Tuesday 29 October 2019

A Conversation With Belgian Author Nathalie Stalmans

Belgian historical novelist Nathalie Stalmans visited the Brussels Brontë Group on Oct. 12 to talk about her novel Si j’avais des ailes (If I Had Wings). The book, published earlier this year, is a fictional account of Charlotte Brontë’s time in Brussels at the Pensionnat Heger in 1842-43.

 The conversation, led by Helen MacEwan and Myriam Campinaire, was like Nathalie’s novel, a very interesting blend of the past and the present. The lively exchange offered insights not only on Charlotte’s life and experience in Brussels, but also on life in the Belgian capital – all the while playing along the borders of fact and fiction.

Saturday 19 October 2019

‘A little romance’? -- Taking liberties with Brontë biography

Patsy Stoneman, Emeritus Reader in English at the University of Hull and distinguished Brontë scholar, on Oct. 12 gave us a fascinating critical tour of some of the highways and byways of Brontë biography, editions, critical works and biographical fiction. Her lucid and trenchant route-map through this changing, variable terrain was much appreciated.

It was after reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) that Patrick Brontë commented that the author should be permitted “a little romance” – saintly forbearance considering that Mrs. Gaskell had described him as “the strange, half-mad father” – and Dr. Stoneman used this first biography of Charlotte Brontë as a starting point in her discussion of different types of Brontë writers and the difficulties for unwary readers who can so easily be led astray by a blurring of fact and fiction.

We started with writers using known facts as the basis for serious biography, but, as Dr. Stoneman pointed out, even in this apparently limited field there is great variety. Mrs. Gaskell had the inestimable advantages of being a contemporary and knowing her subject personally, but she also had to deal with contemporary mores, her own prejudices and a novelist’s tendency to romantic exaggeration which led her to paint a highly coloured picture of life at Haworth parsonage and to suppress or gloss over anything she thought might be prejudicial to her friend’s reputation.