Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love (October 1st 2015) is the coming-of-age story of the young Charlotte Brontë in 19th-century Brussels.
A restless young teacher wanders through the streets of Brussels. The booming of bells catches her attention It is the hypnotic voice of the church of Saint-Michel and Sainte-Gudule. Without knowing what is happening to her, she hurries towards it. Confession! She is a sinner and must speak out. Someone must listen to her.
‘Tell me what your sin is,’ says the priest.
And she tells him. She tells him everything.
Charlotte Brontë, a parson’s daughter from Yorkshire in England, fragile yet fearless as a young fox, longs for adventure, self-fulfilment and passionate love. She conceives the idea of going abroad to study languages. She manages to persuade her sister Emily to accompany her, on the pretext that later, with an additional knowledge of languages, they will be able to set up a school of their own. Brussels, the capital of the brand-new kingdom of Belgium, with its Catholic liberalism and French wine, represents a culture shock. The Pensionnat Heger is run by madame Claire Heger, an elegant, shrewd lady. Charlotte falls in love with her husband, monsieur Constantin Heger, who teaches the English sisters French literature. However, like many Belgian men he is a Don Juan without a compass. Meanwhile Emile, a good-looking Flemish workman, also makes a bid for Charlotte’s favour. Will she opt for a scandalous liaison with a married man, for an honourable marriage to a man of the people, or for an unattached, but lonely existence as a writer?
Charlotte’s story is interwoven with that of Arcadie Claret, the young mistress of Leopold I, king of the Belgians. Charlotte first sees the girl on the beach in Ostend. Arcadie is so attractive, dearly loved and beautifully dressed, and stands in such sharp contrast to herself, that Charlotte becomes violently jealous of her. In writing Jane Eyre she opposes the time-honoured idea of the stunningly attractive heroine. The beautiful Blanche Ingram is inspired by Arcadie Claret, and St. John Rivers by the workman Emile.
The story of Charlotte and Emily Brontë in Brussels is a missing chapter from the history of their lives. People are unaware of Charlotte’s secret love story in Brussels. Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love is based on the true historical events and is written in a very cinematic manner. The city of Brussels of the 19th-century makes a beautiful canvas with a fascinating decor.
‘Jolien Janzing’s elegantly penned The Master takes us back to 19th century Brussels, to a story of forbidden love. She clearly knows her subject like the back of her hand: she portrays Charlotte Brontë’s first steps on the path to love with genuine affection, and never goes too far. The relationship between Charlotte Brontë and Constantin Heger was already the focus of many a question one and a half centuries ago. Was it platonic or physical? Janzing fills the gaps in a plausible and respectful manner. For Brontë fans, The Master is a must; for those who know little of the English writer, it is a magnificent historical novel with a warm pounding heart.’ Karin Quint, journalist NRC Handelsblad
‘The Master carries the reader back to a time that isn’t our own, which is an experience in itself. It does so in a filmic manner – and it doesn’t surprise me that the book was selected for the Berlinale. It reminds me of Palliser’s The Quincunx, another equally compelling novel.’ Ludo Permentier, columnist and journalist for De Standaard