My obsession with Charlotte Brontë is endless, apparently, and to commemorate her 200th birthday (coming up this April 21st, 2016), I have decided to continue my reading of works by and about Charlotte for the month of April. I’ve already delved into each of her novels, and I recently finished the first poetry collection she ever published (with her two sisters), so all that was left for me to read was Charlotte’s juvenilia, the short stories about the fantastical lands she created with her siblings that she wrote in her adolescent and teenage years. I was lucky enough to receive four book collections of Charlotte’s early works from a dear friend in my university days – the tomes are gorgeously and simplistically printed, with matching, coloured covers, and I have only been reluctant to begin reading them because I know that I will have completed all of my dearest literary idol’s published works once I come to the end of my study of these four works. However, what better time than dear Charlotte’s 200th birthday to complete my understanding of her expansive literary catalogue?
So, to begin, I decided to start my study of the young Charlotte Brontë with the collection entitled The Secret. Throughout my reading, I made notes about my experience and impressions of each short story, which I will transcribe below. I also plan to analyze specific quotes in greater detail here on the blog – look for a more detailed post on Charlotte’s portrayal of women in this short story collection coming later this weekend!
The Secret (titular story of the collection)
- abrupt ending but an overall engaging and suspenseful story = although the mystery is wrapped up very quickly, the reader is kept guessing for a good chunk of the story and the conclusion is unpredictable.
- I liked Marian Hume quite a lot = although there’s not much to her, I did find her lovely, innocent, charming and kind.
- Arthur, Marquis of Douro, was quite Byronic = quiet and brooding, exacting but 100% loyal and devoted to his love.
- evil Miss Foxley is a different take on the governess figure than we’re used to in CB’s literature = she is a truly versatile writer.
- cute beginning = so sweet to witness Lily’s budding affection for Mr. Seymour (as well as her interest in Colonel Percival’s handsomeness).
- interesting that Lily is small and childlike BUT she is very attractive and beautiful because of it = what CB wanted for herself?
- struggle = pretty heroine falls into destitute circumstances. “She faded to the mere shadow of her former self.” (sick in love) Can love rescue her?
- “saw…the well-remembered form of Mr. Seymour. At this unexpected sight, a smothered exclamation of joyful surprise burst from Lily’s lips and a radiant light sparkled in her dark eye.” = enter dashing, heroic Seymour to redeem himself = “‘Not one could I discover amongst all the fairest and noblest of the land to vie with my peerless, my lovely Lily.’” = abruptly proposes (à la Rochester). BUT union must be secret (a mystery) = typically Byronic, dark and complicated.
- moves to a green, beautiful retreat (Elm Grove Villa), but the mystery of the hasty marriage is unsolved. = most wonderful and felicitous secret in conclusion = she is now royal!
Albion and Marina
= Arthur, Marquis of Douro, and Marian of The Secret, but in different forms!
- tells us from the beginning that she (or rather the narrator) does not intend to make this a novel = almost self-deprecating and claims to be unworthy to tell the story. “a pen so feeble as mine”
- Marina is described as the absolute picture of loveliness and grace (perfection!) in looks, talents and learning (fluent in English, French and Italian). “No wild rose blooming in solitude, or bluebell peering from an old wall, ever equaled in loveliness this flower of the forest.”
- “Arthur – I mean, Albion…” = the narrator reveals the true identity of the character.
- GOTHIC! (almost) = image that will later be recycled in Jane Eyre of a spectre of beloved appearing to a lover = leads to a reunion/return home (as Jane returns to Rochester).
- as in Jane Eyre, Marina’s house is destroyed and she has moved.
*** I LOVE that this story, not presuming to be a novel as the narrator states, will one day become CB’s most famous novel (Jane Eyre). ***
- BUT this story has a tragic ending (Marina dies of a broken heart) = CB changes to happier themes in her novels, to coincide with more Victorian tropes.
* written in verse = CB trying different styles. *
- continuation/appendix to Albion and Marina, about exchange between two desirers of Albion’s affection (Lady Zenobia Ellrington and Marian/Marina).
- CB is so attached to her characters that she imagines their whole lives and many alternative storylines for them.
- first person BUT the tale is actually about the narrator — but eventually, focus shifts to other characters instead.
- CB’s female characters are always delicate and small, like her, BUT this is a prized and attractive trait. “infinitely too beautiful for this earth.”
- Lady Zenobia (who loves Arthur Augustus Wellesley) is also featured. = story of her jealousy toward Marian Hume. = mystical occurrences/magic.
*** Although CB gives characters various names and forms and puts them into different circumstances, they are still the same at heart! *** (Ex. Miss Foxley = Lady Zenobia?)
A Peep into a Picture Book
- written descriptions of images of CB’s beloved characters, described with great detail.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by The Secret collection and enjoyed it thoroughly! I was so happy to see themes and motifs evolve that would later be used in Charlotte’s incredible novels, and it was amazing to get a taste of what must’ve been circulating in her talented and impressive teenage mind. Her preoccupations and interests are evident in the threads that exist between her stories, and her love for her characters is very clear and touching!
Girl with a Green Heart