The Brontë sisters stayed in the capital of the young Belgium?


When Charlotte and Emily Brontë set foot in the capital of the new Belgium, they were not yet the authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights respectively, two novels that are among the major literary works of the 19th century.


The two sisters were in their twenties when they set out, flanked by their Reverend father, on the fifteen-hour journey from the Yorkshire moors to Brussels. They wanted to improve their knowledge of French in order to open a boarding school for girls in England. Why Brussels rather than Paris? Firstly for financial reasons, as life was half as expensive here as in the French capital, and secondly for reasons that could be described as patriotic, because France was still perceived as the hereditary enemy.

On their arrival, they went to the Héger-Parent ladies boarding school. Charlotte would remain there for two years, Emily for one. We need to imagine the Brussels of the time through the eyes of these young countrywomen who discovered the city in 1842. Their school, for example, was located on the site of the current Palace of Fine Arts, which was not built until the inter-war period, the Senne was not yet vaulted, and was a real cesspool in the middle of the city, the North-South connection had not yet been considered and many of the buildings and monuments which characterise and pepper the skyline of the current city did not yet exist: Palais royal, Cinquantenaire, Palais de Justice, etc.


Although brief and little known, this experience of Brussels would be decisive in both the life and the work of the Brontë sisters. Especially in Charlotte's, who would set the plot of her novel Villette in the Belgian capital, which also served as the setting for another of her works, The Professor.