Reader, it’s been a while since my last post looking at the Brontë juvenilia, so let’s get back into the swing of things with a look at Charlotte’s short story, “The Silver Cup, A Tale.”
Background and Manuscript
The story first appeared in the October 1829 edition of the Brontës’ Blackwood’s Young Men’s Magazine. It is one of the earliest examples of the Brontë juvenilia, which would eventually open up into the detailed paracosms of Glass Town and Angria, and Gondal. The manuscript is one of the family’s famous tiny books; hand sewn, and consisting of sixteen grey-brown pages which measure only 5.5cm by 3.5cm, it is currently housed in Harvard College and is part of the Houghton Library Repository. Interestingly, there are many amendments by the young Charlotte as she worked; as paper was scarce in the Brontë household, she could not have afforded to simply start over again every time an error was made or she wished to amend something. Unlike other editions of the magazine, this one has no title page. Also featured in the October edition are the poem “The Statue and Goblet” and the story “Military Conversations.”
The author of the story within the world of Glass Town is one of Charlotte’s early characters and pseudonyms, Captain Tree. The tale focuses on Captain Henry Dunnally and his family rather than the Glass Town regulars who would come to dominate the juvenilia (Charles, Zamorna, etc.). The Silver Cup” is very short, consisting of just a few hundred words, and Dunnally is not a recurring character (there is a Gustavus Dunnally named in “A Romantic Tale”) which may be the reason the tale tends to be overlooked. The story begins with an introduction to Henry’s family life, children, and his beautiful wife, Lady Dunnally. One night a stranger knocks at the door and sells to Henry the silver cup of the title. Described as “a beautiful silver cup…embossed with the most delicate workmanship” but Lady Dunally is unimpressed and outraged at what she says as Henry’s frivolous purchase.
Lady Dunnally storms out of the room in a fit of rage, but appears to breakfast the next morning with a cooler head. This peace is soon shattered with the discovery that a precious ship in a bottle kept in the library has been smashed to pieces by their youngest daughter, Cina. Lady Dunally is horrified and blames Henry, who only responds that it is not his fault as it was his wife’s turn to look after the library key. Again, this puts her in a rage and takes it out on Cina.
A week later, a grave Henry approaches his wife. He discloses the news that her brother is to be hanged for murder that afternoon. She faints away at the terrible news and the whole family are in a state of distress. The exception to this is their son, young Henry, who appears indifferent to it all. The following morning Lady Dunally receives a visit from her sister, chastising her for letting young Henry attend the execution as “‘It was quite against all the rules of fashionable society.'” Consequently, the family are to be shunned by society. A horrified Lady Dunally insists she did no such thing and asks her sister to dispel the rumours.
The following day, young Henry admits to his parents that he did indeed go to witness his uncle’s execution. His parents are horrified and he pays the price for his actions. Captain Dunnally passes a restless night and comes to the realisation that the cause of all the recent misfortune is the silver cup. Upon rising from his bed he fills the cup with “odours” causing it to fall to pieces and vanish (in Glass Town, an odour is a substance that is used to dispel unwanted genii and their possessions). When Lady Dunally rises, he informs her of what he has done and she is “perfectly satisfied” with his actions. In time, fashionable society comes to believe their innocence regarding young Henry and the execution, the glass bottle mends itself, the children’s behaviour improves, and “they live as comfortably and as happily as could be.”
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.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.
All quotes above are taken from An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume I. The Glass Town Saga 1826-1832 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), edited by Christine Alexander.