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Brussel - Bruxelles - Brussel: Brussels in the Flemish literary mirror from 1830 to 1932

Caroline M. P. C Dothee, University of Massachusetts Amherst


As the capital of Belgium and the headquarters of the European Union, present-day Brussels is a paradoxical city, defined by its multitude of governmental functions and characterized by its cultural and linguistic ambiguity. The city's history is marked by a unique linguistic metamorphosis that in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed Brussels from a historically Dutch-speaking city into a predominantly Francophone urban setting with an official bilingual status. This study presents a comparative and historically situated analysis of the literary representations of Brussels produced in Flemish literature between 1830 and 1932. It concentrates on the changing position of Dutch in Brussels as a result of the frenchification of the city and the creation of a socio-linguistic urban hierarchy, in which French was the language of the ruling elite and Dutch became considered as an unsophisticated idiom, spoken by the lower classes. The investigative focus of this dissertation is on how Flemish authors have responded to these socio-linguistic developments and in what way these events have shaped their narrative construction of the city. The Flemish urban narratives are examined within the context of Brussels' linguistic, political and cultural history and within the framework of a linguistically polarizing Belgium. The chronological scope of this research begins in 1830 with Belgian independence and ends in 1932 when Brussels officially becomes a bilingual city. Its methodological approach is based on notion of the city as representation and on Michel Foucault's concept of 'heterotopia.' Considering these works of urban literature as heterotopian texts that hold up a critical mirror to the existing urban complexity enables one to recognize their ability to challenge and intervene in dominant urban discourses and to generate new and critical perspectives on the city. The literary representations of Brussels studied in this dissertation represent powerful narrative interventions in the socio-linguistic and political hierarchies that came to define the urban order in Brussels after 1830. The inextricable connection between language and class in Brussels makes these Flemish urban novels imaginative expressions of resistance to the linguistic inequality and social and political discrimination of the city's Dutch-speaking population.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Germanic literature|Icelandic & Scandinavian literature|Language

Recommended Citation

Dothee, Caroline M. P. C, "Brussel - Bruxelles - Brussel: Brussels in the Flemish literary mirror from 1830 to 1932" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3254951.