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Reviewed by:
  • Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings by Branwell Bronte et al.
  • Peter Shillingsburg
Bronte, Branwell, Charlotte, Anne, and Emily. 2010. Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings, edited by Christine Alexander. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-282763-0. Pp. lvi + 620. $14.95/£12.99.

Charlotte Brontë’s writings before The Professor (completed 1846; published posthumously 1857) exceed in volume her adult output. From 1826 to 1839, along with Branwell, Anne, and Emily, Charlotte wrote fantasy stories, mock magazines, poems, and essays in the mode of extended play-acting for their own entertainment. None of this material was published in the lifetime of their authors. In the 1970s, when Christine Alexander began her work on the early writings of the Brontës, only about a third of the manuscripts had been published, mostly in the work of Thomas J. Wise, John Alexander Symington, C. W. Hatfield, Clement Shorter, Fanny Ratchford, and Winifred Gérin. Charlotte Brontë’s first biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, obtained a large packet of these writings from Charlotte’s widower, Arthur Bell Nichols, but did little with them before returning them after writing her biography of Charlotte (1857). Nichols later sold the packet to the bibliographer, book collector, forger, and cheat, Thomas J. Wise, who manufactured some limited-edition pamphlets and, with John Alexander Symington, printed a selection from the juvenile materials in the Shakespeare Head Brontë (1932–1938). Wise subsequently sold off most of the collection in small bits and pieces that ended scattered in libraries and private collections worldwide.

The first task was to locate all the surviving manuscripts and identify the publications of any pieces for which manuscripts could not be located. The result was Alexander 1982, which reports the bibliographic results of Alexander 1978. In volume two of the dissertation, she provided a genetic scholarly edition, listing all the anomalies of the manuscripts and correcting (by re-transcription) the errors of previous copyists, most of whom had assumed that close approximations would do for juvenilia or had worked from photocopies. A revised form of the first volume of the dissertation, a comprehensive critical and descriptive study of Brontë’s juvenilia, was published in Alexander 1983, for which the author was awarded a prize by the British Academy. [End Page 122]

The Brontë juvenilia do not present a complicated history of textual variants, but they raise two interesting and difficulty textual problems: do juvenilia deserve to be edited with the care for detail demanded by a scholarly edition? And should a reading text of the juvenilia reflect accurately the inadequacies and errors of childhood carelessness or inabilities? Alexander answered the first with a resounding yes in her dissertation. She answered the second in two ways, first in her dissertation, treating these manuscript works to the no-holds barred scholarly approach and then slightly differently in An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (1987 and 1991, respectively vol. 1–2; vol. 3 is forthcoming). The great achievement of this work is its collection, transcription, and arrangement of the fugitive manuscripts. For this version, Alexander rechecked her transcriptions against original manuscripts, but relaxed slightly the requirements of scholarly editions, perhaps to the grateful sighs of Brontë scholars generally, by normalizing minor aspects of the manuscript, previously recorded in detail in her thesis. She records in “Textual Notes” at the end of the volumes only those corrections by Charlotte Brontë that she believes substantially alter the meaning of her text. The result makes for easier reading, but scholars might want to follow the hints in Alexander’s introduction and notes about the actual text of the manuscripts by looking at manuscript facsimiles or examining the textual apparatus of her thesis.

One cannot overestimate the difficulty of the task left by Wise’s unscrupulous, selfish, and inaccurate treatment of the manuscript collection he obtained from Nicholls. Over ten publicly accessible repositories in the U.S. and England contain significant amounts of manuscripts, sometimes dividing single works among them; and numerous private collectors and other libraries have a page or more, all of which had to be found, identified, dated...


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