This year sees the 20th Anniversary of the first Excursion made by members from the Brontë Society.
A few of our current BBG members were there to witness that week in April 1993.
Eric Ruijssenaars and Maureen Peeck have given their personal accounts.
It was twenty years ago last month that the memorable
Brontë Society Excursion took place. Not only was it, on hindsight, an
important step towards the creation of the Brussels Brontë Group, it also quite
changed my life. In a way the Excursion feels like it happened fairly recently,
but in reality it has entered the realms of history, with research needed to
recall those magical five days.I remember the excitement started months before, when
Selina, our friend Elle and I decided to join. Elle, as readers of Helen’s book
will recall, had made me a Villette
fan and researcher. I had written for her a history of the Isabella quarter. It
became the first chapter of my first book, which might not have existed without
that Excursion. And my career certainly would have been different without the
book.The ‘photographic memories’ I have are only a few.
Selina dressed as Jane Eyre is unforgettable to all. Apart from her, the other
scene that comes to mind is us three and three British ladies, in the Park, near
the Kiosk, probably. One of them was Dyddgu Pritchard-Owens, from north Wales.
She’s still a dear friend. I thought we first met on the Tuesday, but she, when
I asked her about it on the phone, immediately said it was at the graves of M.
and Mme. Heger at Boitsfort, on the Wednesday.
Pearl Cragg was one of the other two ladies. In the dark days, when Villette and Brussels were all but forgotten, she and Elle were the only Villette fans left. Pearl made pretty much annual pilgrimage journeys to Brussels. She knew all most of what was known, which wasn’t much however. Without Pearl the Society might still not have organised an Excursion to Brussels. The greatest compliment I later got for my books were given by her. They were her constant bedside books, she once told me. Pearl was also there at the 2003 Excursion. That was her last visit to Brussels. The rise of the BBG must have pleased her greatly.
She died in 2011. Dyddgu remembers that Pearl laid one rose on M. Heger’s grave.
I remember M. Fierens giving a fascinating talk. An
eternal regret is that I did not make notes. I also remember a few scenes at
the Place Rogier hotel where the Society members were staying, and waving
goodbye to them when they left from there on the Friday. There is also the
memory of Charlotte Cory and me sitting at a bar, somewhere, on the Wednesday I
think. She was quite impressed by the pile of research papers I showed her, and
encouraged me to apply for the Brontë Society Centenary scholarship. Charlotte
does deserve much credit for organising the Excursion to Brussels, for the
first time in, indeed, the Society’s 100 years of existence.
Slowly some memories come back. Maureen Peeck, a dear
friend ever since too, I first met at about the arrival of the coach from
England with the Society members. At the Place Rogier. That cannot have been
before about 3 pm. The British members must have been horribly exhausted. The
coach had left from Haworth at 2 am, according to the the programme booklet. “Approximate
arrival at Ostende: 3 pm.”The Tuesday we spent in and around the Isabella
In the evening Charlotte Cory presented her (second) novel at Waterstone’s, of which I have some memories. But not of the last meal togethether at the Grand Place afterwards. But after Dyddgu told me, I do now remember too a last, quite lenghty meeting in the hotel lounge.I will always remember it vividly as a wonderful week, one of the very best in my life.
Account of the 1993 Brontë Society Excursion
Recently I spent a pleasant day in Leiden with
Eric Ruijssenaars. Naturally we were reminiscing about our Brontë experiences
and suddenly realised that we had known one another for twenty years. We
met 20 years ago in Brussels at the April 1993 Brontë Society Excursion. I had
never been to Brussels before and, though I had been a life-member of the
Brontë Society since 1974, I had never then been to any Brontë events. This was
because they were always held at awkward times of the year for me. Of course
I had been to Haworth at Christmas and in the summer as we had a holiday
cottage in Oxenhope.
I was quite surprised at the large number of members
on the excursion and how nice they were to me, a new-comer. There was such a
feeling of camaraderie. I soon met up with Eric R and Selina Busch as they were
the Dutch contingent and I also live in the Netherlands, (though
English). They took me on a little tour of Brontë sites. They were already
researching the area and had been studying the archives at the city registers.
They took me down the narrow rue Villa Hermosa which comes to a dead end
at a side wall of Le Palais des Beaux Arts. Originally of course this had led
down to the rue d'Isabelle where the Pensionnat was situated.
Another highlight was our visit to the British Embassy on the anniversary of Charlotte Brontë's birthday. We were all supposed to dress in Victorian costume and indeed many people had actually entered into the spirit of the thing (see photo on p 13, Brontë Society Gazette, issue 9, July 1993) and really looked the part.
We had a very enjoyable afternoon with tea on the lawn.
Then on another day there was the underground exploration led by the city architect. They had just started excavating the ancient palace of Charles V which lies under the present Place Royale. So we had to slither down a steep and long sandy slope and be led through the darkness ending up amazingly in the original rue d'Isabelle which we followed until it ended in another wall of the Palais des Beaux Arts.
This was the part of the street which the Brontë sisters could not have known. So while their part of the street has been demolished the more ancient one remains.
Finally, I well remember that M. Fierens, a descendent of M and Mme Heger, gave us a very stimulating talk about his family. And of course our visit to Waterloo.