English Translation of Dutch Novel about the Brontë Sisters in Brussels

Jolien Janzing’s second novel De meester focuses on a little-known episode in the lives of the Brontë sisters. The book was inspired by a chance meeting with a priest in Brussels, who told Janzing that Charlotte Brontë had visited the cathedral for confession in the 19th century.

As a long-standing fan of the Brontës, Janzing was intrigued and embarked on a journey of research lasting several years, involving the Brussels Brontë Group and archives in Antwerp, as well as the Brontë Society and the Parsonage Museum in Haworth.

Charlotte Brontë persuaded her sister Emily to accompany her to Brussels to study French, attending the Pensionnat Heger, a boarding school for young ladies, where Charlotte taught English and Emily gave music lessons in return for board and lodging. During this time Charlotte fell in love with her teacher Constantin Heger, an older married man. The experience of heartbreak and unrequited love is seen as having shaped Brontë’s subsequent writing, forming a possible inspiration for male protagonists such as Rochester in Jane Eyre or Paul Emmanuel in Villette.

Jolien Janzing is a Brussels-based Dutch journalist and longstanding fan of the Brontës. Her first novel, Grammatica van een obsessie (Grammar of an Obsession), appeared in 2009, and she is now working on her third.

Paul Vincent’s translation of De meester as Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love is published by World Editions, a new Dutch publishing house that focuses on international literature in English translation.

Both De meester and its English translation were supported by the Flemish Literature Fund. There has been further international interest, with the novel set to appear in German, French and Turkish, and the film rights sold to David P. Kelly Films after the novel became one of ten selected at the Berlin Film Festival as good potential movie projects.

The Dutch language original was reviewed in Ons Erfdeel. The Yorkshire Post spoke to Janzing about the English version.

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