Friday, 19 December 2008
Despite having done research on the Brontës and Brussels for almost two decades now it was only two years ago that I started to concentrate on the burial places of Martha Taylor and Julia Wheelwright, the friends of Charlotte and Emily in Brussels in 1842, who died there that year.
The girls were buried in the only Protestant cemetery in (Greater) Brussels, then in the suburb of St.-Josse-ten-Noode. Charlotte often walked to this cemetery in 1843. It features in The Professor, as the place where William Crimsworth and Frances Henri met again after their separation. Here also a number of British soldiers who died of their wounds after the battle of Waterloo lay buried. The Protestant cemetery was actually part of a larger cemetery.
This cemetery was closed in 1877, at the same as a large new cemetery at Evere was opened.
In 1885 it was visited by Theodore Wolfe, who wrote the following report.
“Our way to the Protestant cemetery, a spot sadly familiar to Miss Brontë, and the usual termination of her walks, lay past the site of the Porte de Louvain and out to the hills a mile or so beyond the old city limits. From our path we saw more than one tree surrounded farmhouse which might have been the place of M. Paul’s breakfast with his school, and at least one old-fashioned manor-house with green-tufted and terraced lawns, which might have served Miss Brontë as the model for ‘La Terrasse’, the suburban home of the Bretons … From the cemetery are beautiful vistas of farther lines of hills, of intervening valleys, of farms and villas, and of the great city lying below. Miss Brontë has well described this place: ‘Here, on pages of stone, of marble, and of brass, are written names, dates, last tributes of pomp or love, in English, French, German and Latin‘. There are stone crosses all about, and great thickets of roses and yew trees, ’cypresses that stand straight and mute, and willows that hang low and still’; and there are ‘dim garlands of everlasting flowers’.
Here ‘the Professor’ found his long sought sweetheart kneeling at a newly made grave, under these overhanging trees. And here we found the shrine of poor Charlotte Brontë’s many weary pilgrimages hither, the burial-place of her friend and schoolmate Martha Taylor, the Jessy York of Shirley, the spot where, under ‘green sod and a gray marble headstone, cold coffined, solitary, Jessy sleeps below’.
On 25 November 1887 The Times wrote: “British tombs in old cemetery of the Quartier Leopold (Rue du Noyer), Brussels - Notice having been given by the Municipality of Brussels that this cemetery is shortly to be cleared.” It went on to explain how relatives could ensure a ‘concession’ at the Evere cemetery. From the registers there we know the Taylor and Wheelwright families did not reply.
The place was visited by Herbert Wroot around 1900. In his Persons and places. Sources of the Brontë novels he writes that the cemetery “has been cut up and built upon,” and, “at the demolition of the cemetery, the bodies and the memorials of the dead were removed to the great cemetery of Evere.”
In October a group of nine Brontë Brussels Group members visited this place. The ground of the former cemetery is now partly occupied by a fairly modern apartment building, with grass lawns on either side. The Protestant part of the cemetery lay close to the Rue du Noyer, we know from a detailed plan.
Unfortunately the vistas Wolfe mentions have completely disappeared.
The site of the former cemetery, taken from Rue du Noyer
We then went on to Evere, hoping of course to find the gravestones of Martha and Julia. The question is, can they be found?
Two years ago I had an interview with Marcel Celis. As an archaeologist he has been digging in the remain of the old Isabella quarter, in the vicinity of the Place Royale. He is also the founding member of Epitaaf, which takes care of the funerary heritage of Brussels. He was able to tell me that the gravestones of the old cemetery can be found in lanes 14, 15 and 17 of the cemetery of Evere.
So there we were, armed with brushes, as on a visit earlier in the year I had seen lots of graves covered by moss. It proved to be hard work. Occasionally there’s also a layer of earth on the stones. We did most of lane 15, without success.
Unfortunately some inscriptions can no longer be read so we may never find the gravestones, but this field research will go on in 2009. In April there will be a new excursion.
It seems certain that the bodies of the girls were put in a mass grave at Evere cemetery, since their relatives did not apply for a ‘concession’ there. It also seems certain that the gravestones were transported to Evere and therefore that they could possibly be found somewhere there.
Evere cemetery (Brussels), lane 15
Since the October excursion I have been greatly assisted by Renate Hurtmanns, who paid several more visits to Evere cemetery, as you can see from her report below, with the latest on this research.
She has also helped me in transcribing letters written by Louise Heger, the daughter of Monsieur and Madame Heger. Some time ago I discovered that the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts has a large very interesting collection of letters written by her, including many she wrote to her parents, sisters and brother that give a valuable new insight into the family.
There are also some reminiscences among the papers, among them the document below. It’s the only thing about Charlotte Brontë in these papers.
One of Louise Heger's letters at Ghent Museum of Fine Arts (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, Documentatiecentrum voor Vlaamse Kunst)
On this page she describes how one morning in 1913 she heard men selling the newspaper Le Petit Blue shouting about the ‘love affair’ of Monsieur Heger. She and her brother Paul had just given the letters Charlotte wrote to Monsieur to the British Museum, after which they were published in The Times.
In Ghent I made an exciting find, in a book about female Belgian 19th century artists: one of the paintings Charlotte describes in Villette (in the Salon chapter), La vie d’une femme. I hope to have it published, in colour, in Brontë Studies in 2009.
Furthermore, we are able to give you a picture of the house where Monsieur Heger died. Last year I reported to you on this blog it had been demolished. Earlier this year Mr. Willaert, who had seen that article, sent us this picture.
He explained that no buyer could be found for the house and that finally, after it had fallen into disrepair (as can be seen in the picture), the city of Brussels ordered its demolition because it had become a danger for passers-by.
The house where M. Heger died
So this has been another fruitful year for the research on Brussels and the Brontës. And there’s still plenty to do in the coming years.
The following reports were written by Sheila Richardson and Renate Hurtmann, who joined the cemetery excursion in October.
Report by Sheila Richardson: Martha Taylor
Martha Taylor, a friend of Charlotte Brontë died in Brussels and was buried in the Protestant cemetery there. Charlotte writes in her letters home of walking to visit her grave sometimes on a Sunday. When the graveyard was due to be built over the graves were moved to the new Brussels cemetery at Evere.
A small group from the Brussels Bronte Group visited Evere to look for Martha’s grave. This is a very pretty graveyard, like the original one described by Charlotte, with winding paths under a variety of trees and little open glades, bathed in the autumn sunlight on the day we went. As the graves were under the trees they were covered with moss, so we took brushes and cleared enough of each one to get an idea of who was buried there. Some were sad, the young children of English families buried far from home. One was for a soldier killed at Waterloo. The British Ambassador had placed a poppy wreathe there and there were slightly faded red roses in memory of some later soldiers. Unfortunately we did not find Martha’s grave. It might be that her parents were not aware that the graves were to be moved and therefore did not contribute to the cost. She may have been reburied in a common grave or an unmarked one.
One of our group had researched the internet and found a statement in “The Haworth Village” site that said that both Mary and Martha Taylor were buried at Gomersal, the Taylor’s home village in Yorkshire. We were a little doubtful about the accuracy of this. Looking further on the internet I found that The Red House where the Taylors lived and described by Charlotte Bronte as Briamains in Shirley is now a museum.
The secretary there, Helga Hughes, confirmed what we had suspected – that Martha remains buried in Brussels. The Haworth Village Site had not checked their information with her but she would now see that it was corrected. If you have come across the Haworth Site and been confused by this, I think it has now been clarified.
The description of the Red House sounds delightful. It looks very much as it would have done in Charlotte’s day, from the elegant parlour including the stained glass windows described in Shirley to the stone flagged kitchen floor. Also the 19th century garden has been carefully recreated with old fashioned roses and some forgotten plants.
The Barn has an exhibition of things that belonged to Charlotte and shows her connection with the area and the friends she developed there.
Viewing details are on the site “Venue details - Red House Museum”.
Report by Renate Hurtmann: Research on Brussels cemetery in Evere
I returned to the Evere cemetery because Eric had informed me about the existence of loose old gravestones lying against the cemetery wall somewhere, among which could possibly be those of Martha Taylor and Julia Wheelwright.
He also wanted me to go to lanes 14 and 17 and find out if there are also graves from English people who died before 1877 (the year of the closure of the Protestant cemetery). If not, this would strongly indicate that the old gravestones went only to lane 15 - where we had already started cleaning some of them on the occasion of our cemetery excursion.
I did indeed find some graves in lane 14 as well as in lane 17 of English people who died before 1877, which means that they had been transferred from the Protestant cemetery to the one in Evere.
Unfortunately - especially in lane 14 - there are lots of old gravestones in an awful state - completely sunken or covered by thick layers of earth, moss and ivy under which the inscriptions are often very difficult to decipher or have completely faded away after more than 150 years and there are also graves without any inscription at all.
On the other hand, we know now at least for sure that we shall have to look for the old graves in the three lanes and not only in lane 15 !
Below you will find details of my findings:
1. Discovery of the loose old gravestones
Following the guardian’s description, I followed the long lane on the left when you enter the cemetery by the main gate, walking alongside the cemetery wall until I came to three little houses standing behind the cemetery wall. On the cemetery wall to the right-hand side of these cottages I found the tombstones in question, (46 in total) which I checked one by one. They are all but two legible, and even on the two on which the inscriptions have faded, I could decipher the word "begraven" (buried), which means that they come from Belgian graves, as all the others. There is not one single gravestone with an English inscription or name, which means that we can definitely give up the hope that Martha's and Julia's gravestones are among them!
2. Lane 14
At the end of lane 14 I found 2 English graves with people having died before 1877 (so certainly people who were buried beforehand on the Protestant cemetery), i.e.
- Harriet Mary Anne
the beloved child of The Rev. Reginald Smith
died in Brussels in 1837
eldest daughter of Ben Mosley
died in Brussels on 17 March 1853
3. Lane 17
On the right hand side of lane 17, I found 2 English graves which correspond to what we are looking for:
- Charlotte Fano
died in Brussels on 25 April 1850
Underneath was written “concession à perpétuité” – an inscription which I didn’t find on the other gravestones. Would that perhaps indicate that all the graves from the Protestant cemetery in St. Josse had been transferred to Evere (and not only those with a “concession”, i.e. burial places having been paid for, as the cemetery administration had told me on the occasion of a former inquiry)?
- Name not legible
died in Brussels on 19 September 1851
There are other English graves, but the date of death was not legible!
In “Pelouse 17” (the lawn section of lane 17), I came across a British grave of 2 families, i.e. the Brain and Triest family. I couldn’t read all, but this certainly:
- George Brain died in Brussels in October 1855
- Thomas A. Brain died in Brussels in October 1859
- Richard Farmer Brain died in Brussels in August 1871
- Betsy Triest died in Brussels in August 1876
The old burial registers still available at the Evere cemetery administration – which I consulted from 1877 till 1890 – unfortunately this didn’t bring us one step further because they only consist of lists of people who died from 1877 onwards, i.e. from the time when the Evere cemetery was opened.
There is no trace whatsoever of burial lists with regard to the persons whose graves had been transferred from the Protestant cemetery to Evere. However there might still be another possible source - the city archives of St. Josse - where I shall hopefully find out more at the beginning of 2009!
Sunday, 7 December 2008
On Sunday 7 December 30 members of our group met for lunch at Restaurant L'Eperon d'Or. The Brontë group has eaten here before. The last time was during our Brontë weekend in April when the chef almost single-handedly prepared an impressive Victorian banquet for about 60 people devised by the Centre de Gastronomie Historique de Bruxelles. Our Christmas lunch was a simpler affair but as always in this restaurant, delicious and very good value for money. The service is friendly and there's something Victorian about the décor, appropriate for our group!
It was a lovely way to round off the year and we'll be returning to this restaurant in 2009.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
By reading that article I was really impressed by the fact that Emily and Charlotte lived in Brussels for a couple of years so as to learn French in a Belgian boarding school. As a result of her Brussels experience Charlotte wrote a magnificent novel titled “Villette”. I can assert that it stoked up the fires for my initiation to the Brontës' universe and motivated me to read “Villette” and to look for articles and other publications related to them. I was fascinated to learn about their tragic lives and how their personal experiences shaped these wonderful masterpieces of universal literature, despite the fact that they were women writers and at that time writing was only allowed to men. For instance I didn’t know that they were obliged to hide their names for fear that they would be criticised by Victorian society. I was amazed to find out that their pseudonyms Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell corresponded to their names' first letters. As I have said “Villette” was my initiation in finding out about the Brontës on my own until I got in touch with the Brussels Brontë Group. And how did it happen? Once again I have to refer to an article which I was handed. The article in question is about readers clubs in Brussels. I was impressed of the existence of a group which focuses on English 19th century literature, particularly the Brontës, and I made up my mind to write to them to get more information about their activities and the likelihood of partaking in them. I was accepted and I have written this small article for the group as a contribution and a commitment to involving myself in its activities. We aim to keep the Brontë heritage alive and spread it.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
On Saturday 18 October, exactly a year after organising its first talk, the Brussels Brontë Group once again brought the Brontës to a Brussels audience. The talk hosted by us last year was on the theme of Charlotte's anguished letters to M. Heger. A journalist in a Brussels magazine announcing that event, getting a little carried away himself, invited people to "close their eyes and let themselves be swept along by this torrent of passion". This year we again invited our audience to be swept along by a torrent of passion, but with their eyes open not closed, gazing at a screen on which they could watch Heathcliffs and Cathies from various film versions (the 1939 Olivier one, the 1970 one with Timothy Dalton and the 1991 version with Ralph Fiennes) chasing each other over the moors.
The film clips were shown to illustrate a talk by Patsy Stoneman called What everyone knows about Wuthering Heights: the novel and its film adaptations. She pointed out that many people are not quite sure whether they've read the novel or not, as it permeates our consciousness. Her comparison of scenes in the films with the corresponding passages in the novel revealed how often we, the readers, supply in our imaginations scenes (such as those between the lovers on the moors) not actually described in the novel.
Patsy Stoneman's talk, which was received enthusiastically, was the first in our new venue in a university in central Brussels, Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis. We have for some time been looking for a suitable venue and were delighted when some of the English lecturers at this university who support our events offered us the use of a room which is ideal for our purposes. The staff bent over backwards to make us welcome and help with all the practical aspects of the organisation, and staff and students from the English language department, who had prepared for the talk beforehand, attended the event. In all over 80 people were present.
After the talk we wound up with some music before partaking of the refreshments offered by the university. The music was supplied by a Dutch member of our group, Veronica Metz, who is the lead singer of Anois (www.anois.nl), a Celtic band which is recording an album of Emily Brontë's poems that she has set to music. With recorded accompaniment, she sang four songs to haunting melodies a little reminiscent of Enya's. Another member, Marina Saegerman, had prepared a display of her calligraphy versions of Emily's poems.
We are looking forward to our next event to be held in the same venue, a Brontë weekend in April when Stevie Davies will be talking to us, also about Emily Brontë. Having hitherto concentrated more on Charlotte because of the influence of Brussels on her we are devoting this year to Emily, who of course also spent time in this city although there is less evidence of it in her work!
Sunday, 5 October 2008
If you have not yet seen all of our other pages, don’t forget to have a look; it has really interesting information on other historical themes, such as Brussels in the mid 19th Century and information on Charlotte and Emily Brontë, the Heger family and the Brussels novels; all with wonderful illustrations. Have a pleasurable exploration!
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
DEVOIRS DE BRUXELLES
Price : €2,50 (available at Amazon.fr)
Ces neuf textes écrits sous la tutelle du professeur belge Constantin Héger ont été rédigés en français par E. Brontë lors d'un séjour dans un pensionnat de Bruxelles en 1842. Avec leurs fautes et leurs maladresses, ils mettent en lumière l'enseignement de la langue, de la rhétorique et de la littérature aux jeunes filles de bonne famille dans l'Europe du XIXe siècle.
En 1842, Emily Brontë (1818-1848) quitte l'Angleterre avec sa soeur Charlotte pour parfaire son éducation dans un pensionnat de jeunes filles à Bruxelles. Durant neuf mois, elle reçoit l'enseignement d'un professeur charismatique, Constantin Héger, qui lui apprend à écrire le français.Neuf des devoirs d'Emily ont été retrouvés. Truffés de fautes et de maladresses, ce sont les rédactions d'une étudiante de vingt-trois ans, qui résite tant bien que mal à l'autorité et à la rigueur de la langue française.Inédits en France, ces textes suggèrent déjà tout le talent de l'auteur des Hauts de Hurle-Vent, son unique roman.
Les premières lignes
Emily J. Brontë
Monday, 22 September 2008
Scroll down the page till you read Roel Jacobs over het verblijf van de Brontë-zusjes in Brussels and click on it; a new window will open and you need to click on “naar de radiospeler” and the radiofragment will start after it has been connected to the medialink.
It takes only 4 minutes or so, and I’m afraid it’s only in Dutch.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The Dickens Museum in Broadstairs
Sheila Fordham acquired some background for the books on our 19th century reading group list by sampling a historical town tour with a difference in the Kentish seaside resort of Broadstairs so loved by Dickens. The tour brings to life the Napoleonic and Victorian periods in particular.
(Books on our list for 2008-09 include David Copperfield, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights)
While on holiday in Kent at the quaint resort of Broadstairs this summer my stepmother, daughter and I were lucky enough to get a place on the popular St Peter´s Village Tour. I have tried several times before and never been successful. It was well worth the wait. I can recommend the walks to all those who enjoy history. The tour starts and ends at the village church, as is only fitting as the church was such an important part of life, and of course includes a break for tea and biscuits half-way round in true English village fashion.
The tour, which has won several tourist awards in Kent, consists of a guide who takes you round the village (St Peter´s is the next village to Broadstairs, only a few minutes' walk away but with its own unique personality) telling you interesting stories about the history of St Peter´s, while meanwhile various characters dressed in period costume appear from behind a wall or walk up to you along the road and tell you their own particular story. It is such a simple idea but really brings history to life. Some of the characters looked as if they had stepped out of one of Dickens´ novels themselves. One of them was a soldier from around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, who was checking on us to make sure there were no French spies in the party. He asked whether anyone spoke French - and as nobody else said anything, before I could stop myself I had shouted out "Oui, un peu". From that moment on I was a marked woman - he was keeping an eye on me in case I was a spy. It was strange to think that at that time the threat of an invasion by Napoleon and his army was taken very seriously.
You caught the flavour also of how much smuggling of tobacco and alcohol was going on along the coast in those days. It was a long way from London and the revenue men were not always there to check what was going on. There were many tunnels and cellars used to transport and keep smuggled goods which are probably still in existence today. Shipwrecks were good opportunities for ordinary people to get something of value and it was hinted that some wrecks were planned.
Society did try to help its less fortunate members, for example in the Workhouse, but conditions were very harsh, as they did not want to encourage people to go there unless absolutely necessary. One poor character had stolen some wine and was the worse for wear and when taken to task by the benefactors of the Workhouse, pointed at me and said that I had given her the bottle. It was very funny - I was really in the swing of things by then and would have liked to join the party of players myself.
It was a lovely warm Kentish summer afternoon, flowers were in bloom around the village, and the red sloping tiled roofs of the old houses and the old flint walls around the gardens all added to the sights and smells of the afternoon. Our guide unlocked an arched door in one of the walls into the garden beyond. It was like stepping into another world. It was so quiet and peaceful there. In the garden we were shown a row of cottages, one of which had been a school set up for poor children.
All the people who gave their time to the village tour are volunteers and are not professional actors. It is amazing because many of them had the most wonderful speaking voices and acting ability.
I can thoroughly recommend the Village Tour and would love to go on the Churchyard Tour and the War Graves Tour. I am sure there are further stories and characters to be brought to life.
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Sherry Vosburgh writes:
Italian Bronte Society member and leading light of the Italian Section Maddalena De Leo had the brainwave of meeting Dutch and Belgian group members during her Amsterdam holiday. We all met up at her hotel on July 8 to hear her paper on the Brontës and the Sea - an entertaining and fascinating talk. She took the opportunity to give members copies of her novel for teenagers about Charlotte Brontë, Un@mica del Passato, and also presented the Brussels group with a hand-painted Neapolitan plate to commemorate the event. We then toasted the occasion with champagne also brought from Italy, after which some of us rounded off the day with a delicious Indonesian dinner.
Also present at the meeting were Veronica Metz and other members of the Dutch Celtic Band "Anois" who are setting some of Emily Brontë's poems to music.
I had decided to stay for 3 days and accompanied Maddalena and her delightful family and companions on 2 tours of the Netherlands and we met for dinner several times. Despite the torrential rain we had a good time visiting Amsterdam's many museums. Thank you, Maddalena and Helen, for organising the little jaunt.
Helen MacEwan adds:
It was most interesting to meet Maddalena and learn more about the Italian section, which has of course been around a lot longer than our group - for about 10 years. Many of its leading lights are translators of the Brontës' works into Italian as well as academics and writers: Maddalena herself of Charlotte Brontë's Juvenilia, Franca Gollini of Muriel Spark's biography of Emily Brontë and Silvio Raffo of Brontë poems. Some of the members have of course written original works on the Brontës. Maddalena is a teacher and her novel for teenagers about Charlotte Brontë's ghost contacting a modern teenager contains much information on the Brontës.
Over the years the section has organised events in cities all over Italy. Nowadays they are often held in Milan where a large audience is guaranteed, and sometimes speakers from the UK are invited.
In the photos, the whole group; Sherry Vosburgh, Maddalena De Leo and Helen MacEwan; Maddalena with members of Anois.
Monday, 16 June 2008
Main St, Haworth
This year eight members from Belgium and the Netherlands attended the Brontë Society AGM weekend in Haworth, Yorkshire (the Society's main annual event) on 7-8 June. This account of a first visit to Haworth was written by Sherry Vosburgh, who joined our group just a few weeks ago and made a last-minute decision to go to the June weekend. Most of the accommodation in the village had been booked months in advance but she managed to find a room, albeit right at the bottom of the steep hill up to the Brontë Museum and the venue for the events. However, she survived the experience and seems to have enjoyed it! Would any of you like to join us in Haworth for the 2009 AGM weekend (6-7 June)?
Helen somehow talked me into it - leaving from Kings Cross for a Northern adventure for five glorious days. I felt a bit of a fraud as I had only read three of the Brontës' books, and wondered if I'd be accepted into the august circle of the Brontë Society en masse.
I arrived without incident at my palatial B&B to a warm welcome. The "full monty" breakfast the next day stoked up the fires for my first visit to the Parsonage - waltzing in free as a fully paid-up member. I found the experience very moving, imagining the family living there and Emily dying on the sofa in the drawing room protesting that she was not ill... The exhibitions were fascinating - especially Charlotte's tiny dress and gloves for Emily's funeral... The letters and Gondal books were in minuscule fairy hand, impossible to read but transcribed for visitors. There was also an exhibition of fine modern photographs of the moors by Fay Godwin which put the house in context and made one realize how isolated Haworth was before the tea shoppes, pubs, curio shops and second-hand bookshops moved into Main Street.
The climb up Main Street to the Parsonage had been described to me as steep, but I hadn't realized I'd need my heavy walking shoes every day for the cobbled street that never seemed to end. Between Brontë Society events it proved too time-consuming to go back down to the B&B and up again, so I ended up drinking endless pints of bitter and tea (complete with typical Yorkshire cakes and buns) and meeting others who were engaged in exactly the same activity. I met slightly eccentric people like myself all over the village, all very friendly and united in their common interest in the Brontë family - from as far afield as the United States chapter, the Netherlands and, of course, Belgium. The Brontë crowd had a certain look about them - urbane but rather wild-eyed - which made it easy to strike up conversations with complete strangers.
The first event organized by the Society was a performance by a young professional theatre company called "Through the Window" of the earliest dramatic version of "Jane Eyre". The play had originally been performed at the theatre that became the Old Vic and had been adapted by Catherine McDonald from Patsy Stoneman's newly published edited version. Patsy was there to give an introduction and plans to come to Brussels this year. The play, skilfully filleted and using only a handful of actors, was very well received and was preceded by a cheese and wine party so that people could start getting to know each other.
The next day brought a lecture on the originality of Wuthering Heights from Professor Heather J. Glen, from Cambridge University - fascinating - followed by a service in the local church to thank the family of James Roberts, who donated the Parsonage to the Society in 1928. We all sang lustily and the church was full of Brontë Society and local people. The female rector's daughter sang the final Blessing beautifully. The AGM followed, at which plans were described for improving the modern exhibition space and to refloat the coffers. A few members seemed curious to know why there had been so many resignations from Council lately, but lips were sealed on their personal reasons for resigning. A dynamic-sounding Council was elected and the eloquent acting director of the museum shed light on its day-to-day running. The meeting had to close in time for the literary panel that followed (all events took place in the nearby Baptist Hall) in which the influence of Wuthering Heights was discussed by Toby Litt, Helen Dunmore, Sally Beauman and Stevie Davies, with Patsy Stoneman in the chair. All the writers spoke passionately about their admiration for Emily Brontë and produced a lively and fascinating discussion.
The next day, Sunday, kicked off with two walks, one long and the other shorter. Feeling cowardly, I plumped for the shorter one, which turned out to be expertly led by Hedley Hickling, the outgoing Membership Secretary, who is a geologist and really knew his stuff. We wandered in a leisurely fashion over Penistone Hill and saw in the distance Top Withins, which may have been the model for Wuthering Heights. The views over the moors were breathtaking. In the afternoon a special treat awaited us - a performance of "The Well-Dressed Governess" by the History Wardrobe in a costume-in-context presentation of handmade replica and original costume items. The lady who presented the show has made all her own costumes and gave details of the kind of dresses considered suitable for governesses at the time (who had to blend into the background and favoured blue and grey) and told us how the undergarments were worn, demonstrating enough within the bounds of decency.
On the last day there was a full-day excursion to the "Shirley" country, which I had to miss as it was fully booked. There were also two talks, one by Beryl Bainbridge on her novel- writing technique and what she owed to the Brontës and one in the old schoolroom, used by the Brontës to teach Sunday School, where a historical slide-show of Old Haworth was given by a local historian.
I spent several happy hours browsing the two second-hand bookshops as well as the wide selection of old and new books on sale at the meeting venue over the weekend. I was most impressed with the wide selection of Brontëana at the Parsonage itself but had to limit my purchases to avoid carting them up hill and down dale throughout the day. That damned hill!
I was introduced to lots of people, all charming, and by the end of the weekend I felt I was leaving a group of comrades and new friends. Doubtless we will all meet again next year at the next June AGM weekend. I can't wait for more of that lovely pub grub in good company, interspersed with cultural activities and wonderful views. A lovely break from Brussels. And much recommended.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
I met the author, Sarah Fermi, during the BS Southern Excursion in October 2007 and learnt about her theory that Emily must have had a relationship which in the end was the basis of her one great novel “Wuthering Heights”. I got fascinated by this theory and bought the book. Unfortunately, I only got to reading the book just recently.
Reading this book really is an exciting experience: you start reading and the book does not let you go. You just have to continue reading until it is finished!!
The starting point of the author, writing a journal as Emily could have done, stepping into Emily’s shoes, describing the events in Emily’s words, even if they are imaginary though based on factual data, with the comments of both her sisters, is really a remarkable but fascinating point of view. When reading the journal, you can really picture Emily sitting at her writing desk all alone in her room writing these words in her diary, keeping it away from the rest of her family.
I was fascinated by the idea expressed by the author that Emily had “a boyfriend”. It is true, the passion elaborated in Wuthering Heights is very strong, difficult to believe it was all coming solely from the imagination of a young “innocent” woman. So the idea that she must have had a boyfriend at some stage in her life was most appealing to me. It also explained a lot.
I have loved reading this book. Even though the author, based on her research, had to imagine how things might have been in Emily’s life (since so few real facts are known to us, Emily being a very private person), you can really believe this story and believe that these things actually happened. The author has really succeeded in convincing me of her theory. It made me look at Emily from quite a different perspective. It is a wonderful, extraordinary, fascinating, remarkable book, one that each Emily Brontë fan should have read! Perhaps they have, and perhaps I was the only one that had not read the book yet, but still! A book to be recommended!
Monday, 28 April 2008
Some time ago we listened to Judith Adam's radioplay "I Believe I Have Genius on BBC 4" and were very pleasantly surprised. The Brussels period was key to Charlotte's development as a writer although it sometimes is glossed over as a mere continental whim. Judith Adams showed just how powerful and influential it actually is by literally placing us inside Charlotte's mind.
As the radioplay cast advanced Charlotte is divided in two: Reason and Passion, the conventional and the unconventional sides of Charlotte respectively. Between them they recall the incidents, events, etc. that landed her (them?) where she now is - now being a Catholic confessional in Brussels. Charlotte is extremely lonely and he love and anguish for M. Heger grows and grows. In a rather cruel twist of fate this experience seems to have been vital for Charlotte to emerge as the writer we all know.
The radioplay cast were all brilliant but let offer a humble hat tip in particular to Rosie Cavaliero who played the Passionate Charlotte and to Julian Rhind-Tutt who played a brilliant, interesting M. Heger.
But who better to talk about this play than its very author? Judith Adams was so kind to keep us updated on it and to answer some questions. The answers are all amazing and have a good deal of food for thought. Read them carefully:
You also adapted Villette in the past - what is it about the 'Brussels period' that attracts your attention so much?
Villette was the job I was given by Deborah Paige, then artistic director of the Sheffield Crucible Theatre. It was my first professional job, second stage play, and first adaptation.Though not my idea, I was delighted she chose the unconventional text - it was also the text that fascinated me most (though I'd dearly love to dramatise Wuthering Heights in a way which altered the 'romance' and foregrounded the structure, which resembles the late plays of Shakespeare).
It had come to my attention when Education Officer and setting up the department at the Parsonage, how few people read Villette - even enthusiasts - and what a relatively unpopular book it has always been, dealing, as it does, with harsh and powerful feminist issues less congenial and more intense than those of Jane Eyre.
The uncongenial (I'm told by others - I love her) and unreliable narrator Lucy Snowe, who tries to tell us she is invisible, while being, in fact, the god-creator of the novel, simply fascinates me. Only having funding for 6 actors - I made them all Lucy Snowe (both genders) rather than making them try to represent the population of Brussels. So schizophrenia began there, I suppose. I really wanted to call it "Who ARE you, Lucy Snowe?" but the publicity department wouldn't let me.
My closeness to the Brussels period started here, and went on when asked to review Sue Lonoff's wonderful book translating the devoirs - which revealed so much that has been largely ignored in favour of their exaggerated moorland isolation mythology, and the tedious and prurient speculation about whether she had a pseudo-affair with Heger or not.
The breath-taking guts both Brontes needed to make this journey at that period in history still awes me, and the development of their talents was spectacular, though just being heard was, in a sense, the main spur they needed to go home and do what they were born to do, I suspect.
Hearing words spoken out loud one has written has a huge, terrifying and wonderful impact, if one can survive the shock of it. Hence the obsession in both my Brussels pieces with "play you must, play you shall".
CB, EB and George Eliot (I've dramatised Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss) would have all been fabulous playwrights. But it would not have been permitted, of course.
It hardly is now. Count the numbers.
We are so close to that burial of women still - so often tipping back into it - knowing what is happening in the world to women - how can we be post-feminist? It's dismal and dangerous and gutless to behave as though the job of feminism is done. We have simply been assimilated into the ever-prevailing culture (the 'lucky' western ones that is..).
When did you come up with the idea for this radioplay?
About 9 years ago. It was turned down then. I had a chance to pitch it again through Jonquil Panting, BBC Producer, only this year. I'm pleased there was a delay - I wouldn't have been able to do it justice before, and she was the perfect dramaturg and director. I did have to re-visit all the research I had had at my fingertips as Education Officer at the time: quite an epic of reading. It was fascinating to read the same section of their lives in all the biographies, swiftly, all together - to discover how much interpretative bias affects everyone, even those who pride themselves on being the most "factual".
Did you choose to have Mary Taylor on the play because she was the driving force behind the Brussels period and because she was, of course, there as well or because Charlotte tended to be less conventional and more open with her than she was with Ellen Nussey?
Yes to both your suggestions, plus she represents action/travel to me - and courage - the things most likely to call out Charlotte's best genius - and one is haunted by the letters CB would have sent her which we have lost. Ellen was her longing-to-be conventional and please-daddy side (CB1), Mary her wildness and feminism (CB2).
Also, in terms of the play's structure, it was Mary observing CB was "ugly" on her arrival at Roe Head which splits CB in two, and Heger acknowledging the same, but with the added force of his teaching, which fuses them back together.
I was always so fascinated by the fact that Mary tells us CB still had an Irish accent when she arrived at Roe Head: what volumes this speaks about their isolation from the village.
Oddly, it was never my intention to have two CBs - it was never in the original proposal. It just happened - very early on - and was awkward until CB2 suddenly started speaking with an Irish accent. Then I remembered the Roe Head story. Sometimes one's fictions go their own way, and you have to let them. Scary, but that's when I really enjoy my job. That's when I know the piece has its own life. I might not get it quite right even so, but it's alive, not dead.
I really like this piece. It needed more broadcast time, but I'm deeply proud of it, and the whole team who gave it shape and voice (Jonquil, the fabulous actors, and the technicians).I really like its overt feminism, and that I avoid the traditional places of Bronte legend (moors, Cowan Bridge, EB's misanthropy etc.) and go to other places and people - the sea and Chapelle, for example.
Also - of course - I could largely escape the clutter of their past and futures - except that CB2 crosses all time zones when she wishes, as Genius.
My favourite speech is her one about ugliness, and photos, and so many Emanuels in time to come wanting to stand up for her, so where are they when you need one? Yeh. Makes me smile. For there is huge prejudice still against female, especially feminist voices; especially female, feminist, heretical voices like Charlotte's. Unless the women concerned are dead. Burial is a big issue for women.
Globally, things are not looking good for women's voices, and religion is one of their key threats.
On the contrary, although the present of the play is Charlotte's second stay in Brussels - sans Emily - Emily never speaks at all in Charlotte's memory. Was this a conscious decision or just where the plot led?
Factual clutter is the main factor again - this is a huge story. Time is desperately short in an Afternoon Theatre. We would have preferred an hour at least for this - much was cut. But I cut Emily from the start - there was no way to begin to do her justice - and, as with Madame Heger, I cut her to make this very much CB2's fictional/narrational trajectory.
It is about one self - and the self tells its own story about itself, ruthlessly self-centred. As Genius would have to be, in the end, I imagine.
This is not dramatised biography, it is a fiction - my fiction - about two parts of CB splitting then getting re-united through Heger's teaching.
To have given voice to Emily, I would need twice the broadcast time and twice the research I had time for beforehand, and it still would not have worked. In fact, I did brush against something that gave me a powerful idea of how I might approach her time in Brussels - but this would be another play.
Speaking of the family - Patrick is portrayed à la Gaskell.
Not so. Just à la through his own words in this case.
Is this because you believe him to be the authoritative figure she showed us?
No. He seemed fairly ineffectual - powerless to control his children in my scene - at least, to me - which inadvertently gave them a vast amount of wonderful freedom. He was also a deeply unconventional man by virtue of his background (which CB2 points out) who tried unevenly to be a conventional patriarch without the will or family conditioning to pull it off. His values were unimaginative but not cruel, thank heaven for the Bronte sisters' heretical feminism. Branwell, his preferred child, and his own doubtless great virtues were not the subjects of this piece, and both men have anyway been covered exhaustively by Juliet Barker.
Or because in such a short piece you didn't think there would be time to portray him in a way most people wouldn't recognise him?
Time is always a factor. Sometimes it works with clarity, sometimes against it.There was certainly not much time to worry about Mr B's layers.
Finally, do you think you will be returning to the Brontës in the future?
I do. I carry their astonishing inspiration with me always - I think we have not yet caught up with their genius. We are sometimes too busy with the minutiae of their "tragic lives", and too mesmerised by romanticism to interpret even the most favoured books truthfully.
Sunday, 27 April 2008
After nearly 6 months of planning, organising and promoting our weekend, this year started off with a Brontë evening in Waterstone’s, the English bookshop in Brussels, who kindly provided a specially set-up space and also drinks and nibbles. This was our test, to see how many would turn up to our event this time. We were actually quite surprised to see a great turn-out; some 60 people turned up, and some had to stand, as the chairs were all taken! Robert Barnard gladly accepted our invitation to come to this weekend and he introduced the evening, and with that the weekend, with his witty and erudite anecdotes. Also present were Derek Blyth, Maureen Peeck and Eric Ruijssenaars.
Maureen enlightened us with some wonderful perceptions of two ‘devoirs’ by Emily; Derek told the audience a bit about his experience of the Heger letters (he gave a talk about this last October) and Eric would answer any questions in a question and answer session after the talks. At the beginning people were a little shy and hesitant to ask questions, yet people were mingling and conversations flowing once the official part was over.That is the moment people will start to meet others. Those attending came from near and far. We recognized members from the Czech Republic who also joined us last year. This time, however, they didn’t make the journey by bus! Old and new friendships were made when we walked to the Grand Place and decided to have a drink and talk in one of the old cafés. Our weekend had started of with a bang.
Saturday included a one-day conference entitled The Brontë sisters in Brussels organised by the public library Bibliothèque des Riches Claires, with assistance from us. This event was mainly down to them and so we had to wait and see how it would all go. The conference room was in the library which was situated in a lovely old part of Brussels, with a wonderful monument, the old Church of Riche Claires opposite us.With still more people turning up for this day, the number of attendants was about 100. To our surprise the mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, was present and opened the conference day, with lively banter, switching easily and naturally from English to Dutch to French. Incredible! (That’s Brussels for you.)
On Sunday morning a guided walk around Brontë places in Brussels was organised, one group led by Derek Blyth and one by Eric Ruijssenaars. There was a tremendous amount of interest by people, so they were fully booked.
Again, our activities didn’t go unnoticed by the Belgian media; a radio interview with Eric on a Flemish radio station, and an article in ‘De Standaard’, written by Kristien Hemmerechts who visited our events, were among those.
In a relatively short space of time, only two years, we've grown from about five people to around 60, and new people are joining all the time. The Brontë weekend attracted a very large number of new members.
It seems the Brontës are here to stay in Brussels.
Friday, 25 April 2008
A perfect match, made in heaven : Celtic Music and Emily Brontë!
As a Brontë enthusiast, and in particular an Emily Brontë fan, I was delighted to learn about a project which is at present going on in the Netherlands.
A Dutch band, called ANOIS (the Gaelic-Irish word for “now”), is at the moment working on a CD which is to combine Emily Brontë poems and Celtic music. We were contacted by Veronica Metz, who is the main vocalist of the band, and who composes and performs most of the songs.
Anois was founded at the end of 1996 and is based around the vocals & compositions of lead singer Veronica Metz. The band has in the past been inspired by the writer J.R.R.Tolkien (“Lord of the Rings”) but also by other musicians such as Deanta, Enya, Loreena McKennit and Clannad.
On their website, which is worthwhile visiting (www.anois.nl), they describe their music as being “poetic Celtic music”.
Veronica Metz - Lead Vocal
Ieteke van der Meulen - Backing Vocals
Nick Hubers - Backing Vocals, Whistles and Percussion
Marieke Lesparre - Celtic Harp
Gert-Jan Greven - Guitars and Backing Vocals
Kees Mook - Fiddle
Wym v Noort - Keyboard
Harry Smit - Sound technique
For their present project on Emily Brontë Veronica and her band have given their personal musical interpretation to a number of Emily Brontë poems.
A few of the poems used are:
- I know not how it falls on me”
- Tell me tell me
- Song to A.A. (“This shall be thy lullaby”)
- Song (“The Linnet in the rocky dells”)
- Remembrance (“Cold in the earth …)
- No coward soul is mine
The songs are beautifully performed by Veronica with her “angelic voice from heaven”, assisted by excellent musicians and backing vocals. This is the music I like to listen to and the texts being Emily’s words make it for me THE PERFECT MATCH!
Have I raised your interest? Do you want to know more? You can contact Veronica Metz (email@example.com), or visit their website (www.anois.nl)
Thursday, 17 April 2008
You can hear it via the internet: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/afternoon_play.shtml
Only for the next 7 days will you be able to hear this again through their 'listen again' facility. Just click on “Thursday”.
I Believe I Have Genius
By Judith Adams
What really happened when Charlotte Brontë - as poor, obscure, plain and little as the heroines of her later novels - travelled to Brussels to study at a girls’ school as confessed by the author herself, and built around her own writings and letters.
Charlotte Brontë 1, Or Reason ..... Laura Molyneux
Charlotte Brontë 2, Or Passion ..... Rosie Cavaliero
Constantin Heger ..... Julian Rhind-Tutt
Priest ..... David Shaw-Parker
Chappelle ..... Mark Meadows
Mme Heger ..... Elaine Claxton
Mary Taylor ..... Anne-Marie Piazza
Producer/director Jonquil Panting.
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
This year's programme is much more ambitious since it will include a Brontë conference being organised by the Brussels public library Bibliothèque des Riches Claires with our assistance. This conference is an initiative of the chief librarian, who had the idea of organising an event to honour the Brontës' stay in Brussels after reading our member Eric Ruijssenaars' books on this subject and agreed to hold the conference during our Brontë weekend.
BRONTË WEEKEND IN BRUSSELS
Friday 18 April to Sunday 20 April 2008
Friday 18 April
19.00: A BRONTË EVENING in Waterstone's bookshop, Bvd. Adolphe Maxlaan 71-75, 1000 Brussels
Robert Barnard, former Chairman of the Brontë Society, author of A Brontë Encyclopedia and writer of crime fiction, who will give an introductory talk, will be in Waterstone's with fellow writers and Brontë enthusiasts Eric Ruijssenaars (Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land: the Pensionnat Heger and other Brontë places in Brussels), Derek Blyth (Brussels for Pleasure and other guide books) and Maureen Peeck O'Toole (Aspects of lyric in the poetry of Emily Brontë) to talk about their books and answer your questions about the Brontës.
There is no charge for this event and no need to reserve - just turn up on the day.
Contact person: Helen MacEwan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Saturday 19 April
10.00 to 12.30 and 14.00 to 16.30: THE BRONTË SISTERS IN BRUSSELS
Conference organised by Bibliothèque des Riches Claires, 24 rue des Riches Claires, 1000 Brussels, with assistance from the Brussels Brontë Group. (Interpretation provided, French-English and English-French.)
Roel Jacobs: Bruxelles au 19ème siècle, ville dynamique?
Robert Barnard: The world the Brontës grew up in (class and social change in early 19th century England).
Eric Ruijssenaars: Down the Belliard steps (and what Charlotte found there).
Georges Mayer: Les soeurs Brontë: quartier Isabelle, vie universitaire et artistique à Bruxelles.
Paul Héger: Ascendance et descendance de Constantin Héger.
Pierre Leclercq: Du Yorkshire à Bruxelles, un voyage culinaire tout en contrastes
There is no charge for the conference but you must reserve your place by emailing email@example.com
10-29 April: Exhibition in Bibliothèque des Riches Claires showing Brussels in the period of the Brontës' stay. Open 13.00 to 17.30 Monday-Friday and 10.00 to 12.00 on Saturdays (except Saturday 19 April).
19.00: 19th century English meal provided by the Centre de Gastronomie Historique de Bruxelles.
Information and bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0485 637 102
Sunday 20 April
10.00: Guided walk around Brontë places in Brussels.
Information and bookings: Helen MacEwan (email@example.com)
All events are open to non-members.
More details of all the events on the Events page of the Brussels Brontë Group website: