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: 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

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.