I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

zondag 1 juni 2014

The Brontës in Brussels

A new book by Helen MacEwan, founder and active member of the Brussels Brontë Group, about the Brussels experience by the Brontë sisters. Helen MacEwan is also the author of Down the Belliard Steps.
The Brontës in Brussels
Helen MacEwan
Peter Owen Publishers
ISBN 978 0 7206 1588 3

In 1842 Charlotte Brontë (1816–55) and her sister Emily (1818–48) arrived in Brussels to improve their languages, five years before becoming best-selling authors. Emily stayed for a year, Charlotte for two. Although this is a little-known episode of their lives, it is a fascinating one. Two of Charlotte’s four novels – Villette and The Professor – were based on her time in Belgium, which was pivotal for her both as a writer and personally, since she fell in love with her married teacher Constantin Heger. This book describes the sisters’ life in Brussels and provides information on places with Brontë connections. Although the Pensionnat Heger school where they stayed has gone, there is still much to be seen of the city they knew.
In 1913 Charlotte’s highly emotional letters to her teacher were donated by his descendants to the British Museum and on publication caused something of a scandal. Since then those with an interest in the Brontës’ literary achievements have been intrigued by this influential period in their lives.
The book includes a wealth of illustrations and maps, extracts from Villette demonstrating how the novel reflects Charlotte’s experiences in Brussels, translations of four of the sisters’ French essays and of Charlotte’s moving letters to her teacher and a Brontë walk around the city with maps and historical information on places and people especially associated with the sisters’ stay. For anyone who takes an interest in the life and work of the Brontës or who appreciates the literary associations of places, this is a compelling read. 
HELEN MACEWAN is a translator and former teacher who lives in Brussels. Her experiences as the founder of the Brussels Brontë Group, the Belgian branch of the Brontë Society, which organizes guided literary walks and conferences in the city, are related in her previous book Down the Belliard Steps.The book will be presented by the author next June 26 at the Waterstones Brussels store. Here you can find the author herself talking about her book.  

2 opmerkingen:

  1. This looks excellent! I'm glad attention is being given to this part of Bronte history . To me one of the more interesting parts was how "well" Emily stood this removal from Haworth. Given her experience at Roe Head, and Law Hill , one would not guess it.

    However I believe the chance to hear fine music there often had to help.One of Emily's few keepsakes was for a concert. Also behind a curtain provided by Madame , at the end of the school''s dormitory, the sisters were able to recreate the little bedroom above the front door at the Parsonage . A small patch of Haworth was made in Brussels .

    Emily also kept a tight hold over Charlotte . CB knew she could not press her sister socially or she might revolt . The English people there had dropped the Bronte sisters after a time due to Emily's muteness and even hostility of manner ...but they gladly took CB up again when she returned alone.

    Charlotte then made friends with the Wheelwrights, the Jenkins and Dixons .( relatives of Ellen) Not people she would have sought out normally , but there was nothing normal about Brussels in the sister's experience. Charlotte really began to decline after these English friends departed

    Once Emily was back in Haworth and became the mistress of the Parsonage , both due to Aunt's passing, she was not returning to Belgium.

    Emily proceed to have perhaps the happiest time in her adult life for that span when it was just she and Papa . With Patrick's habits, the house would be almost as free to her as the moor ...as he was either out or in his study while Martha and Tabby were mostly in the kitchen .

    Baking bread and sweeping floors and other chores were the only calls of this" upper world" Emily had to answer. Both she and Papa enjoyed the music Emily had learned when abroad and because of his failing eye sight Patrick taught Emily to shoot.

    It indeed greatly suited Emily to stay in Haworth. However I'm guessing it suited Charlotte that she remain there as well

    Charlotte could hide from herself the nature of her love for Constantin Heger ...but not from Emily . The complex emotional constructs needed to make loving a married man and hating his wife seem alright, even virtuous, could not function very well or at all under the daily gaze of those sisterly and knowing grey eyes . If Charlotte returned, it suited her to return alone and she did

    Then and afterwards Charlotte learned something not to her liking. She learned all her great Genii powers could not command beings in this upper world. Belgium was not Angria

    While Charlotte of course knew that intellectually, emotionally she needed to learn it from personal experience, It was a hard course of study

    The pain found in her unanswered letters to Heger is harrowing. I believe he stopped answering in part because he not know what to say. This was an obsession that could not be stamped out with wisdom., he had tried that... It had to be left to burn itself out

  2. Shortly after I posted that I read the Dixons were the cousins of the Taylors and wish to correct my mistake . Certainly having the Taylor sisters in the area had to help too . That ended about the same time of Willie Weightman and Aunt Branwell's passing ...when Martha Taylor died as well. in the fall of 1842.


The Parlour

The Parlour



Charlotte Bronte

Presently the door opened, and in came a superannuated mastiff, followed by an old gentleman very like Miss Bronte, who shook hands with us, and then went to call his daughter. A long interval, during which we coaxed the old dog, and looked at a picture of Miss Bronte, by Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looking strangely out of place on the bare walls, and at the books on the little shelves, most of them evidently the gift of the authors since Miss Bronte's celebrity. Presently she came in, and welcomed us very kindly, and took me upstairs to take off my bonnet, and herself brought me water and towels. The uncarpeted stone stairs and floors, the old drawers propped on wood, were all scrupulously clean and neat. When we went into the parlour again, we began talking very comfortably, when the door opened and Mr. Bronte looked in; seeing his daughter there, I suppose he thought it was all right, and he retreated to his study on the opposite side of the passage; presently emerging again to bring W---- a country newspaper. This was his last appearance till we went. Miss Bronte spoke with the greatest warmth of Miss Martineau, and of the good she had gained from her. Well! we talked about various things; the character of the people, - about her solitude, etc., till she left the room to help about dinner, I suppose, for she did not return for an age. The old dog had vanished; a fat curly-haired dog honoured us with his company for some time, but finally manifested a wish to get out, so we were left alone. At last she returned, followed by the maid and dinner, which made us all more comfortable; and we had some very pleasant conversation, in the midst of which time passed quicker than we supposed, for at last W---- found that it was half-past three, and we had fourteen or fifteen miles before us. So we hurried off, having obtained from her a promise to pay us a visit in the spring... ------------------- "She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing. After she had tried to draw stories, and not succeeded, she took the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it. ----------------------She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She herself appealed to the world's judgement for her use of some of the faculties she had, - not the best, - but still the only ones she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a judgement on her from such a world?" elizabeth gaskell/charlotte bronte

Poem: No coward soul is mine

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life -- that in me has rest,
As I -- Undying Life -- have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Family tree

The Bronte Family

Grandparents - paternal
Hugh Brunty was born 1755 and died circa 1808. He married Eleanor McClory, known as Alice in 1776.

Grandparents - maternal
Thomas Branwell (born 1746 died 5th April 1808) was married in 1768 to Anne Carne (baptised 27th April 1744 and died 19th December 1809).

Father was Patrick Bronte, the eldest of 10 children born to Hugh Brunty and Eleanor (Alice) McClory. He was born 17th March 1777 and died on 7th June 1861. Mother was Maria Branwell, who was born on 15th April 1783 and died on 15th September 1821.

Maria had a sister, Elizabeth who was known as Aunt Branwell. She was born in 1776 and died on 29th October 1842.

Patrick Bronte married Maria Branwell on 29th December 1812.

The Bronte Children
Patrick and Maria Bronte had six children.
The first child was Maria, who was born in 1814 and died on 6th June 1825.
The second daughter, Elizabeth was born on 8th February 1815 and died shortly after Maria on 15th June 1825. Charlotte was the third daughter, born on 21st April 1816.

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (born 1818) on 29th June 1854. Charlotte died on 31st March 1855. Arthur lived until 2nd December 1906.

The first and only son born to Patrick and Maria was Patrick Branwell, who was born on 26th June 1817 and died on 24th September 1848.

Emily Jane, the fourth daughter was born on 30th July 1818 and died on 19th December 1848.

The sixth and last child was Anne, born on 17th January 1820 who died on 28th May 1849.

Top Withens in the snow.

Top Withens in the snow.



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