Sunday 22 November 2020

A Belgian-Dutch view of Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels

Charlotte Brontë’s stay in Brussels in the 1840s inspired two of her own novels and also two recent novels published on the subject. Jolien Janzing published De Meester in 2013. Si j'avais des ailes, by Nathalie Stalmans, was published in 2019.

The difference between the two writers is instructive. Stalmans is an historian and has an academic past. Janzing, for her part, is a journalist and rather fascinated by current events, which she weaves into her work.

The two have different views on Charlotte and on Brussels itself. 

Sunday 25 October 2020

Brontë talk: The view from Leeds

How wonderful it was to join the Brussels Brontë Group for Karen Hewitt's marvellous talk about what the word "Gentleman" meant to a Victorian audience.  I could not believe I was sharing the experience with you all, it was almost like being in Brussels.

Like Monica in Dublin, my memories of all the Brontë
events are highlights of my time in Brussels.   

Monday 12 October 2020

Charlotte’s Quarrel With the English Gentleman in 'Villette'

Karen Hewitt is the type of speaker that we really appreciate here at the Brussels Brontë Group. Not only is she very charming and personable in her delivery (even on Zoom), she also considers the Brussels-based Villette as Charlotte Brontë’s best novel.

On October 7, she gave a delightful virtual talk on “the English gentleman” in Villette. And even on Zoom, the Q&A after her talk was just as engaging as the talk itself.

Karen delineated what it took to be an English gentleman in the nineteenth century (too complicated to include here). Her bottom line: “There are no English gentlemen now.” (To which many attendants begged to disagree, I’m sure.)

One example of a gentleman was Patrick Brontë, Charlotte’s father, who worked hard to earn this status, gaining a scholarship to Cambridge University and then being ordained into the Church of England, one of the few avenues to gentleman-hood available if your family wasn’t already there. So Patrick Brontë was a gentleman, and his daughters were therefore the female equivalent – ladies.

Sunday 11 October 2020

Brontë talk: Zoom versus room – the organiser’s viewpoint

 On 7 October we came together to listen to a talk. Before COVID, this always happened in a room. But this time we met on Zoom.

My memories of rooms we have gathered in over the years go back to 2007, when the Brussels Brontë Group started up. There was the library in the Cercle des Voyageurs, that atmospheric downtown Brussels restaurant cum cultural centre in Rue des Grand Carmes. Fifty of us crammed into it for our first-ever talk, by Brussels journalist Derek Blyth. There was the room in Université Saint-Louis on the Boulevard du Jardin Botanique that became our permanent venue for a decade. And there is our current venue near the Woluwe Shopping Centre, where we hope to return post-COVID restrictions.

Nicholas Marsh speaking to the BBG at Universite Saint-Louis in 2010.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Brontë talk: The view from Dublin

One of the things I’ve missed most about Brussels, since leaving the city more than five years ago, has been the wonderful company of fellow Brontë enthusiasts in the Brussels Brontë Group.  

How terrific it was, then, to join you again on Oct. 7 for the talk by Karen Hewitt on Charlotte Brontë’s Quarrel With The English Gentleman in Villette, via Zoom technology, from my own living room in Dublin, Ireland!  

Friday 9 October 2020

Brontë talk: Zoom versus in-real-life – a perspective

There is an old joke about someone answering the phone only to hear a grumpy voice saying, “Oh, it’s you! I just wanted to leave a message on the answering machine.” Well, without going so far as to say that I prefer Zoom to a physical meeting, it does have its upside, as was amply demonstrated in the talk given this week to the Brussels Brontë Group by Karen Hewitt on "Charlotte Bronte’s Quarrel with the English Gentleman in Villette".

Saturday 5 September 2020

Brontë2020: Virtual Conference 4 September 2020

‘There was no possibility of visiting the Parsonage that day ... So, Reader, we met on Zoom.’ The Brontë Parsonage has now re-opened, but because of COVID-19 the Brontë Society’s September 2020 conference in Scarborough in honour of Anne Brontë has had to be postponed to next year. However, on 4 September 2020, I attended a virtual conference organised by Claire O’Callaghan of Loughborough University and Sarah Fanning of Mount Allison University, one purpose of which was to raise funds for the Society – which has of course been hit hard by COVID.

Monday 13 July 2020

'Brontë Places and Poems': fascinating view of Brontë world

In these weird corona times when travelling is not advisable, not recommended, not desired or not possible, I came across this book by Geoff and Christine Taylor called Brontë Places & Poems.

The book, which is lavishly illustrated with photographs, was a labour of love. Its authors have lived near Haworth for almost 40 years and the book grew out of their trips to Brontë places in the U.K., Ireland and Belgium, with Chris, a keen amateur photographer and artist, taking the photographs. There are many photos of Brussels.

Thursday 2 July 2020

Brussels square to be named after the Brontë sisters

Since 1979 Charlotte and Emily Brontë have had a plaque on Bozar, the central Brussels arts centre, commemorating their stay there in 1842-43. The building is on the site of the Pensionnat Heger where the sisters perfected their French. Since the creation of our Group in 2006 we have dreamed of a street, statue or museum in Brussels in honour of the Brontës; some of these schemes have even been discussed with the authorities, but until now none of them has materialised.

That is about to change. The municipal council of Koekelberg in the north-west of the city has decided to name a square after the Brontë sisters.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

In Memoriam: Maureen Peeck O’Toole

With the death of Maureen Peeck O’Toole (28 August 1935-13 June 2020), the Brussels Brontë Group has lost a leading light of the group, who gave us much support over the years since we started up in 2006.

Maureen speaking to Brussels Brontë Group in 2011.

Maureen was one of a number of members from the Netherlands who were involved in setting up the group (others were Eric Ruijssenaars, author of Charlotte Brontë’s Promised Land: the Pensionnat Heger and other Brontë Places in Brussels; Selina Busch, who designed our first website; and Marcia Zaaijer, another founding member who still attends our meetings, all the way from Rotterdam).

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Whirlwind Journey Through Time at the Mariemont Museum

Brussels Brontë Group activities are events for which I willingly wake up early on a Saturday. Last Saturday was no exception; I was excited to make the pilgrimage to the Musée Royal de Mariemont with fellow Brontëphiles to see the BBG-famous “L’Ingratitude” essay with my own eyes.

I was expecting a pleasant day out with like-minded people and the opportunity to behold this devoir written by Charlotte Brontë in her own hand. What I was not expecting was the whirlwind journey through time which unfolded through the written words of key figures in history, literature, politics and science. 

Portal to Mariemont Museum.         The TARDIS in 'Doctor Who'.

Although, I suppose I should have guessed after seeing that to enter the museum, we passed through the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), the time machine from Doctor Who.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Visit to Mariemont Museum to See Charlotte's 'L’Ingratitude'

Fourteen members of the Brussels Brontë Group visited the Musée Royal de Mariemont on 7 March 2020 to view Charlotte Brontë’s French essay L’Ingratitude and other items in the museum’s ‘Reserve Précieuse’ (collection of rare books and manuscripts). We were given a lively two-hour talk by Chief Librarian Bertrand Federinov.

The session included letters or manuscripts by Charles I, Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and two special favorites of the Brontës -- the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson.

M. Federinov shows Charlotte's `L'Ingratitude' essay.

M. Federinov started by filling us in on the history of the museum. It stands in the Mariemont domain, first founded as a hunting estate by Mary of Hungary, sister of Charles V. In the early nineteenth century the Warocqué family, who made their fortune from coalmining, bought it and built themselves a neo-classical château on the estate.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Exploring Anne Brontë’s Poetry

Emelie Sannen helped the Brussels Brontë Group continue the celebration of Anne Brontë’s bicentenary with a very evocative analysis of three of Anne’s poems. As one of the youngest members of our group, Emelie is in a good position to help us appreciate the poetry of the youngest of the Brontë sisters.

Emelie, who is a student at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), spoke during our Member Presentations day on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Using ``word clouds’’ to help her examine some of her favorite poems by Anne, Emelie started with ``Home,’’ saying the work made her think of a time she was wandering in the big city away from her own home.

Emelie and a 'word cloud' of Anne's poem `Home'

The next poem, ``Memory,’’ also begins with an image of the sun, but then focuses on various flowers instead of the ``barren hills’’ and ``colder breezes’’ of the poem ``Home.’’ Both works are about memories, but of different kinds.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Mind-Mapping the Brontës

Mark Cropper has used mind-mapping to create memorable images of a couple of the talks we have enjoyed at the Brussels Brontë Group. On Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, he shared his insights on how this note-taking technique helps him to create these colorful images.

Mark with his mind map of John Sutherland's talk.

Starting with a brief explanation of how mind-mapping developed, Mark gave a little seminar on how he uses the technique to show graphically the most important elements of a presentation. Along the way, he mind-mapped his own presentation.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

The Brontës and Fanfiction

Ana Gauthier managed to connect the Brontës with Star Trek and Harry Potter in an entertaining presentation on the Brontës and fanfiction to the Brussels Brontës Group on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

While the Star Trek television series could be credited by many with sparking the first ``fandom’’ around fictional characters, Ana showed how the tiny magazines that the Brontë children created for their imaginary worlds could be considered early versions of fanfiction. Just like modern-day fanfiction, the young siblings could use their fictional worlds of Angria and Gondal as an experimental playground to give their imaginations free rein, allowing them to ask what-if questions about real-world characters and development totally new characters, too.

But she also suggested that fanfiction is much older even than the Brontës. Lots of Shakespeare takes characters and plot elements from earlier works and reworks them. Milton’s Paradise Lost is a derivative work of the Bible where he repaints Satan as a tragic hero. Dante’s Inferno is a mash-up of the Bible, The Aeneid, and Greek mythology. The Aeneid itself is a spinoff of The Iliad, she explained.