I think I mentioned before that I’m a member of the Brussels Brontë Group. Charlotte and Emily lived here for a while and their experiences inspired Charlotte to write The Professor and Villette. The Group has about 50 members of 20 nationalities. We organize talks, Brontë city walks, visits to museums and last weekend, 25 of us went on a Literary Weekend to London.

Day 1 was spent with the local Brontë Society and on Sunday our hosts were the Dickens Fellowship. Day 1 started at the National Portrait Gallery where the Gallery’s Collections Manager gave us a special talk about the two Brontë portraits painted by Branwell Brontë: the “pillar” portrait and the remains of the “Gun Group Portrait”. It was quite a feeling to see them live and knowing them  so well from books and the internet.

By chance, we were there when the famous George Richmond’s chalk portraits of Charlotte and Elizabeth Gaskell were on display. For conservation reasons, this only happens for 6 months every 5 to 10 years. It’s also in the NPG you can see the only portrait of Jane Austen painted during her life, the one by Cassandra. It’s an amazing museum and I’m determined to spend a morning there in the near future.

After this, we lunched at the Stand Hotel with the London Brontë Society. According to them, the Hotel is exactly on the spot where Charlotte and her editor George Smith came to visit a phrenologist. The “report” is still available at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. It was also a member of the Society who afterwards took us on a Brontë tour of the city. In the evening we still had enough energy left to go to the theatre. We saw Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, with David Suchet (Mr. Poirot!) and Zoe Wanamaker in the lead roles. They were amazing – highly recommended.

Day 2 started with a visit to the Dickens House and then Anthony Burton of the Dickens Fellowship took us on a literary tour of London, into places most of us had never seen before.  We finished the morning with an amazing lunch at the George Inn, mentioned in Little Doritt. Shakespeare was apparently also a patron as it’s a short walk from the Globe Theatre.

During lunch we were already discussing other possible weekends. Edinburgh, Dublin and (my suggestion) Bath, with its Jane Austen connections, were put forward. I’ve been there, but wouldn’t mind a second look. I need to do a post about literary tourism, which I’ve been doing a bit in the last years.

Photo captions

1. The group at the National Portrait Gallery in front of Branwell’s painting
2. John Milton plaque at the St Mary-le-Bow church, in Bread Street, where he was born.
3. 65, Cornhill, HQ of the Bronte’s publisher.
4. The Stand Hotel.
5. The group in front St Mary-le-Bow church.
6. The group next to St. Paul’s cathedral. Charlotte visited it during a trip to London in 1842:

Above my head, above the house-tops, co-elevate almost with the clouds, I saw a solemn, orbed mass, dark-blue and dim – THE DOME. While I looked, my inner self moved; my spirit shook its always-fetted wings half loose; I had a sudden feeling as if I, who had never truly lived, were at last about to taste life. (Villete)

7 + 8. The group admiring the wooden door of 32 Cornhill. The bottom right-hand panel was carved to commemorate the first visit of Charlotte and Anne to their publisher in 1848 (number 65) and meeting Thackeray.
9. All My Sons at the Apollo Theater.
10. The group in front of the Dickens House.
11 + 12 + 13. Detail inside the House.
14. Plaque outside the George Inn.
15 + 16. Sunday roast and treacle sponge pudding (huuuuuumm).
17.  Charles Lamb, whose name you’ll probably recognize if you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society.
18. A beautiful tree Woodsworth immortalized in the poem The Reverie of Poor Susan:

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years

19.  The city has changed so much we needed a bit of help to visual how it looked in Dickens’ time