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.

M. Federinov, our Time Lord guide, explained to us a little bit about the history of the Musée de Mariemont and about Raoul Warocqué, who established it. Raoul’s interest in books of all kinds and in obtaining autographs of famous writers, scientists, politicians and monarchs led to the creation of his collection, which is now housed in the Musée. M. Federinov then explained that he had pulled a selection of the museum’s treasures which he thought would be particularly interesting for us, an anglophone group.

Among the documents set forth to stun us were a letter from Mary Tudor to Mary of Hungary, a letter written by Charles Darwin filled with scientific observations he made while in Patagonia, a letter from Admiral Lord Nelson (signed ‘Nelson + Bronte’), a letter written by the Duke of Wellington in 1814 before Napoleon’s escape from Elba, a letter written by Queen Victoria shortly before her marriage to Albert , and further documents written in the hands of Charles I, Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Swift, Edward Gibbon and Lord Byron. 

Examining Charlotte's `L'Ingratitude' essay.

A beautiful limited edition of Lord Byron’s Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, presented in the style of an illuminated manuscript on vellum was also shown along with a signed photograph of all four of the Beatles! When each object was revealed to the group, there was a buzz of excitement that could come only from the truly nerdy (among which we proudly count ourselves) (or at least I do).

After great suspense, we were finally able to see the reason for our visit: Charlotte Brontë’s French devoir, “L’Ingratitude.” It was amazing to see the perfectly neat writing displayed to us with no barrier. There was no glass case separating us from the past; we could have reached out and touched the very paper Charlotte wrote on if we had wanted to (we had too much respect for that though). 

As “L’Ingratitude” was shown around the circle, I couldn’t help but feel la gratitude for the people who were looking on. The Brussels Brontë Group was formed to bring people together who were interested in the Brontës and specifically with the sisters’ time in Brussels. “L’Ingratitude,” written by Charlotte during her time in Brussels, is in a way a representation of the link we all share with these sibling authors and this (often) rainy city. I just had so much fun with this bunch. Here’s to many more early-morning Saturdays and journeys through time.

Brussels Brontë Group members at Musee de Mariemont.
Ana Gauthier

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