March 31st 2019 marks the 164th anniversary of the death of my favourite writer of all time, Charlotte Brontë. Best known to the world for her literary masterpiece Jane Eyre (1847), Charlotte also penned the novels Shirley (1849), her second masterpiece, the magnificent but sadly underrated Villette (1853) and The Professor (posthumously published in 1857). In addition to these adult novels, she also wrote hundreds of pieces of juvenilia from 1829 – 1839, which were set in the fantasy world of Glass Town and Angria that she shared with her brother, Branwell. I’ve been buried in this world for the past few months, scribbling away at an essay about these wonderful writings, and trying to unlock the secrets of their creation. Somehow it seems fitting that today was the day I finished and re-submitted the essay for review. All this research and writing in addition to a full time job hasn’t given me much time for blogging recently, and that is something I’m hoping to put right soon. I did want to put together a glowing tribute to Charlotte, her wonderful mind, her undeniable talent, and her feisty nature, but time simply got away from me.
The aim of Brontë Babe Blog has always to introduce new readers to the Brontë juvenilia, and to encourage the perusal of it. So I will use this post to suggest a few titles from the latter end of Charlotte’s juvenilia, set in Angria, which are more substantial and arguably more mature pieces than the early Glass Town works. Reading these narratives will in some cases offer a new perspective on the rather stuffy stereotype that has sprung up around Charlotte since her death, and there are some hints in there of what was still to come in her published works. So this is my little tribute to Charlotte, and reader, I do hope you will pick up some of these wonderful tales.
Mina Laury (1838)
Although very little seems to happen in Mina Laury in terms of plot, it manages to squeeze in passion, jealousy, an extra-marital affair, and a rather tragic case of unrequited love. Although Brontë scholar Winfred Gérin believed that Charlotte did not use her favourite narrator for this tale, most critics, and myself, believe that the voice of Charles Townshend (formerly Lord Charles Wellesley) is present once again. Ostensibly just the story of Mina Laury, the favourite mistress of the King of Angria, the Duke of Zamorna, who features in earlier tales and receives guests at her home whilst awaiting the return of her lover, the story builds on relationships and storylines from earlier Glass Town and Angrian narratives. However, this can still be read without prior knowledge of these events as Charlotte successfully refines her writing skills, fleshes out her female characters, and presents a fantastic climax to the events of the tale.
The story contains not one, but two love triangles, the first of which consists of Mina, Zamorna, and his wife Mary Percy. The narrative documents Mary’s insecurities, her determination to catch out her cheating husband, as well as Mina’s devotion to her lover. Charlotte presents two very different women from very different social backgrounds who battle it out over a man, however, their hidden strengths and depths emerge, and although critics argue that these women cannot live without their lover, it would be interesting to see Zamorna stripped of his admirers, and the story is arguably his attempt to keep control in both of these relationships by keeping the Mina and Mary apart.
The second triangle consists of the lovesick Lord Hartford, Mina, and Zamorna. A devoted and frantic Hartford attempts to win Mina’s favour, but her own loyalty to and love for Zamorna threatens to get in the way of Hartford’s plan to make Mina his wife after he assumes that she is property that can be taken, or won. Battles ensue and emotional and physical injuries are inflicted as issues of love, war, male power, femininity and masculinity are explored by Charlotte.
Mina Laury appears in Heather Glen’s anthology Tales of Angria, Penguin Books, 2006 and also in Christine Alexander’s Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal, Oxford University Press, 2010. The image above was drawn by Charlotte in c.1834 and shows a woman thought to resemble Mina. It is a copy of The Maid of Saragoza which first appeared in a volume of Byron’s works; both versions are shown displayed at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in June 2018.
Henry Hastings (1839)
This tale is one of Charlotte’s most mature and sophisticated pieces of juvenilia. The tale is one again narrated by Charles Townshend, however, a key difference between this text and others is that Charles is forced to share his narrating duties with his friend, Sir William Percy. The narrative concerns Henry Hastings (an initial creation and pseudonym of Branwell), a formerly honourable soldier poet who is now a disgraced and drunken murderer seeking to evade capture. The story documents the attempt of Henry’s sister, Elizabeth, to at first shield him from the law, and then obtain a pardon for her beloved brother whilst trying not to become distracted from her growing attachment to Sir William Percy. Charles and Sir William co-narrate the tale through a series of letters, and it is revealed that Sir William is also falling for the charms of the proud, humble, but dependent Elizabeth, the sister of the fugitive he has been hired to hunt down and bring to justice.
Elizabeth’s position as a governess/teacher to Jane Moore, her pride, independence, and morality has seen her labelled as a precursor to Jane Eyre, and there are definite parallels between the relationships between Jane and Rochester and Elizabeth and Sir William. However, there are also key differences, particularly regarding the endings of the two narratives, and of course, the figure of Henry who looms large in Elizabeth’s life. Although it has connections to other pieces of Brontë juvenilia, and has a strong element of autobiography (Henry/Branwell and Elizabeth/Charlotte), this is a piece that can be read and enjoyed in isolation.
The tale appears in Heather Glen’s anthology Tales of Angria, Penguin Books, 2006. It also features in Five Novelettes. Ed. Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971 under the title Captain Henry Hastings.
Caroline Vernon (1839)
Caroline Vernon is probably my favourite of all the Glass Town and Angrian narratives. Honestly, it ranks in third place only behind Jane Eyre and Villette for me. The story is novella (or novelette) length and is the final extant completed piece of Charlotte’s early fiction. Only the fragment now known as “Farewell to Angria” is dated after this. Once again, this tale has deeper connections to the wider Glass Town and Angrian saga, but can be read and enjoyed in isolation. The narrative is a coming of age story and a bildungsroman, and the teenage Caroline Vernon is the protagonist of the tale. The illegitimate daughter of Branwell’s favourite character, here called Alexander Percy, Caroline lives an isolated existence with her mother, Louisa Vernon, with whom she has a complicated relationship. Her half-sister Mary Percy is married to the Duke of Zamorna, who just happens to be her legal guardian and her father’s sworn enemy. Things get complicated when Caroline realises the true nature of her feelings towards Zamorna, and vice versa.
Although Caroline Vernon has come under fire from critics for reducing women to mere pawns in the ongoing battle between Percy and Zamorna, there is an awful lot bubbling away under the surface of the tale for those who care to look. The novel can actually be seen as a sort of young adult novel in which its teenage heroine is searching for identity and purpose in the world in addition to grappling with her growing sexual desires. If you think Charlotte Brontë as stuffy and repressed, just read Caroline Vernon.
The tale appears in Heather Glen’s anthology Tales of Angria, Penguin Books, 2006 and also in Christine Alexander’s Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal, Oxford University Press, 2010.
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”.
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