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A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Passion in Angria

no notes

no notes

Have you read Charlotte Bronte’s excellent novellas ‘Mina Laury’ ‘Henry Hastings’, ‘The Duke of Zamorna’, ‘Stancliffe’s Hotel’, or ‘Caroline Vernon’? You haven’t? Get thee to a bookshop. (Preferably one that pays its taxes, and employs people under decent working conditions. Not like this example.) Order Charlotte Bronte’s Tales of Angria, but be careful which edition you buy.

The Penguin Classics version, with the sombre and Romantic cover painting of a woman in black looking out into the hills (absolutely Mina Laury), is the right one, because it has the extensive commentary and background notes by Heather Glen. The other Penguin edition (not a Classics) has a dramatic cover of a rearing white horse, but this, as I now know to my irritation, has no notes of any description. These novellas really need to be read with the information about their background and context handy, because they are fragments from the teenage and young adult writings of Charlotte Bronte and her brother Branwell, when they were developing their colossal fantasy world of Angria. Much of the detail about characters in these five novellas comes from the backstory, so if you’re curious about where these stories fit into the Angria saga, who the characters are and how they relate to each other, buy the edition that has the notes.

the Heather Glen notes edition

the Heather Glen notes edition

On the other hand, if you’re happy to wallow in passionate drama, seduction, scandalous political manoevuering, family in-fights, flirtations at balls and in the opera house, and moody romantic walks at dusk with dangerous men, then just buy any edition and enjoy. These are epic tales, told with such assurance about conversations in bars, the habits of risky aristocrats, how long it takes a gentleman of means to dress in the morning, and the jealousies of discarded mistresses, that it seems extraordinary that they were written by a young woman of such limited experience in life as Charlotte Bronte. Her unique imagination was operating at full power in these tales.

I was particularly taken by her narrative persona of Charles Townshend, a casual recorder of Angrian political scandal, and a rather charming young man about town. I could feel prickles of recognition when I read about Elizabeth Hastings and Caroline Vernon, and glam-but-dim Jane Moore, because here are the beginnings of Jane Eyre and the ladies of Shirley and Villette. I was even more intrigued to read about Mary Percy, Duchess of Zamorna and Queen of Angria, suffering the infidelities of her licentious husband. She’s a woman of spirit and beauty, but she favours faintings and the dramatic shriek to get her husband’s attention, rather than the sound sense and perfect abasement of Mina Laury, her number one rival. We see hardly anything of Zenobia, Countess of Northangerland, who was formerly the lover of her now son-in-law Arthur, aka Mr Wellesley, Marquess of Douro, Duke of Zamorna and (for it is he) King of Angria, because the action does tend to focus on the men. The women wait, and languish, and weep, and sigh, when the men fail to arrive.

OUP edition

OUP edition

Some of the men we only see though the descriptions of others, like Colonel Sir William Percy, brother of the Queen and also of Zamorna’s latest mistress. (Yes, Zamorna installs his former ward and illegitimate half-sister in her own secluded house in the woods for his private visits. He has so many mistresses, from the evidence of these stories alone, that it’s a wonder that he gets any state work done.) Colonel Sir William is the nearest thing we get to a heroic character, since he doesn’t actually do anyone down, and we feel sorry for him for his inexplicable neglect by his father, the formerly wicked but now just redundant Earl of Northangerland, who does a fine line in carpet-chewing rage. Warner Warner Esquire is a terrific portrait of an exasperated civil servant, running the country for the charismatic and powerful Zamorna. Henry Hastings is held to be a portrait of Branwell, a good brother but a bad man, hidden by Elizabeth until Colonel Percy’s police arrive at the old Moore family mansion.

the original editions, with coin to show the scale

the original editions, with coin to show the scale

This is, as we say in the trade, ‘silver fork’ fiction, novels from the turn of the 19th century that deal in passion and romance with a strong whiff of the roman à clef. Charlotte and Branwell peopled their world with the names and titles of great political operators of their day, and researchers have had a lovely time finding correspondences with the Bronte children’s own friends and acquaintances, and with their later novels. What I enjoyed most in these tales was the sense of writerly freedom, of no-one judging the author by what she wrote. These are stories told with recklessness and abandon, because nobody was correcting Charlotte’s failure to abide by Christian decency, or insisting that she only tell stories suitable for a young lady. She was writing here before she had to think about publishers, and the criticism of propriety. They are energetic and magnificent, and deeply enjoyable.

Charlotte Bronte, Tales of Angria (Penguin, 2006). The Penguin Classics edition has notes by Heather Glen. Christine Alexander’s The Early Writings of Charlotte Bronte (1983) is the standard edition of all CB’s juvenile writings.

Kate podcasts about books she really, really enjoys at

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher, and publisher (, in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

7 comments on “Passion in Angria

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    February 10, 2014

    Thanks for the info about the editions – I would definitely want the one with notes….

  2. Leena
    February 10, 2014

    Well, I’m sold – as usual. I should probably stop reading your reviews, Kate, as I inevitably end up with a longer must-have list 😉

    I’m especially intrigued by the world/’time period’ in which these tales take place. I assume they’re set in a generic sort of pseudo-(late-)Mediaeval/Renaissance universe, familiar from many Gothic novels of the period? But the very English names and the flashes of early 19th-century high society that come across from your description make the whole thing sound like a very strange concoction indeed…

  3. Ela
    February 10, 2014

    There’s Gondal as well, which I think is a little more mediaeval – Angria’s all a bit eighteenth century – though maybe Emily wrote the Gondal stuff? My knowledge of both is taken solely from Antonia Forest’s ‘Peter’s Room’ wherein it is suggested that the Brontes used Gondal and Angria as a sort of role-playing game which they then wrote about.

  4. Kate
    February 10, 2014

    Emily and Anne wrote about Gondal, but almost nothing survives of their writing except some poems, which is why Angria, and Charlotte, get more attention in the Bronte juvenilia field.

    I think Angria is set culturally (and technologically) in an alternative ‘present’, ie the early to mid 19thC, It was still being added to in the 1830s by Charlotte, but was started possibly as much as ten years before that, so its the era of the ageing Prince Regent, Keats, Byron, and the aftermath of Waterloo, all mixed together.

  5. heavenali
    February 10, 2014

    I have a battered copy of this with out the notes, though I think I would prefer the edition with notes. I have been a bit wary of reading it but you have convinced me to give it a try.

  6. Jackie
    February 11, 2014

    I was wondering about the time period myself, so am glad Leena asked about that. the Brontes were so talented, at every age it seems, but I hate to think of the stark isolation and loneliness that made them create such a vivid alternative world.

  7. Pingback: “My Brontë is better than your Brontë”– The Great Vulpes Libris Brontë Slapdown. | Vulpes Libris

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