Wednesday 31 October 2018

Aspects of the Brussels of the Brontës: The Panoramic View of the City, the Pensionnat and the petites maisons

The problem of the protected panoramic view of the city from Place Belliard, mentioned in a previous article,  surfaced again in 1856, in connection with the renovation plan for the Pensionnat Heger. A key part of it was the incorporation into the building of Rue d’Isabelle 34, 36 and 38, three houses the Hegers had already bought in 1844. Heger, in a letter to the mayor seeking permission, described them as “trois petites maisons.” The first renovation plan was rejected though on the ground that the proposed building got too high, for that panoramic view. The Hegers had to agree to a height of two and a half meters less than the 11,70 m they had wished. That’s one storey.

Rue d’Isabelle 34, 36 and 38 were small houses, pretty much identical to the well-known nrs 24, 26 and 28. They were all 17th century buildings. What’s more, in 1842 and 1843 nrs 16, 18, 20, 22, 30 and 40 were most probably also such houses. The Pensionnat was nr 32. It was also bought by the Hegers in 1844.

Rue d’Isabelle 24, 26, 28
The 1842 cadastral plan clearly shows this. One can also see that the Pensionnat had a fairly small street front part. A good deal of the building was hidden behind Rue d’Isabelle 34 to 40. In the 1840s, thus, this side of the street was rather different from what it looked like in photographs of later times, such as this one: 

The 1842 plan
This version of the 1842 cadastral plan shows these three buildings, nrs 34, 36 and 38 (indicated by blue dots; the Pensionnat is given in red, with a part of it, a one storey annex. in orange). They were situated at the right side of the Pensionnat’s street façade. On the left side there was a row of 8 of these little houses. Based on this an adapted picture was made, which comes much closer to what the Rue d’Isabelle really looked like in 1842-3.

A photomontage of Rue d’Isabelle in 1842

Eric Ruijssenaars

Monday 22 October 2018

Emily Bronte talk and reading on October 13th - report

The Brussels Brontë Group commemorated Emily Brontë's bicentenary on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, with a talk on Wuthering Heights by John Bowen, professor of 19th-century literature at the University of York, followed by a celebration of Emily's poetry.

Professor John Bowen
Professor Bowen delved into the strange appeal of Wuthering Heights despite the violence and cruelty in the novel and the public’s enduring fascination with the book more than 150 years after it was first published.

The title of his talk was bleak -- `Dividing the Desolation’, taken from the first paragraph of the novel. But Prof. Bowen showed how that first paragraph highlights the richness of Emily Brontë’s language right from the start. While focusing on the depth of ideas in Lockwood’s declaration that  
``Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us,'' Professor Bowen also touched on the multiple layers of meaning in phrases like ``solitary neighbor’’ and ``be troubled with.’’

Then we were off on an exploration of the characters in the novel and what they mean to different readers and critics. Along the way, Prof. Bowen touched on the importance of naming in Emily’s novel, Charlotte Brontë’s feelings about Heathcliff, and Heathcliff’s feelings about himself. And throwing in an entertaining rendition of Joseph’s colorful chidings in Yorkshire dialect.

Bowen, who is president of the Dickens Fellowship, also mentioned Charles Dickens’ apparent antipathy to the Brontës. There is only one recorded instance of Dickens talking about the sisters from Haworth, and that is someone’s note about a conversation with the novelist in which Dickens said he never read the Brontës but ``disapproved of the whole school.’’ But reading Bleak House, it's hard to think that Dickens hadn't read Jane Eyre, Prof. Bowen said.

On Wuthering Heights, the question he wanted to ponder was: Who is the main character? And relatedly: what is central to the novel? These may sound like straight-forward questions, and most of us no doubt had our own straight-forward answers. But Prof. Bowen demonstrated the complexity of the queries and how they go a long way to helping understand how readers react to Emily’s book.

Monday 15 October 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: September 1842

1 September, Thursday – Weather: 9 to 19 C, quite clouded, some evening rain, strong wind
On this day an art exhibition was opened in Koekelberg. The aim was to raise money for a new local church. “Les dames directrices,” the Journal de Bruxelles wrote on the fourth, “are Mesdames Goussaert, née Phelps, directress of the English pensionnat” and six other women. Two days later it wrote that the ‘beauty and freshness of most of the works excited the attention of all visitors.’ On the 20th l’Indépendant wrote that ‘many curious people go to Koekelberg each day to see the exhibition.’ It added that there was also a large number of works by women. The Brontë sisters may well have visited this exhibition, together with the Taylor sisters.
Rachel, accompanied by her mother and brother, left Brussels on this day, for Paris. With her 12 performances in the city and one in Gent she had earned more than 30,000 francs, l’Indépendent wrote the next day.

2 September, Friday – W: 12 to 18 C, clouded, rainy morning

3 September, Saturday – W: 15 to 23 C, clouded morning, bright afternoon
l’Indépendant had four extra pages about the debate in Parliament concerning the city of Brussels which had run into heavy debts. The city wanted to renegotiate the convention with the state of November 1841, which had not worked out well for Brussels. This debate dominated the newspapers around this time.

4 September, Saturday – W: 14 to 23 C, pretty clouded, rainy afternoon
‘They are going to demolish the pump in the rue d’Isabelle in order to construct a new one,’ l’Indépendant wrote. It possibly refers to the water well in the garden of the Pensionnat.

5 September, Sunday – W: 10 to 19 C, quite sunny
More than 5000 people visited the Salon on this day, including the King and Queen. There were also ever more foreigners who came to see the art exhibition. Paintings were still being added to the exhibition.

The Journal de Bruxelles had a Rue d’Isabelle advertisement.

Rue d’Isabelle 3 (at the corner with Rue Terarken) was also the ‘depot’ for the Paris Journal des Economistes (as the Moniteur belge wrote a week earlier). The Brontës obviously knew this bookshop well.
Here’s another ad from them (l’Indépendant, 23 January 1842):

Wednesday 3 October 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: August 1842

1 August, Monday – Weather: 13 to 19 C, clouded morning, some sunshine in the afternoon
The actress Rachel gave her fourth performance in Brussels. Franz Liszt went to the St Gudule, to judge an organist of that cathedral. The papers wrote he approved.

2 August, Tuesday – W: 11 to 23 C, cumulus clouds
August was a warm month. The maximum temperature for each day of the rest of the month would be at least today’s. During most of it there was almost no wind.

3 August, Wednesday – W: 14 to 26 C, sunny morning, somewhat clouded afternoon
The King and Queen arrive back in Brussels, after several weeks in France following the death of the Duc d’Orléans ( July), but before he would find his final resting place, in Dreux on Thursday.

4 August, Thursday – W: 16 to 29 C, some clouds, especially in the afternoon
Charlotte, on this half-free day makes a drawing of a river scene with trees. She had surely gone out for a good walk, with her sister, one would think. ( 6 August) Another drawing is dated as probably from this month.

Courtesy of the Brontë Society
If it is a real view it must have been drawn at or close to the Zenne river, southeast of the city. That much is clear. We hope to be able to identify the place later, if it indeed is.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: July 1842

1 July, Friday – Weather: 18 to 20 to 13 C, clouded, rain around 4 pm, stormy wind
After the heat of June the month of July brought nicer weather: lower temperatures and a welcome amount of rain on a number of days. It started poorly though, with a severe storm. 

2 July, Saturday – W: 11 to 20 C, clouded, rain around 7.25 am, strong wind

3 July, Sunday – W: 13 to 20 C, low clouds, grey sky

4 July, Monday – W: 12 to 24 C, clouded morning, quite bright afternoon
The Journal de Bruxelles had news again about Pierre-Jean-Joseph Parent ( 13 June). A second pamphlet he had written in June about the, in his view, show trial of March, was quickly seized by the police, but the text, posted at his house at Rue de la Madeleine 74, drew crowds of interested people. Now he had issued a third pamphlet, which was quickly confiscated again. This time Parent (not related to Zoë Parent) had gone too far, in insulting judges and other high “fonctionnaires public.” Not long afterwards he was sentenced to two years in prison. 
The same newspaper wrote about a ‘petition of a great number of noble habitants of the manufacturing districts of the north and northeast of Yorkshire, complaining about the distress of the people.

5 July, Tuesday – W: 17 to 22 to 14 C, pretty clouded, rain between 12 and 2 pm, a fine rainbow visible around 8.15 pm in the southeast
L’Indépendant gave figures for June of travelers from London to Ostend. On 39 journeys 620 people had been brought to Belgium. The number of passengers had sharply increased, due to lower tariffs, caused by the fact that the General Steam Navigation Company now had to compete with a Belgian company sailing between Antwerp and London. More ships had become available, and the average number of passengers per ship had increased by more than 50%.
The newspaper also had an advertisement for a cigar and tea shop. Maybe Heger bought his cigars there, at least sometimes. Twelve days later there was an ad for another cigar shop, at the Rue de l’Infirmerie. There will surely have been more shops where one could buy cigars.

Below it a dentist ad can be  seen. Dentists often advertised. There was one very close to the statue of Belliard too.

Saturday 1 September 2018

Belgian writer Kristien Hemmerechts broadcasts a 14-part series of talks on the Brontës on Flemish radio station Klara

To kick off this academic year here in Belgium, the writer and academic Kristien Hemmerechts is giving a series of 14 short talks on the Brontës on the Flemish radio station Klara. The talks, which last around 7 minutes, will be broadcast from 3 September on weekdays at 8.15 am. More information can be found here: https://klara.be/thebrontes

Kristien Hemmerechts 

As the starting point for each broadcast, Kristien Hemmerechts takes a quotation from one of the Brontës, drawing on their novels, letters (including Charlotte’s letters to Constantin Heger), Emily’s ‘diary papers’ and the French essays written by Charlotte and Emily in Brussels. All four siblings are discussed; one of the talks is dedicated to Branwell.

Look out for the ninth broadcast, which discusses Charlotte’s attitude to Brussels and the Belgians! And in the last of them, the Brussels Brontë Group gets a mention.

Kristien Hemmerechts has written many articles on the Brontës in the Belgian press. In the early days of our Group, she wrote about our activities in an article dated 25 April 2008 for the newspaper De Standaard

Next year, on 6 April 2019, she will be giving a talk to the Brussels Brontë Group called ‘A Belgian reads the Brontës’. She says: ‘At a pivotal time in my life, I spent two years in Britain, mirroring Emily’s and Charlotte’s stay in Brussels. For all their differences I often find herself identifying with them. Their resilience, power and determination have often been a source of inspiration for me. Rereading their work and reading about them for the Klara broadcasts has only added to my enthusiasm and profound admiration. My talk will focus on what the Brontës have meant to me as a writer, a teacher, a feminist and a Belgian.’

For more details of this and our other forthcoming events, see our website:

Helen MacEwan

Friday 17 August 2018

Emily Brontë: “I wish to be as God made me”

2018 is the year of Emily Brontë’s bicentenary. As I am a massive Emily Brontë fan, this year is important for me. I sometimes wished that I could have taken a sabbatical year off to go to all the events that have been  organised to celebrate Emily’s 200th birthday. But sadly, I have to limit my taking part in the celebrations to the BS conference in York (in September) and afterwards my annual visit to Haworth.

My husband and I go to Ireland (and England) on our holidays every year and for both Charlotte’s and Branwell’s bicentenary I have found special places to visit that were related to the travels of these Brontë siblings. For Charlotte her honeymoon in Ireland was a very good topic to explore in Ireland, for Branwell the Lake district was the selected area.  I reported on these travels on the BBG blog.
In Emily’s case that was more difficult, she was not really someone who travelled a lot. Apart from her work as a governess at Law Hill, she only travelled to York (with her sister Anne) and to Brussels (with her sister Charlotte). Both these destinations were not really a good option to write about or to visit: Brussels is for me not a special destiny to travel to as I work there (and this subject has been dealt with in great detail by our own Helen in books, articles and presentations), and the BS conference on Emily this year is taking place in York.

Therefore, I had to find something else to do during my holidays to remember Emiliy Brontë and to celebrate her special birthday. My only option left was reading the many books (old and recent ones) that have been written on Emily’s life and work. And reading I did! A lot! Even while in Ireland, Emily was not out of the picture. One Tuesday morning I went to the newspaper agent and what did I see: “Ireland’s Own” (an Irish magazine) featured Emily Brontë’s bicentenary (“The unforgettable Emily Brontë”): five pages on Emily’s life and work. Nothing new, of course, but still it made my day!

Monday 18 June 2018

Annual Brontë Society weekend of events in Haworth 9-10 June 2018

Several members of the Brussels Brontë Group attended the Brontë Society’s 2018 weekend of events in Haworth, this year celebrating Emily Brontë’s bicentenary. Our group included Guy and Evy Desloovere-Van de Voorde with their 8-month-old son Arthur Branwell – his first visit to the village of the family that inspired his name!

After an invitation to join Brontë Society trustees for chat, tea and cake in a restaurant in Main St, the weekend’s events kicked off with a presentation on the Brontë Parsonage Museum, now 90 years old. Ann Dinsdale, Principal Curator, and Jane Sellars, a former Director, talked us through highlights in the Museum’s history. Ann Dinsdale is the author of numerous books including At Home with the Brontës: The History of Haworth Parsonage & Its Occupants and The Brontës at Haworth.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Aspects of the Brussels of the Brontës: The Passage de la Bibliothèque, the Panoramic View of the City and the Pensionnat

In the Calendar articles we have already seen references to the two new buildings opposite of the Pensionnat Héger in the Rue d’Isabelle. They were placed on either side of the steps leading to Place Belliard. Many people complained that they were too high, because they made it quite impossible to enjoy the fine panoramic view of the city from that little square. At about the time of the Brontës’ arrival in the city a petition will have been worded, which in early March was handed to the city’s regents, demanding that something should be done about it. It was signed by “the elite of the artists and by the friends of the arts of the capital.” (The l’Observateur newspaper wrote about it for a second time on 10 March 1842.)

This adapted version of the 1842 cadastral plan of the Isabella Quarter (from the collection of the Brussels City Archives) shows the Belliard Steps, the placement of the two buildings (indicated by the black dots) as well as the extent of the panoramic view at the level of the statue. It is possible that these crossing interrupted lines were added to the plan as a result of the debate about the two houses. The view also depended on the height of the Pensionnat. The cross shows the wide range of the panoramic view. On bright days Charlotte and Emily would have been able to see for instance Koekelberg, and surely places quite far beyond that village, if only there hadn’t been these two obstacles. 

Based on the cross lines it is possible to give the range of the view to a much larger extent. For this an 1840 plan of the city and wide surroundings was used, for the following picture, as well as an 1853 plan to get to a good estimate of how these lines would have run.

Sunday 3 June 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: June 1842

1 June, Wednesday – Weather: 8 to 23 C, cloudless

2 June, Thursday – W: 12 to 18 C, clouded, with a little bit of rain
On this day Charlotte finished writing her Anne Askew devoir.

3 June, Friday – W: 7 to 19 C, some clouds in the morning, a sunny afternoon
Abraham Dixon, in Ostend, continued writing a letter to his daughter Mary, in England, begun on 31 May: “John Taylor arrived in Brussels on Friday evening last, he & Martha arrived here on Wednesday, & yesterday (Thursday) they left for Calais, will be in London most probably this evening, in Birmingham on Monday & in Leeds towards the end of next week.”
The newspapers reported about the failed attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria, on 30 May. It was a continuing story for some time, up to the end of the trial (forced labor in Australia, the verdict was for that man).

4 June, Saturday – W: 8 to 22 C, a very sunny day

5 June, Sunday – W: 14 to 22 C, another sunny day
Both L’Indépendant and the Journal de Bruxelles had four extra pages, recording exactly what everyone had said in the final debates on the 4th in Parliament on the main part of the  proposed loi communale, the nomination and appointment of mayors. The proposal of the government – the king gets the right to do that – gets the majority of votes.
L’Indépendant reports that the people of Brussels have so far raised a sum of 11,000 francs for the victims of the Hamburg fire disaster ( 29 May).

Thursday 24 May 2018

The death of Julia Wheelwright

Little more than a month after the death of Martha Taylor, another English friend of the Brontës, Julia Wheelwright, died in Brussels, on 17 November 1842. She was only seven years old. Again Winifred Gérin, without giving any evidence, attributed it to cholera, and again it certainly is not true. There was no cholera in the city, nor another serious contagious disease. It is just another Gérin lie.

Julia was at a still rather more vulnerable age. On the 30th of October she had reached the age of  seven. She had thus only just reached the stage of getting mentioned by name in the newspapers’  lists of the city’s registered deaths. Had she died three weeks earlier she wouldn’t have made it to the newspapers, but would only have been listed as one of those children under the age of 7 that had died.

From L’Indépendant, 21 November 1842, with the death of Julia

We know nothing of her last days, which makes it rather difficult to try to assess the cause of her death. Charlotte and Emily had already left Brussels, following the news of their Aunt Branwell’s severe illness. An analysis of what we do know helps quite a lot though, to get to a good educated guess. As with Martha, a main question is whether or not it could have been a contagious disease.

Friday 18 May 2018

The true cause of death of Martha Taylor

After about two weeks of illness Martha Taylor, the beloved friend of the Brontë sisters, died on 12 October 1842 in Koekelberg. It has become a fact in Brontë studies that it was cholera that killed her, but can this really be true? We do not know of any evidence. It is not that difficult to research this, and to find out what the alternative options are. It will show that Martha certainly did not die of cholera, it can already be revealed.

Cholera and other contagious diseases

The history of cholera as the cause
We need not be surprised that this history begins with Winifred Gérin. And by now we know she was a serial liar. In her 1967 biography of Charlotte she states without any doubt that it was cholera, but also without giving any evidence. In her biography of Emily she added that it was "a very prevalent infection in Brussels." It doesn’t help that at about the same time William Weightman died in Haworth, possibly indeed because of cholera, and after a similar fortnight of suffering from illness.

What we know from Charlotte and Mary
Although Charlotte didn’t witness either in their last two weeks, she thus compared them, based of course on real witnesses. “Mr. Weightman’s illness was exactly what Martha’s was – he was ill the same length of time and died in the same manner. Aunt [Branwell]’s disease was internal obstruction: she also was ill a fortnight.” (Letter of Charlotte to Ellen Nussey, 10 November 1842)

Mary only sheds a little bit of light on what had happened. In a letter of 1 November to Ellen she says she will give her the history of Martha’s illness in a few months. “A thousand times I have reviewed the minutest circumstances of it but I cannot without great difficulty give a regular account of them … But when I recall the sufferings that have purified her my heart aches.”

Thursday 10 May 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: May 1842

1 May, Sunday – Weather: 11 to 22 C, largely unclouded
At the beginning of chapter 23 of Villette Lucy Snowe says that “on the first of May, we had all – i.e. the twenty boarders and the four teachers … notice to rise at five o’clock of the morning [for a] breakfast in the country.” It could well have happened this day. A Sunday would have been a good day for it. The weather certainly turned out to be very good for such an excursion.
The Journal de Bruxelles wrote about a City Council question, about whether it was true that pupils of the renowned Athenée Royale, where M. Heger was a teacher, had been insulting people after leaving their classes ( 28 April, 2 May).

2 May, Monday – W: 6 to 20 C, another sunny day
The City Council’s rulers acted quickly to dispel the rumours about the Athenée pupils ( 1 May). It may well be that these were not boys from the Athenée, as there were other schools nearby, they said. And apart from that, nobody has complained to the préfet des études of the Athenée. They added that “many men who nowadays make the glory of our country, had their education at the Athenée of Brussels.” It was thus important to keep its reputation clean.
The Journal de Bruxelles reported that negotiations had started between Belgium and the United Kingdom about a postal convention, meant surely to send mail between the two countries easier.

3 May, Tuesday – W: 7 to 16 C, a sunny day
The first indication of a drought comes from Valenciennes, in France, just over the border with Belgium. L’Indépendant quotes from the Echo de la Frontière: “The continuation of the drought, in a season when rain is so necessary, is beginning to occasion serious questions for the farmers here.” M. Heger would by now indeed have been quite busy with watering his garden plants.
L’Indépendant also wrote that “despite the beautiful weather which prompted many people to go out walking, and despite the many concerts that have been given this year, the musical ‘soiree’ given by M. Baldeneeker [a young pianist] attracted a large crowd.”

4 May, Wednesday – W: 7 to 16 C, clouded, with a little bit of rain at the end of the morning
On this day M. Heger gave back to Charlotte her devoir Le Nid ( 30 April), with his comments, the British Queen left Antwerp for its first voyage to New York ( 20 March), and the Belgian king and queen came back from Paris, from one of their many travels abroad.
Belgium saw a few cases where the extent of the matter of freedom of speech was tested. The Journal de Bruxelles on this day wrote that two book printers had been arrested, after the newspaper had filed a complaint against them for suggesting the Journal endorsed a certain novel. In fact, it was Auguste Luchet’s Nom de famille, a novel that went against all the religious and moral principles of the newspaper. In France Luchet was convicted to two years in prison for this book. The Journal regularly raged against it. Eventually though the printers were not brought to face trial.

5 May, Thursday – W: 6 to 17 C, fairly clouded
On this day the first of a series of concerts was given at the Jardin Botanique, performed by the orchestra of the Société Philharmonique, on all Thursdays until well into the autumn. The concerts began at 18.30 hrs.
A devastating city-wide fire began in Hamburg. It would rage for three days, aided by strong winds, and the drought. It would take until 11 May before the first reports were published in the Brussels newspapers.

Thursday 3 May 2018

More on the April 21st talks - Lucasta Miller

Before she spoke to the Brussels Brontë Group on April 21, Lucasta Miller visited the Cathédrale Saint-Michel et Sainte-Gudule. It was her first trip to Belgium and she wanted to see where Charlotte Brontë made her dramatic confession to a Catholic priest during the distraught summer of 1843 – an incident she related to her sister Emily in a letter and later fictionalized in her last novel, Villette.*

Legend has it that Charlotte used the second confessional on the left, though we don’t know for sure. Lucasta reported that the confessionals are ``quite intimidating -- huge, dark wood carved with vast angels,’’ adding that she ``almost felt anarchic enough’’ to move the security rope and go inside. ``But I didn’t quite dare. I don’t know – if I was Emily, maybe I might have done,’’ she said.

``I didn’t quite dare. I don’t know – if I was Emily, maybe I might have done.’’

More on the April 21st talks - John Sutherland

Professor John Sutherland came to the Brontës early in life, but not in what you might call the usual way. He may be the only person to have started his Brontë experience with The Professor – the book Charlotte referred to as her ``idiot child’’ and the one most people probably read last, if at all.

As Sutherland explained in his talk on April 21 to the Brussels Bronte Group, the novel struck a chord with him when he first read it as a pre-teen, particularly a scene early on before the protagonist, William Crimsworth, heads to Brussels. The volume included six illustrations by Edmund Dulac, and one was of this scene in Chapter II:

At a distance of five miles, a valley, opening between the low hills, held in its cups the great town of X----. A dense, permanent vapour brooded over this locality -- there lay Edward’s “Concern.”

I forced my eye to scrutinize this prospect, I forced my mind to dwell on it for a time, and when I found that it communicated no pleasurable emotion to my heart -- that it stirred in me none of the hopes a man ought to feel, when he sees laid before him the scene of his life’s career -- I said to myself, “William, you are a rebel against circumstances; you are a fool, and know not what you want; you have chosen trade …”
Edmund Dulac illustration from J.M. Dent's 1922 edition of The Professor

Saturday 28 April 2018

Mapping the Brussels of the Brontës: The cultural places

Mapping the Brussels of the Brontës: The cultural places

There are places of cultural interest Charlotte and Emily will certainly have visited. From Villette we know that Charlotte went to a concert at the Société de la Grande Harmonie. She witnessed a concert in the Parc, and had a good look at the many paintings exhibited in the Salon, in the autumn of 1842. In the Calendar we already saw the Temple des Augustins, a place where exhibitions and concerts were held. It is impossible to imagine the sisters did not visit it.
Here we present all the places of cultural interest. Some are indicated in the old map, others aren’t. They have been given a new number.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

A day to remember: the Brussels Brontë Group meets Lucasta Miller and John Sutherland

Our annual talk(s) around the time of Charlotte Brontë’s birthday, which this year fell on the exact date (21 April), proved a memorable day in the Group’s annals, with talks by two important figures in Brontë studies and literary criticism, Lucasta Miller and John Sutherland.

Brussels Bronte Weekend 2018
Our wonderful speakers

Friday 6 April 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: April 1842

1 April, Friday – Weather: 11 to 7 to 11 C. The (northwestern) storm that began yesterday continued, until the end of the morning, with a lot of rain until 8 am (and some more around 6 pm): a total of 22 mm! A mostly clouded day.
From this date it needed a 20 centimes ticket to get access to the railway stations. It came amidst a fierce debate in the newspapers and parliament about the railway tariffs, for goods though, not passengers.

2 April, Saturday – W: 3 to 7 to 2 C, clouded, rain in the afternoon, and some more in the evening (4 mm)
L’Indépendant writes about the storm: “We have had, during 36 hours, a furious hurricane, which was accompanied, almost without interruption by heavy rain. The waters of the Senne have risen a lot and bring fear of a new inundation. In Brussels the wind has blown off some chimneys and lots of roof tiles. In the countryside it has knocked down trees.”

3 April, Sunday – W: 2 to 7 C, grey clouded, windy, more rain during the night (6 mm)
Nobody knew of course, but this day was the beginning of a long almost dry period in northwestern Europe. Some parts didn’t have any rain until September. In the next 3 weeks the wind would come from the (north)east.

4 April, Monday – W: 2 to 7 C, clouded
L’Indépendant reports that “the waters of the Senne are overflowing everywhere. The meadows in the towns of Forest, Ruysbroeck, Schaerbeek, Evere to Vilvorde, show one big patch of water.”
This newspaper also wrote that on the 2nd the city’s Conseil Communal had approved of a plan of M. Beck, a priest, to establish a school for children under six in a densely populated part of Brussels that was lacking one.

5 April, Tuesday – W: 2 to7 C, fairly bright
On this day Mary and Martha Taylor finished the letter to Ellen Nussey, begun on 26 March (with then a contribution by Charlotte) and sent it to her.
The Journal de Bruxelles reports that Alphonse Wauters has been appointed as archivist of the city. In 1845 his and Alexandre Henne’s important Histoire de la Ville de Bruxelles would be published.

6 April, Wednesday – W: -1 to 11 C, almost cloudless
On this day the unfinished St. Joseph church was consecrated. The roof for instance wasn’t completed. The newspapers reported that there was a way to cover the gap, had there been rain. There was no need for it, as it was a sunny day. The church will have been one of the first buildings to be constructed in the new Quartier Leopold, more or less at the other side of the Park. The 1853 map shows the location, and also that by then still not much had probably been built yet, probably. This quarter will not have been the place for the sisters to go to for a good walk.

Detail from a map of 1853, with the new church from 1842
L’Indépendant reports that, alongside the Jardin Botanique, “from the Porte de Schaerbeek to the Porte de l’Allée Verte, they are ‘depaving’ the line of the boulevards, and have begun to execute projects of embellishment.” Unfortunately, the paper adds, there will be the same ‘disgracious’ lanterns as in the Rue Royale. It appears that from one half of the road the pavement was removed, probably for the horse carriages.

Monday 2 April 2018

Update on some Brontë activities in the Netherlands

One of our Dutch members, Marcia Zaaijer, reports on a meeting with two young Brontë fans in the Netherlands, and an upcoming event they are organizing – in case you want to make a little trip. 

Please meet Maartje and Janneke Schut, Brontë lovers from the Netherlands. These two sisters, both young doctors, have created a website on the Brontës in Dutch: www.brontezusjes.nl. They love to visit Britain and on these trips encountered the Brontës and their stories. On their website they write about their visits and they also publish newsletters. These are good reads about a theme connected to the Brontë history, like this one about Valentine's Day or this one about animals. And they always give their sources.

This Saturday 24th of March they gave a well-informed talk in Dutch on the lives of the Brontë sisters, supported by a clear power point presentation. And a lovely high tea, made by their friend Janny. I am sure the small, but very interested audience (part of them Jane Austen lovers) was much enlightened about the Brontës when they left the premises after a well spent afternoon.

Why am I telling you all this, while not many members of the Brussels Brontë Group read or speak Dutch or Flemish? First: naturally I am very glad, that people in the Netherlands learn about the Brontës through these enthusiastic activities of young ones like Maartje and Janneke. Second: their next talk will be in English! I quote from their website:

An Introduction to Reading Wuthering Heights.
This talk opens by discussing the context for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), before moving to consider how we might begin to interpret this complex and contradictory novel. One of the first reviewers wrote ‘Wuthering Heights is a strange sort of book – baffling all regular criticism’, a feeling which has been shared by many readers since. I discuss the importance of the narrative form and style of the novel, and ask how we should think about it in relation to genre, since the novel has aspects of realism, Gothic fiction, Christian allegory, and myth, but does not seem to fit simply into any single category. I also address the importance of secrets and mysteries in the novel, many of which remain unresolved. While the talk does not seek to provide an ‘answer’ to the problems of the novel, it does at least hope to raise some interesting questions for readers to consider!

• Date: 26th of May 2018 at 2 pm (14.00 h, venue opens at 13.45 h).
• Speaker: Dr. B.P. (Ben) Moore, Assistant Professor in English Literature at the University of Amsterdam.
• Location: community centre ‘Spieghelwijck’, Iepenlaan 354a, 1406 RG Bussum, the Netherlands.
• Accessibility: free parking,  easy walking distance (10 minutes) from NS-train-station ‘Bussum Zuid’.
• Ticket price: 10 euros per person, including tea/coffee.
• Spoken language: Easy English.

 To register please send an e-mail to  info@brontezusjes.nl

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Mapping the Brussels of the Brontës: Friends II, The Dixons, Wheelwrights, Jenkinses and the cemetery

The most efficient routes to walk to the Brontës’ other friends all began with climbing up the Belliard Steps, at the opposite side of the street from the Pensionnat. After passing by Belliard’s statue they were on the Rue Royale. Going left it was a straight walk to the Wheelwrights at the Hotel Cluysenaar. To walk to the Jenkinses or the Dixons meant going right. For the walk to the Protestant cemetery later on Charlotte will probably have crossed the street to enter the Park, although she may have varied the way she walked.

Click on the image to see the details:
1. The Dixons
2. The Wheelwrights
 3. The beginning of the walk to the Protestant cemetery
4. The beginning of the walk to the Jenkinses

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Aspects of the Brussels of the Brontës: The prehistory & post

In the previous Koekelberg mapping article I stated that Mary Taylor would have written that 1841 letter to Charlotte Brontë, in which she “spoke of some of the pictures & cathedrals she had seen – pictures the most exquisite - & cathedrals the most venerable,” from the Koekelberg pensionnat. It’s probably not true, as a closer look at the documents show. Mary wasn’t staying there yet.

An intriguing letter of 9 September 1841 has survived, written by Martha Taylor, in Koekelberg, to Ellen Nussey. It is also a somewhat confusing letter, as it seems to show that Mary Dixon was already in Brussels in September 1841: “You must write to me sometimes. George Dixon is coming here the last week in September, and you must send a letter for me to Mary to be forwarded by him.” Earlier in the letter she wrote that she was “going to begin working again very hard, now that John and Mary [Taylor] are going away” (obviously back to England).

George Dixon, Mary’s brother, would however given her that letter himself, having come to Brussels, one would think. The most likely explanation is that Martha (in Brussels) says to Ellen Nussey (in England) to send a letter to Mary Taylor (in England), addressed to Martha Taylor (in Brussels), for Mary Taylor to pass on to George Dixon (in England), for him to bring to Martha, when he travels over to Brussels. It also means that Mary Dixon most probably wasn’t already living in Brussels. (There’s more about the Dixons in the next article.)

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Member presentations on 24 February 2018

The speakers, Jones and Ola

Presentations by members of the Brussels Brontë Group have been a fixture of our calendar for the past six years. In past presentations Eric Ruijssenaars has led us on a virtual tour of the Isabelle Quarter, and Myriam Campinaire has unpicked the Gothic elements in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Last year, in talks enlivened by readings and recitations, Judith Collins spoke on Disguise, deception and concealment in Jane Eyre and Paul Gretton on Some literary themes and sources of Wuthering Heights.

This year’s speakers, Jones Hayden and Ola Podstawka, both of whom are on the Brontë Group committee, are familiar to members – Jones as leader of our Brontë tours and reading groups and Ola as moderator of one of the reading groups. Members also know them for the presentations they have given in the past, Jones (among other subjects) on Profanity and Scripture in The Professor and Ola on the influence of Constantin Heger on Charlotte Brontë’s fictional heroes.

This year it was Jones who took a look at Heger’s influence on Charlotte, specifically on her novel Jane Eyre, in a talk called The influence of Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels experience on Jane Eyre. Juliet Barker’s opinion that ‘Possibly the greatest single influence on Charlotte, both as a person and as a writer, was the time she spent in Brussels’ set the tone for the talk. Many readers of Charlotte’s best-seller wondered how an unmarried clergyman's daughter could write so powerfully about passion. The answer, Jones told us, lies in Brussels and in her Belgian tutor Heger – the person who most influenced her. It was her time in Brussels that made her a great novelist.

Friday 2 March 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: March 1842

1 March, Tuesday – Weather: 8 to 12 C, wholly clouded with rain in the afternoon

2 March, Wednesday – W: 3 to 9 C, bright morning, continuous rain after 2.15 pm for the rest of the day (10.2 mm), a strong wind sets in in the evening from the southwest.

3 March, Thursday – W: 3 to 11 C, entirely clouded, rain until 4 pm (21.5 mm)
A report from Ostend from this day says that there is a terrible storm which began yesterday. On this day, as a result, the General Steam Navigation Company’s City of Edinburgh ran aground near the port. All people got safely from the ship, but much cargo was lost. It was only on 1 March the Company had begun to increase its journeys between Ostend and London. (The measured force of the wind in Brussels got to a maximum of 5 during the night and the morning. It suggests that this wind force figures don’t entirely coincide with present day figures. A terrible southwestern storm in Ostend should probably give an 8 at least in Brussels now.)

4 March, Friday – W: 8 to 10 (to 4 in the evening) C, wholly clouded, continuous rain after 4.45 pm

5 March, Saturday – W: 2 to 9 C, rain till 6 am (another 10.5 mm), a clouded morning followed by a bright afternoon
The newspapers have sad reports about the damage done by the storm in the country’s provinces.
At a concert at the Société Royale de la Grande-Harmonie works by Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven and others were performed. Rossini appears to be probably the most popular composer in Brussels in this year. Donizetti scores very well too. The newspapers give a fascinating insight into the classical music world of these years too, ranging from well-known to totally forgotten composers.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Mapping the Brussels of the Brontës: Friends I, Mary and Martha Taylor, Koekelberg

Charlotte and Emily will have quite often walked to Koekelberg, to visit Mary and Martha Taylor, just as they will have regularly walked to the Pensionnat Heger to visit the Brontë sisters. The pictures below show how they would have walked. Nowadays one can still do this walk, apart only from the Rue d’Isabelle and part of Rue Terarken bit.

Adaptation of a plan from 1830

When starting the walk at the Koekelberg Pensionnat there were two options. The main route was the eastern way, the Chaussée de Gand. As the name indicates this road led to Gent. Thus these maps also show the last stage of the route of the diligence that brought the Brontës to the city (see Calendar, 14 February 1842). The road on the west was quieter. These routes come together in Molenbeek. The city was entered at the Porte de Flandre (more about the Portes later).

Molenbeek was growing quite rapidly. The Journal de Bruxelles wrote on 11 June 1842 that “everyday Molenbeek sees the number of shops and factories growing […], soon this faubourg will no longer form just one group of buildings.” On the 1st of January of that year the number of inhabitants of this town was 7495 (l’Indépendant, 24 Jan).

Koekelberg was little more than a hamlet. It appears from the newspapers that little had changed since 1830, the year the plan shown above was drawn. Since then though much has, for instance also at the place where the Pensionnat of Madame Goussaert née Catherine Phelps was situated. An old painting shows it without any other nearby building. Nowadays the place where the building once stood is completely surrounded by houses and a wall, making it a rather frustrating place for the Brontë traveller.

Thanks to aerial pictures we can though see what it looks like behind these houses. There are some big trees now on the site of the old pensionnat, from which Mary Taylor wrote her letters to Charlotte in the autumn of 1841 which inspired her to go to Brussels, with the idea to go to there for schooling. Mary wrote of  “pictures the most exquisite - and cathedrals the most venerable” she had seen in the city of Brussels. Surely, Charlotte concluded, it must be “one of the most splendid capitals of Europe.” Mary had arrived in May 1841. She had had plenty of time to see the city.
Knowing that Mary and Martha Taylor would be living nearby must have added quite a lot of weight too in the debate about which place exactly to go to. It is in Koekelberg where the Brontë Brussels story started, thanks to Mary, at the site of these trees.

(source: Google Earth)

Madame Goussaert was a driving force in the village. She was the president of the committee that organized a big art exhibition in Koekelberg in the autumn of 1842, undoubtedly visited by the Brontë and Taylor sisters. It was intended to raise money for a new church. In the 20th century a big basilica would be built in Koekelberg.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Wednesday 14 February 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: February 1842

8 February, Tuesday, the Brontës leave Haworth, for Brussels. With Joe and Mary Taylor they traveled by train from Leeds to London where they arrived in the evening.
On this day a devastating earthquake took place at the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. On 13 March the people in Brussels could read about it in the papers, and many more reports, also about charity activities for the victims, would follow, well into the next year. It is therefore possible that this news inspired Charlotte to send M. Paul to this island at the end of Villette.
On this day too M. and Mme. Heger might well have gone to the second opening day of the new building of the Salle de la Société de la Grande Harmonie, at the Rue de la Madeleine (in time for carnival, it was noted). It is possible he was a member, as later he would take Charlotte to a concert there. On 11 February the Société Philharmonique opened its new building. At the same time though the concert hall at the Rue Ducale (at the other side of the Park) closed its doors.

12 February, Saturday, The Brontës sail from London to Ostend. There can be no doubt that on this journey they sailed on the Earl of Liverpool, a steamship of the General Steam Navigation Company (built in 1822). That was the ship that sailed to Ostend on Saturdays. According to Juliet Barker (The Brontës) the voyage took “nearly fourteen hours.” It seems likely the ship left at 9 am, as did those going to Antwerp.
Interestingly, the total figures for the month (given in the newspapers of 7 March) show that the average amount of passengers on a voyage from London to Ostend was only 10. On 24 voyages 240 passengers were brought to Belgium. The Brontë company will therefore only have had a handful of co-passengers. Later that year an Antwerp company began to provide competition. It got considerably cheaper to do the trip, and passenger numbers soon more than doubled. (On 24 voyages in February from Ostend to London there were 369 passengers. The ships from London to Antwerp had an average of 11 passengers.)

Advertisement of the General Steam Navigation
Company in l’Indépendant of 13 February 1842

13 February, Sunday, in Ostend (In Brussels the temperature on this day rose to 12 C)