This is Charlotte Brontë’s earliest known work, a short story written for her sister Anne. It was the first of the little books made by the Brontë children. Later attempts were a lot more professional, with proper title pages or contents lists. But what this little edition lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in charm!
The Brontës’ childhood
Charlotte was the eldest of the famous literary Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Along with their brother Branwell, they were brought up in the rural Yorkshire moors. They were raised by their father Patrick Brontë, who was an Anglican Clergyman. After their mother and two older sisters had died, the children spent a lot of time alone. This gave them great freedom to learn and play how they wished. They read a lot and spent long afternoons exploring the surrounding countryside.
Creators of worlds
In 1826, Patrick Brontë gave Branwell a treasured set of toy soldiers. The siblings named them the Twelves or ‘Young Men’ and created names and personalities that brought them to life. They made up stories about a fictional 'Glass Town Confederacy' that the soldiers ruled over. From this developed two great fictional kingdoms of Gondal, run by Emily and Anne, and Angria, run by Charlotte and Branwell. 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!
Many of the elaborate sagas have been lost, although some of the little manuscripts and books still exist. These precious works provide us with a glimpse into their secretive childhood world.
What is this book about?
The book is delightfully illustrated throughout with tiny watercolour vignettes, or scenes. It still retains its original covers made from a discarded piece of grey-flowered wallpaper. At the back there is evidence that the children were beginning to invent their ‘Young Men’s’ adventures. There is a map, which is carefully divided into four provinces (one for each sibling). The two lists of places explain what belongs to Wellington and what belongs to Parry. As Wellington was Charlotte’s ‘Young Man’ and Parry was Emily’s, this is evidence of a partnership of the imagination between the two sisters. The mention of the toy soldiers dates the little book to at least 1826, when the toy soldiers were given to the children.
This item is owned by The Bronte Parsonage Museum.