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