Saturday 8 December 2007

Brussels Brontë reading group

Our reading group, launched in September 2007, has got off to a successful start, proving that there is plenty of interest in reading the classics of English literature. Unlike most reading groups which concentrate on modern fiction, ours offers the opportunity to actually read those works sitting on your shelves that you’ve always intended to tackle one day!

There are about twelve of us and we meet every few weeks for informal discussion of the latest book read. We have an interesting mix of members of all ages and several different nationalities, with a majority of native English speakers.

Since this was an initiative of our Brontë group we felt we had to start with a Brontë work and so our first book was Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels novel The Professor, which few had read before. We will be reading a mixture of Brontë and other 19th century authors including Jane Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Mrs Gaskell and George Eliot. At our most recent meeting we talked about Jane Austen’s Emma and the next work on our list is Bleak House.

Some Victorian novels (Bleak House is a case in point) are very long and since many of our members have busy schedules, we will alternate long works with shorter ones. We feel confident that the time invested in reading these masterpieces of English literature will be rewarded both by the merit of the works themselves and the stimulus of discussing them with the other group members.

If you would like to join the reading group contact Helen MacEwan at helen.macewan@ec.europa.eu.

Saturday 27 October 2007

Letters to Brussels

This was the title of the first talk ever organised by members of the Brontë Society based in Brussels, which was held on 18 October 2007 in the library at the Travel Arts Café Cercle Des Voyageurs in Rue des Grands Carmes near Grand Place, a venue full of character in an old building. The library seats about 60 and was almost full. We were pleased by the good attendance and feel hopeful about the prospects for organising such events in the future. There is of course no shortage of literary events in English in Brussels but most of them relate to contemporary writers.

This being Brussels, the audience was pretty international. It included many native English speakers of course, but also a contingent of members from the Netherlands who always come to our main events, and quite a few Belgians, including a well-known novelist and academic and several university students. Thanks to the interest taken in our group by the local media, our Belgian membership is growing and we are very pleased about this.

The media coverage given to our venture was gratifying. The national Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad interviewed us and published an article on our group. The reporter was fascinated by the whole concept of literary societies, almost unknown here: "People meeting to discuss the works of the Brontë sisters: this is the latest craze blown across the Channel from Britain to Brussels". Similarly, Agenda, the Brussels "What's On", wondered whether a Brontë craze on a par with the current Austen one might be imminent, and advised bruxellois to be "one step ahead of the pack" by going to the talk: "Close your eyes and let yourself be swept along by this torrent of passion". And the radio station FM Brussel decided to get in on the act by broadcasting an interview with Derek Blyth.

Derek gave a highly personal talk about his feelings on reading Charlotte's letters to M. Heger, the unanswered questions that puzzle him and his expedition to the British Library to see them for himself (the keeper of rare manuscripts at the Library told him a Charlotte Brontë ghost story which is fairly well known in Brontë circles but probably less familiar to our Brussels audience).

We hope that this will be the first of many such events and that we will be able to attract speakers from the UK and other countries, as well as from Belgium, to come and talk to us.

Monday 15 October 2007

Brussels Brontë Group in the Belgian media

A leading Flemish newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad, has published an article on our Group and on the Brontë Society in the lead-up to Derek Blyth's talk on the Heger letters (on Thursday 18 October).

We are delighted by the publicity but would point out that there are a number of inaccuracies in the article (for example, we are not "hoping for funds from the Brontë Society to finance research").

Below is the link to the original article, in Dutch, and an English translation.


Group searches for traces of the Brontë sisters
First Belgian branch of the Brontë Society

BRUSSELS – People who meet to discuss the works of the Brontë sisters: this is the latest craze blown over from the Channel from Britain to Brussels. Helen MacEwan is leading the first Belgian branch of the Brontë society.

Brussels is once again displaying its international character with the formation of this branch of the Brontë Society. "In Britain, the fascination for the Brontë sisters is a national sport", says Helen MacEwan. "People are constantly doing research about the tragic lives of the Brontë family. And there is a continuous stream of TV and film adaptations of one or other of the Brontë novels."

MacEwan has founded the first Belgian branch of the Brontë Society in Brussels, where she works as a translator. It is hardly a coincidence that a branch has been set up in Brussels. Charlotte Brontë lived there in 1842 and 1843. She came here to study French and fell in love with her teacher. Her novel Villette tells the story.

During its first event, the Brussels Brontë Group organized a walk visiting several sites which were portrayed in Charlotte’s book, guided by British-born Derek Blyth.

Derek Blyth explains the worldwide fascination for the seven novels by the three Brontë sisters. "They are very personal works, with a psychological depth which somehow manages to reach every age group. My 16-year-old daughter is currently reading Jane Eyre. There aren’t that many 160-year-old books that teenagers of today still read."

No exam

The Brussels Brontë Group isn’t a collection of purists. You don’t have to pass an exam to join. Knowing the names of the three sisters is enough. And you should enjoy reading of course. With the expansion of the Group, it has set up a Reading Group, focusing particularly on romantic authors such as Austen.

Charlotte Brontë stayed in the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels in 1842-43 and fell in love with her teacher Constantin Heger, who taught her French. When she returned to England, she remained obsessed with her professor and wrote him a series of letters.

But the professor did not answer her letters. In fact Monsieur Heger tore them up. But his wife rescued them from the wastepaper basket and sewed them back together. Paul Heger, Constantin’s son, donated four of these letters to the British Museum in 1913.

On Thursday 18 October, at 19.30, in the Le Cercle des Voyageurs / Travel Arts Café, Rue des Grands Carmes 18, 1000 Brussels, Derek Blyth will talk about these letters.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Talk on Charlotte Brontë's letters to Monsieur Heger

The Brussels Brontë Group is organising a talk on Thursday 18 October at 19.30:

Letters to Brussels: Charlotte Brontë's letters to Constantin Heger

A talk by Derek Blyth (author of Brussels for Pleasure, Blue Guide to Belgium, Flemish Cities Explored, etc.)

The library at Cercle des Voyageurs, Rue des Grands Carmes 18, 1000 Brussels.

Non-members welcome. A charge of €3 will be made to cover the cost of the room. Drinks available from the bar.

Charlotte Brontë's years at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels studying French under the guidance of Monsieur Heger were two of the most important of her life.

On her return to Haworth, obsessed by the memory of her Belgian teacher, she wrote him a series of increasingly desperate letters, four of which are now preserved in the British Museum. It is nothing short of a miracle that the letters have survived at all. They were torn into small pieces, repaired with needle and thread and then left forgotten in a drawer until 1913.

What was the exact nature of Charlotte's feelings for Heger? What were Mme Heger's precise motives in repairing the letters? Derek Blyth will share his thoughts with us on some of the questions that have intrigued generations of Brontë enthusiasts.

Derek Blyth, who is based in Brussels, is well known for his many books and articles on Belgium. He has been fascinated by Charlotte and Emily's stay in Brussels since re-reading Villette shortly after moving to the city.

Friday 31 August 2007

Brussels Brontë Group reading group

Are you tired of reading groups that only read modern fiction?

We invite you to join our group specialising in 19th century English literature, for people who are interested in books by and about the Brontës and in the history and literature of the 19th century in general.
We want to return to the classics that have stood the test of time and also fill in our knowledge of the period by reading:

· The Brontës and works relating to them (biography, criticism, modern novels inspired by the Brontës....)
· Jane Austen, Hardy, Dickens, George Eliot....
· Biography and history providing background to the 19th century

Books on our reading list:
Charlotte Brontë: Villette
Emma Tennant: Heathcliff's Tale
Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Nick Foulkes: Dancing into Battle (history of the British community in Brussels at the time of the Battle of Waterloo)

Contact helen.macewan@ec.europa.eu for more information

Monday 2 July 2007

Culture shock and the Brontës

Sheila Fordham moved recently to Brussels from Leeds, where her work at the university brought her into contact with foreign students.

I used to work in the Student Section of Leeds Metropolitan University and every year I helped with the Welcome Weeks for new international students. It was an interesting week and I felt that I was helping the students to settle into life in Leeds.

There was a lot of information available to the students about life in the United Kingdom but one of the things which struck me most was the booklet on 'Culture Shock'. It is something people do not really think about until they go abroad. Moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar is not easy.

After the initial period of feeling as if you are on holiday you start to miss things from home, customs, people, patterns of behaviour, support networks, food, weather, even smells and sounds. Also, what is important in one culture is not looked upon as such in another and this can make international students feel threatened and question their own beliefs and actions. It can make you feel depressed as a newcomer in a country if you have a few difficult days - where you are not sure of the local customs and procedures. Even buying things in the shop or going to the bank, finding out about transport can bring unexpected problems. If people seem unfriendly or brusque then you do not have the family support to help you to put it in perspective.

Things which are normal in one culture can seem strange in another. For example, how close people stand to one another, how they greet one another, what is polite and what is not, how people in authority such as officials or the police treat the public. What is a normal reaction in one country is seen as rude or aggressive in another. A visitor may feel insulted and upset.

It is good to explain culture shock to the new students because if they realise it is perfectly normal to feel like this then they will understand what is happening and can do something about it and seek help - or friends can see what is happening and help out.

This started me thinking about it in relation to the Brontë sisters´ experiences abroad. It is something which affects every traveller at some time or another.

In the 19th century, when the Brontës came to stay at the Pensionnat Heger, there was already quite a large expatriate community here in Brussels. However, people were probably not aware of culture shock and did not talk about it. It could explain quite a lot of the attitudes of Lucy Snow in 'Villette' in relation to the students and the Catholic religion and Charlotte´s criticisms of life in Brussels.

After a few months things become more familiar and you start to appreciate things in your new country and enjoy them. In fact, after a year or two in the new country it can then cause problems when the students return home again. The international student section also holds a briefing meeting for students before they go back home. Things at home are not always the same as when they left home, they have changed and their family has changed and they have to re-adjust all over again.

Going through this experience helps the student realise who they are and what they are what is important in their life - what they enjoy or dislike.

It would be interesting to hear whether other Brontë readers think culture shock had an impact on Charlotte´s and Emily´s writing and lives in general.

Sheila Fordham

Wednesday 13 June 2007

The Secret of Charlotte Brontë

While I was in Haworth during this year’s AGM, I finally found and bought a most precious book, which had been on my wish list for years; The Secret of Charlotte Brontë, by Frederika MacDonald, published in 1914.

Perhaps some of you already have this book, but for those who haven’t, I would like to bring it to your attention.

This is probably the first and only book which is focused solely on Charlotte Brontë and Brussels, and would therefore be of great interest to everyone interested in that period of her life.

Frederika MacDonald, in 1859, was herself a pupil at the Pensionnat Heger where 17 years earlier Charlotte had been a student, and later a teacher.
She knew from first-hand experience what life was like at the school, and even more interesting, what M. Heger and his wife Madame Heger were like in real life.

Frederika had been writing articles as an ex-pupil of the Pensionnat from 1894 onwards, but when Charlotte’s letters to Heger were made public in 1913 (when Paul Heger handed them over to the British Museum), she was the first to quote from these letters in a Brontë biography. They form a vital part of this publication, in which Frederika tries to unravel the ‘secret’ of Charlotte on the basis of these letters.

The book is separated in 2 parts:

    (These Letters supply the Key to the Secret of Charlotte Brontë)
    She ends this part by quoting Charlotte’s last desperate letter to Constantin Heger. She writes:
    “ The Letter obtained no answer.
    And thus the end was reached. We now know
    where in Charlotte Bronte's life lay her
    experiences that formed her genius and
    made her the great Romantic whose
    quality was that she saw all events and
    personages through the medium of one
    passion: the passion of a predestined tragical
    and unrequited love.”
    Frederika MacDonald gives us a marvellous insight into her life at the Pensionnat and her own personal view of the teacher she and Charlotte both shared. She writes:
    “ But Monsieur Heger had one really beauti-
    ful feature, that I remember often watching
    with extreme pleasure when he recited fine
    poetry or read noble prose : - his mouth,
    when uttering words that moved him, had
    a delightful smile, not in the least tender to-
    wards ordinary mortals, but almost tender
    in its homage to the excellence of writers
    of genius.

    In brief, what M. Heger 's face revealed
    when studied as the index of his natural
    qualities, was intellectual superiority, an
    imperious temper, a good deal of impatience
    against stupidity, and very little patience
    with his fellow-creatures generally ; it
    revealed too a good deal of humour ; and a
    very little kind-heartedness, to be weighed
    against any amount of irritability. It was
    a sort of face bound to interest one ; but
    not, so it seems to me, to conquer affection.”

There are also some interesting illustrations, which you hardly find in any other publication or biography.


I strongly recommend this book as a wonderful addition of any good Brussels/Brontë collection.
If you are able to get your hands on a copy, don’t let it slip you by.
There is however the possibilty to read the text, by clicking on this link:
To see the digitalized original edition, click on ‘FLIP BOOK’ in the left panel where it says; ‘View the book’.

Some more information on Frederika’s book in the Australian Brontë Association Newsletter:

Discover the secret....

Monday 11 June 2007

The 2007 AGM

It had been two years since I was last in Haworth during the AGM, and though this visit would be but a short one, I was determined to savour every last minute and enjoy myself to the full.
Of our group, I knew only Helen would definitely be there.
This time Helen and I would be in Haworth for the first time together, whereas Brussels had been our meeting ground ever since we met each other. It was our Brontë meeting in a different surrounding. Quite special and very pleasant it was too.
I was already there on Thursday, so I had some time to myself, which I mainly used for walking up and down Main Street, around the Parsonage, and buying my first books.
I met up with Helen for lunch on Friday, when most members arrived for the weekend.
In my report on the Brontë Parsonage Blog, http://bronteparsonage.blogspot.com/ (June weekend 2),I am writing more about the several events.
I am sending a few more photos with this little report.
(From top to bottom:
- Victoria Glendinning during her talk Friday afternoon
- Auction of books on Friday evening
- Tea at Ashmount, Saturday afternoon
- Discussion panel with eminent Brontë biographers, Saturday evening)

Most exciting for me, and Helen too, was the fascinating panel discussion with the great Brontë biographers.
I was in great awe being so close to these wonderful researchers and writers. As I wrote in my report, I took the opportunity of speaking a few words with Juliet Barker, whose biography on the entire Brontë family I always call the ‘Brontë Bible’. She was very kind, but my nerves spoiled it for me, for I actually wanted to ask her autograph. If I had been brave enough, I so wished to ask the entire panel for their autograph. It was not to be.
I wonder what she made of my news about our Brussels group; would she be curious enough to have a look at our Website and Blog?
It was wonderful being back in this beautiful place; I enjoyed seeing so many friends and familiar faces again. I hope next time, the Brussels group may be even more present…

Saturday 12 May 2007

Demolition of the house in which Monsieur Heger died

The house where Constantin Heger died on 6 May 1896, Rue Montoyer 72, has been demolished.

After leaving Rue d´Isabelle (around 1880) Monsieur and Madame Heger moved to Rue Ducale, where she died in 1889. He then spent his last years in Rue Montoyer.

Ten years ago I walked to the address, and saw there another victim of speculation on the housing market, which means that the owner simply lets it rot away. A decade ago there were a lot of these hapless houses in Brussels, sometimes with trees growing in their midst.

Quite a lot has changed now, as many of these dilapidated buildings have disappeared, having either been finally destroyed or eventually renovated.

In Rue Montoyer this was the last old building left, and there are only offices in the street now. The spot, which is worthy of a plaque, is still empty, apart from some green bushes, as can be seen on the photograph (taken on 19 April 2007). Unfortunately a photo I took ten years ago did not come out.

The address of the house was given by Clement Shorter about a hundred years ago, although he actually wrote Rue Nettoyer, a street name that has never existed in Brussels. In the absence of an alternative explanation, there seems to be no doubt he meant Rue Montoyer.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Sunday 6 May 2007

Photos of the April weekend

From top: by the bandstand in the park featured in Villette; lunch on the terrace of the Musical Instruments Museum; the Hotel Errera seen from the Palais des Beaux-Arts; Place des Martyrs, one of the places visited on our "mystery tour"; the group on the steps of the cathedral.

(See our report on the Brontë weekend in Brussels posted on 24 April).

Friday 4 May 2007

Discoveries at Bozar

During his guided walk on Saturday 21 April Derek Blyth took us to a platform above the Palais des Beaux Arts, or Bozar as it is called now. This platform offered interesting views and panoramas, in particular because at one edge of it, immediately beneath us, there was an enclosed space on about the level of the former Rue d'Isabelle.

A day later Selina Busch and I went to an exhibition in Bozar and there we found that enclosed space. What is more, in the wall beneath the platform they have now enclosed the old tower which was a part of the old city wall. So this place is indeed more or less on the same level as the old Rue d´Isabelle (see photograph).

It is also interesting that one can see Hotel Errera, towering high above, as one would imagine it would have looked when seen from the old street, on the basis of the Tahon photograph. The view to the other side is also interesting (see photographs).

However, the Rue d´Isabelle did not run across this spot. The tower was incorporated into the back of one of the houses on the Rue Royale side of the street. Some five or six metres therefore have to be walked from the tower to the spot where the street began, and then one is inside Bozar again.

This little place is a very useful addition to the means we have that enable us to imagine what the old quarter looked like, and we must be grateful to the Palais des Beaux Arts for creating it.

It may be that behind the wall in which the tower is enclosed, or in it, behind a layer of plaster, there are remnants of old walls, that are needed to carry the weight of the height of the Rue Royale, and may not have been completely removed for that reason.

Four years earlier we had already seen the tower. At that time the building was being renovated. There was a lot of work going on near the tower, which was already contained in the white wall. The room, which was not the shape of this place, had a ceiling.

There is another place in the Palais with a few remains of the old quarter. However, it is in an office and not accessible by the public.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Tuesday 1 May 2007

Readings from Villette

Our Brontë day on 21 April ended with a selection of dialogues between Lucy and M. Paul read by Selina Busch and Brian Speak. The commentary below is by Maureen Peeck, who selected and introduced the passages.

After our meal on Saturday night it was time for some more Villette; during our walks Derek Blyth, our excellent guide, had arranged for Val to read appropriate passages highlighting once again how closely the setting of the novel reflected aspects of Charlotte Brontë’s stay in Brussels. This was an excellent idea and indeed turned out to enhance the theme chosen for the evening readings.

This theme was the growth of the relationship between Lucy Snowe and Paul Emanuel. Selina Busch and Brian Speak were the readers and they rose to the occasion. I introduced the passages and linked them together. In such a long novel it is difficult to keep track of everything, so it’s interesting to follow one strand and see how it fits into the whole pattern.

We started at the beginning and our last passage was very nearly at the end.

In the first passage M Paul is asked by Mme Beck to read Lucy’s face in lieu of a job reference, as he is known for his knowledge of physiognomy. He recommends that Lucy be employed even though he does not divulge any of the “many things” he says he has seen.

The next passage was when M Paul requires Lucy to take part at short notice in the school play. He knows she will be able to cope because he has “read her skull” (so he was also a phrenologist).

Margaret McCarthy told us that Charlotte had been to a physiognomist/phrenologist with George Smith in London and that the report she received is kept in Haworth. It turned out to be an uncannily accurate analysis of what we know of her personality.

Then there was a bit of light relief with the ‘Cleopatra passages’. These refer to the painting of the scantily clad Cleopatra which M Paul forbids Lucy to look at, though as Lucy coyly points out, he spends quite a lot of time studying it himself. Lucy has to content herself with the four boring paintings of “La Vie d'une Femme”.

On our walk Derek had shown us a copy of a picture which Charlotte probably saw at an exhibition in Brussels which was obviously the model for her Cleopatra.

Our next reading was much later in the novel when M Paul explains how he studies human nature by spying on the girls playing in the garden from his room in the boys’ school, sometimes using a glass! Lucy is shocked. She sees it as an aspect of his jesuitical tendencies. And it even turns out that both he and Mme, independently of one another, have been keeping an eye on Lucy when she thought she was alone in the garden.

It is clear that from the start M Paul has been extremely interested in Lucy, and he now tells her how close the affinity is between them, despite their differing religious beliefs. Lucy hears that he believed they were born under the same star and that their destinies were linked. He had also seen the ghostly nun and was convinced it had something to do with them both. The passage ends with the two of them seeing the apparition.

Our final passage (three pages from the end) was when Paul had asked Lucy to be his wife and they return from the Faubourg Clotilde to the Pensionnat. I quote: “At this hour, in this house, eighteen months since, had this man at my side, bent before me, looked into my face and eyes, and arbitered my destiny.”

Maureen Peeck

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Brontë weekend in Brussels 21-22 April

The weekend of 21-22 April saw our group's first major event, a weekend of activities coniciding with Charlotte Brontë's birthday for which members based in Belgium were joined by those from the Netherlands and also by a group of Brontë Society members from the UK (the London and South-East branch) led by Margaret McCarthy.

This was a first in the Brontë Society, as it is the first time that such an event has been conceived and organised by members actually based in Brussels and able to offer an insider's view of the city and insights about life in Belgium.

We were able to draw on the experience of Eric Ruijssenaars, Selina Busch and Maureen Peeck O'Toole, who helped to set up the Society's trips to Brussels in 1993 and 2003. Now as then, Eric's research on the Brontë places in Brussels and Selina's maps and drawings recreating the Pensionnat and Isabelle quarter were invaluable.

The programme for Saturday, on which most of the events took place, included a guided walk round the main places connected with the Brontës, a visit to Chapelle Royale (where the sisters went on Sundays) where we were given a talk on its history and that of Protestantism in Belgium, a "birthday" tea party and a dinner followed by some entertainment.

A new feature was that the guided walk was led by a new member of the group who is however not new to Brussels, having lived here and written about it for over 15 years. Derek Blyth is the author of some of the main guide books on the city and has always been fascinated by the Brontës' connection with it. His Brussels for Pleasure - 13 walks through the historic city includes a Brontë walk. This, however, is the first time that he has guided a group of enthusiasts in person!

To his main Brontë walk centred on the site of the Pensionnat, Derek Blyth added a second one, a mystery tour devised especially for our visitors. When they arrived on Friday evening we were all whisked off by him to see some spots with lesser-known or speculative Brontë connections, such as Place des Martyrs or the building in front of which Derek thinks Lucy Snowe may have fainted when she was found by Dr John.

After a relaxed morning over coffee in Grand'Place, lunch on the roof terrace restaurant of the Museum of Musical Instruments with its fabulous view of Place Royale, so often crossed by Charlotte Brontë, and a visit to Chapelle Royale where she worshipped, came the Brontë walk proper. The territory for this one was more familiar but some novel features were incorporated: readings from Villette and from letters by an obliging "Charlotte" in the group, visual aids (old street views, pictures Charlotte saw in exhibitions during her stay), and, again, Derek Blyth's own theories about some of the routes taken by Lucy/Charlotte. Concentrating in fascinating detail on what is geographically a smallish area, in two hours we covered a lot of ground in terms of the history of Brussels and the background to the Brontës' visit: not only where their English friends lived but the wider British community of the time and its amenities in and around Place Royale, for example.

After the tea party and dinner, the day was rounded off by a quiz and readings from Villette by Selina Busch and Brian Speak, introduced by Maureen Peeck.

This international weekend (a coming together of members from four different countries, since we were also joined by two enthusiasts from the Czech Republic who had met some of us at Haworth!) was a light-hearted and enjoyable event with plenty of time to talk to new friends and catch up with old ones.

We are planning to make this April Brontë weekend an annual event and would love to invite more groups of members to join us in between the big excursions organised by the Society. Is anyone interested for next year?

Jane Eyre musical in Beveren, Belgium

On Sunday 22 April I went to see the musical “Jane Eyre” which was being performed in Beveren (Belgium). I was able to have a short chat with someone from the production team, Mr. Paul Van Moere. He gave me some information on the background.

Every 5 years the arts centre embarks on an ambitious musical project. “Jane Eyre” is their third project. The choice of the musical “Jane Eyre” was purely accidental. The musical had been performed in Toronto, on Broadway (New York) and in London, but had not yet been performed on the Continent by a major theatrical company. That was the main reason for selecting this musical. The musical was created by the American composer Paul Gordon, who wrote the music, the lyrics are from John Caird. The original texts were translated in Dutch by Ronny Verheyen. The musical is staged for the first time on the Continent and in the Dutch language, which make it a unique experience. The musical is staged by the Arts Centre Ter Vesten in close co-operation with some amateur dramatic societies and the music academy from Beveren.

The auditions and rehearsals started last year. The result of their efforts could be seen from 13 to 30 April. Due to the enormous success (nearly all evenings were sold out!!) some extra performances were staged on the Mondays.
To Brontë fans the story of Jane Eyre is well known. The musical is a free adaptation of the original book, but the story is on the whole respected (although sometimes shortened).

The story is told mainly by means of songs relieved by narration. The performance involved quite a number of persons. The music was both dramatic and powerful on the one hand and sensitive and touching on the other hand. The lyrics were sometimes very moving even to the extent that a tear fell from my eyes. The staging and performance of the musical was done with great care, with respect for the original story of Charlotte Brontë, with precision and correctness as far as dresses were concerned, and the beautiful music just added the final touch. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was glad that I have been able to experience this wonderful adaptation of Charlotte’s novel. As we all know the story ends well: Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester find happiness in the end. Or, to say it with the lyrics of their last song, “if you don’t know the way, just follow your heart”. And that is exactly what Jane did!

In the margin of the musical there was, amongst other things, a marathon reading of the book Jane Eyre in Dutch. The reading went on before the performance, during the break and was finished after the performance on 22 April around 6 p.m. A cosy corner was set up in the foyer of the Centre where volunteers read part of the book. Very well done too! In the cafeteria you could get your “Jane Eyre” tea, which of course I did!

In the period that the musical was staged, there were also other events such as 2 Jane Eyre films, and other costume drama (Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, Mary Poppins), there were lectures on fashion and tea rituals in Victorian times, etc… In the foyer of the Arts Centre there were also glass cases with books/videos from and on the Brontës and on subjects related to Victorian times.

I must say, I was very impressed with the whole organisation of the event. All credit certainly goes to the production team and all those involved in the event, either on the stage or behind the scene. They made this production the enormous success that it was. CONGRATULATIONS !!!!

Marina Saegerman

Saturday 14 April 2007

Jane Eyre in Beveren, Belgium

We're also indebted to Bronteblog for this post. The arts centre in Beveren, Belgium (Cultuurcentrum Ter Vesten, Zwarte Dreef, Beveren) is staging several performances in Dutch of the Gordon & Caird musical Jane Eyre, from 13 - 30 April (more information at http://www.janeeyre.be/). And a marathon reading of the novel is taking place from 10 - 24 April in the Beveren library (http://www.janeeyre.be/).

Brontë in Brussels: a newcomer to the city considers Villette in the light of her own experience

We are indebted to the invaluable Bronteblog for drawing our attention to a recent article on Charlotte Brontë, Villette and Brussels by Trilby Kent, a Canadian journalist living in Brussels. Entitled "Brontë in Brussels", it is published in the California Literary Review.

The author discusses Villette and compares her own experiences as a newcomer to Brussels, a city that is "alternately reviled and celebrated by its native and expatriate population" just as it is by Lucy Snowe, with those of Charlotte Brontë / Lucy.

"In the shadow of the de Cleves-Ravenstein mansion, a flight of stone steps leads down to an inconspicuous cobbled alley where the Rue Terarken now ends. There, opposite an underground car park, the corners of three buildings form an abrupt wall. Beyond this, somewhere along the hill that slopes down from the Place Royale to the town centre, was the Pensionnat Héger where, for two years, Charlotte Brontë lived, taught and wrote. The school was demolished in 1910 and today a concrete office block stands in its place, beside a fifteenth-century sandstone edifice. Yet, from the environs of the old Rue Isabelle – formerly the site of kennels for ducal hounds – one can perhaps still conjure the shadowy scene that greeted the young Brontë when she arrived in Brussels in 1842".

Read the whole text of the article at http://www.calitreview.com/Essays/bronteinbrussels_5047.htm.

Monday 2 April 2007


A welcoming message from Professor Maddalena De Leo, a university teacher and writer, who is one of the most active members of the Italian branch of the Brontë Society. She has published articles in Brontë Studies and a novel for teenagers about Charlotte Brontë, UN'@MICA DAL PASSATO, a description of which can be found on the Brontë Parsonage Blog for October 2006.

Hello to all of you,
I really welcome your website on the Brussels Brontë connection. I've always had a particular interest in Charlotte's Belgian years; I studied Dutch at University and in 2002, at last, I could realize my dream to visit Brussels to see in person the Brontë connected places. It was wonderful to follow the Brontë itinerary so well described in Eric Russenaars' book and a real emotion for me to see Place Royale, St. Gudule's Cathedral and above all the famous steps on the Pensionnat site. In this tour I and my children were guided by a Belgian friend, who so kindly showed us the right way and also took us to Waterloo, where also Charlotte sometimes walked. Please, consider me among your friends from neighbouring countries! I greet you all with real enthusiasm.
Maddalena De Leo

Thursday 29 March 2007

Piecing together the story of the Brontë-Heger letters

Jennifer O'Grady is confused by certain discrepancies between different accounts of what happened to Charlotte's letters to M. Heger. She has sent the following queries in the hope that someone may be able to throw light on the aspects she finds puzzling.

"I am not a Brontë scholar; I am a poet, and for a piece of writing I am contemplating, I am trying to understand exactly what happened to the Brontë-Heger letters. Specifically, when were they thrown away by M. Heger and when preserved by Madame. Heger obviously had them in his possession when he met with Mrs. Gaskell in 1856; had they already been torn up and repaired then or did this happen after that meeting?"

Eric Ruijssenaars directed Jennifer to M. H. Spielmann's 1919 article "The inner history of the Brontë Heger letters" (included in the bibliography on our website). However, Jennifer wasn't wholly convinced by Spielmann's account:

"Heger provided Mrs. Gaskell with extracts from two of CB's letters to him, for the Life. Gaskell, it seems, also either saw or read the letters when she met with Heger in 1856. Does that mean that Heger saved these letters for some years, and only tore them up after he met with Gaskell? Spielmann was apparently told by Heger's daughter Louise that Heger tore each one up at once after reading it (except for the first), and that Madame repaired them and kept them in secret. Were the letters already repaired by 1856? I realize it must seem like a small point (and there is probably some simple answer that I have missed or have not yet come across) but understanding this would help me very much.

"Margaret Smith, in Volume I of her Letters of Charlotte Brontë, says that the first three letters were torn and sewn back together. She (Smith) attributes the repairing of the first two letters to Madame Heger, but the third one was also repaired. The first two were the letters from which Heger extracted for Mrs. Gaskell. If this is right, then it all seems rather mysterious to me.

"I suppose the general belief is that Heger tore the letters up after reading them and Madame patched them - and must have somehow convinced M. Heger to keep them, since he had some or all of them for Gaskell? However, acceptance of that seems to pose more questions for me. For instance--isn't it odd to think of Gaskell or anyone looking at letters that had been sewn together? How would that have been explained? What would she have made of such an explanation? And how did the letters later wind up with Madame and why was it apparently kept a secret from M. Heger, as Louise/Spielmann indicates? (After Madame dies, when Louise shows M. Heger the letters, she says he looked at them with astonishment. ) For me, unless I'm missing something, fewer questions are posed by imagining that the letters were retained whole by Heger until 1856. Is it possible that Louise Heger was not remembering correctly or was remembering what was convenient to remember? These are rhetorical questions, and perhaps I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but if anyone has any thoughts I would greatly like to hear them.

"On a related note, I was reading Clement Shorter's Charlotte Brontë and her Circle. He claims that CB ran into Laetitia Wheelwright in London, after CB was famous. According to Shorter, L. Wheelwright asked CB if she still corresponded with M. Heger. CB told her that Heger mentioned in one letter that his wife did not like the correspondence, and he asked her to address her letters to the Royal Athénée. "I stopped writing at once," said CB. "I would not have dreamt of writing to him when I found it was disagreeable to his wife; certainly I would not write unknown to her." (Quotes are Shorter's, of course). I thought this was interesting, especially because the last surviving letter from CB to Heger (the one that was not torn up according to Margaret Smith) was addressed to the Athénée. Perhaps this early account has since been discredited, but I did think it was odd and interesting!"

Jennifer O'Grady

Would any of our readers like to comment on this?

Presenting the Brontës in Brussels - in French

Like Charlotte and Emily Brontë before her, Brussels Group member Sheila Fordham, who moved to Brussels recently to work at the European Parliament, is attending French classes. And like them she is sometimes given "devoirs" by the teacher.

The latest assignment was to give a presentation in French to the rest of the class on a subject that really interested her. Choosing the subject was easy: of course Sheila spoke about the Brontës and our Group!

She started by telling the other members of the mixed-nationality class who the Brontës were, which was just as well as only the teacher (who is an enthusiast, having read Jane Eyre three times) knew anything about them. She went on to talk about the Brussels connection, using pictures and books as visual aids.

Thanks to Sheila's enthusiasm she succeeded in interesting the other students. Like Charlotte after handing in a particularly good French essay, she can feel the satisfaction of a "devoir" well done. She has practised her French while fulfilling the duty of every conscientious member of our Group - spreading the word about the Brontës in Brussels!

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Brontë poems in calligraphy by Brussels Group member Marina Saegerman

I started learning calligraphy in September 1997, now nearly ten years ago. I have always been fascinated by beautiful manuscripts (especially medieval illuminated manuscripts) but never got round to learning it myself until I was physically obliged to take on another hobby after having been involved in a car accident.

Up to now I have learned a number of different scripts. The scripts that I love most are “uncial” (as I used in the Emily and Anne texts) and “Celtic or Irish half uncial” based on the famous Book of Kells (which has been my source of inspiration also for many of my Christmas cards).

The texts that I use I find in all sorts of little theme books, calendars, … and of course in poetry. The poets that have inspired me over the years are the Brontës (of which Emily is my favourite) and William Butler Yeats (consequence of my fascination with Ireland and Irish/Celtic culture).

As far as the Brontë poems are concerned, I started writing in calligraphy little extracts of poems that I found on the Pam Jordan Brontë calendar that I bought in Haworth each year.

Through these beautiful calendars I have started to discover and enjoy Brontë poetry. Since then I have been reading Brontë poetry on a more regular basis. This has further inspired my calligraphy and has stimulated me in using different scripts (see my Charlotte text).

The last script that I have learnt is the “Copperplate” script, a beautiful but difficult script which I am still trying to master. This script will certainly be used in my next calligraphy Brontë works.

It is my intention to make, in the near or far future, one big calligraphy work in which I will incorporate all the Brontës with various poems. I just have to find the time for it. The inspiration and the ideas are there!

Marina Saegerman

Sunday 11 March 2007

Bronteana blog: illustrations of Brontë novels

The editor of the Bronteana blog has drawn our attention to her resource site, which contains illustrations of Villette and Jane Eyre and other material that may be of interest. You can find it at http://bronteana.bravehost.com/

The Villette illustration page is at http://bronteana.bravehost.com/villette.html

Friday 9 March 2007

Our website is now on-line!

I am happy to announce that the website of the Brussels Brontë Group is now on-line.
Check out the address at: www.thebrusselsbrontegroup.org.
It has a lot of information, interesting features, links , excellent photos and images, all centred around the Brontës in Brussels.

Enjoy browsing.

Your web hostess,

Sunday 25 February 2007

Guided walk in Brussels

We are organising a day of events around the Brontë places in Brussels for members of our Group from Belgium and the Netherlands, who will be joined by a small group from the UK. Those coming from the Netherlands will include two of the Group's founder members, Eric Ruijssenaars, the author of Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land: The Pensionnat Heger and other Brontë places in Brussels and The Pensionnat Revisited: More light shed on the Brussels of the Brontës, and Selina Busch, who illustrated the books.

In the past, Eric, Selina and Maureen Peeck O'Toole, who also lives in the Netherlands, have helped to organise similar events in Brussels for visits by the Brontë Society. The last such trip by the Society was in 2003 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Villette.

This time we will be guided round the Brontë places by Derek Blyth, author of numerous guide books and articles on Brussels (his Brussels for Pleasure - 13 walks through the historic city includes a Brontë walk). The walk will of course include the Palais des Beaux Arts on the site of the former Pensionnat; Place Royale, which Charlotte Brontë knew well and used in Villette; the park (the setting of Lucy Snowe's hallucinatory wanderings in the novel) and the cathedral where Charlotte went to confess when suffering from depression.

Weather allowing, members will picnic in the park. The day will end with a variety of evening events including talks and a Brontë quizz.

If you are interested in joining our group and participating in such events, please email helen.macewan@ec.europa.eu for details.