Monthly Archives: October 2019

The letters of Belle van Zuylen/Isabelle de Charrière (1740– 1805)

A presentation of the Correspondance d’Isabelle de Charrière / Brieven van Belle van Zuylen took place on Saturday, 26 October at the Utrecht Archives (Het Utrechts Archief). The novelist, essayist, and composer known within the Netherlands as Belle van Zuylen and elsewhere as Isabelle de Charrière (1740–1805) is regarded today as a leading light in the Utrecht literary canon. This reputation is due in no small measure to van Zuylen/de Charrière’s correspondence of which approximately 2,600 letters, written in French, survive.

With different sections of the correspondence available hitherto only in Dutch, English, or Japanese translation, and with interest in the writer generating Wikipedia pages in no less than twenty-five different languages, a project team at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands [KNAW] has come together under the direction of Suzan van Dijk (Huygens ING) and Madeleine van Strien-Chardonneau (Leiden University) to digitize the surviving correspondence. This project has set out to publish a complete digital edition of the letters, and intends to mount transcriptions of the original French alongside manuscript images as well as, in the fullness of time, to add translations.

Over the past couple of years, members of the Belle van Zuylen Association have been working in eLaborate, a tool developed at HuygensING, to create transcriptions. Taking as their starting point the authoritative print edition (Oeuvres complètes, edited by Van Oorschot and published in 1979–84), spellings have been standardized, the layout adapted, and the text annotated. The transcriptions are scheduled to be released online incrementally, and the event at the Utrecht Archives celebrated the release of the first  batch of 199 letters, the manuscripts of which reside in the care of archives and libraries in the Netherlands—the National Archives, the Dutch National Library, and Museum of Dutch Literature (The Hague), Archives of the Province of Gelderland (Arnhem), and the Utrecht Archives.

The event included a symposium at which Belle van Zuylen/Isabelle de Charrière, her work, and her importance within the field of cultural history, as well as her subsequent reputation and legacy, were discussed. Kaj van Vliet (archivist, Utrecht Archives) considered the roles played by both van Zuylen/de Charrière and her seventeenth-century predecessor Anna Maria van Schurman with reference to the new exhibition currently on display in the same building. Suzan van Dijk examined the writer’s oft-quoted words: ‘Je n’ai pas les talents subalternes’ (I have no talent for subordination), and revealed that in the letters she had studied in the Dutch archives (the majority of which are addressed to members of van Zuylen’s Dutch aristocratic family) this characteristic was not on display, a fact which reveals an infinitely more interesting and complex personality. Kees van Strien, who has just brought out his latest book Belle van Zuylen. Een leven in Holland (Belle van Zuylen: A life in Holland), spoke about Gijsbert Jan van Hardenbroek, a member of an influential Utrecht family, as well as several of his friends and contemporaries. The private documents of this circle are housed today at the Utrecht Archives, and were published by Van Strien in 2005; on the basis of these letters and diaries, Van Strien considers Hardenbroek as having lost his heart to Van Zuylen and fallen ‘victim to Cupid’. Dirk van Miert (director of the SKILLNET project at Utrecht University) presented the writer as a citizen of the eighteenth-century Republic of Letters, comparing her to Dutch female contemporaries Hyleke Gockinga and Etta Palm: Gockinga was seen as a ‘second Schurman’ on account of her linguistic skills; Palm corresponded with a number of politicians belonging to Van Zuylen’s extended circle, and the two women are likely to have encountered each other in Paris, where Van Zuylen/de Charrière became aware of Palm’s reputation, refering to her as ‘cette intrigante hollandaise’. Josephine Rombouts (author of Cliffrock Castle) recalled the strong impression made upon her (at the age of nineteen when she moved from home to begin university) by Belle van Zuylen, and the opening sentences of the first letter sent by Van Zuylen to D’Hermenches were central in her talk.

The digital edition Correspondance d’Isabelle de Charrière/Brieven van Belle van Zuylen is being released as a ‘work-in-progress’. Letters from the Dutch archives constitute only a small percentage of Van Zuylen/de Charrière’s surviving correspondence, and the focus at this point is to complete the considerable work conducted already on the letters to be found in the Swiss archives. In due course an inventory of the letters will be added to Early Modern Letters Online where it will be searchable both as part of Women’s Early Modern Letters Online and within the entire union catalogue. For those with a particular interest in early modern women’s writing, or in French literature, the Correspondance d’Isabelle de Charrière / Brieven van Belle van Zuylen project is keen to involve additional volunteers, and anyone interested in making a contribution is welcome to contact Suzan van Dijk ( or Madeleine van Strien-Chardonneau (

Guglielmo Sirleto, a British Academy grant, and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

A worthy recipient of British Academy funding Dr Jan Machielsen set off for Rome in April this year equipped with a laptop and access to his EMLO-Collect workspace. Once settled in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, he began to weave together listings of the correspondences of a number of hitherto neglected late-sixteenth-century Catholic scholars. The author of Martin Delrio: Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation (Oxford, 2015), a study that positions the life and work of the Jesuit theologian (who was born in Antwerp in the midst of the Dutch Revolt) within the wider processes of Catholic Reform, Dr Machielsen is engaged at present on a related publication Making a Church Ever the Same: Catholicism between Rome and the Borderlands, c. 1550–1620’ (forthcoming). This new work will examine the Catholic intellectual geography of (and I use Dr Machielsen’s words) ‘the fragile borderlands and exile communities’ that played such a key role in Catholic Reform alongside those from the ‘traditional Mediterranean heartlands’.

Portrait of Guglielmo Sirleto. Seventeenth-century engraving. (Image: Jan Machielsen)

The first of a number of correspondences collated in the course of this research—that of Guglielmo Sirleto (1514–1585)—has just been published in EMLO. Sirleto was prefect of the Vatican Library, and ultimately its cardinal librarian; he was an observer of proceedings at the Council of Trent. In his introduction to EMLO’s catalogue, Dr Machielsen recalls: ‘I had looked at Guglielmo Sirleto’s correspondence during the final stages of writing my first monograph on the Flemish-Spanish Jesuit Martin Delrio. I was struck, then, by the content and tone of letters by Netherlandish scholars such as Laevinus Torrentius, Jacobus Pamelius, and especially Willem Lindanus. Not only did they turn to Sirleto for help, they also regarded the Vatican Library as an arsenal to be employed against the heretics.’

A British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant presented Dr Machielsen with the enviable (or, given the numbers of surviving manuscript letters, some might feel daunting) prospect of ten weeks in Rome to focus on Sirleto’s correspondence, together with those of a number of relevant key scholars, with an eye to piecing together the extent of their networks beyond the Italian peninsula. Although the large majority of Sirleto’s correspondents resided south of the Alps, many of the letters turned out to be exceptionally rich and, as he worked, Dr Machielsen posted abstracts of a number on Twitter (hashtag #PopishPost). With a number of catalogues collated while he was in Rome currently in preparation, updates regarding their publication will be posted on this blog.

And whilst considering invaluable British Academy funding, for those who might be interested but missed earlier announcements, it’s worth noting that Dr Esther van Raamsdonck, the Postdoctoral Research Associate working at present with the Cultures of Knowledge Networking Archives project, will be beginning shortly her own three years of British Academy funded research centred around John Milton and the Dutch Republic. The application deadline for Esther’s replacement at Queen Mary University London has passed, but the call for a second post-doctoral position, to be based at the University of Oxford under the guidance of Professor Howard Hotson, has just one more week to run and applications for this position should be received by 14 October. For further details see this earlier blog post, or visit the Networking Archives website.