Brontë, Juvenilia, Literature, Reviews

The Pirate by Branwell Brontë

The Sixth International Literary Juvenilia Conference was hosted by Durham University and ran from 5th – 8th July 2018. In addition to featuring a wide selection of papers and talks on juvenilia by authors such as the Brontës, Hartley Coleridge, Barbara Newhall Follett, and John Ruskin, the conference also featured the launch of the Juvenilia Press’ new edition of Branwell Brontë’s Glass Town tale The Pirate (1833), edited by Christine Alexander with Joetta Harty and Benjamin Drexler. As a speaker at the conference I also attended celebrated Brontë and juvenilia scholar Christine Alexander’s opening keynote lecture on Charlotte Brontë and print culture where the book was launched and purchased my third (yes, third) copy of the text. Why did I do this? As a Brontë and juvenilia devotee and scholar myself I was curious to see how this edition would differ from the versions that appear in Alexander’s anthology Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal and Victor Neufeldt’s The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë, Volume 1, but also how the Juvenilia Press would present and introduce Branwell’s tale to new readers. Below you can find information on Branwell’s narrative, and my thoughts on the Juvenilia Press edition of The Pirate. There will be spoilers in this post, but it can’t be helped when discussing a piece which is part of a long-running and complex saga and to be honest, it isn’t the most demanding plot line in the world; the clue to its content is in the title.

The Narrative

Before we review the actual edition of the text, first let’s take a look at Branwell’s narrative, its characters, and how it fits into the wider Glass Town saga as despite its short length, there is an awful lot to discuss and contextualise, something the Introduction of the Juvenilia Press edition aims to do. The central figure of The Pirate is Branwell’s favourite pseudonym and character Alexander Rougue. He is later referred to as Rogue and that is the spelling I have chosen to adopt in this post. Rogue’s backstory is complicated, as is his later life. At this stage in the saga, Rogue is a demagogue modelled on Napoleon, a historical figure who fascinated the young Branwell. A ruthless and bloodthirsty character, the staunch Republican Rogue leads a rebellion in Verdopolis in the style of the French Revolution, however, he is eventually overthrown. Following a second failed rebellion, Rogue is captured and killed. However, just like Charlotte who later resurrected her favourite heroine Mary Percy (daughter of Rogue’s future incarnation Alexander Percy), Branwell knew a good character when he had one and resurrected Rogue. In Charlotte’s The Green Dwarf (also from 1833), she records the downfall of a once brilliant soldier Colonel Augustus Percy (another alias of Rogue) and his sentence of a sixteen-year exile where he wandered the world and became, amongst other things, a pirate. Branwell’s opening line of The Pirate “Alexander Rougue has just returned from no one knows where” seems to be a reference to Rogue’s exile demonstrating the complexity of the saga and the close collaboration of the siblings.

The narrators and authors of the Glass Town texts are normally characters from within the saga despite the fact that both Branwell and Charlotte usually sign off with their own signatures/initials, and The Pirate is no exception, however, it is a little more complicated. Branwell’s title page states that it is a tale by the celebrated Glass Town author Captain John Flower, “The Author of Letters from an Englishman” and an early pseudonym of Branwell. However, Flower does not narrate the tale despite being the author/editor; it is in fact narrated by a character named John Everard Bellingham, a wealthy English banker. There are so many layers in the Brontë juvenilia. Bellingham visits a distracted and nervous Rogue at home where they are interrupted first by Napoleon, and then by the Duke of Wellington, who at this point in the saga is Charlotte’s chief character and one of the four kings of the Glass Town Federation. Wellington informs Rogue of reports of piracy that have reached his ears, and also of rumours of Rogue’s involvement. Rogue is summoned to appear before the court of Admiralty the next day in order to clear his name; he agrees and Wellington departs.

Later that night Bellingham is kidnapped by Rogue’s men who drag him on board one of their pirate ships -The Red Rover – and set sail for Monkey’s Island as Rogue knows he cannot prove his innocence and realises that Bellingham knows too much due to their earlier meeting. When a vessel from Glass Town approaches, the crew board Rogue’s ship with a warrant for his arrest signed by Wellington. In response to this, at least one crew member is beheaded, the captain is shot dead, and war breaks out, ending with the sinking of the Glass Town vessel and the shooting of the thirty crew members Rogue has taken captive. However, even Rogue takes exception to the actions of Sdeath, an incarnation of Chief Genius Brannii (one of the four Glass Town Genii and fictional representation of Branwell) who stabs the dying crewmen and Sdeath secretly plots his revenge for Rogue’s harsh treatment of him.

Three days later, a ship carrying the Earl of Elrington (spelt Ellrington by Charlotte), his daughter Zenobia and sons Alsand, Myrtillus, and Surena, is seized by Rogue after his men use an altered version of the warrant for Rogue’s arrest in order to trick the Elrington’s and they are taken prisoner on board the Red Rover. Rogue does not kill them as he has further plans for them. Later that night Sdeath attempts to stab Rogue through the heart but is foiled by Bellingham and Rogue and then murdered himself. They throw his body overboard where it transforms back into Chief Genius Brannii before disappearing. As a reward for his aid, Rogue promises Bellingham his freedom before turning his attention towards the beautiful Zenobia who will become his third wife.

Rogue announces his intention to marry Zenobia after which he will become Viscount Elrington, taking his wife’s name and share of the Elrington fortune, in return for the family’s freedom. Returning to land, Rogue pleads his case before Wellington, promising full recompense to all parties affected by his piracy in return for his pardon and freedom. The deal is agreed and Rogue marries Zenobia who will become a central figure in the later Angrian narratives following the creation of Angria the following year. Although the ending is simple and seemingly happy, it is the first step in Rogue’s complicated journey and transformation into Lord Elrington, Alexander Percy, and the Earl of Northangerland, in addition to a nobleman, villain, politician, and patriarch. Branwell felt he needed a protagonist to rival the power of Charlotte’s Douro/Zamorna, and fortunately for us, Rogue is more than a match for him and their rivalry and love/hate relationship continued to play out until Charlotte decided to abandon the saga in 1839. Her final explicitly Angrian extant narrative in which the two feature is Caroline Vernon, a fascinating tale about adolescence, transition, and the power battle between Zamorna and Percy for Caroline, Zamorna’s ward and Percy’s illegitimate daughter.

Thoughts on the Juvenilia Press Edition of The Pirate

The Juvenilia Press edition of The Pirate is a valuable addition to my collection. Whereas in The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë Victor Neufeldt presents a largely unedited text and Christine Alexander presents an edited version in Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal, the Juvenilia Press edition contains both a clear edition and a diplomatic edition, giving readers a choice. The clear edition is the edited version which has slight changes that have been deemed necessary such as the insertion of paragraphs in order to present a clear reading text, however, impressively, the alterations have been kept to a minimum and some of Branwell’s “errors” have even been retained to avoid altering the feel of the text too much. The diplomatic edition aims to replicate the text as Branwell wrote it for readers interested in the original form of the tale which tells us a lot about the Brontë boy and his writing style. Whilst the diplomatic version is more difficult to read, I personally enjoy reading the juvenilia in their original form and I am well used to encountering Branwell’s work this way as this is how Neufeldt chooses to present the texts and I have personally handled and studied Branwell’s original manuscript at the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Presenting the two versions of the text gives the reader a rare and easy opportunity of comparing different versions, and an insight into the difficulties of editing.

Branwell Brontë’s drawing of Alexander Percy, 1846

The introduction is also impressive, covering Branwell’s early life, the origins of the Glass Town stories and the famous tiny books, in addition to a history of Rogue’s evolution over the years. There are also unsurprisingly sections on historical piracy and its influence on literature, and also on Branwell specifically. It’s a great introduction to not only the often confusing character and timeline of Rogue/Elrington/Percy, but also to the Glass Town saga more generally and the roles of both Branwell and Charlotte. This is a worthy addition to my Brontë juvenilia collection and to juvenilia scholarship. It’s an accessible and reader-friendly edition of one of Branwell’s best and less confusing Glass Town tales and my copy is already looking a bit dog-eared. Go and get your copy now.


All quotes are taken from The Pirate by Patrick Branwell Brontë (Sydney: Juvenilia Press, 2018).

Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.


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