Charlotte Brontë’s years at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels (1842-43) were two of the most formative of her life. Her experiences as a pupil, and subsequently a teacher, there and her feelings for Monsieur Heger (Monsieur Paul in Villette) influenced her powerfully and culminated ten years later in her masterpiece Villette.

For anyone who has read this novel or her earlier work The Professor, it is fascinating to learn more about the Brussels background, which has on the whole been less researched than the Yorkshire one. For expatriates living in Brussels (some of our members come into this category) there is the added fascination of reading Charlotte’s account of how it felt to be a foreigner in the city over a century and a half ago.

A view of Brussels in 1868 by J.B. VanMoer
A view of Brussels in 1868 by J.B. VanMoer

Brontë enthusiasts have of course always been interested in the places connected with Charlotte and Emily’s stay in the Pensionnat, ever since the first “pilgrims” started turning up there unannounced while the Hegers were still in residence, and over the years the Brontë Society has from time to time organised trips to Brussels. However, the city itself – perhaps understandably in view of some of Charlotte’s less than flattering comments on Belgium – has not done a great deal to commemorate her stay in it, and passers-by may not always spot the plaque placed on the site of the Pensionnat by the Brontë Society.

 

A view of Brussels
A view of Brussels, with the Pensionnat on the far right.

One of our aims is to redress this by promoting interest in and events relating to the Brontë places in Brussels, as well as to the Brontës in general, and we feel that it is particularly fitting that our group should be actually based in Brussels.

The Group was founded by members of the Brontë Society living in the Netherlands and Belgium – a Dutch researcher who has written books on the Pensionnat Heger and other Brontë places in Brussels; the artist who illustrated them and a British Brontë enthusiast who had recently moved to the city. It soon grew to include people living in other neighbouring countries.