The imaginary worlds of the Brontës

Thanks to my mother, for a long time I’ve known that the Brontës — Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell — collaborated on writing together as children. They wrote in tiny writing in tiny notebooks. What I didn’t know was that they wrote about an imaginary shared realm, the world of the Glass Town Federation. They initially invented the kingdom of Angria, after which the two younger siblings, Emily and Anne, discontent with being forced into lesser realms, created their own land of Gondal. (If you’re hearing echoes of Angmar and Gondor, you’re not the only one — but I haven’t been able to find the slightest hint of a connection).

The enterprise began with a set of toy soldiers that Branwell received. Charlotte chose the Duke of Wellington, Branwell chose Napoleon (which, as blogger Transient points out, was like “playing Superman and Lex Luthor”, and Emily and Anne chose the Arctic explorers Parry and Ross). Each character had his own kingdom, with the capital of each one called Glass Town.

From the British Library:

They became obsessive about their imaginary worlds, drawing maps and creating lives for their characters and featured themselves as the ‘gods’ (‘genii’) of their world. Their stories are in tiny micro-script, as if written by their miniature toy soldiers.

The Brontës wrote about their imaginary countries in the form of long sagas which were ‘published’ as hand-written books and magazines, reminiscent of the early fanzines created by science fiction fans from the 1930s, as well as the imaginary worlds made up by many writers such as JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis in their childhood and adolescence. Just like today’s writers of ‘fan-fiction’ who use characters and settings from their favourite television shows and books (from Star Trek to Harry Potter), the Brontës used both fictional and real-life characters, such as the Duke of Wellington.


2 thoughts on “The imaginary worlds of the Brontës

  1. I’ve not read it, but I know Cat Valente has a story in the anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells about the Brontë sisters’ invented world(s). Might be of interest! Given it’s by Cat, it’s probably safe to say it’s a good story.

    (If you’re hearing echoes of Angmar and Gondor, you’re not the only one — but I haven’t been able to find the slightest hint of a connection).

    Ohhhhh this is begging for a specialist in 19th/20th C literature of the fantastic to investigate this. I wish I knew one.

    • Thanks for the rec! My money is on the names being a coincidence. Tolkien was open about his influences, and if he’d left any record of a connection I think it would be known. But I can imagine some fun crossover fanfic where Wellington, Napoleon & co find themselves transported by linguistic coincidence into Middle Earth.

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