The Green Dwarf: A Tale of the Present Tense is a novella by Charlotte Brontë. Finished on 2nd September 1833 when Charlotte was just 17 years old, it is part of the Glass Town saga, taking place just months before the creation of the Kingdom of Angria in early 1834, which would then become the principal setting for the remainder of her juvenilia. Glass Town, or Verdopolis, as it is known in this tale, is a setting shared with her brother, Branwell Brontë, whose own narratives are referenced towards the end of Charlotte’s story. The Green Dwarf is one of several narratives which stand at the midpoint of the Brontës’ saga, and it marks a shift between Charlotte’s early Glass Town tales and her more mature Angrian stories.
The Green Dwarf was the first piece of Brontë juvenilia that I ever read after being presented with a copy in 2011 by someone who assured me they had found a Charlotte Brontë book that I didn’t have. Intrigued, I devoured the contents of the book, amazed that my favourite author had ever produced such a narrative, but at the same time, able to recognize features that later made their way into her adult novels. Although Charlotte’s witty, funny, Gothic tale can be enjoyed in isolation, some information about its place in the wider saga and the background information of the characters’ roles will help new readers to appreciate and understand the tale more. As my posts are normally reviews/analyses, there are usually a few spoilers in there, and this one is no exception. However, from the feedback I’ve had about Brontë Babe Blog, people seem to come here for all kinds of information about the Brontë juvenilia, including plot lines of lesser well-known works by the family. Reader, enjoy.
I’d still recommend reading the actual texts as Charlotte’s juvenilia really is fantastic and it’s one thing to read the events of a narrative, it’s another to read and experience the events for yourself. If you’re fairly new to the Brontë juvenilia, The Green Dwarf is a good place to start, however, that doesn’t mean that the tale is simple. The narrative was written shortly after Charlotte’s stay at Roe Head when she was once again able to find time away from her studies and duties to devote herself to her writing. The story is Charlotte’s attempt at the Gothic, however, it also owes a debt to fairy tales, and its humour (not always intentional) cannot be denied.
Set in Verdopolis, the story opens with Charlotte’s preferred pseudonym, writer and reporter, Lord Charles Wellesley, who informs the reader of his recent illness which has resulted in a lack of literary activity on his part. In Charlotte’s previous tale, The Foundling, Charles’ literary rival, Captain Tree labels Charles “one small reptile” and bemoans “those vile and loathsome falsehoods, those malignant and disgusting insinuations” that Charles has been spreading in works such as Something About Arthur (1833). The Green Dwarf, for reasons yet to be discussed, could well be considered a retaliation on Charles’ part following Tree’s statements in The Foundling. However, Charles is not a main character in the story and is merely part of the framing device which sets up the narrative. Now that he is recovering, Charles goes for a walk and visits the home of his friend, Captain John Bud. On arriving at Bud’s home, Charles discovers the presence of his older brother, Arthur, and Colonel Morton. Arthur and Charles exchange insults before Arthur and Morton leave. Once alone, Charles implores Bud to tell him a tale, so although Charles is the author of the tale within Glass Town, it actually originates with Bud, with Charles, “strictly preserving the sense and facts”.
Bud’s story takes place in June 1814, almost twenty years before his meeting with Charles, beginning at the Gennii’s Inn, the location of which is now in the middle of Charlotte’s thriving metropolis, Verdopolis. In 1814 the location was a quiet and lonely spot that was host to the African Olympic Games. Bud and his friend, the antiquarian John Gifford, meet prior to the games and discuss Colonel Alexander Augustus Percy who is trying to win the hand of the beautiful Lady Emily Charlesworth. It is important to note that Percy is an alias of Branwell’s favourite character and pseudonym, Rogue/Northangerland/Ellrington; the two siblings shared characters as well as settings in their juvenilia. Before the games begin, however, a Frenchman is overhead telling a story about Emperor Napoleon. This is a strange dream/supernatural encounter in which Napoleon encounters a ghostly figure who awakens him and somehow leads him from his bed to the private drawing room of his wife, who is entertaining a party of people. Napoleon then falls into a fit and the story within a story concludes with Napoleon overhearing the tale and arresting the storyteller. This passage was included in an early and unreliable edition of Charlotte’s juvenilia edited by Clement Shorter and C. W. Hatfield, The Twelve Adventurers and Other Stories (1925) where it was presented as a separate story and given the title Napoleon and the Spectre. This title originated with Shorter in 1919 when he privately published a limited edition of the passage called The Green Dwarf: Napoleon and the Spectre. A Ghost Story. Needless to say, although this is an interesting episode in the narrative, it makes very little sense without any context; in fact, it arguably makes little sense even within the story itself despite its intriguing nature. Absolutely nothing was gained with such careless editing of the juvenilia.
Following the Frenchman’s arrest, the splendour of the African Olympic Games is presented where the events include chariot racing, horse racing, wrestling, and archery. Percy is the favourite for many events, however, he does not win them all, losing to a red haired man (later revealed to be Branwell’s alter ego and villain S’Death), and a mysterious, handsome archer. Lady Emily (initially mistakenly introduced as Bravey’s niece) watches from the stands and waits to award the prizes to the victors. The mysterious stranger who wins the archery contest refuses to take off his helmet and reveal his identity and later returns to the woods where he has been camping with his page, Andrew. In the night, Andrew is abducted but returns shortly afterwards without disturbing his master.
The following day, the stranger visits his friend, the recently married and esteemed artist, Frederick de Lisle. Frederick tells his own story of finding love with Matilda but being unable to clear his debts, he was forbidden from marrying her. The stranger is revealed to be of high breeding and not a poor archer named Leslie. However, he is later revealed to be “Ronald, Lord of St Clair and Chieftan of Clan Allbyn” and after being refereed to as Leslie for a chunk of text, becomes known as St Clair. To avoid confusion I will simply refer to him as St Clair. The lessons paid for by St Clair enabled de Lisle to clear his debts, marry Matilda, and become a wealthy painter in Verdopolis. Whilst the men talk, Lady Emily arrives for another portrait sitting along with Percy, who is her escort. St Clair desires to see Emily. the object of his affection, and watches her unseen from the opposite window. However, Percy does briefly spot St Clair in the library window, and the scene is set for the two to battle over Emily’s hand and heart.
Following the visit to de Lisle, Andrew accompanies St Clair to Clydesdale Castle, the home of Emily and her uncle, named here as the Marquis of Charlesworth rather than Bravey. St Clair accuses Emily of being artful and of favouring Percy over him. He doubts her love, sincerity, and fidelity, leaving Emily distraught and the reader wondering just how well he really knows her. St Clair’s backstory is filled in during this conversation; educated in England, he came to Africa to prove himself and to flee from those who valued only his money and subsequently fell in love with Emily who did not know his true status. His absence from Verdopolis was due to business with his estates in the Brannii mountains. He desires to elope with Emily and the two make plans to meet at midnight. As he leaves St Clair sees a shadowy figure and attempts to follow it. It is also revealed that Percy knows St Clair was the mysterious archer at the games.
The scene shifts to Percy’s house where he is greeted by the red haired victor at the games, S’Death, who desires to borrow money. After hounding Percy and receiving hundreds of pounds, he leaves and reveals his actually has thousands upon his person. Percy attempts to wound him but fails. S’Death does make a curious reference to the Green Dwarf before he leaves. Emily is torn when her uncle returns and she realises she will never see him again (he favours Percy). He informs her that he will be absent due to the threat of the rebel Ashantee forces as he must accompany the Duke of Wellington and his own forces. The Duchess of Wellington has invited Emily to stay in Waterloo Palace during her uncle’s absence. Emily asks about the baby at the palace, the baby who grows up to be Charlotte’s hero, the Marquis of Douro and eventual Duke of Zamorna who appears at Bud’s house at the beginning of the narrative. Emily decides to elope and flees with a figure she believes to be St Clair but who is revealed to be Percy. In true Gothic style, Emily is kept prisoner in the turret of a castle, watched over by a “hag” called Bertha. Emily must marry Percy or die in the castle.
Branwell is of course more famous for his tales of politics, war, and bloodshed, but here Charlotte proves that she can match him. The history of wars between the native Ashantees and the Twelves is recapped along with the story of the slain King Quamina, and his young son and heir, Quashia, who was taken in and raised by Wellington. Aged seventeen, Quashia has rebelled and rounded up his people and an army still loyal to his father. Weary of life after Emily’s disappearance, St Clair then offers the services of his clan to Wellington. It is revealed that St Clair was delayed due to a problem with his horse on the night of Emily’s abduction and waited all night for the lover who never appeared. After the War Council, during which a proposed attack on the sleeping Ashantees is mentioned, Percy taunts St Clair about Emily, hinting that he knows where she is. St Clair, once again, proves his lack of knowledge of Emily’s character by believing Percy’s lies about her love for him. That night a mysterious figure appears to warn St Clair about Percy. St Clair then returns to his tent and once he is slumbering, Andrew sneaks out after hearing the noise of a shrill whistle to meet the figure who abducted him and an unidentified cloaked figure.
Charlotte then proves she is just as adept at scenes of bloodshed, war, and politics as Branwell in the next passage where she details the bloody victory gained by Wellington and his troops over the Ashantee forces. 17800 men out of 25000 are reported as being killed during the battle showing Charlotte’s bloodthirsty streak. However, before this took place, Wellington’s troops found the Ashantee camp deserted and their plan to attack them in the night was not able to come to fruition. When the two sides eventually meet, a rebel soldier hints to Wellington that there is a traitor in his camp. Careless of his life, St Clair distinguishes himself in battle and finds himself envying the corpses he sees lying on the ground. On his return to his tent, Andrew is missing and St Clair dresses his own wounds and then heads to the second War Council where he is accused by Percy of being the traitor. Andrew is then brought in to testify against his master and St Clair dicovers that his sword has been swapped for a “Moorish scimitar” leading those present to believe his in league with the Ashantees. After the emergence of more items of Ashantee origin, St Clair is arrested and given six weeks to prepare for his trial.
St Clair is then held in the state dungeon beneath the Tower of All Nations in Verdopolis which is thousands of feet below ground. The fact that St Clair is so far underground whilst Emily is confined to a castle turret stresses not only the physical distance between them, but to me also suggests the emotional distance between the lovers, and just how far they will have to go to get to know one another better even if they are reunited. St Clair is visited by the same mysterious stranger who promises to aid him at his trial. True to his word, when St Clair’s trial at the old Hall of Military Justice begins, a young Ensign Bud comes to his aid with a story about how he witnessed Percy threatening Andrew, calling him a green dwarf and promising to stab him through the heart if he did not obey him and betray St Clair. Bud’s story is not proof but it does buy St Clair more time to gather a defence. However, the arrival of a dying man named Travers (the stranger who abducted Andrew) leads to St Clair being cleared and freed after Travers reveals Percy’s plans to abduct Emily and have St Clair killed.
After St Clair’s release he is taken by Wellington (who is revealed to be the stranger who warned St Clair about Percy) to Waterloo Palace where he is reunited with Emily. Here is where elements of the fairy tale creep into the narrative as it is revealed that Lady Emily remained in the tower for several days without food or water until a passing hunter stumbled upon the castle and the dead body of the ancient Bertha. Searching the castle he found Emily and rescued her before delivering her safely to Waterloo Palace. The Marquis of Charlesworth consents to his niece’s marriage to St Clair and the pair are destined for a happy ever after in true fairy tale style. Percy is sentenced to death, however, this is later reduced to a period of exile where it is revealed that he wanders the world and becomes, amongst other things, a pirate. This is a fascinating example of how Charlotte and Branwell’s work overlaps and the siblings borrow characters and ideas from one another. Percy’s time as a pirate is documented by Branwell in his own narratives, including The Pirate (also 1833) which has been recently republished by the Juvenilia Press. You can read my review of this by clicking here. For his part in the scheme, Andrew is sentenced to a decade of hard labour after which he reforms and Charles implies that the Green Dwarf grew up to become his rival, Captain Tree.
This is a fascinating and deceptively complex tale. It can be enjoyed in isolation, however, I feel a knowledge of the wider saga and the characters gives readers a greater appreciation of the story. It is interesting to see how Charlotte attempts to mould Branwell’s hero, Rogue/Percy/Ellrington/Northangerland into a more rounded character. The absence of her own hero, Douro/Zamorna who only appears briefly at the start of the text is also interesting, however, Wellington was arguably still the hero of the saga at this point in time. He is usurped by Zamorna and gradually fades from the narratives over time. Charles’ attack on Tree is also remarkable as the two characters are actually pseudonyms of Charlotte and this is not an example of Charlotte and Branwell responding to one another’s work and characters. Their antagonistic relationship demonstrates the complexity of Charlotte’s juvenilia and her mind. The character named Bertha is probably the most interesting aspect of this tale to Brontë fans new to the juvenilia. Although Bertha is very different from the character of the same name in Jane Eyre (1847), it is fascinating to note that both characters are in someway involved in secrecy and locked rooms at the top of the house. Reader, I hope you have enjoyed this post.
The Green Dwarf was published by Hesperus Press in 2003 and cheap second hand copies of this edition can easily be bought. This is the version that I have chosen to review. 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.
The Green Dwarf quotes are taken from the Hesperus Press edition of the story (2003).
The Foundling quotes are taken from the Hesperus Press edition of the story (2005).
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