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

maandag 12 juli 2010

Rue d'Isabelle

It was February 1842 when Charlotte and Emily, accompanied by their father, set off from Haworth on their journey to Belgium, crossing the channel on the Ostend "packet". Since the railway line to Brussels was not yet fully opened, on arrival in Ostend they continued their long and tiring journey by stagecoach.

The next day they went to the Pensionnat Heger. Charlotte could not know when she entered it how profoundly her stay in this strange new place was to change her life.

The school was on the Rue d'Isabelle in a quarter close to the central park and near the grandeur of Rue Royale with its stately 18th century houses.
Place Royal Brussels
Steel engraving by A. Cruse after J. Fussel, ca 1850.

The Rue d’Isabelle and the Isabelle quarter had an ancient past, remnants of which could still be seen. But the street as Charlotte and Emily knew it dated back only forty or fifty years.

The street itself had a curiously sunken appearance, towered over on all sides by high buildings, with the old city wall alongside much of it.

The Park in Brussels
Le Parc de Bruxelles Ansicht von Park zu Bruessel
Steel engraving by H. Bond after Fussel, ca 1850.

On the ‘higher’ level lay the spacious aristocratic quarters with fine buildings, the beautiful Parc and the Palace Royale,
the grand residence of the Belgian monarch, king Leopold I. These places were only a stone's throw away from the Pensionnat.
Descending to the ‘lower’ level, the city centre, you found yourself in the busy commercial area and the higgledy-piggledy streets dating back to medieval times. In the mid 19th century these little back streets had become a dirty and overcrowded slum area.

To reach the Pensionnat, below the Rue Royale, you went down a steep flight of steps. Standing at the top of the stairs by the statue of General Belliard, you could look down on the chimneys of the Rue d’Isabelle below and the old city beyond.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs one had only to cross the street to reach the school. It had been built forty years earlier and was a plain white building two storeys high, long and low with a row of large windows on each floor.

Even though the school building itself was no more extraordinary than the other schools in the neighbourhood, there was an unexpected treasure, tucked away behind the house; a delightful big garden with a line of ancient fruit trees.

This garden was to provide Charlotte with a haven of peace right in the centre of the city. It is described in full detail in her novel Villette, and one can imagine her relishing every opportunity to escape from the pressures of school life to the bower (berceau) and the allée défendue.

Nowadays, sadly, nothing of the Pensionnat remains and little of the Rue d’Isabelle or the old quarter apart from the area around the Place Royale and the Rue Royale. Demolition in the 20th century destroyed many of the streets and ancient history of old Brussels. Luckily, not all is lost and if you know where to look, remnants can still be found.

Today, the view from the top of the steps is completely changed and it is difficult to imagine the scene Charlotte and Emily would have seen. The Palais des Beaux Arts (an arts centre in the art nouveau style built in the 1920s) and the Rue Baron Horta now cover the site of the Pensionnat and the Rue d’Isabelle.

The Rue Ravenstein we see today is on a much higher level than the old street. But the Rue Villa Hermosa, which once led to the Rue Terarcken, still partly exists. One can still go down the steps near the Hôtel Ravenstein to this street of which only a small section remains. This little backwater is still on the original level and one can see the old cobbles paving the street where Charlotte and Emily once walked on their way to the Rue d’Isabelle.

In the Pensionnat Charlotte and Emily were taught by the charismatic and inspiring Constantin Heger, whose wife owned the school. He recognised their literary talents and gave them encouragement and guidance in honing their writing skills. In Charlotte's case his legacy was still more profound, since she fell in love with her teacher.

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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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