Chief Genius Tallii, the Marquis of Douro, Lord Charles Wellesley, Currer Bell, and Charlotte Nicholls. Fictional characters, pseudonyms, writers, nobility, supernatural being, and the married name of my favourite author of all time. These five names are linked by the one and only Charlotte Brontë who would have been celebrating her 202nd birthday this week. The third of six children born to Patrick and Maria Brontë on 21st April 1816, Charlotte became the oldest surviving Brontë sibling following the deaths of her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth in 1825, and would eventually also become the longest lived Brontë sibling, dying on 31st March 1855 aged just 38. Charlotte Brontë is my favourite author of all time, a writer I adore, she is “my Brontë”, and a woman whose courage and determination I admire. In honour of Charlotte’s birthday, I’m going to share a handful of some of my favourite pieces from her back catalogue in the hope of encouraging readers to seek out these works to enjoy for themselves. No analyses, just snippets of information and summaries. I’ve avoided discussing pieces I have discussed in detail in other posts. Although the older, more reserved figure of Charlotte may well have been horrified at the publication of her early, uncensored, and often immoral works, I can’t think of a better birthday present for an author than people actually reading her words.
Albion and Marina
Albion and Marina was completed on October 12th 1830 by the 14 year old Charlotte and is one of the famous tiny Brontë books. Once again narrated by Charlotte’s favourite pseudonym, Lord Charles Wellesley, the story concerns two lovers, the high ranking Albion and the lowly Marina, who are separated from one another across the seas, and their desire to be re-united. It is ostensibly just a youthful tale of romance (with just a hint of the supernatural/Gothic) written by the young Charlotte, however, it can be a deceptively complex tale, depending on how it is approached and interpreted. The reader may take Lord Charles at his word when he states that the story is about two fictional characters named Albion and Marina, and enjoy it for what it is, or the reader may realise that the story actually concerns the relationship between Lord Charles’s older brother, Arthur Wellesley, Marquis of Douro, and his eventual second wife, the beautiful and faithful Marian Hume, a fact which Charles does actually seem to let slip early on. However, the question of Charles’s reliability as a narrator hangs over the narrative as a result of this, and the fact that the outcome of the tale is very different from the events of The Bridal (1832) which records the marriage of Arthur and Marian. Charles’s mix of fact and fiction is a recurring theme in the juvenilia, and although this makes him potentially unreliable, it also makes him, and the stories, far more interesting due to the fact that literally anything can happen. For another, more complex example of this, see Charlotte’s slightly mind-bending The Spell (1834).
Although Albion and Marina is part of the Glass Town saga, it is partially set in England, and the focus of the story, for the first time, is Douro, rather than his father, the Duke of Wellington, marking a shift in Charlotte’s interests, and foreshadowing much of the later juvenilia in which Arthur (as Zamorna), takes centre stage. The story is very much a romance and although very little actually happens, certainly with regards to the political landscape of Glass Town, it is interesting to see the pure origins of Arthur, Charlotte’s noble poet and soldier, who will eventually evolve into the Byronic figure of Zamorna, and quite possibly, Edward Fairfax Rochester.
Albion and Mairna was published by Juvenilia Press in 1999 and can be purchased on the publisher’s website. The tale also appears in An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë, Volume I: The Glass Town Saga 1826-1832. Ed. Christine Alexander. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987 and in the more recent Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Writings. Ed. Christine Alexander. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
The Green Dwarf
The Green Dwarf, or to use its full title, The Green Dwarf: A Tale of the Perfect Tense, is the 17 year old Charlotte’s attempt at the Gothic. Witty, funny, engrossing, and sometimes complicated, it is one of a cluster of narratives which stand at the midpoint of Charlotte’s juvenile “career” and really mark the shift between Brontë’s earliest works and her later writings. It was written shortly after her stay at Roe Head School when she once again found time away from her studies and teaching duties to devote herself to her writing. Set in Verdopolis, the story concerns the beautiful Lady Emily and the battle for her heart and hand. Raised by her uncle, the Marquis of Charlesworth, he desires to find his niece the perfect suitor, and selects Colonel the Honourable Alexander Augustus Percy, however, Lady Emily is in love with a poor artist named Leslie. Nothing is ever simple in the Brontë juvenilia, and this tale is no exception. Percy will do anything to get his bride, however when war breaks out both Percy and Leslie are called upon to help to defend Verdopolis from the native Ashantees, however, the disappearance of Lady Emily further complicates matters. Throw in the African Olympic Games, a story within a story about Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, and the appearance of a character named Bertha, and there is plenty to be enjoyed for fans of Brontë’s adult works in addition to newcomers to the wonderful Brontë canon.
The Green Dwarf was published by Hesperus Press in 2003 and cheap second hand copies of this edition can easily be bought. A new edition is due to be published by Alma Books in November 2018. It also appears in An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë, Volume II: The Rise of Angria 1833-1835. Part 1: 1834-1835. Ed. Christine Alexander. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.
Henry Hastings is a very different tale to Albion and Marina and The Green Dwarf. Written in 1839 when Charlotte was 23, it is one of the final additions to the Angrian saga, and one of her most mature and sophisticated pieces of her juvenilia. Charles is once again the narrator, although by this point in the saga he has morphed into the fashionable Charles Townshend, and distances himself from his older brother, now known primarily as Zamorna. A key difference is that Charles shares his narrating duties with his old friend, Sir William Percy, who co-narrates largely through his letters. This may foreshadow the introduction to Charlotte’s novel The Professor, in which William writes to an old friend by the name of Charles, who does not reply, suggesting that the novel was Charlotte’s attempt to distance herself from and silence her Angrian mouthpiece Charles once and for all. The manuscript was left untitled by Brontë, however, Brontë scholar and biographer Winifred Gérin.titled it Captain Henry Hastings in her anthology of Charlotte’s juvenilia, Five Novelettes, but it is now simply known as Henry Hastings.
This is one of my absolute favourite pieces by Charlotte so I will avoid writing too much in this short post. The story has many layers and is very much part of the wider Angrian saga of both Charlotte and Branwell Brontë; Hastings, a creation and pseudonym of Branwell was initially a noble soldier and the poet of Angria, however, at this point in the saga, he is a drunken murderer seeking to escape with the help of his devoted sister, Elizabeth. The story documents Elizabeth’s attempt to at first shield, and then obtain a pardon for her beloved brother and her budding romance with Sir William Percy whilst simultaneously expanding Henry’s character, fleshing out his personality and filling in the gaps left in his backstory by Branwell. In addition to all of this, Charles and Sir William continue to write and exchange letters, and Sir William finds himself falling in love with the proud, humble, but independent Elizabeth, who is the sister of the fugitive he has been ordered to bring to justice. Elizabeth’s position as a governess/teacher to Jane Moore, her pride, independence, and morality has seen her labelled as a precursor to Jane Eyre over the years, and there are definite parallels between the relationships between Jane and Rochester and Elizabeth and Sir William. However, there are also key differences, particularly regarding the endings of the two narratives, and of course, the figure of Henry who looms large in Elizabeth’s life. Although it has connections to other pieces of Brontë juvenilia, and has a strong element of autobiography (Henry/Branwell and Elizabeth/Charlotte), this is a piece that can be read in isolation and it is such a shame that it is not more widely known as it is one of the best, and in my opinion, is superior to The Professor.
Henry Hastings appears in Heather Glen’s anthology Tales of Angria, Penguin Books, 2006. It also features in Five Novelettes. Ed. Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971 under the title Captain Henry Hastings.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate your favourite author’s birthday than to take the time to read the words they devoted so much time, effort, energy, and creativity to during their lifetime. So today I’m going to spend the day getting re-acquainted with some old favourites of both myself and Charlotte and I sincerely hope you will too. Happy birthday Chief Genius Tallii, this post is my gift to you.
By Nicola Friar a.k.a. The Brontë Babe
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Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @NicolaFriar where I tweet about books, the Brontës and lost dogs. A lot.