As teenagers and young adults, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë all wrote stories set in imaginary worlds. Glass Town, their original fictional land, was invented by the four together, though Branwell and Charlotte Brontë were the dominant players. After 1831, Charlotte and Branwell branched out into Angria, an extension of Glass Town, while Emily and Anne invented their own private world of Gondal.
This history of Angria by Branwell Brontë is written in minute script, typical of the juvenile works created by Branwell and his three sisters. Reading the text is a complex process, given Branwell’s lack of punctuation, but there is another reason why it is difficult to make sense of the story. If you look closely at this manuscript (particularly the spacing of the script and the colour of the paper) you can see that it is not a continuous draft, but a series of disordered fragments. These fragments are part of a longer chronicle by Branwell, entitled ‘Angria and the Angrians’, dating from 1834 to 1839.
These fragments were rearranged and bound together by T J Wise, a book collector now known to have been a forger and a thief. His bookplate can be seen on the inside front cover, indicating that the volume belonged to his personal collection known as the Ashley Library (named after the road he lived on in Crouch End, London). Though Wise kept some of the Brontë manuscripts he had acquired for himself, he also sold a good deal (including other parts of ‘Angria and the Angrians’, which are now dispersed between multiple libraries and museums in the UK and the US).
The Prime Minister, the Duke of Northangerland, wants to turn Angria into a republic by doing away with Zamorna, the King, who happens to be his son-in-law. Northangerland assists an alliance of forces to defeat Zamorna’s troops. A republic is declared, Zamorna exiled and his wife (Northangerland’s daughter) dies of a broken heart. But this is not the end of the tale: the Angrian troops rally and Zamorna reclaims the throne, leaving the defeated Northangerland to return home a broken man.
Branwell wrote this story using the pseudonym, Captain Henry Hastings. A soldier and author, Hastings is characterised as a popular, though vain, figure who becomes a drunkard and a murderer.