A couple of years ago I penned what has turned out to be one of my most popular posts ever. I listed 30 books about the Brontës which have been particularly useful or enlightening during my research on the family over the years. To qualify the books simply had to be entirely about the Brontës (there is one exception which you can read about below) and I’ve included several fictional, Brontë-inspired texts too. If you’re serious about the Brontës you could do worse than investing in a few of these titles. Sadly, some of these texts are now out of print, but can easily be purchased through second hand booksellers. I’m determined to one day add my own contribution to the list in the form of a book about the juvenilia. It’s planned and I will make it happen.
Below is my recently revised list. I must stress that these are in no particular order. Some titles which previously made the list have been given the chop in my 2020 version; they’re still fantastic though, and you should definitely give them a read too. You can click here to read the 2018 version of my 30 of the Best Books About the Brontës.
The Brontës (1994) by Juliet Barker. The definitive Brontë biography contains information on just about every aspect of their lives. To put it bluntly, you can’t know the Brontës without this book, and you’d be a fool not to invest in it.
The Brontës: A Life in Letters (1997) edited by Juliet Barker. A selection of letters written by and to the Brontës. It’s basically the Brontës in their own words, stripped of all the mythology that surrounds the family to this day. An honourable mention must go to Selected Letters edited by Margaret Smith.
The Oxford Companion to the Brontës: Anniversary Edition (2018) by Christine Alexander and Margaret Smith. This one is so fantastic and is just absolutely packed full of information. It’s basically like a comprehensive A-Z of all things Brontë. There is some absolutely fantastic information on the juvenilia too. It’s a must-have and a lifesaver when researching our favourite literary family. It’s an amazing book to have for research purposes.
Everyman’s Companion to the Brontës (1982) by Barbara and Gareth Lloyd Evans. Whilst considerably shorter than its Oxford cousin, this one gets the nod over the Cambridge Companion due to its incredible detail on the Brontë juvenilia, featuring glossaries on both Glass Town, Angria and Gondal, in addition to a very useful chronology of Glass Town events. I wish I’d discovered this whilst writing my MA dissertation a couple of years ago. It really would have helped to sort the saga’s events out in my mind. It’s always worth double checking facts about the Brontë juvenilia in older texts such as this due to the discovery of lost manuscripts which have the potential to alter timelines and developing plot lines.
The Brontës at Haworth (2016) by Ann Dinsdale. Few people know the Brontës as well as the current curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Ann Dinsdale. This book is packed full of information about all aspects of the Brontës’ lives in addition to beautiful colour photographs of items relating to their lives and works. Each family member gets a chapter and the background of the family is explored in addition to the sisters’ works and legacy.
The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (2015) by Deborah Lutz. This is a fascinating little book; a biography of the Brontës that doesn’t actually feel like one (in a good way). Lutz traces the history of the family through some of the objects they owned and created. It’s also got a fantastic chapter on the Brontë juvenilia, beginning with their famous tiny books.
The Art of the Brontës (1995) by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellars. This is an absolute gem of a book. It contains what its title suggests, providing not only photographs of just about every single work of art produced by the siblings, but also detailed information about their origins, composition, and provenance over the years. Unfortunately, it’s out of print and still on the pricey side if you can track it down, but it’s well worth every penny you’ll pay for it.
Anne Brontë: 200 Artists, 200 Pages (2020) edited by Lindsey Tyson. This one is quite unique as it’s a product of an Anne bicentenary exhibition at Woodend Creative Workspace in Scarborough. For this exhibition, 200 artists and Anne fans contributed and produced a piece of artwork printed on a page of Anne’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The book reproduces all of these artworks with a short piece from the artist describing their work and/or the influences that led to its creation. The result is a beautiful book that tells us how the reading public, and Brontë fans feel about Anne in the 21st century, and how she continues to inspire a new generation.
In Search of Anne Brontë (2016) by Nick Holland. This brilliant biography of the youngest sibling presents the strength and courage of Anne and also sheds light on her relationship with Charlotte. It’s incredibly detailed, a joy to read due to Holland’s balance between knowledge of and passion for his subject, and more importantly, it brings Anne out of the shadows of her sister.
Emily Brontë: A Biography (1971) by Winifred Gérin. It’s still remarkably difficult to find decent biographies of the most mysterious Brontë, but this one still holds up. The parts that interested me the most were obviously the parts detailing Emily’s own fantasy world of Gondal, a creation just as enigmatic as the author herself. I must note that Gérin wrote biographies on all four surviving Brontë siblings, which are all worth a read.
The Mother of the Brontës (2019) by Sharon Wright. Despite our love of and fascination with the Brontës, there are still many gaps in the story of the world’s most famous literary sisters. One of the biggest gaps so far has concerned their mother, Maria Branwell Brontë. Wright’s book brings Maria into the spotlight for the first time, examining her Cornish heritage, her early life, her move North, and her relationship with her husband, Patrick. It’s a detailed and fascinating account of an overlooked figure in the family’s story. I particularly enjoyed Wright’s focus on Maria and Patrick’s love story, and the affection and respect they clearly had for one another.
Aunt Branwell and the Brontë Legacy (2018) by Nick Holland. This one links in with Wright’s book about the Branwell side of the family, and also focuses on a traditionally overlooked figure in the story of the Brontës. Published the year before Wright’s book on Maria, this one documents the life of her sister Elizabeth, known to the Brontës as Aunt Branwell. There is a little bit of overlap with the information regarding the Cornish Branwells (sisters, what can you do?) but it’s another fascinating account of a figure who was so important to the family in so many ways. Elizabeth devoted herself to her sister’s family after her tragic death, so it’s nice to see her not only get the recognition she deserves, but also to see who she really was.
Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology (1996) by Sally Shuttleworth. This one is great for students and academics as it places Charlotte’s work firmly within the Victorian era and the debates and issues of the day, covering social, economic, and psychological discourse. It may seem a strange idea, but it’s only when you read this text that you realise the how common the tendency to analyse Charlotte’s work from a more modern perspective really is. Unsurprisingly there are some interesting ideas about Charlotte’s juvenilia to be found in here, in addition to ideas about the self and power, but the greater part of the material explores Charlotte’s adult novels.
Charlotte Brontë and the Storyteller’s Audience (1992) by Carol Bock. This one differs from most other biographies by suggesting that Charlotte’s writing was not unconsciously confessional and examining the role of the reader/audience in her storytelling. Bock enables the reader to understand Charlotte’s ability as a narrative artist, and her understanding of storytelling, beginning with her childhood in Haworth and exploring her relationship with her siblings, who were of course the first witnesses to Charlotte’s storytelling.
Celebrating Charlotte Brontë: Transforming Life into Literature in Jane Eyre (2016) by Christine Alexander and Sara L. Pearson. Published to mark the bicentenary of Charlotte, this wonderful book explores Brontë’s transformation of life into literature, and the depiction of her own experience on the page in Jane Eyre. If it sounds dull and a bit like other pieces on Charlotte’s masterpiece, it isn’t; this book is simply unlike any other book about the Brontës. Alexander and Pearson provide information, detailed commentaries, photographs of items from Charlotte’s life, and even recipes. It’s only when reading this that you realise just how long Jane Eyre was in the making despite the fact it took Charlotte just months to actually pen it. I didn’t think I could love Jane Eyre (and Mr. Rochester) any more until this book came along and made me appreciate it on a whole new level.
Charlotte Brontë’s World of Death (1979) by Robert Keefe. This text examines how Charlotte’s writing is a creative response to the deaths of close family members in her childhood. Keefe traces Charlotte’s preoccupation with issues of death, loss, and separation from her juvenilia through to her adult novels, and how her relationship with these issues matures over the years.
Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived (1976) by Helen Moglen. Moglen’s biography explores Charlotte’s notion of selfhood, and how facts and fiction intertwine in order to represent this self on the page. Moglen examines Charlotte’s sense of duality and the connection between literature and the life of the author and traces the development of her psyche from the juvenilia to her later novels.
The Brontës in Brussels (2014) by Helen MacEwan. An account of Charlotte and Emily’s time spent in Brussels from 1842-43, this book retraces the footsteps of the sisters using words, photographs, and illustrations. There is also plenty of information on the object of Charlotte’s affection, teacher Constantin Héger, who had a profound effect on her. Information on life after Brussels can also be found in addition to plot summaries of Charlotte’s The Professor and Villette, novels set in Brussels.
The Brontës’ Web of Childhood (1941) by Fannie Ratchford. The first critical study of the Brontë juvenilia written by a pioneer in Brontë and juvenilia studies. This is included due to the biographical information on the siblings’ early lives rather than the actual content itself. If the Brontës left behind a legacy, then so did Ratchford when she did what others (including Elizabeth Gaskell) failed to do by championing the importance of these early works of four precocious children. Although some factual information needs double-checking due to the age of the text, if you’re serious about the Brontë juvenilia, you absolutely need to read this.
Five Novelettes (1971) by Winifred Gérin. Again, this one is included due to the detailed background information provided by the author rather than the content. The book consists of five of Charlotte’s Angrian novelettes (a term actually coined by Brontë herself in a letter) from the later part of her literary saga, but the information Gérin provides is useful to any serious students of the Brontë juvenilia. Like Ratchford’s text, take care to double-check facts including dates of composition etc., and be careful when discussing the novelettes as some have been edited and consequently are very different to the versions found in modern day anthologies of the juvenilia such as the entry below.
The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf (2005) edited by Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster. Although this is an anthology of essays on juvenilia and juvenilia studies, there are several chapters devoted to the Brontës early fiction, their origins, and literary apprenticeship. If you’re not interested in their Glass Town/Angrian/Gondal works then this isn’t for you. It was a lifeline for me when writing my MA dissertation on Charlotte’s early works several years ago and if your interest has been sparked by my blog, I highly recommended it.
The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1983) by Christine Alexander. This book does what it says on the cover, and it’s a fascinating and helpful read despite its age. It’s the first comprehensive study of Charlotte’s early fiction which traces the history of Glass Town, and the rise and fall of Angria. Alexander looks at Charlotte’s influences both within and without the family, her collaboration with Branwell, and the development of her writing style over the years. It features Charlotte’s artwork and depictions of her beloved characters in addition to helpful notes and a list of characters. Again, as the text is a good few decades old, double-check any facts, but this still holds up as one of the best sources of information on the Brontë juvenilia. It’s surprisingly easy to read for the more casual reader intrigued by characters such as Zamorna, Charles Wellesley, and Mina Laury, but without the time to wade through the saga itself. You really should do one day though.
Tales of Angria, Glass Town, and Gondal (2010) edited by Christine Alexander. A modern anthology of works by all four surviving siblings in which Alexander provides detailed and up to date information on the history of the siblings’ fantasy worlds and the nature of juvenilia in her introduction. There is lots of detail in this absorbing edition, which contains a fantastic introduction as well as notes throughout the text which provide context and further information.
Tales of Angria (2006) edited by Heather Glen. This is another edition of Charlotte’s Angrian tales with a detailed general introduction which provides an overall history to the works, their stories and characters, as well as the siblings’ early lives. Each piece also has an individual introduction to help the reader to locate them in the timeline of events and Charlotte’s writing.
Like Alexander’s edition of the juvenilia, this is also easily available and fairly cheap to buy in the UK.
The Works of Branwell Brontë (reprinted 2016) edited by Victor Neufeldt. There are actually several volumes of works edited by Neufeldt but I’m including them under one entry as they share a title. Neufeldt provides unbiased information on Branwell’s life, creativity, and legacy in an introductions that build up a mini but detailed biography of the Brontë brother. It’s absolutely invaluable for those seeking the truth about Branwell’s literary efforts.
Mansions in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of Branwell Brontë (2017) by Ann Dinsdale and Simon Armitage. This is actually the exhibition catalogue from the Brontë Parsonage’s celebration of Branwell’s bicentenary. It makes the list due its brief but more honest depiction of Branwell. Yes, he was incredibly troubled, but he was also incredibly talented, something which really shines through in this more balanced representation of the Brontë brother. Let’s hope this is the way forward. It also features several new poems by Armitage which channel the spirit of Branwell and were inspired by his life and work.
Worlds of Ink and Shadow: A Novel of the Brontës (2016) by Lena Coakley. I stumbled upon this one completely by accident, and I’m so glad I did. Although it’s historical fantasy fiction, it features enough information not only about the content of the Brontë juvenilia, but life at Haworth that it warrants a place on this list. The novel is based on the early fiction of the Brontës and explores their desire to leave behind the real world in favour of Verdopolis and Gondal, and the consequences they face for doing so.
The easiest way to get this in the UK seems to be on Kindle; click here to purchase.
The Twelve and the Genii (1962) by Pauline Clarke. This is a children’s novel about the twelve toy soldiers given to Branwell Brontë in 1826 by his father, an event which sparked the Glass Town saga into life. Clarke’s novel earns its place for being an early example of Brontë inspired fiction, and for introducing non-academic readers to the Brontë juvenilia. It also gets points for using character names in the title (all hail the four Chief Genii: Talli, Branni, Emmi, and Anni).
The Jane and Bertha in Me (2016) by Rita Maria Martinez. A collection of poetry inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre. The collection is comprised of poems by fellow Brontëite, the immensely talented Rita Maria Martinez, and was published in 2016 although some pieces have previously appeared elsewhere. However, the poems slot together to make up a remarkable and intriguing collection of Brontë inspired poetry. Reader, it’s my all time favourite piece of Brontë-inspired literature.
I Know That Ghosts Have Wandered The Earth: A Collection of Brontë-Inspired Ghost Stories, Local Legends, Paranormal Experiences, and Chanellings (2020) edited by Kay Adkins. Last but not least, this one is an edition of stories, poetry, and real life experiences which was written for Brontë fans by Brontë fans. You can really learn a lot from this one by examining what aspects of the family’s lives and works have influenced the authors. I love how books can tell us about the Brontës’ legacy just as much as books about their lives and times. Yours truly also has a juvenilia-inspired story in this one called “A Tale of Two Glass Towns.” End of shameless plug. It’s such a rich, varied, and vibrant edition of writings and it was an honour to have my work included.
There are so many more books about the Brontës, including some great fictional pieces too. Have a mooch through some of my older posts for more information and reviews.
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. I’d 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.