As a gamer with a love of toy soldiers and ImagiNations gaming, I have a lot of time for the Brontes and their intricate fictional Regency and early Victorian worlds of Gondal, Glasstown, Gaaldine and Angria.
If you don’t know them, check out the excellent recent books based on these tiny Bronte manuscripts – Celia Rees’ Glass Town Wars and the graphic novel Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg.
You might also know them through the 1960s children’s fiction book The Return of The Twelves (or Twelve and the Genie) by Pauline Clarke, based on the Bronte children’s original wooden toy soldiers.
The Bronte sisters Emily, Charlotte and Anne and brother Branwell created childhood and teenage imaginary Napoleonic worlds (paracosms) in tiny handwritten books of poetry, prose, drawings and fictional newspaper adverts in the 1830s and 1840s in Yorkshire.
Were the Bronte children some of the first wargamers, ImagiNations gamers and Historical Fantasy RPG players?
I have been playing Bronte inspired ImagiNations games for a number of years now – check out my page for them on my blog here:
That is why I am supporting the campaign by UK libraries and The Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth Yorkshire to keep some of these precious manuscripts of the Law Collection in the Honresfield Library in this country and at their birthplace, rather than disappear into private collections after auction.
I am still slowly piecing together the complex history of four sibling’s imaginary lands and islands.
Christine Alexander the Bronte scholar has imaginatively sketched in where the kingdom of Angria should be, seen here in close up:
There is no map by the Bronte family for the Gondal sagas, set partly on Gondal, a fictional island in the North Pacific which seems to be based largely on Yorkshire. So I drew a rough outline one.more detail will be required for when I set some skirmish gaming scenarios there.
So that is where the map is roughly based on the four North, East, South and West Ridings of Yorkshire.
The Bronte sagas are rather lush and overblown, a bit Gothic and tediously muddled in parts. After all it is their Juvenilia. Some of their adult novels have survived better (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre etc) with their Byronic brooding charcters, mad wives from slave islands in the attic, gothic houses, etc. All quite difficult to take seriously though. At least Jane Austen took the mickey in Northanger Abbey out of the fashion for Gothic novels and the products of a fevered girlish or literary imagination.
I like the fact that it was a box of wooden soldiers that kick started the Bronte sagas.
Often seen as early science fiction or RPG material, a paracosm or alternate world, if the Bronte family had been born at the end of 19th Century and played with tin or lead soldiers then I’m sure it would have been more Floor Games and Little Wars … like another famous science fiction author, H.G. Wells.
There is a charm in the Mad Geography of inventing tropical pacific or African coastlines and islands but making them all moodily, ruggedly, mistily like the wild Yorkshire landscape that the girls knew.
In the next week or so I hope to post a potted history of each of the Bronte’s Imagi-nations.
I find the Bronte juvenile sagas and poems hard going because they were never published in their lifetimes, never edited and probably never meant to be read outside the family. Lots of events and character detail is implied, not stated or written down. The tiny books were split up and sold off by dealers. Usually scholars look at them for clues to the origin of their published novels and characters.
For the Gondal and Gaaldine sagas, the prose stories by Emily and Anne seem to have vanished and only really Emily’s poems to and from different characters remain. I think the longest surviving sister Charlotte may have destroyed the most Gothic / romantic sections with multiple partners, affairs and children out of wedlock parts of them.
Gondal is set on a North Pacific island of four kingdoms. The other island Created by Emily and Anne Bronte is Gaaldine. Gaaldine is a South Pacific island or islands of six kingdoms, settled and interfered with by the ruling families, royalists and revolutionaries of Gondal, and presumably the original natives. I have not yet drawn the Gaaldine map.
For the GlassTown and Angria saga more prose remains, based loosely on a map of West Africa but with European offshore islands and Regency / Naplenoic era heroes. I have been skim reading some of the prose surviving sections for geographical clues to places to enrich the map, jumble of characters etc.
Troubled brother Branwell Bronte had more violent revolutionary and military storylines, often ones that had to be altered or revised by his sister Charlotte when he killed off characters whilst the sisters were away at work or school. Emily and Anne got fed up and invented Gondal and Gaaldine as their own kingdoms.
I like the Prisoner of Zenda type Ruritanian or even Fredonian aspects of the sagas.
If it all gets too complex I will fast forward the nations through to the mid to late Nineteenth century when the established characters have largely died off or been deposed.
Lots of Royalists and revolutionaries abound, as befits the Bronte family growing up in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and new European nations forming and being fractured by revolutionary times throughout their lifetime. These were the times the Bronte family were born into and wrote through and into the late 1840s.