Sunday 14 November 2010

Brontës in Brittany

Brussels Brontë Group member Johan Hellinx explains how he came to write an article in the Breton language about the Brontës’ stay in Brussels.

For a British expat it might sound very strange, but for a Fleming like myself it’s not unusual to speak two or three languages besides our mother tongue, Dutch. I learned French, German and English at school and quickly discovered why I needed to know what we call “our languages” in Belgium: when we travel 100 kilometers, we are already in another language area or … in another country ! So if we want to broaden our horizons, we have to learn languages, unlike some other Europeans …

When I trained to become a French teacher – oh yes, I learned the language of the “enemy” ! – I also studied Italian. At that time, I also laid the foundations of another hobby of mine, Celtic languages and cultures. During the lectures on medieval French literature, our professor told us about the “matière de Bretagne”, the medieval French literary works inspired by the ancient Celtic legends, Tristan and Yseut, Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, King Arthur … It all came back years later when I decided to study Breton. It took me some time – Breton is a very strange language after all and I didn’t get younger either – but after ten years I can confirm I speak it quite fluently. That’s how I recently started writing articles for the Breton literary review ABER. When I eventually became acquainted with the Brussels Brontë Group, I formed the project of writing an article about the stay of the two Brontë sisters in Brussels – for a Breton public. I read out my article at a literary conference on women writers in Quimper in the départment of Finistère, Brittany.

Johan Hellinx

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