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L'Ingratitude

The current issue of the London Review of Books (LRB) features the full text of a recently discovered story by Charlotte Bronte. L'Ingratitude, written not long after arriving in Brussels, under the instruction of Constantin Leger, is about an 'ingrate' rat. The piece, in French, starts off as many children's fables but ends on a note more akin to Grimm! Having spent its first night out in the cold, away from the paternal hearth, the rat freezes to death.

It reminded me of Branwell Bronte's fate, the brother who, like the rat of the tale, was educated by his father at home. Of course, with the story written in 1842, it was six years before Branwell would collapse and later die from tuberculosis - and not, as some seem to think, of addiction - although he had delved into those destructive pits, said to have been set off by the 'abandonment' of him by the married woman of the son he was tutoring, following the discovery of their affair by the husband. The Brontes excelled at unrequited passions - not least in Charlotte's Villette, based on her own 'infatuation' with Constantin Leger.

The Bronte's father, Patrick, was said to be the model of patience with his only son. The ending of this 'devoir', so near to 'devour', is sharp - with no room for sentimentality; the death of the little rat is simply a consequence of his ingratitude.







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