The letters of Belle van Zuylen (1740-1805)

Interest in the Dutch-Swiss author Belle van Zuylen/Isabelle de Charrière has increased significantly in the last few decades. In the Netherlands, she has been declared the ‘greatest citizen of Utrecht of all times’ (2004) and included in the ‘Pantheon’ of the Netherlands Museum of Literature (2010). Her work is generating more interest abroad and her music is finding its way into the repertoire of an ever growing number of musicians. In her own time, she was a central figure in various networks of writers and opinion makers, as appears in the database NEWW (New approaches to European Women’s Writing).

Belle van Zuylen (1740-1805) wrote and published in French, attracting interest from all over Europe. In addition to novels, plays and pamphlets, her work largely consists of correspondence with relatives, friends, as well as writers and philosophers. Her letters are part of the European cultural heritage and are a source for scholarly research at home and abroad.

Her correspondence has been included in volumes 1-6 of the ten-volume Oeuvres complètes (Van Oorschot Publishers, Amsterdam, 1979-1984). This edition in the original French text in 18th-century spelling is hugely significant for specialists and researchers, but less suitable for a wider audience – which is why we started, some eight years ago, the digitizing project.  Several parts of the correspondence have been translated into Dutch and English.

The correspondence online

This project provides a digital publication of Belle van Zuylen’s correspondence. For the moment it is still being worked on, and accessible to password holders only. Thanks to collaboration with Van Oorschot, each of the c. 2600 letters will be presented in an annotated transcription in modern French, accompanied by a scan of the manuscript. Dutch and English translations will also be added.

The treatment of the letters is being carried out by a group of members of the Genootschap Belle van Zuylen [Belle van Zuylen Association], supported by project assistant Maria Schouten. The overall lead of the project is held jointly by Madeleine van Strien-Chardonneau (UL) and Suzan van Dijk.

Suzan van Dijk and Maria Schouten have started presenting the project and publishing articles about it – for instance in the Belle de Zuylen Papers / Cahiers Isabelle de Charrière:

“La correspondance d’Isabelle de Charrière:analyser l’échelle européenne” (10/2015, p. 64-80)