Monday, April 13, 2020

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës by Isabel Greenberg

Glass Town is an immersive look at the young lives of the Brontë siblings: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. As children, they created a fictional world together and populated it with their individual, but interacting characters in a shared storytelling exercise. Greenberg chronicles some of those stories while also helping readers get to know the Brontës themselves.

All the kids get some attention, but Greenberg focuses primarily on Charlotte and her growing obsession with the fictional world. It threatens to consume her to the point where she's not only ignoring real-world responsibilities, but is also seeing physical manifestations of her characters and having conversations with them. There's a powerful parallel to the allure of modern world-building video game simulations and the potential for addiction. But it's also a commentary on the act of storytelling itself and the nature of fictional characters who sometimes do surprising things quite outside their creators' control.

Greenberg has an art style that I struggle to describe. There's a naïf quality about it (especially the characters) that I don't always connect with, but she's a master at storytelling and page composition. She also includes great, period details and amazing maps and architectural structures. I felt pulled into the Brontës' world.

I'm eager to dig into their literary work, but before I do that I want to spend more time with them as characters themselves. There's another graphic novel that I read the first part of a few years ago. The Brontes: Infernal Angria by Craig Hurd-McKenney and Rick Geary was originally going to be serialized and the first installment was published in 2004. It was finally finished a couple of years ago and I'm going to revisit it now. I remember being rather confused by it at the time (not being familiar with the Brontës or their Angria/Glass Town concept), but Greenberg has primed me for another go. There's also a 2016 biopic called Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters that I'll be taking a look at.

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