Brontë, Literature, Reviews

Charlotte Brontë’s Stancliffe’s Hotel

Introduction the the Text

Stancliffe’s Hotel is a short novella, or novelette, written in 1838 by Charlotte Brontë. It is also one of my favourite pieces of her early fiction, or juvenilia, which were initially set in Glass Town before shifting predominantly to the newly created Kingdom of Angria in 1834. I previously wrote a piece on Stancliffe’s Hotel at the beginning of the year but whilst revisiting it recently I realised how poor the piece was in comparison to the rest of my blog posts. Viewer numbers don’t lie either; as of today my first post on Stancliffe’s Hotel has had just 14 visitors. Compare this with another one of my more recent reviews which currently has enjoyed 740 views and there is clearly a problem.

The problem was the style of my “review” which didn’t really review it at all, and did the albeit experimental text no favours. So it’s time to right some wrongs and re-write my original piece in order to do justice to Charlotte’s surprisingly proto-modernist text. Yes, I really did just use that term but read on and you’ll understand what I mean by it.

Let’s start with the basics: Stancliffe’s Hotel was written in June 1838 when Charlotte Brontë was 22 years old and considering cutting ties with her childhood creations forever, something she managed to achieve the following year in “Farewell to Angria”, a fragment in which anticipates the destruction of Angria. As Stancliffe’s Hotel is one of the final pieces of her Glass Town/Angrian saga, it is difficult to read in isolation, and impossible to understand without knowledge of prior events and characters within the saga. So let me set the scene and introduce you to some of its major characters.

 

The Events of the Narrative

The narrative takes place six months after the events described in Charlotte’s previous novelette, Mina Laury. The narrator is Charles Townshend, Charlotte’s favourite pseudonym, who has over the course of the saga evolved from the precocious child author, Lord Charles Wellesley, into the fashionable dandy we are now presented with. Rather unusually at this late point in the saga, Townshend is both narrator and a character within the story. The text consists of a series of sketches or vignettes, beginning rather bizarrely in a Methodist Chapel where Townshend meets Louisa Dance, an opera singer once married to Townshend’s uncle, the Marquis of Wellesley. Townshend then visits Louisa’s house where they find her lover, Macara Lofty, drugged up to his eyeballs on opium.

Townshend then decides to visit the country and arrives at Stancliffe’s Hotel, located in the city of Zamorna. He reminisces about the trial of his older brother, the Duke of Zamorna following his defeat at Edwardston. He meets up with his old friend Sir William Percy who is also staying in the hotel. Sir William informs Townshend of his military exploits and adventures during the previous six months. The following day they take a walk around town at Sir William’s request where the streets are full of people and life. Sir William mentions the chimneys from the mills owned by his estranged brother, Edward Percy, foreshadowing the opening of Brontë’s later published novel The Professor.

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Branwell Brontë’s drawing of Alexander Percy, 1846

Townshend and Sir William see society beauty and the Rose of Zamorna, Jane Moore, and determine to win her favour. Arriving at the home she shares with her father, a barrister away on business, they adopt the aliases of Messrs Clarke and Gardiner and attempt to engage her in flirtation, however, she is uninterested and cuts them down to size. The arrival of General Thornton interrupts this and their aliases are rumbled by him as he knows their true identities all too well, having once been the guardian of the young Charles Wellesley. Jane eventually recognises Sir William due to his resemblance to his father, former prime minister, political demagogue, and frequent antagonist of Zamorna, Alexander Percy (also known as the Earl of Northangerland and Lord Ellrington).

Unimpressed with Jane, Sir William takes his leave and Townshend follows. The action then shifts to Girnington where Jane is staying with Thornton and his wife. Jane reveals her unrequited love for Lord Hartford, an older celebrated Angrian general who is in love with Zamorna’s favourite mistress Mina Laury. Hartford is still recovering from injuries sustained in a duel with Zamorna the previous winter. Castlereagh, the Earl of Stuartville brings the news that Zamorna is expected in the city of Zamorna the following day and that the citizens are threatening to revolt due to his contact with Northangerland, his father-in-law and a political exile. Zamorna’s friendship with Percy has angered his supporters and his citizens.

Zamorna does indeed return to the city and Townshend watches the political unrest in the street below from the window of his hotel room. The crowd voice their displeasure at Percy as his daughter (and Zamorna’s wife) Mary steps out of her carriage. Zamorna addresses the angry mob but fails to calm them. Chaos breaks out in the streets, horses are startled and men injured whilst most people flee. Townshend meets Sir William again that afternoon and they discuss the events of the morning. Sir William relates the events of the meeting between Zamorna and other leaders as he was present. Zamorna vented his anger at those present before dismissing them.

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Zamorna depicted by Branwell Brontë

The text ends with an interesting scene featuring Zamorna and his wife Mary at Stancliffe’s Hotel. Townshend describes the peace that has since settled over the place. Zamorna seeks the apartment where Mary has retired to rest after her shock at the violence. He contemplates her beauty and his love for her. She wakes and they discuss being foreigners in their adopted land with the theme of Mary’s sense of alienation further reinforced when she expresses her wish to go back to Percy Hall. Although she is not forbidden to return to her ancestral home, she will not leave without Zamorna, and Zamorna does not wish to visit Percy Hall. As Zamorna reads a copy of Byron’s works, Mary contemplates his increased kindness and attention, and her role in the lives of her husband and father. The narrative ends when Townshend amusingly breaks off to announce that Hannah Rowley is tapping at the door because tea is ready.

Conclusion

Despite featuring many different recurring characters, the central figure of the text is Townshend. As previously stated, by this late point in the saga, he has evolved from the spoiled and spiteful child writer, Lord Charles Wellesley, into the fashionable dandy about town, Charles Townshend. On a simple level, the text follows Townshend as he wanders about the city of Zamorna in search of occupation, amusement, and possibly identity. Despite being a nineteenth century text, with its fleeting views of characters, places, and events, it feels surprisingly modern and experimental. Townshend’s prototype may be the dandies of British eighteenth century literature, however, he can also be considered a flâneur, meaning one who wanders, observing society. Indeed, the novelette itself can be considered a flâneur narrative, and for me personally, it is difficult not to think of modernist texts such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925), a novel seemingly without plot and whose characters wander aimlessly through life, when reading Stancliffe’s Hotel.

Ultimately though, it is an amusing romp which provides an insight into Brontë’s youthful and uncensored imagination (this was never considered for publication by her).  The novelette is a humorous and sometimes satirical piece, which is full of ridiculous characters to laugh at. It can, however, prove to be a tricky little tale, and the context of Brontë’s other Angrian narratives certainly helps to make sense of things and to understand the intricacies of the work, and its characters’ connections with one another. I hope this post helps if you have ever been baffled by Stancliffe’s Hotel. 

Editions of Stancliffe’s Hotel

Despite being written in 1838, the text was first published as Stancliffe’s Hotel in 2003. It was left untitled by Brontë in the original manuscript which is now housed in the Brontë Parsonage Museum. I was lucky enough to handle this manuscript in August 2016, and although it is a far cry from Brontë’s earliest tiny books, it is still quite difficult to read due to Brontë’s erratic punctuation, spelling errors, and lack of paragraphing.

It was first published by Penguin Classics in 2003 and republished in 2016 as part of the Penguin Little Black Classics Collection.

The text also appears in Tales of Angria (2006), edited by Heather Glen for Penguin Classics.

You can also find it in Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal (2010), edited by Christine Alexander for Oxford World’s Classics.

By Nicola F. 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 or share the images from this post. 

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