Brontë, Juvenilia, Literature, Reviews

The Diary Papers of Emily and Anne Brontë (Juvenilia Press Edition)

As regular readers of my blog will know, my main area of research is the Brontë juvenilia. However, I mainly concentrate on Charlotte and Branwell’s Glass Town and Angrian works. Set in an exotic Africa which was very different to their reality at home in Haworth, West Yorkshire, they wrote about their paracosmic worlds for over a decade, sometimes writing collaboratively, at other times writing alone, and sometimes writing pieces in response to one written by the other. Many of their works produced in adulthood contained a nod or two to the characters and places that had become so familiar and dear to them. See my piece from earlier this year on Charlotte’s novel The Professor – Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor: Juvenilia or Mature Novel? Thanks to a combination of luck, the siblings’ inability to destroy the writings relating to these worlds, and the hard work of Brontë scholars such as Fannie Ratchford, Winifred Gérin, and Christine Alexander, these writings have survived and been transcribed for new generations of readers to enjoy. Please see my Brontë Juvenilia page for further information about the origins, characters, and events from Glass Town and Angria.

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Their younger siblings, Emily and Anne, also had roles to play in the creation and maintenance of Glass Town. However, tired of taking a backseat to Charlotte and Branwell, the sisters broke away to form their own world of Gondal in 1831. Sadly most of Emily and Anne’s Gondal saga has been lost to time, and what remains is difficult to piece together and make sense of. Several attempts have been made, the most famous probably being Ratchford’s Gondal’s Queen: A Novel in Verse in which she presents a cycle of eighty-four poems by Emily to re-create the “novel in verse” which Emily wrote about Gondal and its ruler, Augusta Geraldine Almeda. I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of Gondal is nowhere near my knowledge of Glass Town and Angria (and I’m still learning new things about these wonderful worlds), but like other Brontë fans, the idea of Gondal with its wild landscape, its powerful female leaders, and the passion which permeates some of the surviving texts, continues to fascinate me.

In addition to the likes of Ratchford’s text, there are other glimpses of Gondal to be found should we care to look. Some of the Glass Town stories such as Charlotte’s “A Day at Parry’s Palace” still contain references to and information about Gondal. Click here for my post about this one.  There are also Emily and Anne’s diary papers, which were written over a period of 11 years, and which contain a mix of fact and fiction, the mundane and the extraordinary, Haworth and Gondal. The manuscripts are scattered across public and private collections, and fragments and sections have appeared more recently in the likes of Christine Alexander’s wonderful anthology Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal. The Juvenilia Press have now released their own edition of the diary papers, and I was delighted to be asked to review the text by Christine Alexander and Donna Couto. I would like to thank them for providing me with a copy of the book. Juvenilia Press editions are always something special, and this one is no exception.

The Juvenilia Press

The Juvenilia Press is a non-profit organisation which aims to promote the study of literary juvenilia, a non-canonical and neglected category of literature which is predominantly made up of the writings of authors under the age of twenty. The category includes both fiction and non-fiction, and features authors who enjoyed literary success during adulthood, and those who, for various reasons, did not. There are however some exceptions to the age rule, such as the adult Angrian works of Charlotte and Branwell Brontë which are an extension of their childhood tales set in Glass Town. Either way, the Press is dedicated to bringing these literary gems out of the shadows of more “mature” work by adult authors, and that is a good thing in a world where writing by children is considered inferior to the works of their adult counterparts. Juvenilia have a lot to tell us about the history of individual authors, historical literary movements, print culture, and society more generally if we care to read them. They can, of course, also be very amusing and entertaining.

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Juvenilia Press editions normally focus on the work of one particular author and are edited by a leading expert in juvenilia studies with assistance from at least one student/graduate editor. The involvement of students and their active role in both the editorial and research process is an essential part of the pedagogic aim of the JP. By publicising and contributing to the recovery, publication, and critical examination of juvenilia, the JP promotes literary research and the professional development of students with an interest in the field. You can click here to visit the Juvenilia Press website in order to learn more about its aims and order copies of the juvenilia of many different authors from the 17th- 20th centuries including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, and of course, Charlotte and Branwell Brontë. The JP also has a Facebook page although this isn’t updated very often.

The Authors

Emily (1818-1848) and Anne (1820-1849) Brontë are two of the most famous authors in the English language, and the two youngest members of the famous Brontë family. Born in Thornton, they moved to the nearby village of Haworth as young children with their mother and father (Maria and Patrick) and four older siblings Maria (1814-1825), Elizabeth (1815-1825), Charlotte (1816-1855), and Patrick Branwell (1817-1848). Their mother was Cornish born whilst their father was an Irish curate who moved the family to Haworth when he was offered the role of perpetual curate there in 1820. Their mother sadly died in 1821 and their oldest siblings passed away in 1825 due to the harsh and unhygienic conditions they had to endure at the now notorious Cowan Bridge school. Charlotte and Emily also attended but were lucky to escape with their lives although the trauma they suffered and witnessed probably never left them, with Charlotte writing about her heroine’s experience at a school named Lowood in her 1847 novel Jane Eyre, an account which strikingly resembles reality. 

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Anne, Emily, and Charlotte depicted by Branwell c. 1833

Life was not completely bleak for the four surviving Brontë siblings; as children they formed a strong bond and created imaginary worlds which they eventually documented on paper, they had the freedom to explore the nearby moors, and also, unusually, the freedom to read pretty much whatever reading material entered the parsonage where they lived. Patrick did not attempt to stifle his children’s reading by restricting them to what was considered to be age or gender appropriate material. As adults, the sisters worked as teachers and governesses, even attempting to set up their own school at one point. However, from their childhood days they had been writers, and continued to work on their own pieces over the years.

Emily and Anne’s private world of Gondal kept them busy for many years, even into adulthood, and it is clear that it was never far from their minds. Emily and Anne published a volume of poetry in 1846 with their older sister, Charlotte, and later their novels, Wuthering Heights (1847), Agnes Grey (1847), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).  Some of these poems may have originated as Gondal pieces, proving that although most of this world is sadly lost, their are still glimpses to be found. Further evidence of Gondal is also to be found in their remarkable diary papers which, like Charlotte’s Roe Head Journalcombines fact and fiction, the real and the imaginary, and gives us glimpses of not only a lost world, but also of its creators. 

The Diary Papers

The Diary Papers are extracts written by Emily and Anne over a period of 11 years from 1834-1845. They are not diaries in a form as would perhaps be recognised in the 21st century, but are scraps of paper on which the sisters wrote and reflected about their lives. Some of the papers also contain sketches, the most famous probably being the 1837 paper which shows the sisters sitting at the parsonage dining room table. The papers are extraordinary for what they reveal about their authors when most of their correspondence (especially Emily’s) has been lost or destroyed. The papers show young women growing up and making their way in the world as well as giving modern readers a look at working class life in 19th century England. They also, as mentioned above, show us glimpses of Gondal and how much this world clearly meant to the sisters. The papers also reveal the bond between the two youngest Brontës, their shared love of nature, animals, and writing, as well as their differences in the later papers as they sisters grew older. 

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Despite the surviving correspondence of the family, and the extant manuscripts of the secret and hidden worlds of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal, which were never meant for publication, there is a sense of truly accessing the real Emily and Anne when reading the diary papers. These were also private texts, never intended for publication, but they are also a look at the more ordinary aspects of their lives which give us a fascinating insight into the conditions in which they lived and worked, from their pets, to their hopes and expectations for the future, as well as concerns for other members of the family, especially Branwell. Despite their hardships, the sisters always look forwards, never backwards, and they are full of hope for what is to come which makes the papers a poignant read at times. The Juvenilia Press have produced an edition which allows modern readers to access not only the private, imaginary worlds of Emily and Anne, but also their private realities too. 

The Juvenilia Press Edition

This edition is edited by Christine Alexander and Mandy Swann, and presents the sisters’ diary papers from 1834, 1837, 1841, and 1845. This edition provides two versions of the papers: a version presented as the siblings wrote the papers as well as a diplomatic version which makes spelling and punctuation amendments. Both versions are worth a read. They are also accompanied with footnotes proving background, context, and reasons for the editorial decisions.

There is also a fascinating introduction to the sisters’ lives and works which is comprehensive without being overwhelming and is accompanied by reproductions of photographs of the parsonage, family members, and items and places connected to them as well as artwork by the Brontës depicting one another and their pets. It’s a useful refresher to those more familiar with the sisters, but also fantastic for readers new to their lives and works. Also included at the end of the book are four appendices which contain some of the texts discussed earlier in the edition and include a Gondal poem by Anne called “Alexander and Zenobia” as well as a list of place names and family letters.

The Juvenilia Press edition of Emily and Anne’s diary papers is a wonderful addition to any Brontë fan’s collection. I’d highly recommend this to anyone curious about Gondal, or those seeking more information about Emily and Anne. It’s already helped to provide me with a bit more information about their juvenilia, and I hope to write more posts on Gondal in the near future. It would certainly make a great Christmas present for any Brontë-mad friends or family. You can purchase it from the Juvenilia Press website. I believe the Brontë Parsonage Museum also stock it but they are currently closed due to the English lockdown and unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be available through their website. Your best bet for purchasing this one is directly from the JP.

In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)

A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.

By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.

Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @BronteBabeBlog where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights, or on my Brontë Babe Blog Facebook page. Look me up on Goodreads too. I also have a side project where I blog about my love of Classic Crime Fiction over at The Classic Crime Chonicle. I’d love it if you joined me there.

I’d also love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.

Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.

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