I’m on to my third study of the literary works of the young Charlotte Brontë, and it’s a testament to how intriguing and unique her tales are that I have been able to get through them so quickly. In less than three weeks’ time, I’ve been able to plow through The Secret, The Spell and now The Foundling – that might seem like a typical feat for an avid reader, but considering that I do work full-time, it’s hard to find time to sit down and read unless I’m truly motivated. If I don’t like the book I’m reading, it’s really unfortunate because I will struggle to convince myself to pick it up during my lunch break or on the bus ride home. But, with Charlotte’s works, there has been no hesitation; all I want is to know what will happen next, and because each of her stories contains layers of mystery and confusion, I’m eager to get to the conclusion and sort everything out.
The Foundling was no different from The Secret and The Spell in that regard: I needed to figure out what was happening, I needed to untangle the various threads Charlotte set up, and I needed to do it quickly, apparently. It took me two days to finish this novella, and if I add up the amount of time I spent actually reading in those two days, it probably amounted to about four hours in total. Not too shabby! This novella is shorter than both The Secret and The Spell, but the pace is quite a bit slower, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted that I got through it so fast – I was genuinely interested in what would happen to the characters (even if they weren’t my absolute favourite of Charlotte’s cast) and I was expecting a surprise or shock at every turn.
Here are my thoughts on The Foundling, written chronologically as I read:
- as with Jane Eyre, CB’s narrator (Captain Tree) claims to be documenting a true story (“plain relation of facts”); again, the narrator is critical of his own work = “I am sensible that my tale is totally devoid of interest…”
- here we finally learn that Verdopolis is a new English colony, founded in Africa.
- First Impressions: Edward Sydney (22 years old) lacks the fire, depth and personality of Zamorna as a hero.
- Douro (aka Arthur Wellesley, aka Zamorna) is featured here as well, although his circumstances are different = but is his personality?
- “He was almost tempted to think himself in the hands of magicians or genii, who, he had heard, yet retained influence over the inhabitants of Africa.” = magic and fantasy is a fixture of CB’s imaginary kingdom. “‘Surely…the stories of enchantment are not all false…’”
- Finic(k) is also featured (from The Spell) (Douro’s servant).
- details about Douro’s talents and birth are provided; because he is only 19 years old, we are given more insight into his early days.
- Douro’s wife’s name is Julia…who on Earth is she?!
- note states that Lady Zenobia Ellrington is Alexander Rogue’s wife = Alexander Rogue is Douro’s enemy and so I wonder if Zenobia loves Douro in this tale as she does in the others?
- Charles Wellesley (narrator of The Spell) is abhorred, ugly and disliked. “‘that strange ape-like animal.’”
- CORRECTION: Julia Wellesley is Douro’s cousin; auburn-haired girl is his wife = Marian Hume (of The Secret)?
- Douro dances with Zenobia = the plot thickens! Okay, so she loves him and did before marrying Rogue = so why did she marry his enemy?
- Zamorna = “He then took leave with…one of his smiles.” = his charm and intoxicating nature are widely recognized and are something he is famous for.
- this story is full of poems = CB is exercising and testing her ability in different styles = the poems are very simply constructed, with basic rhyme scheme, and all treat the theme of love = not very risky!
- at the end, when Rogue’s murder plot against Douro is revealed, things become VERY mystical and fantastical = a secret philosophers’ society in Verdopolis is revealed, and more layers are added to the nation’s history (and mystery).
- BUT, Rogue is a villain precisely because he has no respect for this society and for the order and hierarchy established in Verdopolis = CB clings to hierarchies (which she will later challenge in Jane Eyre).
- mystery man (40 years old) who will reveal Sydney’s identity resembles Douro = is it his father, the Duke of Wellington? Zamorna is constantly doubled. “‘Because your accent and manner of speaking are so exactly similar to his that I thought no two persons could own the same mode of utterance.’”
(Sidenote: This text would also have benefited from a List of Characters, like The Spell.)
- narrator is ill-equipped to articulate some strong emotions of certain characters. “I will not attempt to describe his subsequent anguish. It was far too deep and intense for my feeble pen to venture upon.”
- moment of Divine Intervention on the part of the Four Genii (Tali, Brani, Emi and Anni).
- Sydney’s mother = “‘She had that rich dark cast of loveliness, that air of graceful majesty which chiefly belongs to natives of a sunnier clime than that of Britain.” = CB favours foreign, exotic beauty!
- allusion to Arabian Nights and borrowing of its characters = CB adores exotic stories as well.
Overall, I have to say that The Foundling has been my least favourite of Charlotte’s juvenilia so far. The story seemed less coherent and memorable. There were too many plots and narratives mixed together (Sydney’s origin story, Sydney’s love for Julia, Douro versus Rogue and Montmorency, Douro’s strange relationship with Zenobia). None of these separate threads seem 100% properly fleshed out or treated, and I feel that each element could’ve been taken up in an individual story. However, I do have one more piece of Charlotte’s juvenilia left to tackle (The Green Dwarf), so it is possible that The Foundling will rise in standing after my reading of this last novella. Nevertheless, it feels like a privilege to see inside the young Charlotte’s mind, and so the themes and perspectives presented in The Foundling are valuable to establishing a complete picture of Charlotte’s character and preoccupations.
Girl with a Green Heart