is a prelude to this story; learn more about how the Brontës
came to stay in Brussels by clicking
February 1842 when Charlotte and Emily, accompanied by their father,
journey to Belgium,
crossing the channel on the Ostend
"packet". Since the railway line to Brussels was not yet fully opened, on arrival in Ostend
they continued their long and tiring journey by stagecoach.
itself had a curiously sunken appearance, towered over on all sides by
buildings, with the old city wall alongside much of it. On the
lay the spacious aristocratic quarters with fine buildings, the
and the Palace Royale, the grand residence of the Belgian monarch, king
I. These places were only a stone's throw away from the Pensionnat.
they went to the Pensionnat Heger. Charlotte
could not know when she entered it how profoundly her stay in this
place was to change her life.
was on the Rue d'Isabelle in a quarter close to the central park and
grandeur of Rue Royale with its stately 18th century houses. The Rue
d’Isabelle and the Isabelle quarter had an ancient past,
remnants of which
could still be seen. But the street as Charlotte and Emily knew it
only forty or fifty years.
Pensionnat and the Rue d'Isabelle, late 19th century
Rue d'Isabelle, 1894. Watercolour by J. Carabain
to the ‘lower’ level, the city centre, you found
yourself in the busy
commercial area and the higgledy-piggledy streets dating back to
times. In the mid 19th century these little back streets had become
a dirty and overcrowded slum area.
||To reach the
Pensionnat, below the Rue Royale, you went down a steep flight of
Standing at the top of the stairs by the statue of General Belliard,
look down on the chimneys of the Rue d’Isabelle below and the
old city beyond.
bottom of the stairs one had only to cross the street to reach the
had been built forty years earlier and was a plain white building two
high, long and low with a row of large windows on each floor.
the school building itself was no more extraordinary than the other
the neighbourhood, there was an unexpected treasure, tucked away behind
house; a delightful big garden with a line of ancient fruit trees.
was to provide Charlotte
with a haven of peace right in the centre of the city. It is described
detail in her novel Villette, and one can imagine her relishing every
opportunity to escape from the pressures of school life to the bower (berceau) and the allée
to see images of the Pensionnat garden.
sadly, nothing of the Pensionnat remains and little of the Rue
d’Isabelle or the
old quarter apart from the area around the Place Royale and the Rue
Demolition in the 20th century destroyed many of the streets and
ancient history of old Brussels.
Luckily, not all is lost and if you know where to look, remnants can
still be found.
view from the top of the steps is completely changed and it is
imagine the scene Charlotte and Emily would have seen. The Palais des
Arts (an arts centre in the art nouveau style built in the 1920s) and
Baron Horta now cover the site of the Pensionnat and the Rue
Rue Ravenstein we see today is on a much higher level than the old
the Rue Villa Hermosa, which once led to the Rue Terarcken, still
exists. One can still go down the steps near the Hôtel
Ravenstein to this
street of which only a small section remains. This little backwater is
the original level and one can see the old cobbles paving the street
Charlotte and Emily once walked on their way to the Rue
Pensionnat Charlotte and Emily were taught by the charismatic and
Constantin Heger, whose wife owned the school. He recognised their
talents and gave them encouragement and guidance in honing their
skills. In Charlotte's
case his legacy was still more profound, since she fell in love with
to read more about the Hegers.
d’Isabelle, the school and the old city live on in the novels
created several years after her experiences, of which Villette is the
loved and most highly acclaimed.
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