Critical Charlotte – #JNGReads

“I am sensible that my tale is totally devoid of interest…” – The Foundling, Charlotte Brontë

A lot has been happening on my blog recently, and I hope you’ve all been keeping up!

This past Thursday marked the 200th birthday of Miss Charlotte Brontë! I posted a commemoratory entry on that day (you can read it here), and I also continued, just yesterday, my study of another piece of Charlotte’s juvenilia, the novella The Foundling. Even though Miss Brontë’s significant birthday has come and gone, though, I have no plans to stop studying her works, and I still have a few more posts I’d like to write before the month of April (CB Month, as far as I’m concerned) is over.

To continue my discussion of the third work in her juvenilia that I delved into, I’d like to discuss one particular quote from The Foundling more closely. The quote above is presented by the narrator of The Foundling, Captain Tree. I’ve learned from reading Charlotte’s juvenilia that one of her interests in her younger years was to try out different narrative voices; she writes from a myriad of different perspectives in her juvenilia (for example, as aristocratic ladies, doctors, children and adults), and it seems that her objective is to test her limits and push herself artistically to develop voices outside her own personal identity. Although the narrators are not always totally distinct, mainly because they do not always have an active role in the story and are instead relating events that they have seen or merely heard about, it is commendable that Charlotte feels the need to exercise her gift and challenge herself as a writer and creator.

What is more interesting, however, is the fact that Charlotte, through her various narrators, seems not to think very highly of her own work. Although it might seem like statements such as the one quoted above are calculated and designed to encourage the reader to pity the narrator and find value in his/her tale, Charlotte makes similar statements multiple times throughout her various juvenile works, and so it appears that she is truly self-conscious about her ability to tell a story. This isn’t altogether hard to believe – Charlotte was in her teenage years when she penned these tales, and she intended for them only to be read by her brother and sisters, so it’s fair to assume that she wouldn’t think very much of them or believe them to be intriguing masterpieces. On the contrary, she probably thought them trivial, fun and inconsequential – hence her desire to make her narrators apologize every now and then and admit that their stories aren’t that fantastic.

I spoke in a recent post about how it feels somewhat treasonous to read Charlotte’s juvenilia, specifically because she did not intend (as I said above) for any member of the general public to read them. These works were conceived well before Charlotte became Currer Bell, and she never was given the chance to revise or edit them with a larger readership in mind. That fact made me feel uneasy when reading descriptions of romance and love and relationships between men and women that the young Charlotte envisioned, but I am made even more uncomfortable when I encounter statements like the one above that suggest that Charlotte was herself uncomfortable with these works. She didn’t feel that they were worthy of any time, and so she probably also did not believe them to be an adequate representation of her skills or talents. Isn’t it then wrong for these sorts of works to be published without the author’s express consent?

As I stated in my post about my discomfort while reading, it’s hard to accept the argument that these works should not have been published because fans of the Brontës are so eager to get at them somehow, to find a way to penetrate the minds of these literary geniuses. It’s unfathomable to pass up the opportunity to understand a young Charlotte, to get to know the young woman before she was famous and a calculated artist. Having said that, it’s still important to remember that these works were less cultivated and practiced – and so, for anyone who feels the need to be unjustly critical of Charlotte’s juvenile pursuits, I would encourage them to think about what Captain Tree says and remember that these works were never really meant to compare to Charlotte’s greatest masterpiece.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

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