Posted Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at 11:15 AM
Before they wrote world-famous novels, the four Brontë children—in descending order of age: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne—constructed elaborate fantasy worlds. The family was reclusive, and the children were educated at home; they spent most of their time with each other. Together, Charlotte and Branwell (who was the only Brontë brother) created a world called Angria, while Emily and Anne concentrated on an island they named Gondal. As part of their play, the siblings wrote many books, poems, and magazines.
Few of Emily and Anne’s Gondal-related texts survive. Charlotte and Branwell’s Angria works have fared better. Charlotte’s Something About Arthur is one of these miniature volumes, and is held by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
The pages of Something About Arthur, which Charlotte wrote in 1833 at age 17, measure 2.25 by 3.6 inches. The book is 25 pages in length, and some of that scant real estate is claimed by a 42-line poem. In a foreshadowing of the Brontë sisters’ later interest in love and the class system, its plot follows two aristocratic brothers, one of whom narrates the story of the other’s romantic encounter with a poor, but worthy, peasant girl.
Why did the adolescent Brontës produce books in miniature? Some scholars have posited that the young Brontës wanted to hide the content from disapproving adult eyes. Their aunt, who supervised their educations, would not have liked this kind of whimsy. In her post on the books, the Ransom Center’s Kelsey McKinney reports another commonly accepted theory: the mini volumes were made for toy soldiers that became a part of the siblings’ fantasy world. Since the toy soldiers were small, the books would need to be tiny as well.
Previously on The Vault: Another miniature book, made in the 17th century by a woman with very different motivations.
Leather case for Charlotte Brontë’s manuscript of Something About Arthur. The tiny manuscript sheets measure 5.7 cm by 9.3 cm. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni. Images courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.
First page of Charlotte Brontë’s manuscript for Something About Arthur. The sheets the manuscript is written on measure 5.7 cm by 9.3 cm. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.
Second page of Charlotte Brontë’s manuscript for Something About Arthur. The sheets the manuscript is written on measure 5.7 cm by 9.3 cm. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.