|This is possibly the painting that Lucy Snow saw!|
She does not look that big though!
Charlotte based the description on a real painting (by a now forgotten artist) that she had seen in 1842 in Brussels. Did she realize that she could have used a fairly recent Belgian innovation to help her calculate the Cleopatra's ``affluence of flesh''? Ghent-born Adolphe Quetelet in the 1830s developed an index to classify a person's weight relative to an ideal scale. Called the Quetelet Index, his method is still used today, though it was renamed the Body Mass Index (BMI) in the 1970s.
Charlotte could have seen Quetelet during her time in Brussels. She might have passed him on the street or in the park. She could have read about him in the newspaper, or heard about one of his periodic lectures. While she may not have thought about the Quetelet Index while in Belgium, Charlotte did show an interest in astronomy during her stay -- an interest that may have developed in discussions with Professor Heger at the Pensionnat.
In one of her homework assignments for M. Heger -- a devoir titled ``The Immensity of God'' written in 1842 -- Charlotte starts out with a focus on the Deity but shifts to a scientific perspective. She name-drops seventeenth-century Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens (though not Quetelet), and refers to the telescope and the science of optics.
I wonder what Quetelet made of the Cleopatra? She probably would have surpassed 30 on his index, in the obese range -- the opposite end from petite Charlotte. As Lucy Snowe says: ``She was, indeed, extremely well fed …''
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Sources: Charlotte Brontë: The Evolution of Genius by Winifried Gerin; The Belgian Essays edited by Sue Lonoff; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Brussels for Pleasure by Derek Blyth.