Monday 2 November 2015

Launch of ‘Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love’, the English translation of Jolien Janzing’s novel ‘De Meester’

On 29 October members of the Brussels Brontë Group were among those who gathered at Waterstones for the launch of Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love, the English translation of Jolien Janzing’s novel inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s time at the Pensionnat, first published as De Meester.

The Brussels Brontë Blog
On the left, Jolien Janzing
Jolien Janzing, a Dutch journalist and novelist, has lived in Flanders since early childhood. De Meester, first published in 2013 and translated into English by the prize-winning translator Paul Vincent, is her second novel. It is also to be translated into German, French and Turkish. It was selected for Books at Berlinale and the film rights have been sold to David P. Kelly films.

Earlier in October Jolien was invited by the Brontë Society to be their speaker at the Society’s annual literary lunch, held this year in Yorkshire. And on the morning of the Waterstones launch she was in London where she joined Claire Harman, author of the new biography of Charlotte Brontë just out, to speak on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06kggh1). They began by discussing Charlotte’s love for Constantin Heger and confession at the Cathedral of St Gudule. The first chapter of Janzing’s novel relates this scene in the Cathedral, and, interestingly, so does the prologue to Harman’s biography.

The Brussels Brontë Blog
Jolien reading from
'Charlotte Brontë's Secret Love
At the Waterstones launch, against a backdrop of projected images of nineteenth-century Brussels, the audience listened to readings from the novel and an interview with Jolien conducted by Jones Hayden of the Brussels Brontë Group. We heard about the novel’s vision of Charlotte and Emily’s stay at the Pensionnat, with suggestions of homo-eroticism in Emily’s friendship with a fellow pupil, Louise de Bassompierre, and more than suggestions of eroticism in Charlotte’s relationship with Monsieur Heger, the husband of the school’s directress. Rather than presenting Charlotte’s love for Heger as unrequited, Jolien explores a more romantic scenario in which Heger, portrayed as a flirtatious character, is attracted to Charlotte in his turn. She shared with us her view of 1840s Brussels (described in her novel as ‘dissolute’ and evoked with great sensuousness) as a place of relaxed morals where flirtation and adultery were very much in the air. We heard about one of the novel’s sub-plots, the liaison between King Leopold I and his much younger mistress Arcadie Claret, whose destiny is counterpointed in the novel with Charlotte’s. When the liaison began, around the time of the Brontës’ arrival on the Continent, Arcadie was only sixteen.

The Brussels Brontë Blog
On the right, Jones Hayden, who interviewed Jolien
After this presentation of a book which, unusually, offers a take on the Brontës’ stay in Brussels by a writer on this side of the Channel, attendees mingled and relaxed in the approved continental style – over a glass of wine!

Helen MacEwan

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