Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

October Books 9) Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land

9) Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land, by Eric Ruijssenaars

Enthused by my recent reading of Villette, I ordered this little book from the Brontë Society last week and it was waiting for me on my return from Moldova. I must be in the very small minority of readers who bought it more because of Brussels than the Brontës; in my last job, I often went for a sandwich lunch in the Parc de Bruxelles, and even now I find myself trying to thread my car through the relevant streets a couple of times each month as I head to the north of the city centre. Plus there is something very fascinating about vanished streetscapes; the school where Charlotte and Emily Brontë lived in 1842, and to which Charlotte returned alon for a year in January 1843, was demolished in 1909 as part of the development which has resulted in today's Palais des Beaux-Arts, built in the 1920s. As well as that, of course, the sense of place in Villette is so well developed that there is a certain fascination in reading more about the reality on which the fiction was based.

One does feel, however, for the unfortunate Hegers, who had taken the unattractive, reserved and disconcertingly intelligent Brontë girls under their wing for a few months as an act of kindness, and then found themselves and their country portrayed in Villette in a way they simply could not have anticipated. Ruijssenaars has attached to his own text a half-dozen glorious accounts from Brontë fans between 1871 and 1916 coming to gaze at the Pensionnat and its inhabitants, reverently plucking leaves from the pear-trees in the garden, and generally harassing the Hegers. That is not to minimise the interest of Ruijssenaars' own work, bringing together the archives and published architectural history of Brussels with the accumulated lore of a century and a half of Brontëology.


(The one surviving picture of the Pensionnat and the garden, on the left immediately below the cathedral. The Cathedral is still recognisable but all the other buildings shown here have gone.)


(The map from Ruijssenaars' book, with west at the top and north to the right.)


(This is the map of the area supplied by Windows LiveWriter, usual orientation ie north is up. I prefer the Google hybrid version but don't know how to post it in an entry.)

I must admit that, time and ianmcdonald permitting, I would love to do a guide to the Belfast scenes of Sacrifice of Fools. (Isn't there a book somewhere out there about Philip K Dick's California?) If I could do half as well as this I'd be very pleased.

Tags: bookblog 2006, brussels, world: belgium, writer: charlotte bronte
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