Brontë Reading Group

Monday, 30 March 2015

Rue Ducale 13 – the house where Zoë Parent died

Late in the evening of 9 January 1890, Claire Zoë Parent (b.1804) passed away at Rue Ducale 13, suffering from double pneumonia. In the Brussels Brontë story, she holds a prominent role of course, as directrice of the Rue d'Isabelle pensionnat which Charlotte and Emily attended in 1842–43, and as part model for the characters of Madame Beck (Villette) and Zoraïde Reuter (The Professor) in Charlotte's novels. Much has been written about her in Brontë-related literature, yet the story of the house where she lived out her final days has never been told. It is a story which offers some interesting details.

Rue Ducale is one of the more attractive streets in today's Brussels. Beginning at the Place du Trône near the Royal Palace, it runs along the east side of the Royal Park, past the Belgian Parliament buildings, to end at the Rue de Louvain. It is one of the main axes of the neo-classical Quartier Royal, built in the late 18th century. Fortunately the street has been spared unsightly reconstruction projects over the years, and retains much of its original, harmonious architecture. It lies but a short distance away from where the Rue d'Isabelle and the Parent-Heger Pensionnat once stood. The street has many literary connections. In 1816, Lord Byron stayed briefly at Rue Ducale 51, where he is said to have composed several stanzas of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Brussels Brontë weekend, 25-26 April, 2015

The time has come for our annual Brontë spring weekend, which will take place on 25-26 April.
Please find here the program.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Room P61, Université Saint-Louis, Rue du Marais 119, 1000 Brussels
Entrance charge: €10 (members €5)

14.00: We have two guest speakers this year.

Claire Harman will be talking about her new biography of Charlotte Brontë to be published in 2016, the bicentenary of Charlotte’s birth. Claire is the author of various literary biographies and of the highly-acclaimed Jane’s Fame on the legacy of Jane Austen.

We will also be joined by Bonnie Greer, President of the Brontë Society, writer and well-known TV personality, who will talk to the group.

Do join us for what promises to be a very interesting event.

Sunday 26 April 2015

10.00: Guided walk around Brontë places (Place Royale area). Duration: about 2 hours. Charge: €7.

Please register by sending an e-mail to Helen MacEwen (

Monday, 8 December 2014

Brussels Brontë Group’s annual Christmas lunch

Hard to capture,
always on the go!
The Brussels Brontë Group’s annual Christmas lunch took place on Saturday 6 December, at the restaurant ‘Carpe Diem’. It was attended by 38 enthusiastic lovers of the Brontës and 19th century literature. As usual Jones Hayden was the Master of Ceremonies and he made sure that we were properly entertained.

The entertainment was varied and interesting. Jones and Paul Gretton had produced a Quiz about the Brontës which was not that easy to get right (although we think we know almost everything about them!). Graham Andrews read the poem ‘Transvestism in Brontë novels’ by Patricia Beer.

Our theatre company
'Branwell in action'

Our actors’ team, that is, Daniel Mangano, Myriam Campinaire, Robyn Colwell, Kate Healy and Brian Holland performed ‘Christmas Dinner at the Parsonage’ which was first published in ‘Punch’ magazine in 1935. They all gave engaging portraits of (in order of actors) Mr Bronte, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell.

Patrick Weldon from
Luxembourg entertained
us with a musical tune
One of our members had come all the way from Luxembourg to perform two songs from ‘Oh what a lovely war’. I am totally impressed by Patrick Weldon who could sing these songs a capella! You can see he is a member of an amateur theatre company.

The Raffle saw some happy people receiving Brontë gifts of various kinds. Then it was the turn of Jose Miguel Arranz from Spain. Being married to Helen MacEwan, you can
Jose Miguel Arranze
our Spanish tenor!
not stay ignorant about the Brontës for long. He confessed he didn’t know anything about them at the start. We were therefore quite impressed by his own poem ‘Oh Haworth’ dedicated to the Brontës, which he sang to the tune of the Spanish song ‘Granada’. This is a very difficult song to sing, even more so a capella.  But we got a good idea of his musical talents.

Last but not least Paul Gretton led us in the carol ‘While shepherd watch’ to the tune of the popular Yorkshire song ‘Ilkley Moor’. We all sang with him and it was a nice end to the entertainment part.
Paul Gretton leading the psalm!

Helen ended by thanking everybody for this year and hoping that we will have another exciting year in 2015. The group is hoping for an exhibition in 2016 to celebrate the bicentenary of Charlotte’s birth. Guided walks and events will as usual be held in spring and autumn. The reading groups, led by Jones, will continue in 2015.

In between we managed to eat the three course lunch that was served. Here is one of the desserts.

We also would like you to visit our various web-sites. Please also go into Facebook to become a friend of the Brussels Brontë Group. We will post more informal posts there on a regular basis. If you are reading this you are already on our blog ( You can also look at our website where there is more background information about the group. We also post here a program of our events. (

Helen MacEwan our dedicated
'leader of the group'
We are happy to receive feedback from you. What kind of events would you like to attend? Any idea how we can spread our information to more people?

Lisbeth Ekelof

Friday, 14 November 2014

Dark Quartet: The Story of the Brontës by Lynne Reid Banks

The Brontë sisters are widely popular all over the world. Probably more popular today than they have ever been. I think that each one of us, who is a fan of the sisters and their books, have our own idea how they were and how they lived. A lot of biographies have been written about their peculiar story and lives, first of them Elisabeth Gaskell, already in the 19th century. I have also read several other biographies, so it was with some excitement that I opened the first page to read this biographical fiction of them.

It is a very brave task to take on to write a biographical fiction about such well known and loved characters. Lynne Reid Banks has managed beautifully. I must admit thought that it took me a little bit of time to get into it. However, that changed rapidly after the first part. The more I got into the book, the more I was overwhelmed of the way she is characterising the siblings, and other persons relevant to the Brontës. She makes them come alive.

She seems extremely well read on the family history, and she has mingled their lives with their fiction and created each of the family members as, at least I, imagined them to be. We tend to look at them as an entity, but they are four rather different characters, and they are here beautifully and lovingly portrayed.

The story of Branwell is always a sad story. I thought though that it was so well imagined, and written with such care, that his miserable character came alive on the pages. His inability to hold on to a job, his illness, his overestimation of his own talent, his decline into death by despair, drugs and alcohol. You cannot but feel sorry for him.

Charlotte, the oldest sister who always took care of the others, who seemed mostly unhappy, but had her happy moments as well. Her love for M. Heger is delicately balanced, and her longing once she is back in England, so well written that I think the reader feels what she felt.

Top Withens
Emily, the tough but still vulnerable figure with a lot of wild passion inside her. She held it under tight reins but she could let it show when she walked her beloved moors and in her masterpiece Wuthering Heights. She could not bear to be away from Haworth and suffered incredibly the three times she ventured out into the world.

Anne, the youngest sister was very gentle. She seemed fragile, but was maybe the strongest of them all, in her religious beliefs and her stubbornness to finish what she had started. For several years she worked as a governess to help earn money for the family. Branwell got his job as a tutor to the son at Green Thorpe through her, but it ended in disastrous results when he fell in love with the wife.

The Brontë Waterfall
The description of the scenery and the people surrounding the siblings, is very well done, and makes it very real. Their lives are told from the angle of each one of them, which makes it even more fascinating. The same situations are interpreted from different sides and different persons.

Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, have been read by generations ever since they were written. Here you enter into passionate stories of strong characters, feelings and passions, and in the background are always the moors. The sense of desolation in their books seems to have come from their daily lives. I found that Lynne Reid Banks have managed to keep this special atmosphere in her telling of their story. The book brought me back to the times of the Brontës, and it was as exciting and passionate, as to read one of their books. It really took me some time to come back to the 21st century once I finished it. If you love the Brontës, and if you love biographical fiction, this is a book for you.

This book was given to me for free from Endeavour Press. The views put forward are my own personal views.

Lisbeth Ekelöf

Monday, 10 November 2014

Two Constantins: Constantin Heger and Constantin Meunier

Constantin Meunier
The BOZAR Museum in Brussels is currently featuring a major exhibition devoted to the work of
Constantin Meunier (1831-1905). The Belgian artist was among the very finest of 19th century sculptors; Rodin was a great admirer of his work, as was Vincent Van Gogh, who once declared Meunier to be "far superior to me".

For followers of the Brussels Brontë story, there is a detail which might give rise to extra interest in the artist - his forename Constantin. The name of course brings to mind Constantin Heger (1809-1896), Charlotte and Emily Brontë's literature professor. Constantin was a rare enough first name back in 1840s Brussels; even today it is not so common. Besides Meunier and Heger, it is a challenge to think of other Belgian public figures or artists so named. (There were some 'Constant's however - such as the painter Constant Permeke, and the football world's Constant Vanden Stock...)
Constantin Heger
It was no simple coincidence that Meunier and Heger shared the same forename. There were in fact real connections between the two men. Constantin Heger was Constantin Emile Meunier's godfather, and the sculptor was given his first name in his honour. Meunier was baptized at Ste. Gertrude's, Etterbeek, on 13 April 1831. Constantin Heger and Marie-Josephe Noyer, who were to marry in September 1831, stood for him as godparents. Marie-Josephe Noyer and Meunier were second cousins, related through the Ghigny family, from Rebecq (Walloon Brabant).

The church where Constantin Meunier was baptized no longer stands, demolished in 1993 when menacing cracks started to appear in its towers. However, the house in Etterbeek where he was born still exists, surviving somewhat uncomfortably between modern constructions on the Chaussée d'Etterbeek 172, opposite the Parc Léopold. There is a memorial plaque to the artist on the façade.

Meunier's birthplace, Etterbeek
When Constantin Meunier was aged around 11, Heger advised his godson to study at Brussels' Athénée Royal, where he himself was then teacher of the junior class (classe élémentaire). Meunier entered the Athénée in 1842, the year the Brontë sisters came to Brussels. However he struggled  with his studies; by 1845, he had already left the Athénée. It is no wonder that Meunier did not get on well at school. He was a rather  sensitive child; it is said of him that up to the age of 15, he used to cry every evening. If Charlotte and Emily Brontë were sometimes sad in Brussels, it was unlikely they were ever as sad as the young Meunier was!

Meunier in later years was a regular guest at the pensionnat which Heger ran with his wife Zoë Parent on the Rue d' Isabelle. Indeed the Heger-Parent Pensionnat was a welcoming place for a number of notable Belgian artists over the years. Some were artists who also gave classes there, such as the painter and illustrator Paul Lauters (1806-1875) and the composer Etienne Soubre (1813-1871). Others were men with family connections to the Hegers, such as Edmond Picard (1836-1924), the controversial writer and lawyer, whose brother Emile was married to Victorine Heger, Constantin's daughter, and the engraver Auguste Danse (1829-1929), Meunier's brother-in-law. It is not surprising that artists were welcome at Rue d'Isabelle, 32. Constantin Heger was a member of the Brussels Cercle artistique et littéraire, and although he never wrote or painted himself, he had a keen interest in the artistic world of his day. His daughter Louise (1839-1933) was a talented singer and painter; she was a popular figure in the artistic world of 19th century Brussels.

There are other links between the two Constantins which are worth highlighting. Both men at a young age witnessed tragedy and suffering in the family home. Constantin Meunier was four years old when his father Simon Louis Meunier died on 10 July 1835, at the age of 45. Serious financial problems seem to have precipitated his death. Heger too was still very young (aged 13) when he lost his father Joseph-Antoine Heger in 1822, also in circumstances of financial ruin.

Further deaths occurred which affected both men profoundly. In 1833, not so long after marrying her, Heger lost his first wife, Marie-Josephe Noyer to (probably) consumption. In 1894, Meunier lost his two dearly-loved sons in quick succession - Karl, who died of consumption in Leuven, and Georges, who died of yellow fever in Brazil.

The Firedamp Explosion, 1889
©MRBAB, Bruxelles
These various personal tragedies perhaps helped both men to empathise with the suffering of others. Both the professor and the artist showed a deep solidarity with those suffering from chronic poverty and harsh working conditions. The theme of humanitarian concern is central to the work of Constantin Meunier, as in his sculptures dedicated to the cruel mining world of the Borinage (near Mons in Southern Belgium). His godfather Heger, for his part, dedicated much effort to teaching and aiding the poor workmen of 19th century Brussels. In Mrs. Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), Chapter XI, mention is made of his long hours of work with the Brussels underclass, as a devout member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Constantin Meunier's  humanitarianism, however, perhaps owes less to orthodox religious beliefs than that of Constantin Heger.

The name 'Constantin' comes from Latin, meaning firm, resolute. The idea that a man spends his whole life somehow fulfilling his forename seems true when applied to the professor and the sculptor. The two Constantins, Heger and Meunier, dedicated themselves from an early age to their respective passions of pedagogy and art. Over the course of their long lives, they stood firm, never renouncing the ideals which motivated them, above all the belief in the essential dignity of man. Despite many personal tragedies and set-backs, the two men strove tirelessly to combat human suffering and ignorance, and to bring about a more just, enlightened world.

Select Bibliography:
A. Behets, Constantin Meunier. L’homme, l’artiste et l’œuvre (Bruxelles: Office de publicité, 1942); A. Fontaine, Constantin Meunier ( Paris: Félix Alcan, 1923); M. Jerome-Schotsmans, Constantin Meunier : sa vie, son œuvre (Bruxelles: Belgian Art Research Institute, 2012); Anon., La vie de Paul Héger (n.p., n.d.), Belgian Royal Library, ref.:7B 3339.

Brian Bracken