Thursday, 3 April 2014

Brussels Brontë Group events this spring

Here is something more for Brontë fans; quite a lot these days, but have patience other writers will have a say here as well.

The Brussels Brontë group organises two events per year (normally in March/April and October) with lectures on anything to do with the Brontës and their time (for info have a look at the www.thebrusselsbrontegroup.org). During the last years there has been an added event in February where one of our members shares his/her special interest in the Brontës. Many of the people in this group are very creative and we see calligraphy, drawings, painting, blogging (not me but that's how I started!), research etc.

This February one of our Dutch members, Eric Ruijssenaars, took us on a virtual tour in the Isabelle quarters in Brussels where the 'Pensionnat Heger' where Charlotte and Emily used to live, study and spend their free time betweeen 1842-43. His interest has generated two books about the Isabelle quarters; Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land : The Pensionnat Heger and other Brontë places in Brussels (2000) and The Pensionnat Revisted: More light shed on the Brussels of the Brontës (2003). He has spent a lot of time in various Brussels archives, talked to horticultures, architects, journalist and many more in order to find the information on which the books are based and to be able to draw his conclusions. The added value is old photographs, newspaper articles and drawings that can help us visualise how it once looked during the Brontë time here. Since there was a huge building spree in Brussels in the beginning/middle of the 20th century most of the old quarters around the Royal Palace are now gone. Unfortunately, not much archaeological digging were undertaken at the time to preserve the old parts of Brussels or to try to find out what could be worth saving.

The actual street where the Pensionnat was situated does not exist anymore. It is replaced by the huge concert hall Bozar. Seeing the old photos and maps it is still difficult to imagine how it looked then in comparison with today's layout. Unfortunately, one must say that it looked more beautiful then.

In the end of March we had Dr. Nicholas Shrimpton of Oxford University to talk to us about 'Shirley in context'. He held a very vivid lecture on the novel in its social and literary context. It is the least liked novel of Charlotte's and maybe the least understood. I am still trying to read it and am stuck about one third into the book. However, after this lecture I will see it in another light. Dr Shrimption put forward the idea (of which he is not alone) that Charlotte tried to write a panoramic novel in the same fashion as her favourite author Thackeray had done with Vanity Fair. The novel is set in Yorkshire in 1811-12 during the industrial depression and the Luddite uprising in the textile industry, of which she had heard a lot from her father. Maybe it was her way to come away from a very personal Jane Eyre story to a general story of past time and the changes that happened in society.

Next event for the Brontë club in Brussels will be in the end of October.


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