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Charlotte Brontë

The Brussels Brontë group has attracted people of different nationalities, both in Belgium and its neighbouring countries. Below are accounts by some of our members of what led them to join our group.

Maureen Peeck, a long-standing member of the Brontë Society living in the Netherlands

    “My name is Maureen Peeck (born Maureen O'Toole). As you will gather I am of Irish ancestry. I am a Brit, born and bred in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Bradford is about 8 miles from Haworth and I went there many a time as a girl. The whole area around the big, then industrial, city of Bradford was lovely countryside, mostly moorland and we were forever off to Shipley Glen, Ilkley or Haworth moors, or hitch-hiking to the Dales or the Lakes. However I married a Dutchman and went to live in the Netherlands! Living abroad makes one more aware of one's own background, culture and language, I find.
I taught English Lit. for many years at
Utrecht University until my retirement. Of course I have often given courses on the Brontës, and done research in this field. I am particularly interested in Emily Brontë as a poet and her place in the canon of English poetry.
I now teach part-time at the University, this time giving courses to older people. I continue to give Brontë courses and in this way I keep abreast of what is going on in Brontë matters which I find very stimulating.”

Derek Blyth, a British journalist living in Brussels

    “I have worked in Brussels as a journalist and travel writer for the past 16 years. I first began to take an interest in the Brontës while researching a book about Brussels. After reading Villette, The Professor and Mrs Gaskell’s Life, I began to do research in the city archives to locate some of the places mentioned in the novels. The work led in some strange and unexpected directions as I tried to locate the Protestant Cemetery (probably marked by a grassy square off the Chaussée de Louvain), La Terrasse (possibly a vanished girls' boarding school near Avenue Louise) and the house at 3 Rue des Mages (possibly still standing in a cobbled lane behind the Cathedral). 
I also became interested in Constantin Heger, who played an important role in the young Belgian state (founded 12 years before
Charlotte travelled to Brussels) and the development of the Belgian education system. His son Paul played a key part in establishing the Brussels Free University and the Solvay Library in Park Leopold. But he is best known to Brontë readers for presenting the British Library in 1913 with Charlotte’s four letters to Heger.”

Eric Ruijssenaars, author of "Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land" and "The Pensionnat Revisited"

    “To impress a girlfriend who was especially fond of Villette I started to send her copies of articles about Brussels and the Brontës. I soon got interested in the subject myself and it became clear that though much had been written about Charlotte Brontë and Constantin Heger, work remained to be done on researching the Brussels of the Brontës. Thanks to a scholarship from the Brontë Society I was able to do just this. My first book was published in 2001. I subsequently unearthed further information about the demolition of the rue d'Isabelle area in Leopold II's modernisation of the city at the turn of the century, leading to a second book in 2003... and research still remains to be done.”

Helen MacEwan, British resident living in

   “I re-read Villette shortly after starting a new job in Brussels. Like Charlotte Brontë I was experiencing life in a country and city unfamiliar to me. Re-reading Villette while actually living in Brussels made me much more interested in the setting of the novel and provided a starting point for learning more about the history of the city. I was led on to read Eric Ruijssenaars' books on Charlotte Brontë's Brussels. This prompted me to contact him and Selina Busch, who illustrated the books, and the idea of the Brussels Brontë Group was born.”

Selina Busch, Dutch Brontë Society member

   “My first introduction to the world of Villette, Brussels and the Pensionnat was in 1992. I had recently got into contact with two other members from Holland and I soon got infected with their enthusiasm for this subject. One of them was Eric Ruijssenaars who had already begun his research on the Pensionnat. I became more and more involved, and as I had a creative background, I was asked to make illustrations for his books.
In another creative moment in 2004, my other Dutch friend Elle Vaessen and I put up a plaque in the Rue Terarcken, as a personal honour to the vanished Quartier Isabelle  and the Pensionnat. I also made my own book in 2005; a historical picture album of
Brussels in Brontë Times”, bringing together lots of images showing Brussels as the Brontës could have seen it. A few months later, Helen MacEwan contacted me and she informed me she had plans to organize something for members from Belgium and the Netherlands; this was the start of the idea to set up a Brussels Brontë Group.
Now 15 years on, it seems the infection has just kept on spreading…”

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