Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars | Read: 16 April – 23 April, 2018
‘It is no easy thing to dismiss from my imagination the images which have filled it so long. They were my friends & my intimate acquaintances & I could with little labour describe to you the faces, the voices, the actions, of those who peopled my thoughts by day’ (Farewell to Angria)
I am ashamed to say that I have neglected reading the Brontës’ juvenilia for a while now. I’m not sure why. Do I want to prolong my experience of reading their work for the first time? Was I a little intimated by their younger yet more political writing? I’m not sure. But I finally decided to bite the bullet and read the Oxford World’s Classics edition of their juvenilia. Not only is it home to a selection of Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s writing, but it also includes Branwell’s (the neglected literary sibling in my eyes). I liked the variety of form, tone, and content inside this collection.
So, let’s get onto the review…
Charlotte’s juvenilia came first, and was the largest of them all coming in at 314 pages. There was one poem (‘We wove a web in childhood’), and the rest were short stories. Out of twenty two entries, there was only two I didn’t enjoy. I’m not sure why, they just didn’t stand out to me. Despite this, they were so different to Charlotte’s novels. They were intense, fantastical, sexual, and very clever. It’s weird to think she was so young when she started writing these, especially considering how concerned with contemporary affairs the stories were. I liked how she spoke directly to the reader, which, at the time, would have strictly been her siblings. She incorporated her own voice (see the Roe Head Journals), which suggested that reality disrupted her Angrian imagination. It dominated her daily life, which was quite endearing to read.
Branwell’s collection came next. Albeit very small in comparison to his sisters, his collection was equally as interesting. I must say, though, I much prefer his poetry to his prose. The nature of verse (the concise yet imaginative imagery, language, and rhyming scheme) added life to the story. The prose pieces were a little monotonous and dull for my liking. I think this also ties in with the fact that I like Branwell’s personal writing a lot more than his Glass Town tales, and the poetry minutely reflects that. My favourite from the collection was his poem ‘An Angrian Battle Song’ as the symbolic meaning of the storm was orchestrated brilliantly. In future, I think I’ll stick to Branwell’s poetry; I feel like he excels best when writing verse.
Following on from this, we have Emily’s Gondal poetry (the biggest contributor). None of Emily or Anne’s prose survived but, thankfully, a handful of their verse did. I definitely prefer Gondal over Angria. Emily adopts an observational tone by focusing specifically on her surroundings (predominantly nature), which adds a personal element to the poem. As a reader, I really appreciate this. Additionally, I like how her poems are often paradoxical. The content is quite melancholy yet she describes it so beautifully. For example, a lot are reminiscence of imprisonment and isolation yet are told through a somewhat jolly tone; I don’t know how she manages to do it. I liked reading these poems the second time round (which, funnily enough, I had to do with Wuthering Heights before I finally liked it!).
Lastly, we had Anne’s collection, which, I think, was my favourite. There was something so different about her poetry that I felt lacked from the other’s. Anne managed to seamlessly blend together the conventions of poetry and prose. There was a balance between the conversation and the imagery, meaning it often read like a novel. I thought this was really unique, and I liked how she blended her Yorkshire landscape with her Gondal scenery. As with Emily’s, there was a sense of longing for someone or something. Isolation was key to the poems, and I can see how Anne later develops this in her novels. I was also surprised by her political poetry; it reminded me of Percy Shelley’s ‘Song to the Men of England’ (aka my fave poem). I really liked this selection of writing!
I think the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the Brontës’ juvenilia is a definitive selection for those wanting to read more of their younger work. It had a really useful introduction, and a lengthy selection of explanatory notes (with a description of each character!). It showcased a wide variety of their juvenilia, and I would definitely recommend.
Have you read anything by the Brontës? What’s your favourite?
Thanks for reading, Lauren X
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