Monday 13 November 2023

Emily and Charlotte and … 48 teenagers from Asse

This summer we received a special request in our mailbox: a teacher at a Flemish secondary school, GO Atheneum Vijverbeek Asse, contacted us because they were interested in taking one of our guided walks about Charlotte and Emily in Brussels with 48 of their final-year students. 

From September onwards, they would read Wuthering Heights in English class and study the novel in detail. The teacher even had her pupils draw up maps of the setting of the novel. One of our Brussels Brontë Group members, Jean De Wolf, also gave them a presentation, bringing his scale model of Top Withens to the school so that the students could envisage what the home of Cathy and Heathcliff could have looked like. 
Pauline leading the group.

And so last week, 7 November, on a rather dreary but (thankfully dry) autumn day, it was my turn and I found myself in front of the Protestant Chapel waiting for the youngest group I have ever guided around. I am a high school teacher myself so I kind of know what to expect talking to teenagers. However, this time the students would not be mine, and I would have to guide two groups immediately after each other, which was a bit stressful. So, there I was, trotting around in the cold, the only person on the Place du Musée that early in the morning. 

In the end, it turned out the stress was not really necessary as both groups were accompanied by a teacher and most of the students were interested, although when we were seated in front of the band stand in the Parc Royal, I did have to compete for their attention with the big black crows that were haunting the benches (and people) for food. 

Enjoying Glass Town
Furthermore, at a certain point the birds’ interference with my tour climaxed when one of the students got some pigeon droppings on his new anorak which was a minor tragedy! But we survived it all and I tried to keep their attention with humor and the drama of Charlotte’s love letters to Heger, the graphic novel Glass Town about the Brontë juvenilia, stories about the extreme fandom that the Brontë sisters enjoy (people crying when they see the Belliard Steps and others trying to take stones, …) and some references to Taylor Swift, of course. 

All in all, I think another tour for teenagers could work in the future, if we shorten it to one hour and make it a bit lighter, asking them lots of questions along the way to keep up the interaction. The students were more interested in Emily than Charlotte because they were reading Wuthering Heights and would be watching the film ‘Emily’ later on. But at the end when we were saying our goodbyes one of them came up to me and asked me about the third sister, Anne, which really made my day as Anne Brontë holds a special place in my Brontë-fan heart. 

On the Facebook page of the school they wrote a short photo-report on our tour and ended by saying that thanks to our guided walk they had gotten to know Emily Brontë a bit better. And that is exactly what we are striving to do with the Brussels Brontë Group, so mission accomplished.

 -- Pauline Ghyselen

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