Monday, 14 December 2009

Brussels Brontë Group Annual Christmas Lunch








In the photos: members enjoy the entertainment provided by Sherry Vosburgh and Sheila Fordham, sing carols and try to answer the quiz questions! The winning team displays its prize.

On Sunday 13 December 2009 25 members of the group met for lunch at the Brussels restaurant "L'Epéron d'Or" which is an old acquaintance of our group's as we have met there several times.

The atmosphere of the restaurant, which is furnished in an old style, fits very well with the spirit of the Brontë group. The meal was delicious and tasty but on this occasion, the guests were regaled not only with the food but also with the surprise entertainment by Sheila Fordham and Sherry Vosburgh. The former delighted us with a poem written by her and inspired by the Brontës' Christmas day (see below), and the latter sang rousing Swedish and English carols. We all did our best to sing along!

Also this year, we had an entertaining quiz on the Brontës' lives and works and an invitation from Franklin, who is to have an exhibition at the Parsonage Museum in 2011, to visit his studio to view his work.

It was a delightful meeting with which to close the group activities in 2009.

Report by Oscar Rodriguez

Sheila's poem:

CHRISTMAS EVE IN HAWORTH

'Twas Christmas Eve in Haworth,
And all around was still,
Doors firm shut and curtains drawn,
No footstep on the hill.

'Twas Christmas Eve at The Parsonage,
And things were getting merry,
Tabby had baked some apple cakes,
And Branwell had been at the sherry!

And lo - but hark - what sound is this?
At the door a sudden knocking.
Answer the door young Branwell Patrick quipped,
As he was hanging up his stocking.

A couple stood upon the step,
In the eerie glow of the lamp,
The man dark haired and swarthy,
The girl a wild eyed scamp.

"Come in, come in," bade Charlotte,
"Come in and rest awhile,
What brings you out this Christmas Eve,
O'er moor and heath and stile?"

The young girl spake:
"We come from old Top Withens,
The farm up yonder high,
We love the moors, they are our home,
The heather, the rocks, the sky".

"We must be gone", the grim man said,
"We cannot tarry 'ere,
But thank ye for the apple cake
And 't foaming tankard of beer".

Said Anne:
"Pray take this shawl to keep you warm,
You'll catch your deaths if not,
You hurry back to hearth and home".
He said "Christmas Eve - what rot!"

The family saw the couple out,
They walked into the mist,
Whence they came, whither they go?
Do such people exist?

'Twas Christmas Eve in Haworth,
And all around was still,
"They do exist" affirmed Emily,
As she took up her quill.

Sheila Fordham

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Brussels artist to exhibit in the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth

Franklin first made contact with our group earlier this year when he came to one of our events and told me about his fervent interest in the Brontës, dating back to his childhood. His fascination with the whole Brontë family has led him to scour second-hand bookshops in Brussels for books about them. He has also been working for years on a series of drawings inspired by their lives and works. His drawings are fascinating for their symbolism and vision of the Brontës' imaginative, spiritual world. Like the Brontës, he works on a small scale (though not quite as small as that of their minuscule manuscripts!), with intricate detail painstakingly and patiently built up, one small drawing often taking months to complete.

For years Franklin's dream has been to exhibit his pictures in Haworth to be seen by as many Brontë enthusiasts as possible in the place that inspired them. As a result of his contact with our group, he travelled to Haworth (his first trip to the UK) to show his work to the staff at the Brontë Parsonage Museum. His mission was successful and they have agreed that he is to have an exhibition there in 2011.

Helen MacEwan


Franklin writes: For many years now and ever since I can remember I have been interested in the Brontës, individually and as a family, their spiritual world and their art work which is a fascinating one and unique in the history of art of our western world.

Throughout the years in my work as an artist I have been developing a project with a series of drawings and collages intuitively inspired by poems, letters, books, lives of the Brontës and now I am pleased to say that an exhibition of the collection will take place at the Parsonage Museum in Haworth in the year 2011.

I am grateful to Helen MacEwan of the Brussels Brontë Group for her help in liaising and to Jenna Holmes of the Brontë Parsonage Museum for her warm welcome in the Parsonage and interest in a future collaboration for this exhibition.

The drawings to be presented at the exhibition were patiently and thoroughly worked in detail for quite an amount of time. Thornfield Hall (size 42x30 cm) took 8 months to complete. The Kingdom of Gondal (25x19 cm) took 6 months, and there are more to follow and for the moment I am working on a homage to Branwell Brontë.

In the Brontës' works, the atmosphere of torment (in my interpretation), solitude and agitation and maybe a feeling of 'moor and mind confounded' flames with intensity to an almost divine state of mind while, in my opinion, struggling hard and with great effort to stay human.

This and the atmosphere of light, hard to capture in its essence, I tried very hard to bring out in these pictures. In all my art work, solitude and strong concentration on detail are vital to accomplish what the work demands.

I hope that some of you will be able to see the exhibition in Haworth in 2011. In the meantime, all Brussels Brontë Group / Brontë Society members are very welcome to come and see the pictures in my studio in Brussels.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Talk in Brussels by Dominique Jean, Brontë translator

Moorland landscape

On November 17, several members of the Brontë Group attended a very interesting talk organized by the Midis de la Poésie at the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts in Brussels. It was entitled Ecriture et Imaginaire chez les Brontës.

Dominique Jean, professor of English literature, translator and director of the Pléiade editions of the Brontës had come over from Paris on the occasion of the publishing of the second volume dedicated to the works of the Brontës in that prestigious collection. It contains a new translation of Jane Eyre and a translation of the Juvenilia.

After briefly introducing the Brontë family in the setting of Haworth, Dominique Jean outlined the genesis of the literary production of this exceptional family. He told a large audience how a box of wooden soldiers offered to Branwell by Mr Brontë excited the imagination of the children and triggered the creation of an increasingly elaborate set of stories that they first acted out in plays and later recorded in a series of miniature book-length manuscripts, composed for the most part by Charlotte and Branwell.

He showed how from these first writings to the universally recognized masterpieces, brother and sisters aimed to describe elements of the tangible world easy to name but difficult to paint with language: the weather, light, skies, spaces…

The lecture was illustrated by readings of extracts from the juvenilia and more conventional pieces by Annette Brodkom, a very talented reader. The lecturer showed the different strategies implemented by each of the four authors to convey his/her perception of the world with words.

What I found particularly interesting was the analysis of the texts through the critical eye of a translator. For example, even though he is a fervent admirer of Charlotte, he did not hesitate to show the sometimes over-emphatic aspects of her early style, the accumulation of adjectives, the numerous references and quotations, revealing perhaps an exacerbated sensitivity and desire to display her literary skills. M. Heger had not given her his wise advice yet…

I was also struck by one poem describing a landscape closed up by mountains and scattered with rocks, in complete contrast to the open moors of Haworth.

Therefore, a very interesting lecture that gave me food for thought and a new vision of some of the texts.

Myriam Campinaire

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Guided Brontë walks in Brussels


The bandstand in Parc de Bruxelles featured in Villette.

On Sunday 18 October a group of about 20 Brontë fans braved the freezing weather to meet up in front of the Chapelle Royale (the Protestant Church in Brussels) for a fascinating tour of some spots relating to Charlotte and Emily's stay in Brussels.

The tour was led by Myriam Campinaire of the Brussels Brontë Group who took us on an amazing walk, peppered with very interesting information on why and how the two sisters came to Brussels, what they did here, the places they visited, the people they met and what they thought of the Belgian people. She frequently quoted from their letters and read extracts from Charlotte's The Professor and Villette. Myriam also gave us a glimpse of Brussels in the early 1840's: a young country which had just come into existence after a civil war fought mainly in Brussels and which had seen the battle of Waterloo unfolding at its doorstep.

I am not going to go into details of the tour since it will spoil the little discoveries that one comes across, as expertly guided by Myriam (for all the people who will go on future walks). I just want to give you a brief overview of what we saw. As I mentioned the tour started out in front of the Chapelle Royale where Charlotte and Emily went every Sunday. From there we moved on to the Place Royale, where Myriam went through the history of the area in the early19th century. The square and surrounding areas were a focal point of Brussels life, since the Belgian nobility lived and worked here. We than went to the Park, where we heard about the history of the park, its design and construction. I was fascinated to hear that Peter the Great of Russia, Wellington and Robert Louis Stevenson had all visited the park and had a number of 'adventures' here.

Our next stop was the Rue Baron Horta, where we learned that the Fortis Bank building and the Palais des Beaux Arts ("Bozar") arts centre now stand on the area where the Pensionnat Heger used to stand. I am ashamed to say that I must have passed this road hundreds of times and never noticed the small plaque which the Bronte Society put up just to the left of the entrance of the Bozar building, which commemorates Charlotte's and Emily's stay in Brussels.

After walking through some small streets in the area we concluded our walk by visiting the Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule, where Charlotte Bronte actually went to confession and which is described in great detail in her letters and Villette.

A small group of us ended our morning with a short visit to the Bellevue museum (situated right next to the Place Royale) where after fortifying ourselves with some warm soup and coffee, we visited the underground museum. To my amazement we found ourselves in a small underground city, which stretches all the way under the Place Royale and the Royal Palace. Here you can see and walk through some of the original roads and pavements and a small section of Rue Isabelle still remains. If we closed our eyes we could imagine Charlotte and Emily walking down the cobbled roads, chattering away, all excited to be on their 'European' adventure ……

All I can say in conclusion is that I will never look at this part of Brussels in the same way again and my name is definitely down on the list for future walks.

Patricia de Gray

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Are you anybody, Miss Snowe?


Readings from Villette. From left to right: Valerie Sculfor, Sally Batten, Maureen Peeck, Jennifer Rankin, Sherry Vosburgh, Zigurds Kronberg

The theme of our talk on Saturday 17 October in our usual venue (Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis) was Charlotte Brontë's novel Villette. People who read or re-read the novel after moving to Brussels agree that reading it here is illuminating both about Villette and Brussels. There are always some readers who find it difficult and unappealing, yet for many it is uniquely atmospheric and fascinating.

Maureen Peeck O'Toole's talk, Are you anybody, Miss Snowe?, by focusing on the narrator Lucy Snowe and her relationship with us, the reader, addressed some of the questions that arise about this novel. Many of these relate to the character of Lucy. Can we like her, or at least understand her and feel sympathetic towards her? What is her attitude to us, the reader? Why does she sometimes seem to deliberately mislead us or at least withhold things from us? The talk was intended to be useful for first-time readers of the novel while suggesting new ways of approaching it to those already acquainted with it. The discussion that followed and comments by people who attended suggest that the audience did indeed find it thought-provoking.

Maureen Peeck has lived in the Netherlands for much of her life and taught for many years at Utrecht University, but she was born Maureen O'Toole and brought up in Bradford close to the Bronte village, Haworth, which she visited as a child. Maureen is a founder member of the Brussels Bronte group and has always been one of its most active members.

Her talk was followed by readings of passages from Villette selected by her to illustrate it. We had five very competent readers, many with acting experience. Four were members of our group while the fifth had volunteered to join them in response to our appeal for a male reader to read M. Paul's part. The formula of talk plus readings worked well and several people said afterwards that the readings highlighted the points touched on by Maureen as well as being enjoyable in their own right.

We prepared for the talk by reading Villette in our reading group. There was so much interest that in addition to our meeting of regular members of the reading group, we organised an extra discussion just before Maureen's talk for all the other people eager to talk about the novel.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

De Brontë Sisters, played by Toneelgroep DORST

This report was written by one of our members, Marcia, who went to see the play about the Brontë sisters (see earlier Blog entry).

"Yesterday evening (22 October 2009) I saw the play ‘De Brontë Sisters’ by the Dutch company Toneelgroep Dorst. I was very curious about the play, because the actors are years older than any member of the Brontë family ever was except their father Patrick.
Would they be playing a “What if ….”, in this case “What if the Brontë Sisters had reached their sixties?”
No not at all. They simply played the lives of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë.
And they did that very well. I had to get accostumed to an actress of sixty kneeling on a chair hanging over the table like a child. But as the play continues and the Brontës age, one can completely forget the grey hair and older hands, so fascinating is it to see these four people play the Brontës with everything there is to it. In Haworth, at Cowan Bridge School, Branwell in London, Charlotte and Emily at the Pensionnat Héger in Brussels, Anne at the Robinsons, Charlotte and Anne in London with Mr. Smith, the publisher, and back in Haworth the hell the sisters live in during the years of Branwell’s addiction.
And we Brontë-fanatics have a disadvantage, because we see and hear everything, that is not quite right or of which we have a different view these days. Personally I think it is a pity, that their father Patrick is portrayed as an eccentric and not very child-loving father, almost like Mrs. Gaskell did one-and-a-half century ago. But somebody who has just come to see this play because Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights made good television not so long ago, has no problems at all with this and can look freely to an fascinating story told by good actors, performing beautifully dressed in sober surroundings.
So, if you understand Dutch, do not let my remarks keep you from seeing this play and enjoying the attention it brings to the Brontës!''

Marcia Zaaijer

If want to know more about the play and the actors: see www.toneelgroepdorst.nl (in Dutch).

Thursday, 22 October 2009

More Brontë theatre coming your way; WOESTE HOOGTEN

A cooperation of two theatre groups, Theater Antigone and Theater Artemis, are doing an adaptation on Wuthering Heights, and will be touring around Holland and Belgium.
They’ll play on Sunday the 8th and Monday 9th November in the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels. It is a play for youngsters from 13 years of age onwards, but everyone who is interested is very welcome.
It is however written for a Dutch audience, as are the 2 other plays featured on this Blog.

This is what their website writes: (in Dutch)

"Op het afgelegen landgoed Woeste Hoogten is het goed toeven. Cathy en haar broer Patrick hebben het goed samen. Ze worden liefdevol gekoesterd en de wereld buiten het huis is al even vredig als binnen. Tot vader verschijnt met een wild, vuil en stinkend jongetje dat hij vond op straat. Volgens Patrick is zijn vader gek geworden. Hij haat zijn nieuwe broer onmiddellijk en pest hem ongenadig. De temperamentvolle Cathy voelt zich juist aangetrokken tot de vondeling en tussen de twee bloeit een innige genegenheid op. Dat is het begin van veel ellende. Samen dollen Cathy en Heathcliff op de Woeste Hoogten en beleven ze magische avonturen op de eeuwige rotsen. In de natuur gaan ze volledig in elkaar op en ontdekken ze elkaars diepste gevoelens.
In het dal wonen Edgar en Isa, vrienden van Cathy en Patrick. Edgar heeft stijl, hij is grappig, verfijnd en rijk. Hij is dol op Cathy en zij op hem. Bij zijn aanzoek lonkt de charme van zijn wereld en een zonnige toekomst lacht haar toe. Gekwetst en verteerd door wraak neemt Heathcliff de benen. Zijn mysterieuze verdwijning verscheurt Cathy. Maar ze krabbelt overeind en begint opnieuw - met Edgar. De gevolgen zijn desastreus als Heathcliff terugkeert: sterker dan ooit, aantrekkelijk, steenrijk en bereid zijn spel hard te spelen.
Wuthering Heights, het boek van Emily Brontë, is bekend van talloze verfilmingen, bewerkingen en songteksten. Jeroen Olyslaegers schrijft in opdracht van Artemis en Theater Antigone een tekst gebaseerd op dit boek, waarin de duistere kant van de rusteloosheid naar boven komt. Zijn we rusteloos omdat we in rusteloze tijden leven? Of wordt rusteloosheid ons ingefluisterd door een demon, de Heathcliff in ieder van ons? In 2007 bewerkte Jeroen Olyslaegers voor Artemis Cervantes' Don Quichot en zijnen ijzeren wil. Deze ongetwijfeld indringende Woeste Hoogten wordt gespeeld door een groep jonge acteurs die her en der al veel indruk hebben gemaakt. "
  • Een coproductie van Theater Antigone en Theater Artemis
  • Regie Floor Huygen
  • Scenografie Michiel Van Cauwelaert
  • Tekst Jeroen Olyslaegers
  • Muziek Florentijn Boddendijk en Remco de Jong
  • Spel An Hackselmans, Fabian Jansen, Joris Smit, Alejandra Theus, Daan van Dijsseldonk en Roos Van Vlaenderen
  • Kostuums Marike Kamphuis

The tickets cost €8, or €6 if you are a student or a teacher.

More information can be found on http://www.antigone.be/event/165

It includes the entire play list for the theatres where they will perform.

Friday, 9 October 2009

An evening out with the Brontës.

For those members and other Brontë lovers from Holland, there is a chance to see 2 plays about the Brontës; one musical based on Jane Eyre and one theatre play based on their lives.

These announcements are on their websites:

Muziektheater Totaal: Jane Eyre, de musical

6 en 7 november
Theater De Lieve Vrouw, Amersfoort



Muziektheater Totaal speelt Jane Eyre, een musical drama, in Theater de Lieve Vrouw te Amersfoort. Aanvang 20:30. Kaarten kosten 17,50 per stuk. Er kunnen kaarten besteld worden voor de premièrevoorstelling op vrijdag 6 november.

"In Jane Eyre staat het gelijknamige personage uit het romantische boek uit 1847 van de Engelse schrijfster Charlotte Brontë centraal. Het weesmeisje wordt gouvernante op Thornfield Hall, waar ze haar hart verpandt aan een raadselachtige graaf met een duister verleden. Voor ze kunnen trouwen, moeten Jane en Edward Rochester heel wat hindernissen overwinnen."


Toneelgroep Dorst speelt De Brontë Sisters.



"Geen enkele familie in de literaire wereldgeschiedenis neemt zo’n bijzondere plaats in als de familie Brontë. Emily Brontë schreef Wuthering Heights (Woeste Hoogten) – een zonderling maar ongeëvenaard meesterwerk, waarin haat, jaloezie en een vernietigende passie de boventoon voeren en is een van de meest aangrijpende liefdesgeschiedenissen aller tijden. Haar denkbeelden over leven, dood, verbeelding, vrijheid en goddelijke macht hebben een diepgang, vergelijkbaar met die van Shakespeare. Charlotte schreef Jane Eyre, evenals Woeste Hoogten veelvuldig bewerkt tot film en t.v.serie. Charlotte werd heen en weer geslingerd tussen haar sterke zedelijkheidsgevoel en haar heftige seksuele gevoelens. De jongste zuster Anne schreef Agnes Grey, was vroom en ingetogen en hun enige broer Branwell hartstochtelijk, opstandig en een opschepper; aanvankelijk een veelbelovend schrijver en kunstenaar ging hij tenonder aan drank en opium. Hun leven was kort maar is vereeuwigd door hun roem. Over deze levens en hun indrukwekkende werk gaat De Brontë Sisters. "

http://www.toneelgroepdorst.nl/
There is a list of performance dates and places.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Brontë Conference in York 2009


Photo: Student delegates at the conference

Every few years the Brontë Society organises a conference on a particular aspect. The combination of this year's theme of Men in the Brontës' Lives, encompassing so many fascinating figures, with the setting of York, the capital of the Brontës' county, made it an irresistible event. We heard ten talks in two days by some of the people best qualified to tell us about the men in question. Thus we heard about the Brontës' father Patrick from his most recent biographer, and about Charlotte Brontë's husband, Arthur Nicholls, from a husband and wife team who have dedicated their retirement to researching this sometimes maligned and sidelined figure. And who better to tell us about M. Heger, Charlotte's inspirational Belgian teacher, than the translator and editor of Charlotte and Emily's "Belgian Essays"?

Like all Brontë Society events, this one was attended by a mixture of academics and the non-academic members who are in a majority and are as interested in the Brontës' lives as in their works - this fascination with their lives is surely what gives the Brontës their unique appeal for such a wide variety of people. In this conference with its emphasis on biography the Society succeeded, as it generally does, in pitching its appeal to both groups. The membership is also a rich mixture of people from the British Isles, including many from Yorkshire, and from other countries worldwide.

A lot of people travelled to the conference from Belgium and the Netherlands – a total of 11, nine of whom are members of the Brussels group. In fact after the UK, the most numerous groups of attendees were from the U.S.A. and – Belgium! The total number of conference attendees was around 140.

We were housed on the campus of York University, made attractive by its lovely lake. Between talks we enjoyed stimulating conversations with other members and made new friends. We were entertained as well as instructed, particularly by an amazing after-dinner speech by the Society's new president Gyles Brandreth, well-known writer, broadcaster, TV personality and, above all, entertainer. His anecdotes were hilarious but his underlying message was one he feels passionately about. He spoke about how the Brontës' works (which he discovered through his three elder sisters) introduced him to the world of literature, and about the importance of literature in general and the fascination of 19th century literature in particular.

At the end of the conference, some of the youngest attendees – students at school or university – were invited to give their impressions on what we had heard. Charlotte Jonné, a student at Brussels University who has written a dissertation on Charlotte Brontë's The Professor, has written the report below on the talks.

Helen MacEwan


Brontë Conference 31 July-2 August 2009: Men in the Bronte's Lives

A report by Charlotte Jonné

(Note: I have done my best to give an accurate report of the speakers' ideas. If any inaccuracies have slipped in I apologise and will correct them if pointed out.)

As I am writing this, I am sitting on my bed in the lovely York Youth Hostel pondering events past, and basically not wanting to go back home. Home, which is – granted – a few degrees warmer, but not as appealing as a conference room filled with Brontë enthusiasts. A lot has happened over the past weekend. I have listened to eminent scholars making their points (accompanied by the occasional plugging of a book), I have got to know very nice people from all over the world (including fellow country…women I should say), and I have had heated discussions about the actor to play Heathcliff / Mr. Rochester in the perfect screen adaptation. The perfect screen adaptation which of course only exists in our mind’s eye (which is, I believe a submerged reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – an inside joke never hurts, but I’ll stop now, I promise). What I am trying to say, in this rather roundabout way, is that there was something for everyone at last weekend’s Brontë Conference at the University of York, the topic being Men in The Brontës' Lives - Influences, Publishers, Critics and Characters.

The very first lecture was by Christine Alexander, who talked about hero-worship and Charlotte Brontë. She agreed that there is a lot of hero worship in her work, because it was fashionable at the time, and because children model their behaviour on people they admire. The Brontë circle being as closed as it was, Charlotte had to look elsewhere, and found the Duke of Wellington among her father’s heroes. However, Alexander argues, Brontë always found a way of putting her admiration into perspective.

The second lecture was given by Dudley Green, an expert on Patrick Brontë. He shed some light on the characteristics the Brontë children inherited from their father. Reverend Brontë made sure they had proper schooling and encouraged them to read, write, paint and play music. His religious influence can also be seen in the many biblical references in his children’s works. A special place in his heart was reserved for Emily, with whom he went shooting. He imprinted on Charlotte his sense of determination to succeed, which she would need when going to Belgium and when looking for a publisher. Patrick was paid a beautiful compliment on his parenting skills by M. Heger, who was impressed by the remarkable character of Charlotte and Emily.

The third lecture on Friday did not have a literary basis. Jane Sellars, an art historian, told us about the Brontë family portraits, of which there are two: Branwell's Pillar Portrait and Gun Group, which has been severely damaged. Sellars reviewed Branwell’s artistic influences and presumed intentions in painting his sisters, but also tried to look at the paintings afresh. She pointed out that the Pillar Portrait was painted when none of the sisters were famous, before the family tragedies. And yet, she argues, our modern-day perception of the portrait is distorted, because in our eyes, it has absorbed all the biographical information we now have about the Brontës.

On Saturday, Miriam Bailin gave us her views on the relationship between Charlotte Brontë and the critic George Henry Lewes. Lewes was the first person to characterise fictional realism, and that is what he wanted out of Charlotte Brontë: realism. He warned her about melodrama and was of the opinion that she should stick to her own experience. Charlotte recognised Lewes’s wisdom but did not accept it, since that was exactly what she had done in writing The Professor, a novel everyone was reluctant to publish. Brontë and Lewes had a lively correspondence, until he judged Shirley harshly, and revealed that the author was a woman. Charlotte felt wronged, since he had judged her as a woman and not as an author. Their frank interchange came to an end.

Michael O’Neill subsequently gave us a talk on Emily Brontë’s poetry and Romanticism, firmly establishing the ties between the Romantics (especially Shelley) and Emily’s poetry. He showed how Brontë reworked Romanticism, and how she responds to her predecessors.

Lucasta Miller, author of The Brontë Myth, gave us an introduction to Letitia Elizabeth Landon, an English poet and novelist, whose celebrity turned into notoriety after a series of scandals. Miller connects L.E.L.’s world with that of Charlotte Brontë. One similarity is the gossip: Charlotte Brontë was the alleged mistress of Thackeray. Unlike Landon, Brontë refused the part of the scandalous woman, and allowed no flirtation with anyone whatsoever. It is, however, interesting to ask the question: if Charlotte Brontë had lived in London, would she have been tempted?

Then Patsy Stoneman took the stage with her lecture on Rochester and Heathcliff as romantic heroes. As in earlier romantic stories, e.g. Jane Austen's, the relationship of Jane Eyre and Rochester is very Oedipal, Stoneman argues. He is an older man. He is also dark, moody, powerful, with hidden sorrows, not unlike Zamorna, Brontë’s Romantic hero. Whereas in the earlier stories it is often the heroine who changes, Jane Eyre revolves around the reformation of the hero. This has become a defining feature of modern romance writings. Rochester is gentler than many Byronic heroes and is prepared to share his life with his wife.

Heathcliff, however, is different from the traditional hero of romance and the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is far from Oedipal, Stoneman claims. It stems from an earlier psychological phase, the mirror phase, where the child needs another person as a mirror to reflect it back to itself. This love, comparable to love between siblings, is a heritage from the Romantics, and explains the doubt as to whether there is adult sexual attraction between Heathcliff and Cathy. Heathcliff is a Romantic hero with a capital ‘R’, his story being sad and epic, while Rochester has more of the traditional romantic hero with a small ‘r’; his is a more appealing storyline.

Next, Paul Edmondson established the tie between Shakespeare and Anne Brontë’s novels. He showed that Anne has digested and reworked Shakespeare’s work. She had a copy of his work and the creases in its pages indicate what she read, where she paused, etc. The plays she alludes to most are Hamlet and Othello.

Richard Mullen subsequently analysed the relationship between William Makepeace Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë. The two of them had several meetings and an animated correspondence. Theirs was a very ambivalent relationship; Charlotte was at the same time very pleased and displeased with him. Even after Thackeray had revealed her identity in public, she continued to go to his lectures, but five years after that, she was tired of him, and he of her, and their correspondence ended. Charlotte had got too close to her idol.

On Sunday, Mr and Mrs Cochrane, two local historians, lectured on Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte Brontë’s husband. Nicholls has been neglected in Brontë studies, has always stayed on the periphery, because Brontë admirers in general have had a strong antipathy towards him. The Cochranes emphasised that this does not do him justice, and that we should be grateful to him, since he gave Charlotte one of the happiest years of her life.

After which Sue Lonoff brought up M. Heger. She split her subject up into four parts. Firstly, Constantin Heger, the busy, Catholic man who lost his first wife and child. Secondly, Charlotte and Emily’s professor, an inspiring man with remarkable teaching methods. Thirdly, Heger is transformed into M. Paul Emanuel in Villette. This is a radical revision of reality: in Villette, Emanuel is a bachelor, whereas M. Heger was very much a family man. Fourthly, Heger was very responsive to Brontë fans, answering questions and giving them Charlotte’s essays as souvenirs.


Brontë Parsonage Director Andrew McCarthy introducing Sue Lonoff

The last lecture was one from Margaret Smith, who talked about George Smith and William Smith Williams and their connection with Charlotte Brontë. Smith was a very good friend, gave her advice on financial matters and was even an alleged love interest, although he wasn’t in the least attracted to Charlotte. William Smith Williams sent her books and advised her to write a three-part work (Jane Eyre) rather than another two-part work like The Professor. Charlotte dissolved their correspondence with a rather cold letter.

To conclude the conference we were asked our opinion, and our suggestions for future Brontë Conference topics. Suggestions were: “Branwell”, “The influence of the Brontës on their contemporaries”, “Brontë and Shakespeare”, “Brontë influences”. In sum, there is enough material to keep on talking for many, many years to come!

Charlotte Jonné

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Meeting in Leiden of Dutch members of the Brussels Brontë group

On Wednesday 24 June, members of the Dutch branch of the Brussels Bronte Group met in Leiden, and enjoyed a splendid afternoon.

Leiden has the oldest university of the Netherlands, and it is to its library that we went first. We saw some very nice old publications about the Brontes, and an 1849 Dutch translation of Jane Eyre.




The third picture is from the 29 January 1853 edition of The Athenaeum, with advertisements for Villette (“This day is published ..”) and Mrs. Gaskell’s Ruth. A few weeks later they published a lengthy review of Villette. Right at the beginning it says the novel is set in Brussels, which makes one wonder how the writer knew that for sure. Even though it was only thinly disguised, he (or she) must have had inside information.

We also saw, among other things, the first editions of the Bronte Society Transactions, dating from the end of the 19th century.


Afterwards we went to the Hortus Botanicus garden nearby, where we had a drink first, and a walk through this splendid garden later. We saw several trees which began their life in 1818, the year of Emily Brontë's birth.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Brussels Brontë brunch

On Sunday 28 June a group of us rounded off the 2008-2009 Brontë year with a brunch at l'Orangerie du Parc d'Egmont. This restaurant's terrace proved to be a perfect choice for the start of what turned out to be a very hot and sunny week.

We discussed plans for activities for the coming year. An exciting new venture is that one of our members has offered to lead guided walks around Brontë places in Brussels in addition to those led by Derek Blyth, which will enable us to schedule more of these walks. Details of the first one will be sent out after the summer.

The Orangerie restaurant in a little park hidden away behind the Hilton near Avenue Louise is one of Brussels' best-kept secrets. It's near Avenue Toison d'Or where Mrs Gaskell stayed when she visited Brussels to research her Life of Charlotte Brontë.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Brontë Society weekend 2009

One of the joys of the annual Brontë weekend in Haworth (always held over the first weekend of June), which this year was attended by six Brussels group members, is the encounters with the other members who converge on the village each year. They (we) are a very diverse group of people ranging from academics who have devoted their lives to researching the Brontës to local people who grew up with them, so to speak, and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the family and of local lore. Some even have family links with Brontë connections, like the lady who has inherited a scrapbook of Ellen Nussey's containing newspaper cuttings about Ellen's beloved friend Charlotte Brontë.

Then there are the claims made by some enthusiasts. There's the lady who claims to be a descendant of an illegitimate child of Branwell Brontë. Or the one who took a photo of the Parsonage and believes that a shadowy outline in the doorway is the ghost of Charlotte.

Of course the Brontës were keen on the supernatural so it is perhaps natural that ghosts should come up sometimes in the tales that are swapped over pints and generous helpings of Yorkshire pudding in the pub after the day's events. Have you heard the story about the London taxi-driver who saw Charlotte's ghost sitting in his cab? Derek Blyth told this one to the Brussels group during his recent talk about Charlotte's letters to Monsieur Heger.


In the Old White Lion

Enjoyable as these stories are, however, few Brontë Society members claim to see ghosts or dabble in any way in the supernatural! True, most of us have our passions and enthusiasms. Such as adding to our libraries of Brontë-related books. The Brontës must be the most written-about literary family in the world and we always live in hopes of picking up first editions or rare biographies in the many second-hand bookshops in Main Street.

The Brontës have always attracted creative people. In the pub I talked to the Italian cellist Paolo Mencarelli who belongs to a chamber music called the Gondal Trio and is interested in the similarities between Emily's writings and Beethoven's music, and jazz singer Val Wiseman who's brought out an album of songs inspired by members of the Brontë family and by characters in their books.

Turning to the scheduled entertainment, one of the highlights was a concert given by Veronica Metz, who recently performed for the Brussels group, of her Celtic settings of Emily Brontë's poems.


Concert by Veronica Metz of the band Anois in the Baptist chapel in Haworth used for many of the events

Another was the panel discussion with novelists Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat), Jude Morgan, Amanda Craig, and Kate Walker who writes for Mills & Boon, on the influence of the Brontës on their work. Look out for Jude Morgan's The Taste of Sorrow, a fictionalised biography of the Brontës, which has just come out.

Interesting insights were provided during the discussion both by the writers and by members of the audience. For example, Patsy Stoneman said one gets the feeling from their novels that the Brontës somehow wanted to be women and Romantic heroes at the same time.

We also had talks by Juliet Barker, THE Brontë biographer, who started her career working in the Parsonage Museum. She refutes many of the "myths" about both Haworth and the Brontës perpetrated by Mrs Gaskell in her Life of Charlotte Brontë, and spoke to us about the motives that led Gaskell to deliberately distort some of the facts. But despite its inaccuracies, the Life is still a wonderful introduction to the Brontës. Our Brontë weekend in Brussels in 2010, the bicentenary of Mrs Gaskell's birth, will focus on her and we'll be exploring the ways in which she researched the material for her biography.

The revised edition of Juliet Barker's own Brontë biography is about to come out and she told us that some new facts have come to light, for example fresh evidence discrediting the story that Branwell went to London to study art at the Royal Academy and returned penniless having failed in the attempt and spent his money on drink.


Brontë biographer Juliet Barker addressing members

The Society's annual general meeting, which all members can attend, always takes place over the weekend, with committee members reporting on developments in the past year. Financially, the Society relies heavily on revenue from visitors to the Parsonage Museum, and this year has seen an exciting revamp of the exhibition area. Every year there is an extensive arts programme. The Museum promotes works by contemporary writers and artists inspired by the Brontës and offers a wide range of educational activities.

As always, there was a guided walk and happily the weather, which for the first part of the weekend was much more conducive to ghost stories round the fire than to walking, cleared up in time for our tramp over the Moors.

Next year's Brontë weekend in Haworth will be from Friday 4 June to Monday 7 June 2010. The main events are from Friday to Sunday, with an all-day excursion on Monday for those wishing to prolong the weekend.

Hope to see some of you there!

Helen MacEwan

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Latest adaptation Wuthering Heights on Belgian TV

For those members living in Belgium and Holland, who haven’t had the opportunity to see the latest TV adaptation of Wuthering heights, Flemish broadcaster 'één' will show the premiere of the ITV version, shown earlier this year in the UK, this Saturday evening.
The film is split into two parts, part 1 this Saturday, 23 May ,starting 21:15, part 2 next week, Saturday 30 May.
It has Dutch subtitles though.
For a review of the film, click on this link:
http://lhkiehna.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/wuthering-heights-2009/

Sunday, 17 May 2009

New cemetery excursion

At the recent Brontë weekend on 24-26 April, last year’s cemetery excursion was repeated on the afternoon of Friday 24 April. We set off in glorious weather to search once more for the gravestones of Martha Taylor and Julia Wheelwright, friends of the Brontës during their time in Brussels, who were originally buried in the Protestant cemetery which was closed down at the end of the 19th century.

We first went to the place of the former Protestant cemetery, quite often visited by Charlotte in her lonely year in Brussels, 1843. The site of the Protestant part of the cemetery is only partly occupied by a building, so one does not need that much imagination to go back in time to when the cemetery still existed, especially with the assistance of Theodor Wolfe's 1885 eyewitness account.


On the group's left side is the site of the Protestant part of the former cemetery.


Another view of the site of the Protestant cemetery

We then went to Evere cemetery to search for the gravestones of the two girls. It was amazing to see how quickly these stones we had cleared last October had become overgrown again, particularly with moss. We searched again in Lane 15, and this time also in Lane 14, but without success. It seems that in these lanes only concession-holders lie buried. What happened to those without a concession, like Martha and Julia, remains a mystery.

This time we also had a walk in another part of the very large and indeed quite beautiful cemetery, which also gave us the opportunity to see the Waterloo Monument. British soldiers who fell at Waterloo were first buried at our former cemetery. Lane 15 has one Waterloo grave, quite well kept, and still regularly honoured it seems.


The group consulting the map of Evere cemetery


Lane 15 of Evere cemetery

Eric Ruijssenaars

Poem and paintings by a Brussels member inspired by the Haworth moors

Our member Catherine Koeckx has sent this poem in French and two watercolours inspired by the moors around Haworth, which she has visited.

Catherine writes "I've always been fascinated by the Brontës' lives and world and I feel closest to Emily as a personality. I also very much like the kind of nature she loved, harsh and wild; it inspires my poetry and paintings."

As a member of the "Cercle littéraire" of European Commission staff in Brussels, in 2006 she published a collection of poems entitled "L'Impalpable".

POEM

Solitude sauvage de la lande
Un ciel immense court vers l’infini
Dans la lumière tremblante de l’aube
Un vol d’oiseaux trouble le silence
Sur la colline ondoyante
Fouettée par un vent humide
Parmi l’herbe rare et les fougères
Se dissimule secrète et pudique
L’empreinte de celle qui foula
De son grand pas vigoureux
Cette terre noire aux bruyères éclatantes
Ces moors qu’elle chanta
Du plus profond de son âme
Son Eden de solitude et de liberté
Les Hauts de Hurlevent



Catherine Koeckx

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Brussels Brontë Group lectures on 25 April 2009

Emily Smith, who attended the talks given by Stevie Davies and Philip Riley during our recent Brontë weekend, has provided the following summary of them.

Stevie Davies: Emily Brontë and the Mother World


“Earth” is a favourite word for Emily Brontë. Not only, famously, the last word in Wuthering Heights (“...the sleepers in that quiet earth”), it occurs again and again throughout her writings. A speech given at the 2009 Brussels Brontë Weekend, by novelist and critic Stevie Davies, covered a broad and inspirational range of subjects, all centred around the idea of earth. Mother, nature, and home are all strong themes in Emily’s work, and all have earth connotations. Emily seems obsessed by the natural world around her: dismissive of God and often men, as Davies explained, she is rare amongst 19th century writers in treating even the dogs as characters in her novel.

But she is not, as Davies showed, a ‘romantic’ writer when it comes to earth and nature. Nor is she, despite the important central role given to nature in her world, much similar to a modern environmental thinker. Emily does not see a nature as something threatened with destruction by human beings. An essay written by Emily when she lived in Brussels, and quoted by Davies in her speech, states baldly that: “All creation is equally mad. Nature... exists on a principle of destruction.”

Davies compared Emily’s nature to Darwin’s (later) writings, which describe nature as an often beautiful but always destructive whole. “We forget that the birds which are idly singing around us mostly live on insects or seeds, and thus are constantly destroying life.” (On the Origin of Species).

Emily, said Davies, sees the flow of the natural world, rather than a benign universe. Her nature has more in common with Tennyson’s, “Red in tooth and claw” than with a romantic idyll. Davies showed that for Emily nature is always both beautiful and destructive, just as the mother is always associated with death. Her earth is as much tomb as birthplace.


Philip Riley: The Brontë Sisters’ ‘Strong Language”




Philip Riley, a Brussels-based academic and socio-linguist, followed Davies' speech with his own presentation explaining why the Brontës' novels were so shocking when they first appeared. He began by presenting some common words from early reviews, including “licentious”, “offensive”, “vulgar” and “improper.” Even George Eliot, referring to Rochester’s conversations with Jane Eyre, said “I wish the characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports.”

These reactions, mostly contained in overall favourable reviews, can, said Riley, seem hard for us to understand. And they are not entirely explained by the fact that the words "hell", "damn" and "devil" were then by convention never fully spelt out in ‘respectable’ novels. The Brontës were not just licentious because they peppered their stories with these expletives. Their use of language was considered much more broadly improper. At a time when it was becoming increasingly common to use euphemisms for a wide range of “offensive” words (alcohol for a while became “peppermint”, said Riley), the Brontës dwelt openly on subjects like drunkenness and violence. Whilst a rule of silence was commonly used as a way to control people, in factories, prisons, schools or orphanages, the Brontë authors could easily be considered too free with their language.

The problem went even further than the words used by Charlotte, Emily and Anne, said Riley, and becomes even harder to spot with a 21st century eye. We can perhaps imagine that Heathcliff’s violence, Rochester’s attempted bigamy or Arthur Huntingdon’s alcoholism were not recommended reading matter for the Victorian middle classes. We are less likely to spot that the use of Latin, or an interest in dialect or physiognomy, were considered equally improper for women. Indeed this goes some way to explaining why many critics refused to believe that the Brontës were women, even when they dropped the ambiguous pseudonyms Acton, Ellis and Currer.

Emily Smith

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Brussels Brontë Group weekend 2009

On 24-26 April the Brussels Brontë Group held a Brontë weekend of events for the third consecutive year. The programme this year was ambitious, with musical settings of Emily Brontë's poems, talks by the writer Stevie Davies and by a Brussels-based academic, Philip Riley, and the guided walk which has become a fixture at these weekends.

We have been focusing on Emily this year, starting with a talk on Wuthering Heights last October, and this weekend was no exception. It kicked off with a concert by Veronica Metz from the Celtic band Anois, who will be performing at the AGM weekend in Haworth. She sang her musical settings of Emily's poems for us, with introductory comments by Maureen Peeck.

Below: Veronica Metz of the Celtic band Anois singing her settings of Emily Brontë poems


Stevie Davies travelled all the way from Wales to talk to us about Emily Brontë and the Mother World and introduce us to some of the ideas explored in her book Emily Brontë: Heretic. Listening to Stevie is as stimulating and exciting as reading her books, and she held us spellbound. There was an interesting discussion afterwards, with thoughtful contributions from our members (of all ages and nationalities) prompting further insights from Stevie.

Below: Stevie Davies talking, and being presented by Helen MacEwan with one of Marina Saegerman's calligraphy Brontë poems




In the afternoon we enjoyed a very different kind of talk by Philip Riley, professor of sociolinguistics, onThe Brontës' strong language. Philip's lively talk was wide-ranging and fascinating, packed with information on the social as well as linguistic background to the Brontës' works. He had the idea of giving a talk on the Brontës after joining our newly-formed group shortly after he retired to Brussels.

Below: Philip Riley's talk - complete with Powerpoint presentation




Once again, our events were hosted by a Brussels university, Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis, whose staff made us extremely welcome as always. We discussed with them various ideas for joint projects the Brussels group could carry out with the university's English department.

Our member Marina Saegerman's calligraphy versions of Brontë poems were in evidence at the events, displayed in the lecture room and framed as presents for our speakers and singer.

Below: Calligraphy by Marina Saegerman


Sadly, it rained throughout our guided walk on Sunday morning, but our guide Derek Blyth gave a valiant performance despite the weather and other hazards such as the scaffolding everywhere owing to ongoing renovation and building work, including on the building now on the site of the Pensionnat Heger. The rain meant that a planned picnic in the park described in Villette had to be called off. Luckily the weather had been fine on Friday for the trip led by Eric Ruijssenaars to a Brussels cemetery to search for the graves of Martha Taylor and Julia Wheelwright.

Below: Parc de Bruxelles


After the walk a group of us rounded off the weekend by discussing plans for the future over lunch at our regular place, the well-known A La Mort Subite, named after a Belgian beer. Despite its name, this venue has in fact seen the birth of many ideas for Brontë activities in Brussels.

Helen MacEwan

A more detailed account of the talks by our two speakers will be posted shortly.

Friday, 3 April 2009

More internet Rue d’Isabelle postcards

It can be useful to search occasionally for the Rue d’Isabelle on the internet. Last time I did I found these two old, undated, postcards of the street. The photographs are well known but to see them as a postcard is really interesting.


These postcards are presumably older than the one I wrote about recently here. That ‘Vieux-Bruxelles’ referred to something at the 1935 World Exhibition, which was portrayed as Old Brussels, but from a historical point of view it was totally uninteresting. They had created a little quarter with about eight streets. Only the names of the streets were related to the actual old Brussels.

These two postcards seem to relate to the time of the Comité d’Etudes du Vieux-Bruxelles, which was founded in 1904. Its main aim was to take photographs of the threatened parts of Brussels, such as the Isabella Quarter. This collection of some 1,500 pictures is of course extremely valuable. For example, it contains these two pictures.

This Vieux-Bruxelles, a term already used a decade earlier, was essentially a nostalgic euphemism for what had already been lost in the last decades and what was about to disappear. But this period did produce a lot of important work.
With the outbreak of the First World War the interest in Vieux-Bruxelles ended, and afterwards the term was hardly used any more.

The first photograph shows you the three remaining 17th century houses of the then important guild of crossbowmen, who laid the foundation of the Pensionnat‘s large garden.

The second photograph shows us the corner of Rue Terarken and Rue d’Isabelle. If you go just around the corner you will be in the Rue d’Isabelle. Unfortunately this will never happen. This picture I have always found fascinating. Perhaps most for what is not in it, i.e. what is just around the corner. In what remains of the Rue Terarken you are not far away from that corner.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Friday, 20 March 2009

New picture of Isabelle quarter

Some months ago I found a new picture of the Quartier Isabelle on the Internet, on a website where old postcards are sold.
This was of course an interesting find. However, my first thought was that it does not look like the old quarter, and I can think of no place in it that looks like this. Selina Busch, who also knows the quarter pretty well, had no idea either.

There can, therefore, be no doubt that this is a postcard from the 1935 Brussels World Exhibition, at which they created a ‘Vieux Bruxelles’, with an Isabelle Street. This I found out several years ago, but subsequent research at the Royal Library showed me that this new Isabellastraat did not look in any way like the old one. The way in which the people on the pictures are dressed certainly supports this. The costumes look as if they date from the 18th century.

Still, it is a nice little discovery. The story behind it also shows the old Rue d’Isabelle was not destined to be forgotten.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Saturday, 17 January 2009

New Year Meeting of Dutch members of the Brussels Group


On Saturday January 3rd, Dutch BBG members held a very pleasant New Year meeting in Utrecht. First we were given a guided walk by Maureen Peeck, who has been living in this city for a good many years. We saw a lot of medieval remains and even some Roman ones. Absolutely fascinating! It was followed by a very good dinner at a restaurant.

Last year we had two pleasant Dutch meetings, occasioned by visits of foreign guests. We now hope that a New Year and summer meeting will become a tradition in Holland. It's something I at least have been wishing for a number of years. Now, thanks to the BBG, it has become possible.

Photo: From left to right: Marcia Zaaijer, Maureen Peeck, Beppie Feuth and Veronica Metz (who had just the day before returned from Haworth)

Eric Ruijssenaars

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Charlotte and Emily Brontë at School in Brussels

Talk given by Maureen Peeck in Brussels on April 18, 2008 to the Brussels Brontë Group, the Belgian branch of the Brontë Society, on the occasion of the Annual Brontë Weekend.
The English text used for the essays discussed is :
The Belgian Essays: Charlotte and Emily Brontë, edited and translated by Sue Lonoff, Yale University Press, 1996.


One of the best things that happened to Charlotte and Emily Brontë when they went to Brussels in 1842 was that they encountered what must have been one of the best teachers working in Brussels at that time – Monsieur Heger. Charlotte was 25 and Emily 23 years old, so they were a bit old to be going to boarding school. Nevertheless, M. Heger’s teaching methods were perfectly in tune with their stated aim in coming to Brussels which was primarily to learn French. This, with his help they did. His method was to present them with good examples of French style, be it literature, history or philosophy and have them write essays (or devoirs) in a similar style, either on the same topic or one like it. He believed that by imitating or, as he called it, “emulating” masters of the language they would learn French and also improve their own writing style. (Presumably he didn’t know that the two were extremely experienced writers already!) This system suited Charlotte down to the ground and she revelled in the opportunity she had been given to impress her teacher and show off her knowledge. Emily was a different case: she didn’t “draw well at all” with M. Heger (as Charlotte said) and didn’t want to co-operate in the venture, believing that imitation would spoil any originality that the pupil might possess. But having come to Brussels, with however much trepidation, to learn French she could hardly refuse to do her homework. And she made huge strides in French.
It becomes clear that Heger soon realised that both young women were extraordinarily gifted and he adapted to each of them in his own way, but without relinquishing his teaching methods. Thus, he would often simply correct Emily’s French but give little other comment, evidently recognising her independence of spirit, whereas he would go into enormous detail in the case of Charlotte, making suggestions and helping her improve her arguments, recognising her need to bow to his authority. So Emily was left more or less free to state her case as she wanted without too much interference from her teacher. And that teacher must sometimes have been quite surprised at what he had on his hands. Later, he even went so far as to say, in that very famous statement, that Emily “should have been a man (!) – an explorer”.
In all there are 28 surviving essays, 19 by Charlotte and 9 by Emily. This evening I just want to mention two of Emily’s essays, namely “The Cat” (“Le Chat”), dated May 15 1842 and “The Butterfly” (“Le Papillon”), dated August 11 1842. These are two of the most famous of Emily’s essays. Please note I will be quoting from the essays in the English translations.
The speaker in “The Cat” begins by stating that she really likes cats. We can guess that the example Emily was supposed to be imitating was something along the lines that cats are to be despised on the grounds that they are so utterly selfish and never have the slightest interest in being loyal or affectionate to their masters or mistresses in return for the care and affection they receive; and, moreover, they are despicable because they are prepared to kill other creatures, like mice, for pleasure. What Emily does is give the essay the twist she wants by bringing human beings into the argument – and not to their advantage, which would have been the conventional thing to do. I paraphrase: Although the cat differs is some physical points, it is extremely like us in disposition. There are those who would say that a cat’s excessive hypocrisy, cruelty and ingratitude only bears comparison with wicked humans. Well, replies the speaker, in that case this will include the whole human race. Now I quote: “Our education develops one of these qualities in great perfection, the others flourish without nurture.” So in Emily’s essay hypocrisy is the one we are taught, cruelty and ingratitude come naturally. Here ingratitude means “not appreciating, or being inclined to return kindness.” This is the dictionary definition. I quote again: “A cat, in its own interest … instead of tearing what it desires from its master’s hand, approaches with a caressing air … and advances a paw whose touch is as soft as down. When it has gained its end … it resumes its true character … and that artfulness … is called hypocrisy. In ourselves, we give it another name, politeness, and he who did not use it to hide his real feelings would soon be driven from society.” And so the essay goes on, expatiating on the cat’s and man’s cruelty and ingratitude. Not quite what M. Heger had in mind, one would have thought.
This satirical and sardonic essay with its Byronic misanthropic pose ends with a statement that cats can’t really help being what they are, and that it was all Adam’s fault in the first place for getting the animals thrown out of paradise along with himself. And possibly this speaker likes cats more than humans.
The theme here outlines in a nutshell one we often come across in Emily Brontë’s work: namely that beneath the veneer of civilization people are “all for ourselves in the end,” as Nelly Dean puts it in Wuthering Heights. In this pessimistic view of humankind everyone is to a larger or lesser degree hypocritical, cruel and ungrateful, so how then dare we accuse others of these vices?

In the second essay, “The Butterfly,” a different position is taken up, one more in keeping with a Christian world view. Again there is a dramatic situation, this time with an individual recounting an event in his or her life. It begins with the speaker again expressing a jaundiced view of the world: “All creation is equally mad, behold those flies playing above the brook; the swallows and fish diminish their number every minute. These will become in their turn the prey of some tyrant of air or water; and man for his amusement or his need will kill their murderers. Nature is an inexplicable problem; it exists on a principle of destruction. Every being must be the tireless instrument of the death of others, or itself must cease to live, yet nonetheless we celebrate the day of our birth, and we praise God for having entered such a world.” (Note here how nature and mankind are all of a piece; as in “The Cat” man is not pictured as a higher being than animals.) In this despairing mood she then crushes a caterpillar underfoot, thus preventing it from ever becoming a beautiful butterfly. Having thus shown herself to be as cruel as any other creature, and moreover having the audacity to question God’s intentions, she sees a butterfly emerging from the forest and is suddenly granted a moment of vision. An inner voice tells her: I quote “As the ugly caterpillar is the origin of the splendid butterfly, so this globe is the embryo of a new heaven and a new earth whose poorest beauty will infinitely exceed your mortal imagination. …. God is the god of justice and mercy; then surely … every suffering of our unhappy nature is only a seed of that divine harvest ….. ” So here one can say that the wickedness, and thus the suffering it entails are all part of the divine plan. In this view there will be no hell, and there will be no doomed men and women because God will have mercy on all. For Emily Brontë the most divine of virtues was that of forgiveness. In the poetry we see time and again a wicked man whom men say even God will not forgive, being saved by the love of a woman who is prepared to forgive him. And think of the wolfish Heathcliff, a man portrayed as not that different in kind from an animal or any natural force. He has no desire for the kind of heaven described in “The Butterfly,” yet he too, we are led to feel, deserves his kind of heaven. The crucial doctrine as proposed in “The Butterfly” is that of Universal Salvation. This was the view held by some of the dissenting Christian faiths with which Emily and Charlotte would have been familiar. It is not that of the Anglican faith in which the Brontës were nominally brought up. And certainly not of the Catholic Church, so one can’t help feeling that Emily was out to shock or at least provoke the Catholic M. Heger.
Emily Brontë did not suspend her own agenda just because she was abroad. She continued to write poetry – she wrote at least three poems – and, as we see, used the essays to work on her own ideas. She does not express the conventional view of nature giving us a glimpse of God’s greatness, nor the notion that human beings are superior to and separate from animals.
Imagine this woman writing such essays in a respectable Catholic pensionnat for jeunes demoiselles. The way she interpreted what Heger wanted her to do must have seemed to him to transgress what was appropriate for a woman to write about and it is perhaps for this reason that, being at a loss, he said she ought to have been a man!