The Brussels Brontë Group organises meetings and events in Brussels throughout the year, including an annual weekend of events around the date of Charlotte Brontë’s birthday (21 April). We organise occasional Guided walks around Brontë places in Brussels. Our Reading group specialises in 19th century literature (not just the Brontës!).

Provisional Programme 2023-24

Registration essential for all events. To register, please use the Contact Form on this website.

Talks

Saturday 14 October 2023 (morning)

Université Saint-Louis, Rue du Marais 119, Brussels

Registration essential. Free for members. For non-members, there is a charge of €10 for one talk, €15 for two talks.

10.00 Talk by Justine Pizzo: ‘Wonderful, Weird, Wuthering: Why Emily Brontë’s Novel Still Surprises Us Today’

In her infamous preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Brontë apologises for ‘the rough, strong utterance, harshly manifested passions and unbridled aversions’, that make her sister’s novel seem, in the eyes of most Victorian readers, ‘a rude and strange production’. In our own time, scholars have turned to theories of genre (particularly the Gothic), gender and sexuality, and animal studies to explain some of the scenes that continue to shock us today. From the ‘heap of dead rabbits’ Mr. Lockwood foolishly mistakes for Catherine Heathcliff’s feline pets, to the scene in which Hindley pulls Nelly Dean ‘back by the skin of the neck like a dog’ and damns her to hell, this talk explores some of the critical approaches and literary histories that enable us to appreciate what makes this novel so wonderfully, and often wickedly, weird.

Dr Justine Pizzo is a lecturer at Southampton University. Her research interests include Victorian literature and culture and climate in literature and she recently co-edited ‘Charlotte Brontë, Embodiment and the Material World’ (2020).

11.30 Talk by Claire O’Callaghan: ‘Reappraising Emily Brontë’

Emily Brontë occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of many far and wide. And rightly so: Wuthering Heights is a novel that has bewitched readers, and the character of Heathcliff is – depending on how you see it – both the ultimate romantic hero and villain. But Emily herself remains an elusive and enigmatic figure, often portrayed as awkward, as a misanthrope, as “no normal being”. In fact, as the poet Ted Hughes put it, Emily is often deemed the “weirdest of the three weird sisters”. But is this view entirely accurate, is it fair?

In this talk, Dr Claire O’Callaghan looks back at the way that Emily Brontë has been conjured by successive biographers. Exploring a variety of stubborn myths, it aims to reappraise Emily’s reputation by thinking about some of the themes of her life and work, including her passion for the natural world. Dr O’Callaghan aims to suggest that once we move beyond the inaccuracies about this beloved author, we can more clearly see something of a woman who, in many ways, was ahead of her time.

Claire O’Callaghan is a Lecturer in English at Loughborough University, UK, where she teaches and researches Victorian Literature. Her work focuses primarily on the Brontës. She is the author of Emily Brontë Reappraised (2018), an introductory guide to Emily, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Brontë Studies, the journal of the Brontë Society.

Christmas lunch and entertainment

Saturday 9 December 2023 (date to be confirmed)

Presentations by members of the Brussels Brontë Group

Saturday 24 February 2024 (morning)

Université Saint-Louis, Rue du Marais 119, Brussels

Registration essential. Free for members. For non-members, there is a charge of €10 for one talk, €15 for two talks.

10.00 Talk by Ana Gauthier on Wuthering Heights in pop culture

Emily Bronte’s timeless novel has transcended its literary realm to permeate various facets of popular culture. From haunting songs to evocative aesthetics, the impact of Wuthering Heights resonates far beyond its pages.

In this talk Ana will examine how Wuthering Heights has shaped our collective consciousness with an impact to audiences that reach far beyond just those who have read the novel.

11.30 Talk by Johan Hellinx: The Brontës and fake news: why Branwell Brontë didn’t write Wuthering Heights and why it’s important to take this myth seriously.

The fact that the Brontë sisters published their respective novels under a nom-de-plume opened a Pandora’s box of all kinds of gossip and fake news. How many Bells were there, one or three? Were they men – in which case the coarseness of their novels could be forgiven – or women? And who was Heathcliff, was he Irish, black, or even a Jew? Or was he an illegitimate son of Mr Earnshaw, and therefore … Cathy’s half-brother? And if so, was theirs a mirror of an incestuous relationship between Emily and Branwell?

Elizabeth Gaskell, in her Life of Charlotte Brontë, described the siblings as a bunch of shy, unsociable youngsters, living in a remote village isolated on the Yorkshire moors; amongst secretive locals; oppressed by their father; in charge of an alcoholic and drug-addicted brother. All that wasn’t helpful to reveal the truth about the Brontës. These two factors explain why there could be such a lot of gossip about the siblings.

Years ago, I found Alice Law’s study on Branwell Brontë, in a second-hand bookshop in Worcester. In this book, Law explained that the author of Wuthering Heights was not Emily, but her brother Branwell. So, the black sheep of the family, in whom their father Patrick had placed such high hopes, was a literary genius, at least according to Alice Law. This looks like another example of fake news about the Brontës, and a very tenacious myth indeed since it persists today. In my talk I will explain how this myth originated, and how it could reach such a big audience. We will study as well which lessons can be learned from this mystification: what do we really know about the Brontës?

Johan writes: I’m a long-standing member of the Brussels Brontë Group. As a French and History teacher in the Belgian armed forces I’m particularly interested in the historical aspects of the Brontës, their links with Brussels and their place in English (literary) history. Years ago, I took up the study of the Breton language and all aspects of Breton and – more generally – Celtic culture fascinate me.

Talks

Saturday 20 April 2024 (morning)

Université Saint-Louis, Rue du Marais 119, Brussels.

Registration essential.

10.00 Talk by Valerie Sanders: ‘The Brontës go to Woolworth’s: clothes and shopping in the Bronte novels’

The title of this talk is taken from Rachel Ferguson’s 1931 novel of the same name, in which the characters do indeed imagine what Charlotte and Emily might buy in the famous cut-price store. Professor Sanders will explore the themes of clothes and shopping, both in Charlotte Bronte’s letters and in her novels: not just the famous pink dress in Villette and Mr Rochester’s lavish shopping for Jane Eyre’s trousseau, but also Caroline Helstone’s attempts to refine Hortense Moore’s dress, and Charlotte’s own resistance to wedding dress advice.

Professor Valerie Sanders is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Hull in Yorkshire, the city where she was born and educated. She is a return speaker, having given us a talk in 2011. Specializing in nineteenth-century life writing, including studies of fatherhood and sibling relationships, her research interests include Charlotte Brontë’s friend Harriet Martineau and the novelist Margaret Oliphant, of whom she has written a biography. Recently she contributed to the volume of essays ‘Charlotte Bronte, Embodiment and the Material World’. She is currently a Trustee of the Bronte Society.

11.30 Talk by Octavia Cox: ‘Anne Brontë and the Sea’

‘The sea was my delight … It was delightful to me at all times and seasons, but especially in the wild commotion of a rough sea-breeze, and in the brilliant freshness of a summer morning … Refreshed, delighted, invigorated, I walked along, forgetting all my cares, feeling as if I had wings to my feet…’ (Agnes Grey)

Anne Brontë loved Scarborough, which was then a luxurious seaside spa resort; it was there to which she travelled in her final days, and there where she is buried. It has been said that that what the moors were to Emily the sea was to Anne: a soul-enlivening physical space, and an inspiring imaginative one. The sea and seaside feature importantly in Anne’s two novels, Agnes Grey (as we can see from the beautiful quotation above) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as well as in her poetry.  In this talk, Dr Octavia Cox will explore the symbolism of Anne’s sea imagery as a key element in her works.

Octavia Cox is a lecturer at Keble College, University of Oxford. She teaches courses for the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education on the Brontës, Jane Austen and other nineteenth-century writers including George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Trollope, Dickens and Hardy. Her first monograph, Alexander Pope in the Romantic Age, is due to be published soon and she is also researching a book on how Jane Austen plays with, challenges, and subverts genre conventions within her fiction.

Guided walk

Sunday 21 April 2024

10.00-12.00. Guided walk around Brontë places in Brussels in the Place Royale area. Registration essential.

Summer Lunch

Saturday 15 June 2024

 

Other events of interest

Past events