I’m going back to the beginning again and taking a look at one of the earliest pieces of Brontë juvenilia. This is an untitled fragment now known as “Sir – it is well known that the Genii”, which is taken from the first few lines of the piece. This is such a short piece that it’s not really possible to unpick or analyse it thoroughly, however, it’s worth a read due to the mention of the all powerful Genii who rule over Glass Town and who came to be known as Tallii, Brannii, Emmii, and Annii (spellings of these names are inconsistent within the texts). They are supernatural beings and guardians in the Glass Town stories. They represent the four surviving Brontë children within the stories, with their origins arguably being the characters of the Little King and Queens in the Tales of the Islanders, however, they do not appear in the later Angrian narratives. The Genii inhabit Jibbel Kumri, also known as the Mountains of the Moon. Interestingly, this piece is widely credited to Charlotte, however, the presence of the signature “UT” suggests Branwell’s influence. Read on to find out more.
Background and Manuscript
I originally accessed this piece via Christine Alexander’s anthology An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë, Volume I: The Glass Town Saga 1826-1832 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987). This is sadly incredibly difficult to track down and I’m so lucky to have stumbled upon an ex-library copy for £10. It’s invaluable to those researching the Brontë juvenilia. The piece is a single page manuscript which is currently housed in the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Alexander speculates that the fragment was probably intended as a letter to the fictional editor of the Brontës’ Young Men’s Magazine. This is one of the earliest pieces of surviving Brontë literature; the manuscript is dated 14th July 1829 when Charlotte would have been 13 and Branwell 12 years old.
Interestingly, the signature reads “UT” which stood for “Us Two” whenever Charlotte and Branwell collaborated on a piece, demonstrating how close they once were in childhood. The original signature seems to have been erased and replaced with “UT” so it’s difficult to tell the extent to which the siblings contributed to this piece individually. As the style seems to read more like Branwell’s early pieces than Charlotte’s, it is possible that he actually took the lead in writing the piece, however, we can never know for sure. History later showed how Branwell conducted himself when writing to authors and editors such as ill-fated attempt to contact Romantic poet William Wordsworth in 1837 and his 1835 letter to the editor of one of his favourite periodicals Blackwood’s Magazine. He also wrote some similar pieces to this such as his “To the Editor” on 1st June 1829 which also mentions the Genii “Cheif Genius Taly” and Cheif Genius Banny”.
Additionally, Victor Neufeldt included this piece in the first volume of his anthology of Branwell’s writings The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë: Volume 1, 1827-1833 (London and New York: Routledge, 2016). However, he does note that it is a possible collaboration with Charlotte due to “UT”. I’m inclined to agree with the belief that Branwell took the lead with “Sir – it is well known that the Gennii” due to its tone and subject matter; Branwell’s earliest narratives tended to focus on power, control, glory, and tyranny within Glass Town, and the all powerful Genii were perfect vehicles for this. It may be possible that Charlotte’s only contribution was to copy the piece out for Branwell. We can never truly know though so let’s just enjoy it for what it is.
The manuscript doesn’t really have a plot so to speak. The piece discusses the power of the Genii and states that unless they perform certain duties, there will be consequences for the globe and only they will remain (I told you Branwell loved power and tyranny!). Although it must be noted that despite the fun he had with Brannii, even morphing him into later figures such as the dastardly S’Death, he did launch a Young Men’s rebellion against the Genii. The writer boasts that the Genii have powerful magic which can “reduce the the world to a desert, the rivers to streams of livid poison and the clearest lakes to stagnant waters”. The aim of the piece appears to be convey the power and the danger that the Genii pose, and it’s graphic imagery is certainly successful in achieving this, convincing me yet again that this is more Branwell’s imagination at work here than Charlotte’s. It’s a far cry from Charlotte’s adult works even if her voice is represented here; however, on closer inspection, perhaps there is a touch of the Gothic here that is certainly more associated with Charlotte than Branwell. Maybe the piece really is a true collaboration by both of them.
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. I’d 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 or videos from this post without seeking permission first.
Quotes from “Sir – it is well known that the Genii” are taken from Christine Alexander’s above-mentioned anthology of Charlotte’s works.
Quotes from “To the Editor” are taken from Victor Neufeldt’s above-named anthology of Branwell’s works.