Monday, June 18, 2012

Short Story: Charlotte Bronte

Napoleon and the Spectre

Charlotte Brontë, the celebrated English novelist and poet, has written a ghost story — yes, you read that correctly — and a very witty one too. 

In Napoleon and the Spectre, the Emperor of France is about to fall asleep when he hears a rustling sound near his bed. Unnerved, Napoleon drinks a glass of lemonade to quench his thirst and, I suspect, to quell his fear. Soon he hears a "deep groan" coming from the closet in his apartment (I thought he lived in a palace). 

"Who's there?" cried the Emperor, seizing his pistols. "Speak, or I'll blow your brains out." (Does that sound like Charlotte Bronte?)

This threat produced no other effect than a short, sharp laugh, and a dead silence followed.

Napoleon jumps off the couch and, with sword in hand, steps toward the closet only to discover that the rustling sound was made by his cloak which had fallen from the peg. Then, just as he is about to drop off to sleep, he perceives shadows which he attributes to lit candles.

"Pooh!" exclaimed Napoleon, "it was but an ocular delusion."

"Was it?" whispered a hollow voice, in deep mysterious tones, close to his ear.

The emperor loses his sleep and his senses when he suddenly comes face to face with the apparition that has a powerful hold on him. Napoleon follows the spectre, hideous in appearance, through the streets of Paris and to a lofty house on the banks of the Seine.

He enters the house and finds himself standing before Marie Louise, the Empress of France. Napoleon is flummoxed.

"What! Are you in this infernal place, too?" said he. "What has brought you here?"

"Will your Majesty permit me to ask the same question of yourself?" said the Empress, smiling.

Apparently, the emperor, wearing his night dress, has sleepwalked right into his wife's drawing room where her guests are having a ball. Napoleon suffers a fit of catalepsy and falls to the ground.

My first thought upon reading this short story was: did Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, really write this haunting tale? Looks like she did. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks tells us that Napoleon and the Spectre is from the manuscript of The Green Dwarf dated July 10, 1833-September 2, 1833. It was republished in The Twelve Adventurers and Other Stories in 1925.

The story is brilliantly well written, both prose and substance evoking instant laughter as you read through it and imagine the look on Napoleon's face, the poor devil. Though, frankly, I can't imagine what made the eldest of the Bronte sisters poke fun at the French emperor. She must have had good reason.

But, did Charlotte Bronte really write this story? Here's the link. What do you think?

Dr. Hale's rules for writing 

By William Henry Hills Robert Luce, Editor, The Writer, Volume VI, April 1892, a monthly magazine to interest and help all literary workers.

It is hard to believe that Dr. Edward Everett Hale (Edward Everett Hale [1822–1909], American author, historian and Unitarian clergyman) will be seventy years old April 3, but it will not do to contradict the birth record and the arithmetic, in spite of all his unfailing energy and youthful activity in many different undertakings. Dr. Hale is one of the men who will be always young, and it may be in consequence of this that he has written so many things that will never lose their freshness. One of the best of them is the chapter in "How to Do It" on "How to Write," which is full of crisp and practical suggestions. Dr. Hale's rules for writing are evidently those which have always governed his own literary work; and while others may not be able to follow them with equal success, they are worth remembering by every writer. The rules are:

"First, Know what you want to say; second, Say it; third, Use your own language; fourth, Leave out all the fine passages; fifth, A short word is better than a long one; sixth, The fewer words, other things being equal, the better; finally, Cut it to pieces. Any writer who will make these rules his guide in daily work will find in them an important help to literary success."

Courtesy: Project Gutenberg EBook


  1. I don't know, that "Bronte" story sure is poorly written though.

  2. Charles, for a Bronte story it "is" written poorly though, unattributed, I thought it was pretty good. I quite enjoyed it.

  3. Hale sounds like Strunk and White on speed.

  4. Ron, thanks for reminding me about Strunk and White's THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE. I had forgotten about it.