In 1844, Emily Brontë began two new notebooks. In this one she copied out 45 poems relating to the imaginary world of Gondal; the other was reserved for non-Gondal poems. The poems in this notebook were composed between 1844 and 1848. In 1847 her more famous and only novel, Wuthering Heights, was published.
Gondal is the fictional North Pacific island invented by 12-year old Emily and her younger sister Anne in 1831. Gondal’s landscape is similar to Emily’s native Yorkshire moors, but also reminiscent of the Scottish highland setting of the works of her favourite author Sir Walter Scott. Emily and Anne wrote stories and poems about Gondal well into adulthood, with Emily continuing the saga until her death in 1848, at the age of thirty. None of the Gondal stories have survived, so the poems are the only available source for reconstructing the saga.
This manuscript is written in the almost illegible script which all the Brontë siblings used — initially because the tiny writing mimicked print, but also because it saved on expensive paper and discouraged adults from reading their work. The earliest poem in this collection dates from 6 March 1837, when Emily Brontë was 18 years old.
Who is A.G.A.?
The poem on the first page is headed ‘A.G.A.’ These are the initials of Augusta Geraldine Almeda, the protagonist of the Gondal saga. Augusta is a ruthless heroine who becomes Queen of Gondal and has many love affairs. She was inspired by Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria), who was only ten months younger than Emily Brontë. In this poem Augusta recalls the death of her lover, the Lord of Elbë, who died by the banks of Lake Elnor.
Were the poems published?
In 1845 Charlotte Brontë came across one of Emily’s notebooks and was so struck by the originality of her sister’s poems that she set about trying to convince her that they should be published. Emily was fiercely resistant but eventually agreed to publication of a volume containing poems by all three Brontë sisters. Published pseudonymously, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846) contained five poems from this notebook. Charlotte published a further nine of the poems from this notebook in the edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey (1850) which appeared after Emily’s death.
The Gondal poems were not printed in the same form as they appear here. Charlotte and Emily carefully edited them to remove any reference to fictional people or places. Pencil notes and headings written by Charlotte are present throughout the notebook.