It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything exclusively on the Brontë juvenilia or an in-depth look at one of Charlotte or Branwell’s early Glass Town Tales. In the past I’ve gone right back to the beginning and looked at texts such as Charlotte’s Two Romantic Tales. I thought it would be nice, and perhaps useful to people, to maybe continue with a chronological look at some of the early Brontë juvenilia. However, I’m purposely skipping the first volume of Tales of the Islanders which was written before The Enfant, as I’d like to do a post featuring all four volumes one day.
For now, the focus is on Charlotte’s work, but I do intend to further explore Branwell’s earliest works, starting with his Battell Book (dated 12th March 1827) in the new year. I’ve had such lovely comments from readers recently expressing thanks for my posts which have kept them uplifted and informed during a very troublesome year. In turn, let me say thank you to all of my readers who have also kept me going throughout the year. To put it simply, if you didn’t read my posts, there would be little point penning them, and I’m so happy to say I’ve reached over 13,000 views on my blog for this year and people from all over the globe. It might not be much to some bloggers but it is to me. The list of countries people have viewed my blog from really is fascinating, proving that we all still love the Brontës.
I’m hoping to put together a book on the Brontë juvenilia next year and have already contacted some publishers about this. If none of them turn out to be interested then I will be looking at self-publishing somehow. If 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s that the Brontës continue to be big business and there is demand for new books inspired by and about them. It’s thanks to the lovely feedback I’ve had this year that I’m just going to go for it next year because the juvenilia is a growing area of interest and having up to date information in a book form would be hugely beneficial to readers and fans. Reader, I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.
I must state now that there are minor spoilers for Charlotte’s novels Jane Eyre and Shirley in the General Thoughts paragraph at the end of this post. I will also be discussing the events of The Enfant.
Back to The Enfant. It’s a short tale written by Charlotte about a man re-uniting with his lost child, but it has a curious history which demonstrates the close relationship between Charlotte and Branwell. The manuscript consists of just two pages and can be found in the Brontë Parsonage Museum. It is dated July 13th 1829. The copy there is actually a fair copy of the original draft by Charlotte, which is now lost. Christine Alexander features this version in her anthology of Charlotte’s early work, An Edition of the Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume I The Glass Town Saga 1826-1832.
Although the tale was written by Charlotte it was copied by Branwell into the May and June 1829 editions of Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine. I believe the June edition is now owned by Harvard Library in the US You can click here to view the July 1829 edition on their website. The version copied by Branwell was in two parts, but only the second (June) is extant. Victor Neufeldt presents this version in his anthology, The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë. Volume I 1827-1833.
There are few differences between Charlotte and Branwell’s versions; indeed, Branwell seems only to have substituted some words. Alexander also notes that his spelling is far worse than Charlotte’s, although this may be due to the fact that Charlotte’s extant version is a fair copy and not the original rough draft, so she may well have edited it. So the version published by Alexander, and the one I am discussing is Charlotte’s later version (the fair copy). Alexander does also briefly ponder whether this version actually copies Branwell’s version of the text which appeared in Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine rather than Charlotte’s original draft. The siblings enjoyed a close collaborative relationship in their youth so I’m guessing both borrowed aspects from the other. In the Alexander version, Charlotte adds in phrases and epithets, possibly to either improve her version or more clearly mark it as her own; the example noted by Alexander is the addition of “poor little” to “Enfant.” This still doesn’t enlighten us as to whether she adapted her own original draft for the fair copy, or whether it is an adaptation of Branwell’s own version of her original. Confused? This is why I love the Brontës and examining the relationship between Charlotte and Branwell in particular; you can never be entirely sure who is behind certain aspects of their work.
The plot is fairly basic and the story does not feature any characters who would go on to have a prominent role in the Glass Town or Angrian writings. So we have no Twelves, no Charles, no Douro/Zamorna, no Rogue/Percy/Northangerland, etc. We are instead introduced to M. Hanghimself, a character staying in a tavern who is visited by a fairy who “uttered in a loud and terrible voice some mysterious words” before flying away again and leaving M. Hanghimself alone one more. Although the magical and supernatural elements of the stories later gave way to a greater sense of realism, it features heavily in the siblings’ earliest works, the most famous supernatural characters being Tallii, Brannii, Emmii, and Annii (spellings vary), the Genii who rule over the Brontës’ fantasy world.
As the story states it is set in Paris, it would be safe for the reader to assume that the M stands for Monsieur (as I did, but then again I have been reading a lot of Poirot lately!). However, in Branwell’s version, this M actually stands for Moses. Once the fairy has departed, Hanghimself is then disturbed by a knock at the door and a character named Pigtail enters with a young chimney sweep. Pigtail does actually feature in several other stories by Charlotte and Branwell where he is characterised as a madman who steals and murders children, however, he does not have the same kind of prominence as those listed above. Hanghimself is moved by the child’s plight, and after watching Pigtail “kicking and trampling on the Enfant” he rushes off to the authorities in a bid to help the child. He is eventually admitted to the presence of Napoleon, who orders a character named Soult to go the Tavern in the Castle and bring Pigtail and the Enfant to him. Soult is the name of character and pseudonym used by Branwell in his early writings, so it is interesting that Charlotte uses him here. However, the siblings frequently shared characters and wrote separate narratives featuring them. The siblings were fascinated with politics and conflicts such as The Napoleonic Wars and The Peninsular War, with Charlotte worshipping the real Duke of Wellington and working fictionalised versions of him and his family into her writings. Soult probably takes his name from the historical Marshall General Jean-de-Dieu Soult, a French General and Statesman who was Prime Minister from 1840-47.
Napoleon questions why Hanghimself wishes to help the enfant, and whether he has any children of his own. Hanghimself reveals that he once had a child who was stolen from him. Realising that his desire to help the child stems from the fact the enfant may in fact be his own stolen child, Hanghimself mentions the mark of an adder bite on his child’s arm. When Soult returns with the enfant and Pigtail, it is revealed that the child has the mark on his arm and is indeed the long lost child of Hanghimself. The two are overjoyed and Pigtail flees from their presence. Napoleon provides money and Hanghimself is able to purchase a beautiful estate to live with the enfant and the reader is informed that they are “two of the happiest and most contented people in all of France.”
This is a nice and curious little tale. It’s certainly no masterpiece but has a lot of charm, and can tell us a lot about the siblings’ close relationship as well as possible influences on their writing. It’s a true fairy tale (complete with an actual fairy who may or may not have been responsible for reuniting Hanghimself and his child) and is wrapped up with a happy ending, even if Pigtail does get away. Interestingly, the theme of the orphaned or lost child is present here in a very early form (think Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe), as is the revelation of a long lost relative (Jane Eyre again), and a parent and child being reunited (Caroline and Mrs Pryor). Charlotte had lost her own mother by the time she wrote The Enfant at the age of thirteen so perhaps there is an element of wish fulfilment in there somewhere. We can never know though, or presume to know, an author’s intentions, but I do like theorising about it sometimes.
I hope you have found this useful and I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and a much better 2021. Thank you for stopping by in 2020.
Remember though, it’s OK not to be OK. In the UK there are organisations such as The Samaritans, a charity whose services can be accessed 24/7. If you need to talk, they can help. There are numerous ways to contact them such as through their website but their phone number is 116 123. It’s free. They can help. Reader, you’re not alone.
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. Find me on twitter @BronteBabeBlog where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights, or on my Brontë Babe Blog Facebook page. Look me up on Goodreads too. I also have a side project where I blog about my love of Classic Crime Fiction over at The Classic Crime Chonicle. I’d love it if you joined me there.
I’d also 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.
Quotes above are taken from Christine Alexander’s anthology.