Dido and the Brontës

Pacific Island recruiting ship ‘Para’, c 1880
State Library of Queensland, negative number 65320 (credit: http://www.globaleducation.edu.au/case-studies/australian-pacific-islanders.html)

Are you wondering what’s happened to Dido Twite, the engaging young heroine of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles? Yes? Then read on. No? Still, do keep reading, because if you’re a fan of the Brontës you may find the following note of interest!

The next volume of the Wolves Chronicles after The Stolen Lake — itself set in an alternative history South America — is Limbo Lodge, published in North America as Dangerous Games. It is largely set on the fictional South Pacific island of Aratu, supposedly settled by ‘Angrians’ — aha! — around 400 years before (that is, in the mid-15th century). Who then are these Angrians?

Before I share my fuller thoughts on this in some distant future post, I thought you might like to know whence Joan plucked the name. In the early 19th century (in fact, around the time that Limbo Lodge is set, which I calculate to be around 1834-5) the Brontë siblings were busy concocting their so-called juvenilia; this took the form of fiction and poetry set in their own private paracosm or alternative world. First in the focus of their interest was the Glass Town Confederacy (begun around 1827). Then in 1834 Charlotte and Branwell invented the country of Angria, while Emily and Anne set their poems and (now no longer extant) stories on Gondal, an island in the North Pacific, located to the north of another island — Gaaldine — usually assumed to be in the South Pacific).

A hand-drawn map of the imaginary country of Angria from Branwell and Charlotte Brontë’s notebooks. The map is thought to have been created between 1830 and 1831 (probably no later than 8 May 1831): Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been thumbing through two recent-ish collections of these juvenilia, Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal (2010) and the slightly earlier Tales of Angria (2006); this last is mostly Charlotte’s fictions, written when she was old enough to teach and be a governess. I hope to share my explorations of those various lands (though I fear these explorations will be spread over a lot of time) but in the meantime Joan Aiken’s not-so-tiny moppet will be garnering my attention. It will be no surprise that Charlotte’s Angrians and Joan’s Angrian descendants will be occupying a similar time period though not necessarily a geographical zone. The following table will hint at both the chronicled beginnings of the Brontë lands and the period in which Dido’s sojourn in Aratu is set.

Glasstown Confederacy Brontë siblings 1827 West Africa
Angria Branwell, Charlotte 1834 West Africa
Gondal and Gaaldine Emily, Anne 1834 Pacific Ocean
Aratu 1834-5 Joan Aiken ?1958 – 1998 South Pacific

By the way, Aratu, Gondal and Angria have their real-life nominal equivalents in our world (Aratu in Brazil, Gondal in India and Angria in Germany) which the various authors seemed to have plucked from an atlas or a text book because they liked the names.

On the other hand one of Branwell’s noms de plume (and a hero in his fiction) was Northangerland, though I don’t know whether or not this is a faint echo of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey; Charlotte is not supposed to have rated Austen as a writer. But Austen’s own Emma may have been another influence on Limbo Lodge: the alternative title of Dangerous Games indicates that board games and similar pastimes, known to be a favourite distraction in the Austen family, were to play a large part in Dido’s adventure in the South Pacific.

Joan Aiken: Limbo Lodge (US: Dangerous Games). Red Fox 2000 (1998)

The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings. Edited by Christine Alexander, Oxford World’s Classics 2010

Charlotte Brontë: Tales of Angria. Edited by Heather Glen, Penguin 2006

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