The Manuscript

Page from "The Secret" with scale

Page from "The Secret" with scale.
Click to enlarge.

Charlotte and Branwell Brontë wrote many of their stories of Angria on tiny sheets of paper in nearly microscopic handwriting. This particular example consists of four sheets of notepaper folded into sixteen pages. The individual sheets are approximately 4 ½ inches long and 3 5/8 inches wide, and the entire text contains about nineteen thousand words. This page from "The Secret" with the scale to the left illustrates how small Charlotte wrote.

Charlotte signed the manuscript with her own name. However, the title page states that the story is by Charles Wellesley, one of the main characters in her Angrian stories, and the story is told from his point of view. The manuscript is dated November 27, 1833, when Charlotte was seventeen years old, and the place of writing is given as Verdopolis, the “Great Glass Town” that is the capital of Angria.

It is unknown why the Brontë children chose to write their stories in such tiny script, but several suggestions have been made. One is that the children may have been trying to hide their imaginative plays from their stern and religious aunt Elizabeth Branwell, their mother’s sister, who did not encourage their literary pursuits. “Aunt Branwell,” as they called her, seems to have been a somewhat forbidding and authoritarian figure for the children. If secrecy was the motivation, Charlotte and Branwell were probably successful – most people cannot read the manuscript without a magnifying glass. Another possible explanation is that the children wrote to the scale of the toy soldiers that played such an important role in their imaginary world. Their fascination with the miniature may have played a material part in the mythos they developed around the world they called Angria.

The manuscript

The manuscript with a quarter for scale

However, it may have been that Charlotte and Branwell had simply developed a habit of writing in extreme minuscule. It is known that the Brontës produced tiny handwritten books and magazines from an early age, even before they came up with the Young Men’s Play; Charlotte’s earliest surviving manuscript is a miniature book she made at the age of ten for her sister Anne. One of Charlotte’s school friends recalled that when she asked about her tiny handwriting, Charlotte responded that she and Branwell had learned to print so small “by writing in their magazine. They brought out a ‘magazine’ once a month, and wished it to look as much like print as possible.” [1] The magazine Charlotte’s friend referred to was likely Branwell’s Young Men’s Magazine, “published” as a chronicle of monthly events and notices concerning the Young Men’s Play. Charlotte, at first uninvolved in the production of the magazine, became its principal editor in 1830. Whatever the reason for the tiny handwriting, the diminutive size of this manuscript is a characteristic of almost all the Brontë juvenilia.

1. Quoted in Christine Alexander, The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (New York: Prometheus, 1983), 74.