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.