Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Brussels events

Over the weekend of 21-22 April the newly-formed Brussels Brontë Group organised a day of events to coincide with Charlotte Brontë's birthday, for which we were joined by a small group from the Society's London and South-East group led by Margaret McCarthy.

Our members Eric Ruijssenaars, Selina Busch and Maureen Peeck O'Toole (all in the Netherlands) helped to organise similar events for the Society's 1993 and 2003 trips to Brussels.

This time we were guided round the Brontë places by Derek Blyth, a British writer living in Brussels who has written some of the main guide books on the city (his Brussels for Pleasure - 13 walks through the historic city includes a Brontë walk) and is fascinated by some of the unanswered questions about the Brontë places.

The weekend marked an interesting departure from previous Brontë Society events in Brussels. Although the 1993 and 2003 trips were able to benefit from Eric Ruijssenaars' findings on the Pensionnat Heger and Isabelle quarter, this was the first event organised by members actually living in Brussels who could offer our visitors an insider's view and insights.

To his main Brontë walk centred on the site of the Pensionnat, Derek Blyth added a second one, a mystery tour devised especially for our visitors. As soon they arrived we were all whisked off by him to see some spots with lesser-known or speculative Brontë connections, such as the building in front of which Derek thinks Lucy Snowe may have fainted after her visit to the cathedral.

Next day, after lunch on the roof terrace restaurant of the Museum of Musical Instruments with its fabulous view of Place Royale, so often crossed by Charlotte Brontë, and a visit to Chapelle Royale where she worshipped, came the Brontë walk proper. The territory for this one was more familiar but some novel features were incorporated: readings from Villette and from letters by an obliging "Charlotte" in the group, visual aids (old street views, pictures Charlotte saw in exhibitions during her stay), and, again, Derek Blyth's own theories about some of the routes taken by Lucy/Charlotte.

Concentrating in fascinating detail on what is geographically a smallish area, in two hours we covered a lot of ground in terms of the history of Brussels and the background to the Brontës' visit: not only where their English friends lived but the wider British community of the time and its amenities in and around Place Royale, for example.

After a "birthday" tea party and a dinner, the day was rounded off by some Brontë activities: a quiz and readings from Villette by Selina Busch and Brian Speak, introduced by Maureen Peeck.

It was wonderful to have Margaret McCarthy's group with us for this event. We are planning to make this April Brontë weekend an annual event and would love to invite more groups of members to join us in between the big excursions organised by the Society. Is anyone interested for next year?

Helen MacEwan

Below: Reading Villette in a Brussels restaurant and the whole group in front of the Cathedral.

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