|Creator:||Charlotte, Emily & Anne Brontë|
|Date(s):||first novels published in 1847|
|Country of Origin:||England|
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Brontë Fandom is the term given to the fandom of the works authored by sisters Charlotte, Emily & Anne Brontë, three celebrated literary figures from the Victorian age (for more on their lives, see Brontë Sisters). Their most popular works, and thus the most popular subjects of fan attention, are their novels, but Brontë fandom also extends to appreciation of other writings by the sisters, such as their poetry and their childhood stories and those of their brother Branwell; and also to the sisters' lives and relationships with their family.
Brontë fandom dates back as far as the 1850s, and has resurged at various points with the publication of different materials, or as editions of their works have become more widely available. Many of the Brontës' most famous novels (such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) have been adapted across a range of different media, spawning fandoms for the individual works as well as bringing the sisters and their lives to the attention of new fans.
In 2016, the Brontë family and their story received renewed attention due to the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë's birth. Judith Shulevitz, writing for the Atlantic, commented on the frenzied intensity of interest in the Brontës' lives and works: "I see no reason not to consider the Brontë cult a religion."
A joint Brontë fandom exists, although many fans prefer the works of one sister, and some have been drawn in by a particular adaptation. CarrieS asserts You cannot passionately, deeply, own-multiple-copies-of, take-to-a-desert-island-as-your-one-book, love both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Love one, hate the other. That's the deal. You may appreciate the quality of the writing in both books and their historical significance, but on a visceral level you will love only one.
Popular interest in the Brontës started in the 1850s, during Charlotte's lifetime. It was further fuelled after her death by a kerfuffle between Elizabeth Gaskell and their father, Rev. Patrick Brontë, over Gaskell's biography of Charlotte, which first appeared in 1857 – then seen as racy, now viewed as a whitewash. Between the first and third editions of the biography, Gaskell had to tone down much sensitive material, including a description of the Dickensian conditions at the Clergy Daughters School (the real-life model for Lowood in Jane Eyre), Charlotte's love for her French instructor in Belgium, her later affair with her publisher and Branwell's affair with one of his employers.
The Brontes were media fans themselves from an early age, and had written many stories, poems and novels imitating authors they admired, chronicling their imaginary countries Angria and Gondal, and RPF about the Duke of Wellington and his family. Most of this was written in a miniscule hand in handmade booklets no larger than 5x3cm -- an appropriate size for their toy soldiers, who were supposed to be the authors as well as the readers of the material.
Gaskell had been given a packet with several of these early mini-books. Not understanding exactly what this material was or its importance in the later, published works, she nonetheless devoted an early chapter of Charlotte's biography to it, saying it was comprehensible only to "the bright little minds for whom it was intended". However, behind the scenes she was deeply impressed; she wrote to her publisher George Smith: "The wildest and most incoherent things -- all purporting to be written, or addressed to some member of the Wellesley family. They give one the idea of creative power carried to the verge of insanity."
Many of the tiny books were sold off to private collectors; occasionally one or two turn up, to huge interest among fans of English literature in general as well as Brontë fans, and have been auctioned for astronomical prices. In 2021 an archive with many of the original tiny books, manuscripts of the adult novels, family letters and the family's own book collection were found in the Honresfield Library collection. There is a movement to gather all the existing books and transfer them to the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
Interest increased towards the end of the 19th century when cheap editions of the sisters' novels became available. The Brontë Society was founded in 1893 and soon founded a museum to house their collection of Brontëana and a journal, Brontë Society Transactions, for academic discussion. The society remains a major fannish hub.
In 1933, Fannie Elizabeth Ratchford published a collection of Charlotte's early writings, Legends of Angria (New Haven, Yale University Press), followed in 1941 by an overview of the Glasstown/Angria saga, The Brontës' Web of Childhood (Columbia University Press) and Gondal's Queen, a collection of Emily's Gondal poems (Univ. of Texas Press, 1955, reprinted 2014). Ratchford's goal was to show that the children did not put aside their childhood fantasy characters and situations as they wrote their adult works, but rather incorporated and improved on them. Biographer Winifred Gérin provided Five Novelettes (Folio Society) by Charlotte in 1971. The entire text of Miscellaneous and Unpublished Writings of Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Bronte, vol. 2, first published in 1936, is online at archive.org. Modern collections include Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings, ed. by Christine Alexander (Oxford World's Classics, 2010) and Juvenilia: 1829-1835 by Charlotte, ed. by Juliet Barker (Penguin, 1997).
The main mailing list for the fandom was the BRONTE Majordomo list, founded in 1994 and owned by Elizabeth Thomsen. Personal websites had started appearing by 1997. The JaneEyre Yahoo group was founded in February 1999, for discussion of all Brontë matters. In June 2000 the BRONTE Majordomo list went down, and was succeeded by a Yahoo group of the same name.
The Brontë Society is based in the UK, with international chapters; it has around 1500–2000 members internationally. The society publishes a newsletter, the Gazette, & an academic journal, Brontë Studies (formerly Brontë Society Transactions), runs conferences, organises outings to Brontë-related locations, and sponsors competitions for fanfiction, fan poetry & fanart.
The Australian Brontë Association grew from Australian members of The Brontë Society, and split from the parent in 1998. It publishes a newsletter & a journal, The Brontë Thunderer, and organises meetings & conferences.
The Brussels Brontë Group, another offshoot of The Brontë Society, focuses on the Brontë's connection with Brussels, where Charlotte & Emily taught and where Villette & The Professor are set. It mainly serves Belgium, Netherlands, Germany & France, and runs meetings & guided walks.
Other Brontë societies include the Brontë Society of Japan, which organises conferences.
Jane Eyre generates the most fannish activity, with fanfiction, fanart & vids, mainly gen or het in the canonical pairing, but with a little slash & femslash. The novel is a Yuletide staple and has a substantial presence at FanFiction.Net. It also inspires abundant crossovers of the pastiche/fusion variety, where characters from a huge variety of fandoms act out the story. A number of professionally published works also build on Jane Eyre, continuing the story or telling it from alternate perspectives: one of the most well-known is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a 1966 novel told from the perspective of Mr. Rochester's first wife, a Creole heiress named Antoinette Cosway.
Wuthering Heights is the next in popularity, with over a hundred fanworks at FF.net, as well as a handful of professionally published retellings, including Catherine by April Lindner, a YA adaptation of the story. There is also a little fanfiction for Shirley, Villette and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Villette has inspired a few femslash stories in the Lucy Snowe/Ginevra Fanshawe pairing, for example, Jane Carnall's "I would not be you for a kingdom". A. J. Hall has written a popular series set in the Gondal universe, Queen of Gondal, a fusion with Sherlock.
There are occasional crossovers involving characters from multiple Brontë novels, for example Bow's Yuletide hit, Jane Eyre Has a Posse, which extends Jane Austen's Fight Club with characters from Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights & Shirley.
Gen historical RPF featuring the Brontë sisters (and sometimes their brother Branwell or their father Patrick) has also been written, both for Yuletide and for Brontë Society publications. The sisters creating their imaginary universes is a common subject. Some stories riff off Kate Beaton's popular Hark! A Vagrant cartoons, Dude Watchin' with the Brontës & Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell, for example, tofty's Blood Will Have Blood.
Other Fannish Activities
- The list is devoted to the lives and works of the Brontë family: this includes biographical discussion, literary criticism, discussion of social or historical issues that are relevant to an understanding of the Brontës, discussion of the novels, movies, television and stage adaptations of works by the Brontës, Brontë related travel: in essence, ANYTHING Brontë related.
Many Brontë fans enjoy visiting locations related to the family and the novels. Haworth Parsonage, the Brontës' home and now the location of the Brontë Museum, is a popular fannish pilgrimage, as is Haworth parish church where Charlotte, Branwell & Emily are buried. Anne is buried at St. Mary's Churchyard in Scarborough near her favorite seaside resort.
- The Brontë Archives -- GeoCities fansite for Emily Brontë's poetry by kkramer (offline)
- The Brontë Family -- site by Meredith Birmingham, with essays & information (August 1998)
- The Brontë Sisters -- site by Fugler
- The Brontë Sisters Web -- site by Mitsuharu Matsuoka, with information & links (March 1997 or earlier)
- Charlotte Brontë -- Italian site by Tania La Torre (2006) (offline)
- Emily Brontë -- AOL site by Michael E. Grost (offline)
- The Reader's Guide to Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights" -- Wuthering Heights site, with character essays & information
- See Jane Eyre article for sites relating to that novel & its adaptations
- Brontë Blog -- news, extensive links; one of the most prominent English-language blogs
- Brontë Parsonage Blog -- blog of The Brontë Society, with society news, reviews & an extensive links collection
- The Brontë Sisters -- blog by kleurrijk
- The Brontë Sisters
- Brontë Weather Project
- Brontëana -- news
- The Brontës -- Tumblr
- Brussels Brontë Blog -- blog of the Brussels Brontë Group
- Brontë Sisters -- Dutch
- De Familie Brontë -- Dutch
- Les Brontë à Paris -- French
- Les Sœurs Brontë -- French
- Leituras Brontëanas -- Portuguese
Forums & Communities
- BRONTE -- Yahoo group founded in 2000, with over 900 members
- The Brontës -- message board at C19
- JaneEyre -- Yahoo group founded in 1999 for discussion of all Brontë matters, with over 500 members
- sistersbronte -- LJ community founded in 2003, with over 130 members
- Judith Shulevitz, The Brontës' Secret, Atlantic, June 2016. Accessed August 7, 2021.
- smartbitchestrashybooks: Jane Eyre Vs Wuthering Heights Smackdown - A Guest Entry by CarrieS (accessed 12 August 2013)
- The Brontë Society: History (accessed 11 August 2013)
- Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (entire text online at Gutenberg), Smith, Elder, and Co. 1857.
- For example, Gold, Tanya. Reader, I shagged him. The Guardian (25 March 2005) (accessed 11 August 2013)
- Juliet Barker, The Brontës, St. Martin's, 1994.
- Shirley Hoover Biggers, British Author House Museums and Other Memorials: A Guide to Sites in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. McFarland, 2002.
- Jennifer Schuessler, A Lost Brontë Library Surfaces. New York Times, 2021-05-25.
- BRONTE: Home (accessed 11 August 2013)
- Brontë Mailing List: Regulations of Brontë Mailing List (accessed 11 August 2013)
- The Australian Brontë Association Newsletter no. 1 (May 1998) (accessed 11 August 2013)