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"Adieu Poes que je chéris"


Belle de Zuylen, as we know, liked to teach; her correspondents and later, her biographers, were enraptured by her educational talents. The latter are in the habit of adding that her nephew Willem-René, through weak character or lack of talent, must have been a rather disappointing pupil. The question here is whether, besides the deficiencies of her pupil, Belle’s educational project was not also weakened by certain ambiguities.
These ambiguities seem to concentrate around two major force – or fault – lines. On the one hand, she informed Willem-René on several occasions that he ought to follow his own ambition and that if he so wished, he could even decide not to take up anything. Nevertheless, it seems as if, while leaving Willem-René the free choice of becoming a diplomat, civil servant or merchant, she found it self-evident that he ought to invest all his energy in his chosen career. Laziness and lack of enthusiasm, though theoretically permitted, were not really an option.
The second complication of the correspondence appears, in a more convoluted way, in the same context. While seeking to complete the education of her nephew, Belle dreamed of achieving, in passing as you might say, an ultimate great friendship. The educational project was consequently burdened by a demand for fervour, which continually spawned problems in its turn.
These recurrent altercations seem to show a typically modern malaise.

SvD, July 2008

  • Publications > Volumes WomenWriters > Isabelle de Charrière > Paul Pelckmans

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