Brontë Sisters

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Name: Charlotte, Emily & Anne Brontë
Also Known As: Brontë Sisters, Brontë Family
Occupation: Writers
Medium: Novels, poetry
Official Website(s):
Fan Website(s):
On Fanlore: Related pages

Charlotte, Emily & Anne Brontë are three talented and celebrated literary figures from the Victorian age. Between them, 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 (see Brontë Fandom). 2016 was the bicentennial of Charlotte's birth, and the family and their amazing story received renewed attention. An article at The Atlantic seriously compares Brontë fandom to a type of religion. [1]

Together with their brother Patrick Branwell, the Brontë sisters were also among the first known media fans, and thus have received increased recognition as fans and fannish creators over the years.


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.

Their Fanworks

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.[2][3][4] Reviewer Elisa Bray compared these books to early science fiction fanzines.[5]

The imaginary kingdoms that they invented were highly developed and detailed. They had histories, geographies, mythologies, wars and romances and feuds and alliances. The children created a whole corpus of work around them, intended it seems, for their eyes only. They wrote and performed plays with no audiences. They produced magazines with no readers. They made tiny little books (some the size of a matchbook!) with miniscule writing which required a magnifying glass to read. These endeavours happily absorbed their time. Think how many hours of quiet concentration it would have taken to execute such tiny writing with quill pens![6]

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.) [7] [8][9] [10] Some of these works have been transcribed and published, with some unfortunately cut up, rearranged and sold off by unscrupulous collectors.[11]

Every so often, one or more of the books thought to be lost turn up in someone's private collection and are auctioned for astronomical prices.[12][13] There is a movement among Brontë fans and scholars to have them all transferred to the Parsonage Museum in Haworth, especially after Issue 2 of The Young Men's Magazine, written in 1830 by Charlotte, was auctioned to a Paris museum for $1.1 million.[14]

The sale was not only a record for a Brontë manuscript but also a significant blow to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, which had received a grant of more than $900,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, along with a number of public donations, after an appeal to keep the 1.5 by 2.5-inch manuscript in Britain.

“This is unquestionably the most significant Brontë manuscript to come to light in decades and an important part of our broader literary heritage,” Andrew McCarthy, the director of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, said on the museum's Web site.

“It belongs in Haworth, and we are bitterly disappointed that scholars and members of the public may now not have the opportunity to study and enjoy it as part of our public collection,” he said. [15]

Nine books have been returned to the Parsonage, and seven more will soon follow. In March 2022 A Book of Ryhmes, a mini-book of poems written by Charlotte at the age of thirteen, surfaced in a 19th-century schoolbook belonging to a private collector. In April it was sold for $1.25 million to the Friends of the National Libraries charity, to be restored to the Parsonage Museum. This was the last of the two dozen mini-books made by Charlotte to remain in private hands.[16]

The Brontës' stories featuring the Duke of Wellington are often cited as a prominent early example of fanfiction featuring non-fictional characters.

The Brontë sisters were writing RPF. They really did. About Wellington. They might not have been writing, as far as we are aware, anything particularly erotic[note 1] but they were imagining him and other personages—famous personages of their era, outside of the context of what they knew, outside of the news reports, they were writing about their home lives, writing about battles, writing about other things. And making things up![17]

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.

A lesser known story by Charlotte in which the Angrian characters cross over into real-world Haworth was found tucked in the pages of a book that had belonged to her mother, recently found in a private collection and now enshrined at the Parsonage Museum.[18]

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, including spontaneous, real-time live-action roleplay.

Anne and I went our first long journey by ourselves together... and during our excursion we were Ronald Macelgin, Henry Angora, Juliet Augusteena, Rosobelle Esualdar, Ella and Julian Egramont Catherine Navarre and Cordelia Fitzaphnold escaping from the palaces of Instruction...[19]

Emily was 27 years old when she wrote this, and Anne was 25.

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 their there 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."[2]

Notes & References


  1. ^ Read "A Peep Into a Picture Book", Mina Laury or The Duke of Zamorna, if you think they weren't writing erotica.


  1. ^ Judith Shulevitz, "The Brontës’ Secret". Atlantic Monthly, 2016-06-01. Archive edition 2022-04-08.
  2. ^ a b Juliet Barker, The Brontës, St. Martin's, 1994.
  3. ^ Allison Serapilio, "'Printed By Herself and Sold By Nobody': Miniature Books and Juvenilia by the Brontë Siblings. Cove, October 12, 2022. Detailed descriptions of the book creation process with photographs, including a modern-day replica by Serapilio: "I made this miniature book in an effort to understand the material process of childhood bookmaking for the Brontë siblings, using their methods of book creation to make my own. I used old scraps of journal pages and paper bags, emulating the sugar wrappers and wallpaper clippings the Brontë children used to craft their works. As for the writing inside the book, I used a dip pen and ink as the siblings would have done, writing carefully with small penmanship as Charlotte did in her books."
  4. ^ Shirley Hoover Biggers, British Author House Museums and Other Memorials: A Guide to Sites in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. McFarland, 2002.
  5. ^ Inside the minds of the young Brontës. The Independent, 2011-06-10.
  6. ^ Earliest known writings of Charlotte Brontë. - The British Library, 2016-04-23. (Archive edition, 2022-04-08)
  7. ^ Carolyn Kellogg, "The teeny tiny Bronte books". Los Angeles Times, 2014-07-02. (Archive Edition, 2022-04-08)
  8. ^ Kate Kondayen, "The genesis of genius". Harvard Gazette, 2014-06-26. (Archive edition, 2022-04-08)
  9. ^ Christopher Reed, "Tiny Brontës juvenilia in Houghton Library". Harvard Magazine, 2012-01-01. (Archive edition, 2022-04-08).
  10. ^ "The Brontës Made Tiny Books As Children – by Kasia Galazka at Buzzfeed". 2014-06-28. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
  11. ^ "Brontë juvenilia: The History of Angria - The British Library". 2014-12-26. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
  12. ^ "Small Book, Big Story: Bronte Manuscript Discovered : NPR". 2011-11-23. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
  13. ^ "A Lost Brontë Library Surfaces – by Jennifer Schuessler at The New York Times". 2021-05-25. Archived from the original on 2021-05-25.
  14. ^ ""Zut alors! French snatch our tiny Bronte treasure: Manuscript is going to Paris after museum in UK is outbid – by David Wilkes at Daily Mail". 2011-12-16. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
  15. ^ "Miniature Magazine by a Young Charlotte Brontë Fetches $1.1 Million at Auction – by Jennifer Schuessler at Artsbeat". 2011-12-16. Archived from the original on 2012-01-04.
  16. ^ A Tiny Brontë Book, Sold for $1.25 Million, to Return Home. New York Times, April 25, 2022.
  17. ^ Evan Hayles Gledhill on how RPF is hardly a new trend in Fansplaining Episode 10, 2018.
  18. ^ David Barnett, Unpublished Charlotte Brontë writings return to Haworth in mother's book. The Guardian, 2016-07-20 (archive edition, 2022-04-08).
  19. ^ Emily Bronte, Diary Paper for July 30, 1845. Emily Bronte's Letters and Diary Papers, 2012-12-15 (archive edition, 2012-12-15).