. Paul an single, available gentleman who ends up despising Mme. Beck, or perhaps always did. In real life they were a married couple with a thriving establishment, interests and affections in common, and 6 children. They apparently were well suited and M. Heger had no interest in CB beyond the professional. If Smith/Dr.John was the real one who loved Lucy/CB, then the book is upside down. In any case, it’s fechnically fiction. Charlotte was never as alone and unaccessible as Lucy Snow.So the fact that Dr. John does not reciprocate doesn’t mean that Geo. Smith did not. Especially if there was near-death-bed confession of engagement to her. Villette is not pure auto-biography, or biography. It’s a powerful, imaginative work. It is how Charlotte felt about things at the deepest level and in doing so, committed a few injustices, I think. But all in the name of genius.


  7. silverambrosia
    Apr 25, 2014 @ 20:40:25

    About Charlotte being unfair to George Smith in ‘Villette’, I don’t think we can call her engagement with Smith a probable event as yet: The letters which passed between Dolly and Anne Thackeray still have to be produced and subjected to some sort of verification process. Their engagement remains very much in the realm of possibility. It’s a pertinent point you make about the relationship between M. Heger and his wife in reality, and how Charlotte projects it in the novel…but in many places the line between reality and fiction becomes considerably blurred: In his memoirs George Smith speaks about how some of the conversations which take place between Lucy, Dr John and Mrs. Bretton are verbatim reproductions of real conversations which took place between him, his mother and Charlotte. The theater performance featuring ‘Vashti’ (French actress Rachel) was attended by Smith and Bronte, and I think there may have even been a fire which engulfed the theatre. To a significant extent, we’re in the realm of conjecture in ascertaining what happened and what didn’t, and in trying to figure out where things stood exactly between Smith and Charlotte. As you say it “is how Charlotte felt about things at the deepest level”. Even if Smith did love her and communicate this love to her, I think that on Charlotte’s part,there may have always been this underlying fear of ridicule, and apprehension that the external disparity between her and Smith was not immaterial. When Dr. John comes to pick up Lucy for the theater performance, and there is no chaperon, Lucy responds as follows:

    ‘I’ll go; I will be ready in ten minutes,’ I vowed. And away I flew, never once checked, reader, by the thought which perhaps at this moment checks you: namely that to go anywhere with Graham and without Mrs. Bretton could be objectionable. I could not have conceived, much less have expressed to Graham, such thought – such scruple – without risk of exciting a tyrannous self- contempt; of kindling an inward fire of shame so quenchless, and so devouring, that I think it would soon have licked up the very life in my veins.”

    That’s a pretty extreme feeling to have. In one of her letters to Ellen Nussey, Charlotte mentioned something about all the tongues in London potentially wagging if she accompanied Smith all the way to the Rhine (something along those lines). As mentioned in the post, because Dr. John and his mother could easily be identified as George Smith and Mrs Smith, Charlotte was desirous of the novel being published anonymously. I think that fear of exciting the ridicule of others played significantly into her decision to not have Dr. John reciprocate Lucy’s love (even if the depiction of mutual love would have been based on fact).


  8. Luna
    Mar 07, 2018 @ 14:22:25

    I’ve just read this and it seems a plausible and fresh theory (but just a theory, I don’t know about those letters either). You’ll probably say I’m nuts, but about those “coded messages”.

    In 1860 the first number of Cornhill magazine appeared (George’s megazine). In it was a story by Anthony Trollope :”Framley Parsonage was first published as a serial. SMith invited Trollope to write for him and Trollope accepted, but his irish novel was deemed unfit by G.S. instead SMith asked him to write a new novel and after a short interview with Smith he went to work. The result was Framley. He even wrote “What I wrote for the Cornhill Magazine, I always wrote at the instigation of Mr. Smith.”

    Now the interesting part. Framley’s parsonage plot is almost identical to Luvy’s story (made up or not), with a girl refusing to marry a man until his mother agrees. In itself it could be a coincidence, but the descriptions of Lucy (the heroine, she was as well called Lucy) were that she was very small and plain (with bad complexion), but had a remarkable eyes. And Lord Lufton (the hero) was and even spoke quite like Graham. The relationship with his mother, Lady Lufton also mirrored that between Mrs. Bretton and her son. The novel itsef is a very interesting read and the thought by whom it was published doubles the interest. I also read a letter from Trollope, where he complained about Smith’s request to cut a page from his manuscript, saying that it’s like he has asked for his “hearts blood”, but complied. You can read it here if you wish (

    “But, then, his mother! and the sneers of the world, which would have declared that she had set her trap, and caught the foolish young lord! Her pride would not have submitted to that. Strong as her love was, yet her pride was, perhaps, stronger—stronger at any rate during that interview.”


  9. silverambrosia
    Mar 09, 2018 @ 20:10:56

    That’s an interesting theory. The description does sound like Charlotte. Her sense of pride probably did play a significant part in her not going through with the relationship, when there was firm opposition from Smith’s mother. Have not read ‘Framley Parsonage’, and will definitely look into it. Thanks 🙂


Leave a Reply to Luv Lubker Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: