Brontë Reading Group

Monday, 4 May 2015

Brontë weekend talks on 25 April

Claire Harman


Claire Harman, whose biography of Charlotte Brontë is due to be published in October, was our first
speaker at our Brontë weekend this year. Her talk on Saturday, April 25, was very special for the Brussels Brontë Group because Claire focused on the wrenching letters that Charlotte sent to her teacher, M. Heger, after she left Brussels and the importance of her Belgian experience in her life and art.

The feelings of unrequited affection and desperate anguish that Charlotte shows in these letters coloured all of her subsequent writing after she went back to Haworth at the start of 1844, Claire said. The four letters are now at the British Library in London, where they have been since being donated by the Heger family in 1913.

Claire, the author of several biographies including one of Robert Louis Stevenson, also provided interesting insights into the biographer's craft. She has also written Jane's Fame on the legacy of Jane Austen, in the vein of Lucasta Miller's The Brontë Myth. In writing her forthcoming book on Charlotte Brontë, Claire said she refrained from reading other biographies of the writer, though she heavily consulted Juliet Barker's The Brontës as a reference, saying she wanted her biography to contain her ``own very personal take'' on the letters and other material, such as the devoirs written in Brussels.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Path to the Silent Country by Lynne Reid Banks

I recently read and reviewed Dark Quartet: The Story of the Brontës , which is the first of the two
books Lynne Reid Banks has written about the Brontë family. The first book covers all of the siblings and ends when all of them, except, Charlotte are dead. This second book is about Charlotte and how she is coping on her own.

It is historical fiction, but as with the first book, the characters are very well depicted, and, as far as I can tell, Lynne Reid Banks follow well the history of the family, as we know it. Charlotte, who has been used to have her siblings around her, and, mind you, for most of her life they have been the only social contact she had, feels the solitude heavy on her shoulders. However, there are highlights. Her fame, and that of her sisters, are rising and she is now much sought after.

Her publisher Mr Smith, of which she has a crush, although she is quite aware that nothing can come out of it, is trying to include her in his social circles when she is in London. She meets her favourite author Thackeray, although his behaviour is not to her approval and that puts her off. She manages, although it seems to be very difficult, to somehow enjoy herself while in London.

Her fame also put her in contact with other female writers like Elizabeth Gaskell (who were to write the first biography of Charlotte) and Harriet Martineau (considered as one of the first female sociologists) and whom Charlotte admired. At least until she gave an unfavourable opinion on one of her books!

Lynne Reid Banks manages to visualise the rather depressing character of Charlotte, as well has her father Patrick. It can not have been a happy house to live in during those years. Arthur Bell Nichols, her father’s curate, is deeply in love with Charlotte. His first marriage proposal is refused, we can imagine, probably more because the father does not like him, than Charlotte’s own feelings. He has to leave for another parish but keeps a correspondence with Charlotte. In the end it pays out and they marry.

Top Withens, Haworth

This seems to have been the most happy time of Charlotte’s life. They visit his family in Ireland and are well received. Charlotte becomes pregnant which makes her very happy. Alas, happiness does not seem to be for her and her family and she dies before the child is born.

This books is a must if you are into the Brontë family. Historical fiction (I know not all love this kind of freedom with the lives of famous people), but I really love it. Especially when it is so well written and with a lot of respect to the real persons and their stories as in Lynne Reid Banks version. She makes these remarkable people come alive.

Thank you to Endeavour Press for the review copy. The views put forward are my own, personal ones.

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 (helen.macewan@ec.europa.eu).


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.