Sunday, 28 February 2010

Brontës on Belgian stamps

Helen MacEwan writes from Brussels:

The Belgian post office has issued a beautiful set of stamps on the subject of "a literary walk through Brussels" with pictures of famous 19th century writers who stayed in the city.

The writers are Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, the Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker and - Charlotte and Emily Brontë!

The Brontës stayed in Brussels in 1842-3, while the writers on the other stamps visited the city in the 1850s-1870s.

Charlotte Brontë was the only one of these writers who drew significantly on her Brussels experience in her writings.

Shocking though the Brontës' works may have been to some Victorian readers, Charlotte and Emily are in incongruous company in this set of stamps. Their convent-like life in a girls' boarding school in Brussels could not have been more different from the colourful and often squalid existence of the French writers who accompany them!

The Republican Victor Hugo came to Brussels as a political refugee, fleeing Paris for Brussels after Napoleon III's coup d'état, and stayed in Grand Place with his family – his mistress accompanied them and also lodged in Grand Place. Baudelaire, whose volume of poetry Les Fleurs du Mal had caused a scandal, came to Brussels to escape from his creditors. His plans of making money by giving lectures in Belgium came to nothing. He is remembered for eccentricities such as keeping a pet bat in his room and feeding it on bread and milk.

Verlaine and Rimbaud were reunited in Brussels in 1873 after one of the many rifts in their stormy relationship but were soon quarrelling again. Verlaine bought a revolver and shot Rimbaud, wounding him slightly, and Rimbaud reported him to the police. Although he later withdrew the charge of attempted murder, Verlaine was sentenced and spent two years in prison in Belgium.

The Dutch writer in the set, Dekker, who wrote under the alias of "Multatuli" (Latin "I have suffered much"), was also a controversial figure whose writings shocked his contemporaries. After leaving his job as an administrator in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), he spent his time in Brussels writing his novel Max Havelaar, an indictment of Dutch colonial rule

This very attractive set of stamps was designed by Jan De Maesschalck and costs €5.90.

Visit the Brussels Brontë Group by clicking HERE.

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