Charlotte Brontë wrote the novelette ‘The Foundling’ (1833) at the age of 17. It is one of a series of stories set in the fictional world of Verdopolis (or Glass Town). Sub-titled ‘A Tale of Our Own Times’, the story has magical elements but also touches on themes relevant to Victorian society, such as child cruelty, social class, orphans and inheritance.
What is the story of ‘The Foundling’?
The story opens in England, where an abandoned baby by the name of Edward Sydney is found and brought up as the son of a Derbyshire gentleman, Mr Hasleden. On Hasleden’s death, Edward is astonished to learn that he was a foundling. Grieving, but full of ambition, he sets sail for the colony of Verdopolis. There he is befriended by Zamorna, Marquis of Douro, who not long afterwards is declared missing. Meanwhile, Edward is approached by a mysterious stranger, who promises to unveil the secret of his birth. The stranger takes him on a voyage to Philosopher’s Island, and reveals himself to be Zamorna’s father, the Duke of Wellington. On reaching the island they learn that Zamorna has been killed by his arch-enemy, the Duke of Northangerland. Brontë then uses the Genii (the god-like characters based on the four Brontë children) for the last time in her fiction, as they intervene to resurrect Zamorna.
The Duke of Wellington reveals that Edward’s father is the late King of Angria, Frederick of Guelph. Wellington recounts the story of Edward’s birth and his kidnap by the fairy Maimoune, who whisked him away from Angria to protect him from the evil god Danasch. On Maimoune’s instructions they perform a ritual to protect Edward from the forces of Danasch forever. Edward arrives back in Verdopolis just in time to prevent Julia, the woman he loves, from being forced into marriage. The tale closes with Edward receiving his birth-right (inheritance) and marrying Julia.
What else can we learn from the manuscript?
This 18-page hand-sewn booklet in brown paper covers is written in minute script, in imitation of print. It has an elaborately laid out title page, intended to mimic that of a printed book. The fictional novelist, Captain Tree, is recorded as the author of ‘The Foundling’. In Tree’s preface to the tale he aims a jibe at Lord Charles Wellesley, teller of ‘vile and loathsome falsehoods’, who is the other fictional author used by Brontë in her Verdopolis stories.