According to Christine Alexander, a scholar of the Brontë juvenilia, “The Secret” and “Lily Hart” come in the middle of a period of collaboration between Branwell and Charlotte. During this period Charlotte fleshes out the backgrounds and motivations of her characters. Personal and romantic intrigues proliferate, and the web of relationships between the characters of the Brontës’ complex world becomes even more entangled.
Charlotte Brontë's signature, from the last page of "Lily Hart"
When they were rediscovered in the 1970s, these stories filled some holes in the Angrian saga that had previously been left unexplained. Charlotte makes reference to the relationship between Henry Percy and Marian Hume in a later poem that was not understood prior to the stories' discovery. “The Secret” explains the links between these characters, as well as adding some intrigue to the characters’ backgrounds. "Lily Hart" introduces us to a character who makes her only appearance in the Angrian legends in this work.
Readers will find full transcriptions of the stories in publications by William Holtz and Christine Alexander (both cited in full in the bibliography). Because of copyright restrictions, these transcriptions are not included here. However, summaries of both “The Secret” and “Lily Hart” are included below.
Detail from "The Secret"
“The Secret” focuses on Charlotte’s heroine, Marian Hume, the child bride of the dark, brooding and temperamental Marquis of Douro (also known as Arthur Wellesley II and the Duke of Zamorna, the oldest son of Charlotte’s hero, the fictionalized Duke of Wellington). The story is narrated by the Marquis’ younger brother, Charles Wellesley. While shopping in Verdopolis the Marquis encounters Miss Foxley, Marian’s former governess, who manipulated Marian in an attempt to block their marriage several years earlier. Alarmed at the prospect of more interference, the Marquis imperiously forbids Marian to have any contact with Miss Foxley. Even so, Marian receives a midnight letter advising her to meet with her former governess in order to avoid an embarrassing scandal. She sneaks out of the Marquis’s palace under cover of darkness and confronts Miss Foxley about the situation, not knowing what to expect. After her arrival, Miss Foxley calls in a young man who claims to be Henry Percy, son of the terrible Lord Ellrington. Marian refuses to believe it is him because he looks so different, so he shows her a small token, which produces a strong reaction of fear and dread from her. Miss Foxley makes Marian swear not to consult with her husband on anything she has been told, then tells her to call on Lord Ellrington and gives her directions on how to open a secret box, which she says will contain the answer to another secret about Marian’s past.
Marian again has to sneak out of the palace to call on Lord Ellrington, an enemy of her husband the Marquis and a cruel and bloodthirsty man who is known for attempting to kill all of his sons. After dealing with Ellrington’s threats and cruel remarks, Marian opens the box and discovers a paper. She quickly reads its contents, and then burns it in the flame of the lamp in front of an astonished Lord Ellrington, who forces her to wait until dawn to return to the palace as punishment. Although her midnight excursions are almost found out, she manages to get back into the palace with the help of her lady-in-waiting.
A popular contemporary engraving of the real
Wellington, whom Charlotte fictionalized
as a hero of Angria
Back at the palace, the Marquis of Douro detects that Marian is upset about something and flies into a rage when she refuses to tell him what is wrong. He guesses that she must have been in contact with Miss Foxley and is about to send her away forever when his father walks in. Although she promised not to discuss the matter with her husband, Marian reasons that she did not promise anything with respect to the Duke of Wellington. Within earshot of her husband, Marian then confesses everything and informs the reader of the secrets that have been uncovered: Henry Percy, thought to have drowned at sea years ago, was Marian’s betrothed long before she met the Marquis of Douro and has come back to claim her as his wife. Even more disturbing, the paper in the box revealed a pact between Marian’s mother and a former Lady Ellrington. The two ladies were such great friends that they decided to switch children, each bringing up the other’s child as her own. This means that Marian is not Marian Hume, but rather the daughter of her husband’s biggest political rival.
Both men, however, have information that reveals Miss Foxley’s machinations – the Marquis witnessed her purchasing the token and hiring a young man to impersonate Henry Percy, while the Duke of Wellington confirms that the arrangement between Lady Ellrington and Mrs. Hume was never carried out. The Marquis forgives Marian for her disobedience, Miss Foxley is sent into exile, and the story ends happily.
The story of Lily Hart is the only one in which the title character appears. Lily and her widowed mother live in a small house in Verdopolis. During the Great Glass Town Insurrection, they find a wounded soldier in their back garden and are about to call a surgeon when another soldier, Colonel Percival, appears. Percival tells them that he knows something about surgery, tends to the soldier’s wounds, and then entreats them to keep him safe until he recovers. When asked what the wounded soldier’s name is, Percival replies that they should call him Mr. Seymour.
Detail from "Lily Hart"
Mr. Seymour improves rapidly, and Colonel Percival comes to visit them often. Although Lily is put off by Seymour’s haughty manners and dark expressions in the beginning, the two become very close. Seymour soon gets better, but he does not leave until Percival teases him about being overly attached to a certain young lady of the household. Seymour then packs his bags and leaves immediately, barely even thanking Lily and her mother for their hospitality.
Time passes, Lily’s mother dies, the Hart family’s modest fortunes are ruined, and Lily is on her own, forced to work making handicrafts in a tiny apartment in order to support herself. One day, as she is walking down the street, she sees Mr. Seymour at an open window. She turns away, embarrassed by her poverty, and when she looks back up the window is closed and Mr. Seymour is nowhere to be seen. Hurt, Lily makes her way to the cemetery, where she weeps over her mother’s grave. As she leaves the cemetery, she encounters Mr. Seymour again, who professes his love for her and asks her to marry him. She agrees, and he swears her to secrecy, asking her to meet him again at the cemetery the next day.
When Lily returns to the cemetery, Seymour is nowhere to be found. However, Percival appears and whisks her away in a carriage to a shadowy chapel in a great palace. There, she and Seymour are married and immediately leave Verdopolis for the countryside. Seymour installs Lily in the large, comfortable mansion of Elm Grove Villa, but he does not allow her to have guests or to visit Verdopolis. Her only contact with the outside world is Colonel Percival, and she knows nothing about her husband’s business or family.
Four years pass, and one night during a violent storm the butler announces that some travelers are at the villa seeking shelter from the rain. Although Seymour instructs him to show them to a separate parlor, they insist on coming into the same room as the family. When they remove their hoods, Lily is astonished to see the King of Sneachiesland, Alexander Sneachi (also called Sneaky, one of the original Twelve Soldiers) who addresses her husband as his son. It becomes clear that Mr. Seymour is actually John, Prince of Sneachiesland and Marquis of Fidena. Lily, the unwitting Marchioness of Fidena, is finally accepted by the royal family and taken to Verdopolis, where a lavish ball is thrown in her honor.