Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Member presentations on 24 February 2018

The speakers, Jones and Ola

Presentations by members of the Brussels Brontë Group have been a fixture of our calendar for the past six years. In past presentations Eric Ruijssenaars has led us on a virtual tour of the Isabelle Quarter, and Myriam Campinaire has unpicked the Gothic elements in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Last year, in talks enlivened by readings and recitations, Judith Collins spoke on Disguise, deception and concealment in Jane Eyre and Paul Gretton on Some literary themes and sources of Wuthering Heights.

This year’s speakers, Jones Hayden and Ola Podstawka, both of whom are on the Brontë Group committee, are familiar to members – Jones as leader of our Brontë tours and reading groups and Ola as moderator of one of the reading groups. Members also know them for the presentations they have given in the past, Jones (among other subjects) on Profanity and Scripture in The Professor and Ola on the influence of Constantin Heger on Charlotte Brontë’s fictional heroes.

This year it was Jones who took a look at Heger’s influence on Charlotte, specifically on her novel Jane Eyre, in a talk called The influence of Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels experience on Jane Eyre. Juliet Barker’s opinion that ‘Possibly the greatest single influence on Charlotte, both as a person and as a writer, was the time she spent in Brussels’ set the tone for the talk. Many readers of Charlotte’s best-seller wondered how an unmarried clergyman's daughter could write so powerfully about passion. The answer, Jones told us, lies in Brussels and in her Belgian tutor Heger – the person who most influenced her. It was her time in Brussels that made her a great novelist.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: March 1842

1 March, Tuesday – Weather: 8 to 12 C, wholly clouded with rain in the afternoon

2 March, Wednesday – W: 3 to 9 C, bright morning, continuous rain after 2.15 pm for the rest of the day (10.2 mm), a strong wind sets in in the evening from the southwest.

3 March, Thursday – W: 3 to 11 C, entirely clouded, rain until 4 pm (21.5 mm)
A report from Ostend from this day says that there is a terrible storm which began yesterday. On this day, as a result, the General Steam Navigation Company’s City of Edinburgh ran aground near the port. All people got safely from the ship, but much cargo was lost. It was only on 1 March the Company had begun to increase its journeys between Ostend and London. (The measured force of the wind in Brussels got to a maximum of 5 during the night and the morning. It suggests that this wind force figures don’t entirely coincide with present day figures. A terrible southwestern storm in Ostend should probably give an 8 at least in Brussels now.)

4 March, Friday – W: 8 to 10 (to 4 in the evening) C, wholly clouded, continuous rain after 4.45 pm

5 March, Saturday – W: 2 to 9 C, rain till 6 am (another 10.5 mm), a clouded morning followed by a bright afternoon
The newspapers have sad reports about the damage done by the storm in the country’s provinces.
At a concert at the Société Royale de la Grande-Harmonie works by Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven and others were performed. Rossini appears to be probably the most popular composer in Brussels in this year. Donizetti scores very well too. The newspapers give a fascinating insight into the classical music world of these years too, ranging from well-known to totally forgotten composers.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Mapping the Brussels of the Brontës: Friends I, Mary and Martha Taylor, Koekelberg

Charlotte and Emily will have quite often walked to Koekelberg, to visit Mary and Martha Taylor, just as they will have regularly walked to the Pensionnat Heger to visit the Brontë sisters. The pictures below show how they would have walked. Nowadays one can still do this walk, apart only from the Rue d’Isabelle and part of Rue Terarken bit.

Adaptation of a plan from 1830

When starting the walk at the Koekelberg Pensionnat there were two options. The main route was the eastern way, the Chaussée de Gand. As the name indicates this road led to Gent. Thus these maps also show the last stage of the route of the diligence that brought the Brontës to the city (see Calendar, 14 February 1842). The road on the west was quieter. These routes come together in Molenbeek. The city was entered at the Porte de Flandre (more about the Portes later).

Molenbeek was growing quite rapidly. The Journal de Bruxelles wrote on 11 June 1842 that “everyday Molenbeek sees the number of shops and factories growing […], soon this faubourg will no longer form just one group of buildings.” On the 1st of January of that year the number of inhabitants of this town was 7495 (l’Indépendant, 24 Jan).

Koekelberg was little more than a hamlet. It appears from the newspapers that little had changed since 1830, the year the plan shown above was drawn. Since then though much has, for instance also at the place where the Pensionnat of Madame Goussaert née Catherine Phelps was situated. An old painting shows it without any other nearby building. Nowadays the place where the building once stood is completely surrounded by houses and a wall, making it a rather frustrating place for the Brontë traveller.

Thanks to aerial pictures we can though see what it looks like behind these houses. There are some big trees now on the site of the old pensionnat, from which Mary Taylor wrote her letters to Charlotte in the autumn of 1841 which inspired her to go to Brussels, with the idea to go to there for schooling. Mary wrote of  “pictures the most exquisite - and cathedrals the most venerable” she had seen in the city of Brussels. Surely, Charlotte concluded, it must be “one of the most splendid capitals of Europe.” Mary had arrived in May 1841. She had had plenty of time to see the city.
Knowing that Mary and Martha Taylor would be living nearby must have added quite a lot of weight too in the debate about which place exactly to go to. It is in Koekelberg where the Brontë Brussels story started, thanks to Mary, at the site of these trees.

(source: Google Earth)

Madame Goussaert was a driving force in the village. She was the president of the committee that organized a big art exhibition in Koekelberg in the autumn of 1842, undoubtedly visited by the Brontë and Taylor sisters. It was intended to raise money for a new church. In the 20th century a big basilica would be built in Koekelberg.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: February 1842

8 February, Tuesday, the Brontës leave Haworth, for Brussels. With Joe and Mary Taylor they traveled by train from Leeds to London where they arrived in the evening.
On this day a devastating earthquake took place at the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. On 13 March the people in Brussels could read about it in the papers, and many more reports, also about charity activities for the victims, would follow, well into the next year. It is therefore possible that this news inspired Charlotte to send M. Paul to this island at the end of Villette.
On this day too M. and Mme. Heger might well have gone to the second opening day of the new building of the Salle de la Société de la Grande Harmonie, at the Rue de la Madeleine (in time for carnival, it was noted). It is possible he was a member, as later he would take Charlotte to a concert there. On 11 February the Société Philharmonique opened its new building. At the same time though the concert hall at the Rue Ducale (at the other side of the Park) closed its doors.

12 February, Saturday, The Brontës sail from London to Ostend. There can be no doubt that on this journey they sailed on the Earl of Liverpool, a steamship of the General Steam Navigation Company (built in 1822). That was the ship that sailed to Ostend on Saturdays. According to Juliet Barker (The Brontës) the voyage took “nearly fourteen hours.” It seems likely the ship left at 9 am, as did those going to Antwerp.
Interestingly, the total figures for the month (given in the newspapers of 7 March) show that the average amount of passengers on a voyage from London to Ostend was only 10. On 24 voyages 240 passengers were brought to Belgium. The Brontë company will therefore only have had a handful of co-passengers. Later that year an Antwerp company began to provide competition. It got considerably cheaper to do the trip, and passenger numbers soon more than doubled. (On 24 voyages in February from Ostend to London there were 369 passengers. The ships from London to Antwerp had an average of 11 passengers.)

Advertisement of the General Steam Navigation
Company in l’Indépendant of 13 February 1842

13 February, Sunday, in Ostend (In Brussels the temperature on this day rose to 12 C)

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Mapping the Brussels of the Brontës, part 1. The 1841 plan

An 1841 plan of Brussels (collection: Leiden
University Library; published in The Pensionnat revisited)

Cartography has been a rather neglected part of Brontë Brussels history, apart of course from the Quartier Isabelle, thanks to Selina Busch. With the aid of computer techniques and an excellent plan of Brussels, dated 1841, it is nowadays very well possible to show the city and all the many relevant places. The map gives a very good idea of what the city looked like when the Brontës arrived. It also shows the locations of many specific buildings. It seems possible that the Brontë sisters used this map when going out for a walk, at the beginning. Without a map one could quite easily get lost. The plan is foldable, and as one can see, easily in four smaller parts.

We have first digitally removed the black cross lines, which already gives a prettier result.

Then a version was made with the Pensionnat indicated on it (in red), and with the Senne river, the Petite-Senne and canals shown too (in blue). It is easy to forget nowadays, as the rivers have completely disappeared from view, but they made the city look rather different.