Blog Post

Charlotte Brontë's Zines

Charlotte Brontë's Zines

Charlotte Brontë made zines.

Well, of course that's rather anachronistic, but the truth is pretty close. As it turns out, Charlotte and her brother Branwell whiled away their adolescence making tiny (~2") little books. As Liz Maynes-Aminzade points out, some include stories and others--my favorites--were "parodies of popular Victorian literary magazines." (Like a homemade teenage version of Poe's "How to Write a Blackwood Article.") From Maynes-Aminzade's post:

Have you ever babysat for a 12-year-old who spent his free time making 2-inch replicas of The New Yorker, complete with cartoons and a 12-year-old’s “Talk of the Town”? Me neither, but that was basically Branwell Brontë.

These kids, in other words, were awesome.

I say zine, half-seriously, above because of the care and craft--and the cut-up and repurposed print--that went into them. I hesitate to use it with entire seriousness, though, since from what I can tell, these little books passed for the most part between the two siblings. As I've written about zines before (here and here, for example), I've emphasized the ways that zine culture is not just about production--which can be incredibly private, personally creative, etc.--but about distribution within larger social networks.

But then, these proto-zines have survived almost two centuries, passing through various more traditional networks to find themselves safely ensconced in the Harvard's Houghton Library and then plastered about the internet. (Despite the valiant and important efforts of zine librarians and preservationists like those at Barnard, that seems an unlikely fate for most zines created in the past few decades.)

In the end, zines or not, these mini-books are pretty damned amazing, and they should also make us think about the longer histories of what seem to be only recent developments in information forms and networks.

[co-posted at bookmobility]
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1 comment

Great post! I think, as you say, it is easy to look at the internet and social media as entirely new advents of communication. Since I work mostly with early modern literature, I think it's important to remember that people have always been trying to find new way to communicate through texts. I would argue that the entire evolution of literature is, in large part, a result of people trying to find new ways to express themselves through the written word.

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