When setting up Brontë Babe Blog it was my intention to introduce readers to the Brontë juvenilia in the hope of inspiring people to actually read texts from Charlotte and Branwell’s Glass Town/Angrian saga. Sadly most of Emily and Anne’s writings have been lost to time and what remains is difficult to piece together and make sense of. The origins of the stories may be the stuff of legend, but the tales themselves are still not widely known. Patrick Brontë’s gift of 12 toy soldiers to his son, Branwell, in June 1826 was the catalyst for the creation of the Brontë siblings’ paracosmic world of Glass Town. Each of the surviving Brontë siblings (Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne) chose a soldier of their own, playing with them, creating storylines concerning them, and eventually recording these events on any scrap of paper they could get their hands on. However, as the siblings grew older, they broke away into pairs, with Branwell and Charlotte continuing to develop the world of Glass Town, (later Verdopolis and Angria), whilst Emily and Anne focused on their own world of Gondal. Both Charlotte and Branwell wrote accounts of how each soldier was chosen and named, with the former writing a brief description on March 12th 1829 of this event in a fragment headed simply “Young Men’s”. Branwell wrote a somewhat more detailed description titled The History of the Young Men From Their First Settlement To The Present Time (15th December 1830 – 7th May 1831) which was written in the persona of the Glass Town historian, Captain John Bud.
Over the next decade in Charlotte’s case, and two decades in Branwell’s, the siblings continued to write literature featuring or inspired by characters they knew so well such as Zamorna, Lord Charles, Mary Percy, Henry and Elizabeth Hastings, and Alexander Percy. I’ve written a lot of posts about this world which later expanded to include the kingdom of Angria, and you can find these all in one place over on my page The Brontë Juvenilia. After I attended the Sixth International Literary Juvenilia Conference back in 2018, I wanted to move further and discover more works by child authors. Needless to say, I came away with a very long reading list. It is actually quite difficult to define the term “juvenilia”. Predominantly, it is used to refer to writings by child or adolescent authors, usually under the age of 20. There are some exceptions, including Charlotte and Branwell as some of their later Angrian works were written when they were in their twenties, but are generally thought of as juvenilia due to them being a part of the worlds and stories they created as children. Sometimes these writings will be by authors who found literary success in adulthood, such as Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, and sometimes the authors will not have continued writing beyond childhood for various different reasons. Additionally, many of these writings will be stand alone texts rather than part of a vast, sprawling paracosmic world like the Brontës’ works. The Brontës were quite unusual; although not uncommon to create a paracosmic world in childhood, it was very rare for children to record these, and rarer still to continue to expand them into adulthood.
Back to juvenilia more generally, as stated above, I wanted to expand my reading to include works by author child authors. Over the last two years I’ve managed to read texts by authors I hadn’t previously heard of or who had been on my list to read since the juvenilia conference. I thought I would list a few authors and texts that I’ve come across and particularly enjoyed. I have previously reviewed a couple of these, whilst some are on my list of to-be-written-blogs. I’ve recently discovered the joys of audiobooks and how I’d love for a audio version of the Brontë juvenilia and some of these tales below. Reader, enjoy.
Jane Austen’s Juvenilia
I’ve been dipping in and out of Jane Austen’s juvenilia for a few years now. As expected, they’re wonderful stories and well worth a read. Jane’s works are stand-alone pieces and therefore they’re easy to pick up and put down. Various editions are available of her juvenilia, including some odd versions which (bizarrely) group hers with Charlotte Brontë’s. Although not part of a world or a long-running saga, context is always helpful when reading these stories, and so ideally you want a good edition with a solid introduction to Jane’s juvenilia. I wrote a post a few years back called Jane Austen’s Juvenilia which gives an general overview to these writings. A particularly useful edition of her works is Love and Freindship and Other Youthful Writings which is edited by Christine Alexander. Yes, that typo is correct; it’s Jane’s and it tends to be left unedited. Favourites of mine from this volume are Jack and Alice and The Beautifull Cassandra. Yes, that’s another of Jane’s typos.
The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett
This tale had been on my radar since 2018 and I finally read it at the start of 2020. It’s such a joy to read and the protagonist’s desire for freedom and outdoor life is strangely relevant and relatable in the time of lockdown. Written by a twelve year old child prodigy who later mysteriously vanished without trace aged just 25, the book became a literary sensation when it was first published in 1927. Some critics at the time questioned whether the text had actually been written by Follett due to its brilliance.
The House Without Windows is a beautiful story about a child named Eepersip who runs away from her parents’ house to live in the natural world, making friends with animals and living on berries and roots as she travels from place to place. It’s magical and poignant as she must outwit her parents and other adults, and strangely relevant today as the main character just wants to be free from the restrictions of a society in which she feels the walls are closing in on her. I’d love to read Follett’s second published novel one day, The Voyage of the Norman D. which was also praised by critics at the time.
The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
The Swish of the Curtain is one of the most charming novels I’ve ever read and ranks alongside the likes of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. It tells the story of a group of neighbours who band together to form a small theatre company. Aged between 9 and 15 when the novel begins, the group all excel in different areas but are all equally determined to succeed with their plans to bring the theatre to their small town. I was over half way through the book before I realised that is juvenilia. Brown began writing the novel when she was just 14 years old and it was published in 1941 when she was just 17. I adore reading juvenilia and writing by children and adolescents but I was shocked to find that this was not the work of a mature and experienced adult writer. Of course, her age does not mean that she was not mature or experienced but traditionally one does not expect this of juvenilia as they are a place in which young authors can experiment and try their hand at creating things for the first time.
Brown does such a wonderful job of conjuring up her world; the type of small English town in the 1950s with village events, fetes, endless Summer days and excitement around Christmas time that makes you wish you could enter the pages and live there that it’s difficult to believe this is her first novel. The novel pits the children against the adults, and their success is possibly the only real giveaway regarding the age of the author. It’s such a charming book and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for something thoroughly nice to read in these challenging times.
Hyde Park Gate News by Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and Thoby Stephen
The late nineteenth-century family magazine of the Stephen children, Hyde Park Gate News shares a similar format with the Brontës’ Young Men’s Magazine, however, it is primarily concerned with documenting family events and society gossip in reality rather than creating fictional worlds and powerful characters. Hyde Park Gate News is a kind of collaborative journal by Woolf and her siblings and is named after the house in which they were residing at the time which documents the daily life of a Victorian family. It does have fictional aspects, amusing sketches, and letters of advice to readers, but as it develops, so do its authors, becoming more mature (there’s that word again) and more self-conscious in style. Unlike the Brontës’ secret manuscripts written for their eyes only on any scrap of material they could get their hands on, the Stephen siblings, who came from a highly literary, artistic, and wealthy family created their magazine to amuse and impress their parents.
Like the Brontës’ world, Hyde Park Gate News was probably never meant to survive the ages but luck has meant that future generations have a first-hand account of what life was like in this remarkable family. Like the Brontës, the Stephen siblings lost their mother in childhood, however, their journal ends abruptly shortly before this occurred. The Brontës went on to fill not only their childhood world with stories of orphaned or lost children and absent mothers; who knows how the Stephen siblings would have processed their loss on paper in the immediate aftermath?
If you’re interested in further information on juvenilia the I’d highly recommend The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf (edited by Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster); it’s a wonderful source of information on child writers, their works, and their influences. If you’re interested in childhood play and fantasy worlds then I’d recommend reading texts such as The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood by David Cohen and Stephen A. MacKeith.
For more information on Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia, I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay (for free), “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
I have also previously reviewed another piece of juvenilia published by the Juvenilia Press, Ethel Turner’s That Young Rebel.
Back to the Brontës, I also recently reviewed The Diary Papers of Emily and Anne Brontë (Juvenilia Press Edition)
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.
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