Monday, 16 October 2017

Villette and Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels: talk on 14 October 2017

John Sutherland was scheduled to visit us for a talk about Brontë puzzles but unfortunately had to cancel due to illness. We hope to enjoy his talk at a later date.

Helen talking about Villette

Instead, Helen MacEwan entertained us with a talk, Villette as vignettes of 1840s Brussels, introducing us to the Brontës’ Brussels. It contained quotations from writings by Belgian and foreign observers of Brussels, including guide books and travel books by visitors to the city. Among other aspects, it looked at the musical performances and paintings on which Charlotte must have based the descriptions in the novel. The talk was interspersed with readings in which Paul and Ola entertained us with details of Brussels at that period, helping us to visualise the city in which Charlotte and Emily walked.

Paul and Ola resting in-between performances

The talk gave a preview of Helen’s next book, Through Belgian Eyes: Charlotte Brontë’s Troubled Brussels Legacy, to be published next month. Here is the book description.


‘Charlotte Brontë’s years in Belgium (1842-43) had a huge influence both on her life and her work. It was in Brussels that she not only honed her writing skills but fell in love and lived through the experiences that inspired two of her four novels: her first, The Professor, and her last and in many ways most interesting, Villette. Her feelings about Belgium are known - her love for her tutor Heger, her uncomplimentary remarks about Belgians, the powerful effect on her imagination of living abroad. But what about Belgian views of Charlotte Brontë? How have Belgian commentators responded to her portrayal of their capital city and their society? Through Belgian Eyes explores a wide range of responses from across the Channel.

In the process, it examines what The Professor and Villette tell Belgian readers about their capital in the 1840s and provides the Brussels background to the novels. B russels has inspired few outstanding works of literature, and the makes Villette, considered by many to be Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, of particular interest as a portrait of the Belgian capital a decade after the country gained independence in 1830, and just before the city was transformed out of all recognition from the ’villette’ (small town) that Charlotte knew. Her view of Brussels is contrasted with those of other foreign visitors and of the Belgians themselves.’

It sounds like an interesting read. A highly enjoyable Saturday morning that helped to fill in our picture of the Brontës’ Brussels.

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