Introduction and Background
The Duke of Zamorna is a novelette by Charlotte Brontë. Written in July 1838 when she was 22 years old, the narrative is one of the final additions to Charlotte’s Angrian saga which famously began with her father’s gift of twelve toy soldiers to her brother, Branwell, in 1826 and the creation of the Glass Town Federation. In 1834, the kingdom of Angria was created by parliament for Charlotte’s hero, the Duke of Zamorna, as a reward for his efforts in the War of Encroachment against the native Ashantee people, and this became the principal setting for the remainder of the saga. Despite the novelette being the product of an adult author, it is labelled as juvenilia due to its place in the Glass Town/Angria paracosm and its origins in Charlotte’s childhood plays and writings. The Duke of Zamorna is one of the final pieces of Charlotte’s juvenilia, and it has a maturity and sophistication that her earlier tales lack.
However, the novelette is somewhat experimental, with Charlotte presenting a series of vignettes, or sketches rather than a linear series of events. This was a technique she also adopted in her previous Angrian narrative, Stancliffe’s Hotel which you can read about by clicking here. Charlotte plays around with both tone and style throughout and also experiments with the epistolary format, depicts both the past and present, and introduces many different characters who weave in and out of the events described. Continue reading for a summary of the events of The Duke of Zamorna.
The Events of the Narrative and Characters
The narrator of the tale is Charlotte’s favourite pseudonym and alter ego, Charles Townshend, who has by this late point in the saga evolved from the spoiled and precocious child author, Lord Charles Wellesley, into a struggling writer and dandy. Although there is no storyline other than Townshend musing over some old letters, the contents of these letters form the vignettes that make up the novelette, and they focus on the backstories of various characters from both Charlotte and Branwell’s narratives, and in doing so, they cover an awful lot of Angrian history. In fact, Charlotte seems to focus more on Branwell’s characters, and the events from his work, rather than on her own. For example, she references Harriet O’Connor, a tragic heroine who featured in several poems by Branwell, and who was a victim of Alexander Percy”s wild youth. Percy is Branwell’s favourite character and pseudonym, Alexander Percy/Lord Elrington/Northangerland who also appears in Charlotte’s narratives. To avoid confusion, I will refer to him as Alexander Percy in this post.
There are many familiar names mentioned in passing, some authors of letters, others merely subjects, such as Lord Caversham, Hector Montmorency, and George Vernon. Most of the letters relate to the youth of Percy, and his first marriage to the beautiful Lady Augusta di Segovia, who it is revealed was poisoned by her accomplices in her plot to murder Percy’s father, Edward Percy (not to be confused with Alexander’s son by his second wife, also named Edward Percy). Several of Townshend’s letters also refer to Percy’s second wife, Mary Henrietta Percy née Wharton, who becomes ill following the removal of her infant son, Henry, shortly after his birth. In the wider events of the saga, prior to Henry’s birth, Mary Henrietta’s older sons, William and Edward, were also removed shortly after their births by their father, Alexander, due to his aversion to them. The novelette also touches upon Percy’s reformation after his union with Mary, his genuine grief at her death, and his return to his former wild ways in later life.
The reader is also introduced very briefly to a very young Arthur Wellesley, later known as the Duke of Zamorna, Charlotte’s hero who accompanies his mother on a visit to the distressed and childless Mary Henrietta. His forceful will is evident even in his infancy.Flicking to the present, Percy is married to his third wife Zenobia Elrington, and his daughter Mary Percy (daughter of Mary Henrietta and the only child he didn’t cast out of his home) is married to Charlotte’s hero and Townshend’s brother, Zamorna. A conversation between Percy and Zamorna reveals their love hate relationship which, although diluted at this late stage in the saga, is still evident. Lady Vernon, a former mistress of Percy’s, and mother of his illegitimate daughter, Caroline Vernon, the eponymous protagonist of Charlotte’s final complete extant Angrian novelette (1839) is also mentioned and mocked by the two. Zamorna comments that Percy has neglected to ask about Caroline, however, Percy has forgotten her existence completely. Zamorna describes her to Percy, setting the scene for Caroline Vernon the following year. This particular section of the narrative then comes full circle with the remembrance of the death of Augusta.
Switching back to Townshend again, he states that “I grew weary of heroics and longed for some chat with men of common clay.” Following this, a letter to Townshend himself is presented and the current narrative is abandoned. The author of the letter is Sir William Percy (disowned son of Percy), who suspects that Townshend’s solitude is due to love, and then discusses his recent activities in Zamorna City and the beauty of the Rose of Zamorna, Jane Moore, at Lord Hartford’s ball. In Charlotte’s previous narrative, Stancliffe’s Hotel, Moore makes fun of Townshend and Sir William who are infatuated with her beauty.
Townshend then reappears and describes his walk in the country where he meets the Countess of Arundel and her children. Following this, Townshend, sick of solitude, decides to return the the city. Anther letter from Sir William follows in which he discusses his meeting with Henry Fernando di Enara, the commander of the Angrian forces and his trip to Adrianopolis. A third letter from Sir William concludes the novelette in which he discusses his childhood, his estranged brother, Edward, and his preference in a woman when looking for a wife (something that comes back to haunt him in Charlotte’s next novelette, Henry Hastings). Sir William then meets with characters including Enara, Lord Hartford, and Zamorna, and is to perform a mysterious and secretive diplomatic mission in Paris, capital of Branwell’s Frenchyland. This mission is detailed in Henry Hastings, where Sir William once again shares narrating duties with Townshend. The novelette ends abruptly with a meeting between Sir William and his sister Mary Percy, wife of Zamorna. Although the two are estranged, there is no bad blood between them like there is between Sir William and Edward; they have merely been kept apart by their father’s aversion to his sons.
This is one of the Angrian texts that I always enjoy re-reading. There are so many layers of Angrian history buried within it for readers to enjoy. However, for those without a knowledge of the events of the saga and its characters, it can be a little confusing, although I still think it is much easier to grasp than Stancliffe’s Hotel. In addition to setting the scene for Henry Hastings, Sir William’s correspondence to Charles Townshend also foreshadows the opening of Charlotte’s later novel The Professor in which William Crimsworth writes to an old friend named Charles, and Crimsworth’s subsequent narration. It is evident that Charlotte was already attempting to distance herself from her alter ego in order to proceed to the next chapter of her literary apprenticeship.
I am not sure where the title of the piece came from, however, Brontë did not title it herself. The manuscript was formally in the Law Collection at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, however, it is now considered to be lost.
The Duke of Zamorna appears in Tales of Angria which is edited by Heather Glen (London: Penguin Classics, 2006) where the quote from the article is taken from, and also in Tales of Angria (London: Pocket Penguin Books, 2010). Although Glen is not listed as the editor of the latter edition, it seems to be the same as the former edition, and so I suspect she should have been listed as the editor. There are no introductory notes to the 2010 version though.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Tales of the Genii (edited by myself) is now available from The Crow Emporium – click here to buy.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.