Today on Project Gutenberg #58

Today on Project Gutenberg, we have…

The Search After Happiness by Charlotte Brontë

Oh, Charlotte. Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte. What am I to do with you.

I have had a long and complicated relationship with the most famous Brontë sister. Or to be more accurate, with her work. Maybe someday I will write a long and rambling article about why I hate the book Jane Eyre with every fiber of my being and how it continues to take up space in my head despite this, like it’s some kind of wretched brain parasite. But today, we are not discussing Charlotte’s masterpiece. We are discussing something that she wrote nearly twenty years earlier.

Charlotte was born in April 1816. The manuscript for The Search After Happiness is dated August 1829, meaning she would have been 13 when she wrote it. This five-chapter short story was never formally published, as far as I can tell: it isn’t even listed as part of Charlotte’s bibliography on her Wikipedia page. The version available on Project Gutenberg is transcribed from a handwritten manuscript, which you can see a picture of in the document. One version of the transcription is edited for grammatical clarity, while the other is presented just as Charlotte wrote it. No weird misspelling, wall of text or run-on sentence has been left out.

THE Dawn of the next morning found O’Donell on the summit of a high mountain which overlooked the city. He had stopped to take a farewell view of the place of his nativity. All along the eastern horizon, there was a rich glowing light, which, as it rose, gradually melted into the pale blue of the sky, in which, just over the light, there was still visible the silver crescent of the moon. In a short time the sun began to rise in golden glory casting his splendid radiance over all the face of nature and illuminating the magnificent city in the midst of which, towering in the silent grandeur, there appeared the Palace where dwelt the mighty Prince of that great and beautiful city, all around the brazen gates and massive walls of which there flowed the majestic stream of the Guadima whose banks were bordered by splendid palaces and magnificent gardens. Behind these stretching for many a league were fruitful plains and forests whose shade seemed almost impenetrable to a single ray of light, while in the distance blue mountains were seen raising their heads to the sky and forming a misty girdle to the plains of Dahomey. On the whole of this grand and beautiful prospect, O’Donell’s gaze was long and fixed but his last look was to the palace of the King and a tear stood in his eye as he said earnestly, “May he be preserved from all evil. May good attend him and may the chief Genie spread their broad shield of protection over him all the time of his sojourn in this wearisome world.”

Pages 3-4

THE Dawn of the next morning found O’Donell on the sumit of a High mountain which overlooked the city he had stopped to take a farewell view of the place of his nativity. all along the eastern horizon there was a rich glowing light which as it rose gradually melted into the pale blue of the sky in which just over the light there was still visible the silver crescent of the moon in a short time the sun began to rise in golden glory casting his splendid radiance over all the face of nature and illuminating the magnificent city in the midst of which towering in silent grandeur there appeared the Palace where dwelt the mighty Prince of that great and beautiful city. all around the brazen gates and massive walls of which there flowed the majestic stream of the Guadima whose Banks where bordered by splendid palaces and magnificent gardens behind these stretching for many a league were fruitful plains and forests whose shade seemed almost impenetrable to a single ray of light while in the distace blue mountains were seen raising their heads to the sky and forming a misty girdle to the plains of Dahomey. on the whole of this grand and beautiful prospect O’Donells gaze was long and fixed but his last look was to the palace of the King and a tear stood in his eye as he said ernestly may he be preserved from all evil may good attend him and may the cheif Geni spread their broad sheild of protection over him all the time of his sojourn in this wearisome world.

Pages 3-4

The actual plot of The Search After Happiness is Brontë’s own take on the “prodigal son” parable. A guy named Henry O’Donnell leaves his home city forever after a dispute with his friend the king. He is determined to find new happiness elsewhere, and he seemingly succeeds, making a new friend and living out in the wilderness for several years. But O’Donnell eventually grows homesick, and after finding him alone and rediscovering a parting gift from the king’s sons, all he wants is to return to his city. A disembodied voice implied to be God then tells him to go back home, and he does, whereupon he is greeted warmly by his old friends and allowed to remain in the city.

The religious component of the narrative is obvious — Charlotte was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, after all. But at the same time, there isn’t really a moral about needing to ask forgiveness from God, or even from your social superiors. Instead, it’s more of a story about self-discovery. O’Donnell leaving his home is presented almost as something he needs to do for his own sake, and his time away from the city teaches him to appreciate the value of what he left behind. It’s basically about a person trying to decide where he belongs in the world, an idea that Charlotte would revisit and expand upon to great success in her later work.

The story’s main value is simply being a piece of early writing from a future famous author. And it can probably be read in less than an hour, so if you’re curious about it, it won’t take up much of your time. Did I personally enjoy it? No. Was I expecting to enjoy it? Also no. Because Charlotte Brontë.

Now Emily, on the other hand, Emily knew how to write about garbage humans and make it fun…

And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg! See you next time!

— Dana

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