|Creator:||Charlotte, Emily & Anne Brontë|
|Date(s):||first novels published in 1847|
|Country of Origin:||England|
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We wove a web in childhood
A web of sunny air
We dug a spring in infancy
Of water pure and fair
Charlotte, Emily & Anne Brontë are among the most famous Victorian novelists. Between the three sisters, they published seven novels, including two of the most popular novels from the era, Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights. Rochester & Heathcliff are two of the most influential archetypes for the Byronic Hero. The sisters' talent, the radical nature of their works, as well as their unusual & tragically short lives have made them the focus of fannish attention since the 1850s. 2016 is the bicentennial of Charlotte's birth, and the family and their amazing story can expect renewed attention.
The sisters along with their brother Patrick Branwell were also among the first known media fans, with a focus on politics. Their father and aunt subscribed to several newspapers and Blackwood's Magazine, a literary journal with a lot of lively debate, parody and horror fiction. The kids created their own "Blackwood's Young Men's Magazine" by and for twelve adventurers based on a set of wood soldiers their father had bought for Branwell in 1826.
They were huge fans of Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and invented long, elaborate sagas of his further adventures along with his two sons, Arthur and Charles. There were action-adventure, supernatural fantasy, mystery and comedic stories, with an increasing focus on romance and erotic melodrama over the years.
Most of this was written in a miniscule hand in handmade booklets no larger than 5x3cm -- an appropriate size for the toy soldiers, who were supposed to be the authors as well as the readers of the material, also as a way of economizing on paper as well as keeping their work private. The covers were made of recycled materials like sugar bags, wallpaper samples or commercial wrapping paper. Some of these books may be viewed at Harvard University Library's online archive. (The exhibition shows only about nine books; there were several dozen, sold off over the years by Charlotte's husband after her death.)  Some of these works have been transcribed and published.
Charlotte Brontë (1816–55) had three novels published in her lifetime, Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849) & Villette (1853). Her first novel, The Professor, failed to find a publisher during her lifetime and appeared posthumously in 1857.
Emily Brontë (1818–48) published Wuthering Heights (1847); her poetry also remains popular. Poems based on her fantasy paracosm Gondal, co-created with Anne, are published in Gondal's Queen, edited by Fannie Ratchford. Anne Brontë (1820–49) published Agnes Grey (1847) & The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).
Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-1848) published a number of poems in local and regional newspapers five years before any of the sisters' books appeared. He completed an English translation of the Odes of Horace, planned a series of narrative poems about historical heroes, and was at work adapting an Angrian tale into a mainstream novel, And The Weary Are At Rest, before his death. His juvenilia was published with Charlotte's.
Jane Eyre has been adapted countless times for every conceivable medium, and there are also many adaptations of Wuthering Heights. Of the other novels, only the 1996 BBC miniseries of Tenant of Wildfell Hall remains popular.
Glasstown, Angria & Gondal
With their brother Branwell, the three sisters collaborated as children on live-action roleplay in a fantasy universe, Glasstown, a colony in West Africa inspired by the toy soldiers. These tales included real living characters, such as the Duke of Wellington and his sons, famous explorers and social reformers. Later stories focused on the Duke's son Arthur, Marquis of Douro and Duke of Zamorna, who founded the nation of Angria and styled himself Emperor Adrian, and his arch-rival Alexander Percy (Branwell's chief character), whose daughter Mary Arthur married and then abandoned. Arthur and Alexander became virtual demigods, with both heroic and less admirable traits. Arthur's brother Charles, who supposedly wrote most of Charlotte's material, constantly pointed out his brother's failings in hilariously snarky style. Charlotte based Arthur's character partly on popular accounts of Lord Byron. Alexander's character had elements of Napoleon, Faust and Milton's Satan.
Emily & Anne later created another fantasy universe, Gondal, without Charlotte. According to their "diary papers", written on their birthdays and then shut away for a certain period to be opened as time capsules, they continued creating within this shared universe as adults.
Referring to their comparative size and power over the tiny soldiers, the children wrote themselves into the stories as genii, that is, Jinn. The singular is Genius, which is why the early books are signed by "the Genius Branwell" or "the Genius Charlotte". A narrative by Branwell describes the arrival of the box of soldiers at the parsonage and the children's eager acceptance of them from the soldiers' perspective:
[We were seized by] an Immense and terreble monster his head touched the clouds was encircled with a red and fiery Halo his nostrils flashed forth flames and smoke and he was enveloped in dim misty and indefinable robe... (The monster, as Branwell explained in a footnote, turned out to be the redheaded and nightgown-clad Branwell himself, bringing the soldiers to show his sisters on that morning of 5 June.) The taller of the 3 new monsters seized Arthur Wellesly the next seized E W Parry and the least seized J Ross. For a long time they continued looking at them in silence which however was broken by The monster who brought them
theirthere he saying ‘Know you then that I give into your protection but not for your own these mortals whom you hold in your hands’ . . . "I am the cheif Genius Brannii with me there are 3 others she wellesly who protects you is named Tallii she who protects Parry is named Emmii she who protects Ross is called Annii."
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 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.
Gaskell was also given a packet with several of the 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."
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. Wuthering Heights is the next in popularity, with over a hundred works at ff.net, and there is also a little fanfiction for Shirley, Villette & 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 mustard-seed in distant land
Bends down a mighty tree
The dry unbudding almond-wand
Has touched eternity
- 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, seriously compares Brontë fandom to a religion.
- 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.
- Carolyn Kellogg, The Teeny Tiny Brontë Books. Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2014.
- Kate Kondayen, The Genesis of Genius. Harvard Gazette, June 26, 2014.
- Christopher Reed, Tiny Brontës. Harvard Magazine, Jan-Feb 2012.
- Kasia Galazka, The Brontës Wrote Teeny Tiny Books, June 28, 2014.
- 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)
- 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)