Writing Brussels since the nineteenth century. Age-old but yet 'brand-new and unknown.

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Although Brussels is less well known to readers and scholars of modern literature than other cities, Belgium’s largest metropole has inspired, since the 19th century, both canonized and less-established authors from across the world, writing in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Brussel schrijven/Écrire Bruxelles demonstrates that literary Brussels, too, merits scholarly attention. In this framing article, the editors argue that the bilingual volume’s essays on ‘writing Brussels’ offer a timely contribution to the expanding field of urban literary studies by considering a body of writing that may be age-old to a degree but that still appears to be ‘brand new and unfamiliar,’ to apply W.F. Hermans’s observation regarding Brussels to the city’s literature. In their appraisal of the volume’s fifteen literary and historical case studies, which introduce recent and less studied writing as well as revisit famous facets of the city’s literary history by means of new archival material or through novel perspectives, the editors make the usual distinction between writing in and about Brussels. On the one hand, the volume confirms the presence of literature in Brussels through institutions and public places such as publishing houses, cafés and literary salons, which offer writers opportunities to meet and develop literary movements as well as to reach out to their audiences. Several essays, moreover, show how authors in Brussels contribute to the ideological struggles of their times, whether for secularism, freedom or the idea of Europe. On the other hand, the essays present a wide range of literary representations of Brussels, from realistic portraits to transformations of the urban scenery through imagination and myth. They also provide insight into the multiple ways in which authors, in texts of different styles and genres, have set to work stereotypical tropes of Brussels such as its architectural disarray and surreal appearance. Like their creators, the works’ protagonists find themselves in diverse circumstances in Brussels, whether as flâneurs or migrants, in exile or for pleasure, for business or on darker adventures. Although the literary explorations have contributed to neither the development of any grand myths of Brussels nor of an all-encompassing perspective of the city, the volume demonstrates how fundamental human experiences, such as socio-political commitment, the encounter with otherness, different forms of sociability and the surrender to imagination, have received literary expression through Brussels.
Translated title of the contributionWriting Brussels since the nineteenth century.: Age-old but yet 'brand-new and unknown.
Original languageDutch
Title of host publicationEcrire Bruxelles. Brussel schrijven
Subtitle of host publicationDe Stad als inspiratiebron sinds de 19de eeuw. La ville comme source d’inspiration depuis le XIXe siècle
EditorsDaniel Acke, Elisabeth Bekers
Place of PublicationBrussels
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)978-90-5718-485-7
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameUrban notebooks


  • Literature and the city
  • Brussels
  • nineteenth-twentieth century


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