Brontë, Juvenilia, Literature, Reviews, Uncategorized

Charlotte Brontë’s The Search After Happiness, Good Editing, and the Brontë Juvenilia


As I’m obsessed with the Brontë juvenilia, I make it my business to read as many versions of the writings as I can find. Yes, in theory, the narratives should be the same, but in the case of juvenilia, how a text is edited can have a big impact on how it is not only received, but understood. Unfortunately, the Brontë juvenilia is actually very complex. So let’s start at the beginning. In June 1826, Branwell Brontë was famously given a set of wooden toy soldiers by his father and it was this event which saw the birth of The Young Men’s Play. Each surviving Brontë sibling (Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, Anne) picked a soldier, naming them, and creating the characters that would become an integral part of their childhood stories and the later expansion of this world over the next decade (or two decades in Branwell’s case). Charlotte chose her political hero, the Duke of Wellington; Branwell chose a character who was the antagonist of Charlotte’s hero both on and off the page, Naopoleon Bonaparte; Emily and Anne chose Gravey and Waiting Boy, who would eventually evolve into the famous explorers, Parry and Ross. These soldiers, known as The Twelves, made their way into the Brontës’ earliest writings and eventually became the centre of their imaginary world of Glass Town.

Branwell’s Map of Glass Town c.1831

Charlotte and Branwell took the lead as the oldest and only boy respectively, and consequently the characters of Anne and Emily took a backseat to the likes of Wellington, Bonaparte, Rogue, Lord Charles, and Douro. Anne and Emily broke away to create their own narratives set in the world of Gondal in 1831. Sadly most of Emily and Anne’s writings have been lost to time and what remains is difficult to piece together and make sense of, however, they seem to have used their original soldier characters, and there are also names which crop up in both worlds such as Zenobia and Alexander. As Anne and Emily broke away, Charlotte and Branwell continued to develop Glass Town, and eventually in 1834, the kingdom of Angria. Four siblings wrote about different but connected worlds, sometimes in collaboration with one another, and sometimes separately. Occasionally these worlds also cross over with characters appearing in Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal narratives (such as Parry and Ross). These characters sometimes have several different aliases and the spellings are not always consistent. Additionally, these characters continued to develop as the writings progressed with some remarkable transformations (Douro to Zamorna being the most obvious example).

Editing Juvenilia

The Brontë juvenilia can, quite frankly, be a bit of a headache to make sense of, however, it’s worth it to experience secret worlds that we really have no right to be intruding upon for the Brontës were fiercely private about their early writings. One theory is that they produced their tiny books so that they could not be read by their father; another theory is that the books were so small so that they could be read by Branwell’s toy soldiers. I’ve enjoyed my research into these remarkable worlds and enjoy exercising my little grey cells. A good edition of juvenilia would ideally contain context and background information not only on the creation of the texts, but also, in the Brontës’ case, whole worlds, and how this text fits in with the rest of the Glass Town/Angria/Gondal works. These kind of editions are an absolute joy to find; two versions I really recommend are Heather Glen’s anthology of Tales of Angria and Christine Alexander’s collection, Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal. They both have fantastic introductions which give a real insight into the chronology of the texts, who the characters are, and how they fit into the wider paracosmic world. Although it’s an older version and it unfortunately edits some of the tales, Winfred Gerin’s Five Novelettes also gives some solid background information on Charlotte’s world and works.


In general, I would avoid any editions that provide little to no information on the worlds unless you are familiar with them, and any that edit the texts beyond recognition.  Trust me, you don’t want to dive straight into the likes of Stancliffe’s Hotel or The Spell without some kind of knowledge of their place in the writings and the characters. Even that may not help with The Spell though. Sometimes, in the 21st century, readers must make allowances for edits in older editions if part of the manuscript simply has not been available to the transcriber/editor/publisher, however, I recently stumbled upon a pocket edition of Charlotte’s Angrian tale, Mina Laury, which had been edited so heavily it didn’t make sense to me and was unrecognisable from the versions I had previously experienced. It’s text that has a thorny editing history anyway, and one that is bound up with a tale now known as Passing Events.

The Search After Happiness

The Search After Happiness appeared in one of the Brontës’ tiny books in 1829. It was written by Charlotte when she was 13 years old. It is one of the earliest Glass Town tales and features her most famous creations, Wellington and his sons Lord Charles and Douro. However, these characters take a backseat the tale’s protagonist, Henry O’Donnell, in his sole appearance in the juvenilia.

The Manuscript

The manuscript is one of the tiny books the Brontës wrote to imitate the periodicals of their day and is now housed in the British Library’s archives. Paper was expensive to the Brontës, and so the size of their books enabled them to use as little as possible. The manuscript is a 15 page hand-sewn booklet in brown paper wrapper, and it contains many errors and revisions, one of the most prominent being on the title page where the young Charlotte had initially dated the text 1828 before crossing this out and replacing it with 1829. Charlotte dates the tale 17th August 1829 so we know the initial date on the title page was a genuine error on her part and it wasn’t actually written in 1828. Additionally, the word “happiness” is spelled as “hapiness” on the title page. Some of the spelling within the narrative is also inconsistent; Charlotte uses the name Delancy and De Lancy at different points in the text.

The British Library have made many manuscripts available to view for free online, including The Search After Happiness. Click here to view the tiny book on their website. Here you can see Charlotte’s tiny writing, her errors, and her attempt to recreate the type of magazines and periodicals she frequently read such as Blackwood’s Magazine. Fun fact, this manuscript contains Charlotte’s earliest known poem, “In this fairy land of light”.

The Narrative

The narrative itself is a curious tale of one man’s search for happiness in remote and strange places. Although the main text does not specifically mention Glass Town by name, Charlotte’s preface states that the tale is set there, and that the characters of the Chief of the City and his sons are the Duke of Wellington, the Marquis of Douro, and Lord Wellesley. As stated above, the protagonist of the tale is Henry O’Donell, a character never used again in the juvenilia, who leaves the city in self-imposed exile after striking another nobleman during an argument. After making his apologies and meeting with the King he decides to quit the city forever, and bids farewell to the young princes, who caution him about his search for happiness in an unfamiliar place where he is unknown to all.

Picture of a Tiny Book
Tiny book on display at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, December 2016.

Along the way he meets Alexander Delancy, a Frenchman who is also searching for happiness and never used again by Charlotte. The two travel on together, reaching a distant land where they spend many peaceful years. Some years later, Delancy is collecting fruit from the forest but never returns. One particular scene where O’Donell calls for Delancy and thinks he almost hears a reply cannot fail to strike a chord with lovers of Jane and Rochester. He remembers the princes’ words not to forget them and wishes he could see them and their father again.

Suddenly O’Donell hears a clap of thunder and a mysterious figure appears who commands him to return home and surrender himself up to the figure’s power. O’Donell promises this and instantly finds himself at the door of the castle in the land of his birth. Continuing his journey he arrives at Glass Town and enters the palace by a secret entrance. He recognises the two handsome young men inside as the princes and throws himself at the feet of the Duke. He is warmly welcomed by all and spends his life in the city, later being reunited with Delancy after spotting him in the street.

Editions of the Text

Although it lacks the sophistication of some of Charlotte’s other early works, such as her fantastic short play The Poetaster (1830), it is an enjoyable little tale. Unusually, it does not require an extensive knowledge of the Brontë juvenilia to enjoy as there are looser connections to the regular characters and established events. Considering this, an introduction is not strictly necessary but would be helpful for the reader to make sense of its place within Charlotte’s paracosmic world.

The tale, to my knowledge, has appeared in print 3 times: in an illustrated 1969 version with a short introduction by Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, T.A.J. Burnett; as part of Christine Alexander’s 1987 anthology, An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë, Vol 1; and more recently a 2018 edition published by Read Books in 2018. The 1969 version is probably the best as it presents it as what it is, a children’s tale. The illustrations by Carolyn Dinan really capture the spirit of a whimsical and youthful tale. Burnett’s introduction is also solid, introducing you briefly to the origins of the Brontë juvenilia and Glass Town, and the text’s connection to wider events. To put it simply, it does the job. Alexander’s version is part of a large anthology; the introduction to this is packed full of information. There are also some helpful little footnotes on the actual text to help with history, background, context, etc. It’s also a good version, but I slightly prefer Burnett’s short piece on it.


Moving onto the Read Books version, there is no kind of introduction or context to the tale provided. As I said above, this isn’t strictly necessary, but it would have been welcome to those unfamiliar with the juvenilia. A short piece about the the history of the manuscript and the narrative wouldn’t have been too hard to cobble together. Instead, this one seems to be trying to cash in on the Brontë connection without providing any real information to help the reader better understand the story, or anything else about the rest of the juvenilia. Instead, the reader is presented with a short essay by G.K. Chesterton (author of the Father Brown stories) about Charlotte, Haworth, facts, fairy tales and Jane Eyre. It makes for an interesting read, but has absolutely no connection to the text, and the juvenilia isn’t even mentioned.

The other piece in this edition is by Virginia Woolf and is her account of her visit to Haworth, first published in the Guardian newspaper in 1904. Again, it’s interesting, and amusing (she spells Keighley phonetically for the benefit of those who have no idea how to pronounce it), but it’s in no way relevant to the text or the Brontë juvenilia. I will keep the edition as it’s handy to have the essays readily available (and the cover is gorgeous), but we need to move forwards with regards to editing the Brontë juvenilia. I once remember an English teacher telling me that context is all; maybe it’s not all, but it’s pretty important to our understanding of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal.

In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)

A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.


By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe. 

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”.

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



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