Friday, 1 December 2017

Book launch by Helen MacEwan, 7 December, 2017

As we continue to celebrate the Brontë bicentenaries (2016-20), I’d like to invite you to the launch of my new book Through Belgian Eyes: Charlotte Brontë’s Troubled Brussels Legacy, which is being published next month (Information here):

Thursday 7 December at 19.00 at Waterstones bookstore, Boulevard Adolphe Max 71, 1000 Brussels

Those of you who were at my talks on 1 April and 14 October have had a preview of some of the aspects explored in the book. It does two things. It is the first book to look at how Belgian commentators have responded to Charlotte Brontë’s depiction of Brussels and Belgian life in Villette and The Professor. Their reactions cover a wide range: hostile, humorous, enthusiastic. At the same time, to provide context for Belgian readers’ reactions, the book fills in the background to the novels by exploring the Brussels world that Charlotte experienced in 1842-43. Her views are contrasted with those of other foreign visitors and of the Belgians themselves.


The book offers a new way of reading Villette and The Professor as well as new perspectives on Charlotte Brontë.

I also look at ways in which the Brontës’ stay in Brussels has entered the literary mythology of Brussels and fired imaginations. Did you know that in the nineteenth century there were tales of sightings of Charlotte’s ghost in the Belgian capital? Or that all three Brontë sisters lived in a house in Grand Place in 1852 – at least according to some guide books!

The book has around 60 illustrations, some in colour. Those who were at my talk earlier this month saw a sample of them.

Below are comments by some Brontë scholars who have read the book.

I hope you will be able to join me on 7 December in Waterstones for a glass of wine and a signed copy of the book! It’s also an opportunity to support Waterstones, who organise so many such events.


Comments by Brontë scholars

Helen MacEwan’s acknowledged expertise on both the place and the author comes together perfectly in this packed and fascinating study of Brontë’s mixed feelings about the city that formed her as a writer – and its equally ambivalent responses to her. (Claire Harman)

Helen MacEwan has achieved something very unusual: she has found a fascinating area of Brontë studies untouched by previous writers. By enabling us to read through Belgian eyes, she sheds surprising new light on novels we think we know. (Patsy Stoneman)

Brings together her expert knowledge of the city and the author …. balances Charlotte’s critique of Brussels against the impressive counterweight of her legacy. (Lyndall Gordon)

Helen MacEwan

Monday, 16 October 2017

Villette and Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels: talk on 14 October 2017

John Sutherland was scheduled to visit us for a talk about Brontë puzzles but unfortunately had to cancel due to illness. We hope to enjoy his talk at a later date.

Helen talking about Villette

Instead, Helen MacEwan entertained us with a talk, Villette as vignettes of 1840s Brussels, introducing us to the Brontës’ Brussels. It contained quotations from writings by Belgian and foreign observers of Brussels, including guide books and travel books by visitors to the city. Among other aspects, it looked at the musical performances and paintings on which Charlotte must have based the descriptions in the novel. The talk was interspersed with readings in which Paul and Ola entertained us with details of Brussels at that period, helping us to visualise the city in which Charlotte and Emily walked.

Paul and Ola resting in-between performances

The talk gave a preview of Helen’s next book, Through Belgian Eyes: Charlotte Brontë’s Troubled Brussels Legacy, to be published next month. Here is the book description.


‘Charlotte Brontë’s years in Belgium (1842-43) had a huge influence both on her life and her work. It was in Brussels that she not only honed her writing skills but fell in love and lived through the experiences that inspired two of her four novels: her first, The Professor, and her last and in many ways most interesting, Villette. Her feelings about Belgium are known - her love for her tutor Heger, her uncomplimentary remarks about Belgians, the powerful effect on her imagination of living abroad. But what about Belgian views of Charlotte Brontë? How have Belgian commentators responded to her portrayal of their capital city and their society? Through Belgian Eyes explores a wide range of responses from across the Channel.

In the process, it examines what The Professor and Villette tell Belgian readers about their capital in the 1840s and provides the Brussels background to the novels. B russels has inspired few outstanding works of literature, and the makes Villette, considered by many to be Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, of particular interest as a portrait of the Belgian capital a decade after the country gained independence in 1830, and just before the city was transformed out of all recognition from the ’villette’ (small town) that Charlotte knew. Her view of Brussels is contrasted with those of other foreign visitors and of the Belgians themselves.’

It sounds like an interesting read. A highly enjoyable Saturday morning that helped to fill in our picture of the Brontës’ Brussels.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Brussels Brontë Group events on 14-15 October 2017

Announcement

I’m very sorry indeed to have to announce that due to reasons beyond our control John Sutherland will not be able to come to Brussels and speak to us on Saturday 14 October as scheduled.

Instead, at the time scheduled (11.00 on Saturday 14 October – doors will open at 10.30 for coffee) I will give a light-hearted presentation on the following subject:

Villette as vignettes of Belgian life: further glimpses of 1840s Brussels in Charlotte Brontë’s last novel

At my talk earlier this year, on 1 April, I spoke about Belgian views of Charlotte Brontë and how Belgian commentators have assessed the view of Belgian life given in Villette and The Professor. This presentation will cover new ground by looking at further aspects of Brussels life reflected in Villette, and compare and contrast Charlotte’s views with those of other observers, both foreign and Belgian. The presentation is a further preview of my new book on this subject.

Other Group members will read passages from a variety of writers to build up a picture of life in 1840s Brussels.

The event is free of charge and you are all very welcome to come along. If you hadn’t already registered, please register by sending me an email. Directions to the venue below.

Best regards,

Helen MacEwan
Brussels Brontë Group
www.thebrusselsbrontegroup.org

Time: Doors open for coffee at 10.30 on Saturday 14 October. Presentation starts at 11.00.
Venue :: Room P61, Université Saint-Louis, Rue du Marais/ Broekstraat 119, 1000 Brussels
Metro: Rogier, exit Bd Jardin Botanique.






Saturday, 14 October, 2017

Don't forget to register for our upcoming event on 14 October, 2017, at 11.00. Professor John Sutherland will speak on "An hour’s worth of Brontë puzzles".

We look forward to welcoming many of you to hear John Sutherland, Emeritus Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, He is a specialist in Victorian fiction and a distinguished speaker with a long list of published books to his credit and has a high-profile media presence. Popularly known for his books of ‘puzzles in classic fiction’ (Was Heathcliff a Murderer?, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?, Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?’), he has wide-ranging interests and his books include many companions to and histories of literature. His miscellany of Brontë curiosities The Brontësaurus: An A–Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë (and Branwell) was published last year.


We’re honoured that he’s coming all this way to talk to us!

Venue
Saturday 14 October 2017
Room P61, Université Saint-Louis, Rue du Marais 119, 1000 Brussels

11.00: Talk by Professor John Sutherland:
An hour’s worth of Brontë puzzles

Entrance charge: Non-members €10, members €

Sunday, 15 October, 2017

As usual we are organising a guided walk around Brontë-related places.
It starts at 10.00 in the Place Royale area and lasts around two hours.

Your guide will be Jones Hayden and there is a charge of €10.

To register for either (or both!) of these events just send an e-mail to Helen MacEwan.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Branwell Brontë and Wordsworth’s Lake District, Part III

The second day of our visit was fully focused on Branwell and his Cumbria/Lake District experience.
Our destination was Broughton-in-Furness, situated in the southern part of the Cumbrian Lake District. This pretty little market town on the Duddon estuary was once home to Branwell for a short time when he was tutor with the Postlethwaite family. It is advertised as being  “an ideal base for a walking or climbing holiday, with ample opportunity to explore the rugged beauty of the Duddon valley and the quieter Lake District fells.”

The weather was not so kind to us that day, it was raining cats and dogs. We arrived in Broughton via the road from Coniston. Branwell would have taken another way: he would have travelled from Haworth to Kendal where he stayed for the night (and according to one of his letters to John Brown, got drunk for the last time), then to Ulverston (which was the administrative centre of the Furness district then) by coach and would have travelled the last 10 miles to Broughton probably by gig. The area around Broughton is  very wild and mountainous and was a source of inspiration to many poets, such as Wordsworth. To the west of Broughton you can see (on a good day) the peak of Black Combe mountain which is a landmark for the area. One can imagine that Branwell would have been very happy and excited  with this sight, it certainly would have stirred his poetic nature. Branwell described Broughton in a letter to John Brown (dated 13 March 1840): “I am fixed in a little retired town by the sea-shore, among woody hills that rise round me – huge, rocky, and capped  with clouds.”


We parked the car on Station Road, and armed with an umbrella, went to look for Broughton House.  We did not have a map of the town, so we asked  a passer-by for directions and he showed us the way. We did not have to go far and we could not miss it: Broughton House was just down the road in Griffin Street, on the corner, opposite the 17th century Old King’s Head Inn:  a big three-storey house in scaffolding. This was the home of the Postlethwaite family when Branwell arrived in Broughton on New Year’s day in 1840. He had been employed by Mr. Robert Postlethwaite as a tutor to the two young sons John and William, aged respectively 12 and 10½.  Branwell described his employer in his  letter to John Brown (dated 13 March 1840)  as “a large landowner, and of a right hearty  and generous disposition“,  his wife as “a quiet, silent and amiable woman” and the two boys as “fine, spirited lads”. Branwell was certainly determined to make a good impression on his employer. And he seemed to have had quite a lot of freedom in tutoring the boys. He seemed to have had enough leisure time to sketch and write poems (a sketch of Broughton Church and a poem on Black Combe are clear evidence of this).

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Branwell Brontë and Wordsworth’s Lake District, Part II

Grasmere is a pretty little village, but a little bit too busy and touristic to our taste. We still had to visit one more house in the area where the Wordsworth family moved to after Dove Cottage, and that is Allan Bank which is a short and steep walk away from the village Centre. When it was being built on a fell side outside Grasmere, Allan Bank was described by William as “a temple of abomination”. 

The Wordsworth graves

The family and some of their  literary friends lived here from 1808 till 1811. It was not a house that Wordsworth liked, but it had space, and with an expanding family (two more children were born here) the family needed space. Allan Bank is a National Trust property. It was purchased by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (co-founder of the National Trust) who came to live here in 1917. Upon his death in 1920 the property was handed over to the National Trust, on the condition that his wife could continue to live there until her death. The house was seriously damaged by a fire in 2011, but the National Trust restored it and opened it again to the public. However, do not expect a nicely decorated house with all the fine trimmings! 

Allan Bank