The origins of the Brontë juvenilia are now legendary. Patrick Brontë’s gift of 12 toy soldiers to his son, Branwell, in June 1826 was the catalyst for the creation of the Brontë siblings’ paracosmic world of Glass Town. Each of the surviving Brontë siblings (Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne) chose a soldier of their own, playing with them, creating storylines concerning them, and eventually recording these events on any scrap of paper they could get their hands on. However, as the siblings grew older, they broke away into pairs, with Branwell and Charlotte continuing to develop the world of Glass Town, (later Verdopolis and Angria), whilst Emily and Anne focused on their own world of Gondal. Both Charlotte and Branwell wrote accounts of how each soldier was chosen and named, with the former writing a brief description on March 12th 1829 of this event in a fragment headed simply “Young Men’s”. Branwell wrote a somewhat more detailed description titled The History of the Young Men From Their First Settlement To The Present Time (15th December 1830 – 7th May 1831) which was written in the persona of the Glass Town historian, Captain John Bud.
As legendary as the story of the twelve toy soldiers is, even inspiring Brontë inspired works of fiction such as Pauline Clarke’s The Twelve and the Genii (1962), it struck me recently that the story of the Twelves within the world of Glass Town is not as widely known. These characters kickstarted the Brontë juvenilia on the page and were arguably the literary ancestors of all the characters who came afterwards in what became an epic saga. Their origins in the Brontës’ African fantasy world were documented by Charlotte when she was just 13 years old. Two Romantic Tales is a hand-sewn booklet which is signed “C. Brontë” and dated April 28th 1829. The manuscript contains two tales: A Romantic Tale (or The Twelve Adventurers) which was written on 15th April 1829, and An Adventure in Ireland. The focus of this post is A Romantic Tale (or The Twelve Adventurers) but a future post will examine An Adventure in Ireland.
The story was first published in The Twelve Adventurers, an anthology of the Brontë juvenilia edited by Clement Shorter and C.W. Hatfield (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1925). However, this version is not held in high esteem by Brontë and juvenilia scholars, and after viewing a copy in the library of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, it is my opinion that the volume does little to enhance an understanding of the Brontë juvenilia, the characters or events; instead the volume simply butchers several tales in order to make a profit on the back of Brontë mania. The tale appears in the brilliant anthology edited by Christine Alexander, An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume I. The Glass Town Saga 1826-1832 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), and there seems to have been a Juvenilia Press edition produced c.1994 but I’ve had no luck in tracking this one down. The tale was also more recently republished in Christine Alexander’s Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selcted Writings (Oxford World’s Classics, 2010). I’m not sure of the manuscript’s current location. In An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. Volume I, Alexander states that it was formerly in the Law Collection but is considered lost, however, in Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal she states that it remains in the private Law Collection.
The tale is normally referred to as The Twelve Adventurers due to its focus on the The Twelves, however, this alternative title was not used by Charlotte until she wrote Catalogue of my Books on 3rd August 1830; it is absent from the original manuscript. Also absent initially were the four chapter titles: The Country of the Genii; The Voyage of Discovery; The Desert; News From Home. Like the alternative title, these headings first appeared in Charlotte’s catalogue the following year. By splitting the text into chapters, Charlotte certainly made the information easier to process for any reader other than a Brontë, and this may be a sign that Charlotte revised her work as she matured and her knowledge of writing and publishing practices increased. Below you can find a summary of each chapter, which actually read like separate tales within an anthology, and a list of the Twelves. There’s a good mix of fantasy, travel writing, romance, and adventure in there that make for a fascinating read.
The Country of the Genii
The first part of the tale is part travel narrative and part fantasy that reads to me a little like Gulliver’s Travels meets The Arabian Nights. Here we get the first mention of the formidable Genii and a description of how “twelve men from Britain of a most gigantic size” along with “twelve men from Gaul” discovered the country of the Genii and were continually at war with one another. Brontë writes of the rumours of “colossal skeletons” being found in the barren desert. The remainder of the chapter is mainly an extract from the fictional The Travels of Captain Parnell in which the author describes his experience of being caught in a tornado in the desert which unfortunately leads to the demise of his camel. As he is weeping for the animal, he discovers a “long ghastly figure” which he believes to be the skeleton of one of the ancient Britons who once travelled to the desert. The author observes that the skeleton is bound with an iron chain, and as he does so, the skeleton attempts to rise until a sandstorm overwhelms it and once the dust has cleared again, the skeleton had vanished and “not a mark could be distinguished to show the future traveller where the bones had lain”. The chapter concludes with the belief that if Parnell’s account is true, then the skeletons must be evil genii who have been chained in the desert by “the fairy Mainmoune”. This reinforces the idea of the influence of The Arabian Nights as Mainmoune is a character from “The Story of the Amours of Camaralzaman” who is the daughter of Daniel, a king of the genii.
The Voyage of Discovery
The second chapter is the journey of the Twelves as they set sail from England on March 1st 1793. The Twelves are listed as:
Marcus O’Donell, Ferdinand Cortez, Felix de Rothsay, Eugene Cameron, Harold Fitzgeorge, Henry Clinton, Francis Stewart, Ronald Traquair, Ernest Fortescue, Gustavus Dunally, Frederick Brunswick, and Arthur Wellesley.
Of these characters, it is Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington and Charlotte’s chief man, who becomes the most prominent in the saga until he is phased out due to the focus on his sons, the Marquis of Douro (later the Duke of Zamorna), and Lord Charles Wellesley (later Charles Townshend). It is interesting to note that in his account of the origins of the Twelves, Branwell records the different names of thirteen characters. See Further Reading below for their names.
This chapter documents a storm at sea and the fear of the Twelves that they will never see land again. The Twelves eventually dock in Trinidad before setting sail again. They sail the South Atlantic Ocean before landing again and coming into contact with the Ashantee chief. A battle takes place between the Twelves and the Ashantees and the former “killed ten, took the Chief prisoner, wounded five”. The next day, a ransom is paid for the chief and he is released. It is almost certain that the Brontës were influenced by tales of the Ashantee Wars in the 1820s that they read in newspapers and magazines, tales which wound their way into the fabric of what would become Glass Town. The Ashantees of Glass Town were originally the set of ninepins that Patrick Brontë brought from Leeds at the same time as the toy soliders. In the narrative, the Twelves are hit by another storm and hear the blast of a “terrible trumpet”. Fear-stricken, the Twelves see “a tall and terrible giant” in the clouds who holds a trumpet and darts “pointed with fire”. The giant also has a shield and the words “The Genius of the Storm” written on his forehead. The storm reaches fever pitch before subsiding suddenly as the giant descends to earth. Another voice says, “‘Genius, I command thee to forbear!'” and an even taller figure is revealed who casts a “joyful glance” on the Twelves before disappearing. The four Genii continue to appear until The Foundling in 1833, playing god with the lives of the Glass Towners.
The next chapter leaps forward to a time when the Twelves have built up a city with a Hall of Justice and the Great Tower. Arthur Wellesley ponders whether they can summon an army from England to help them to conquer the Ashantees entirely. Francis Stewart is put off by his recollections of the storm that drove them there. The Twelves believe that the Genii helped to build their city, so surely will help to defend it against the Ashantee enemies. A voice commands them to travel to the desert where they are greeted by “a Genius larger than any of the giants” who leads them through the desert. Eventually they arrive at “a palace of diamond, the pillars of which were ruby and emerald illuminated with lamps too bright to look upon”. They are then taken to “a hall of sapphire in which there were thrones of gold” where there are fairies and genii. The thrones are occupied by the Princes of the Genii, one of whom seizes Arthur, referring to him as the Duke of Wellington. Puzzled, Arthur asks why that title has been used. The Genius informs him of a tyrant who will terrorise Europe and “Terrible shall be the struggle between that Chieftain and you!” The Genius speaks of the legacy of the one who vanquishes the tyrant. Music and singing suddenly begins and the Twelves eventually find themselves find themselves alone in the desert. They eventually find their way back to their city.
News From Home
The next morning, the Twelves are awoken by the sound of trumpets and war drums as the Ashantee tribes march towards them in battle. Arthur Wellesley directs the forces and another fierce battle rages. The Ashantees are once again defeated and return to ask for their dead. A few days later, another ship is washed up on the shores having been wrecked in a storm. The occupants are confused and ask Arthur how he can live in such a country. The crew of 50 Englishmen are shown around the city and given shelter until they return to England a fortnight later, accompanied by Arthur. Twenty years then passes in which the narrator comments that “For about ten years after this we continued at war with the blacks, and then made peace; after which, for about ten years more, nothing happened worth mentioning”. The men are one day thrown into disarray by the sight of an approaching vessel and a fleet which anchors. Arthur, now the Duke of Wellington has returned to Africa to the surprise of those he left behind. The tale ends with the Duke of York returning to England, fifteen thousand men inhabiting the city, and Arthur being crowned King.
Charlotte’s Tales of the Islanders is an interesting read. Containing four volumes, the tales follow on from An Adventure in Ireland and also introduce Lord Charles and Douro for the first time. These tales can be found in the edition mentioned above (ed. Christine Alexander). Tales of the Islanders was more recently republished by Hesperus Press in 2011.
The Juvenilia Press published an edition of The History of the Young Men by Patrick Branwell Brontë (c.2010) which can only be ordered directly from their website. Branwell’s version of events also appears in The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë. Volume 1, 1827 -1833 (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), edited by Victor Neufeldt. Branwell lists the Twelves as :
Butter Crashey, Alexander Cheeky, Arthur Wellesley, William Edward Parry, Alexander Sneaky, John Ross, William Bravey, Edward Gravey, Frederick Guelph, Stumps, Monkey, Tracky, Cracky.
Reader, I hope you have enjoyed this look at the origins of the Twelves. As stated above, I will discuss An Adventure in Ireland in a future post. I also hope to look at Branwell’s version of events at some point.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon.
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.
The featured image at the top of this post featuring the Brontës Parsonage and the toy soldiers is a print that I purchased last year by the wonderful Amanda White. Click here to visit her Etsy shop where you can find more Brontë related works of art.
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.
The names of Branwell’s characters are taken from The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë. Volume 1, 1827 -1833 (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), edited by Victor Neufeldt.