Isabel Greenberg’s acclaimed previous works, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth and The One Hundred Nights of Hero, demonstrate her love of fiction, interspersed with fragments of realism and desire. In Glass Town, she has activated the fictional realms of the Brontës’ juvenilia creations, first published in December 1827, into a graphic novel that teems with passion, Victoriana, and the celebration of story and imagination. 

Glass Town was one of the imaginary lands, along with Angria and Gondal, invented by Emily and Anne, fashioned by a collaboration among the four youthful Brontë siblings. These lands were inhabited by characters like the devious Earl of Northangerland and his wife Zenobia, their daughter Mary Percy, son Zamorna, and adopted son Quashia. The four collaborators eventually become disenchanted with each other and their contributions to the overall world building. The graphic novel effectively illustrates the dissatisfaction the three siblings have with Charlotte and her ideas with Greenberg fictionalizing the conflict of the Brontës’ invented characters interacting with their creators in both the imaginary and the actual world.

Glass Town begins with Charlotte, alone in despair after the death of her siblings. The sudden appearance of a dashing young man sets the tone for the remainder of the graphic novel. Are these characters real? Are the events imaginary? As Greenberg assures us in her introduction, the settings and the characters are borrowed directly from the early writings of the siblings, but the action of the novel is her own invention. This is a compelling, magical, and captivating exploration of the creative imaginations of both the Brontës and of Greenberg herself. The story bounces with energy, the characters with intrigue, and the action with, well, action! This is a book that can be read quickly but also invites readers to spend time with each page and panel. The writing is compelling, the artwork even more so.

Travels to Yorkshire brought the setting to life for Greenberg and she readily transferred her impressions to this work, so the reader easily experiences the wind and rain of the moors, the Victorian homes with their dreary illumination, and the general gloominess of the area. Greenberg’s illustrations of the moors and use of color contrast this flat world with that of the three imaginary countries with their wide-open spaces, colorful seas and mountains, and exotic personae. Color is also used to differentiate the flashbacks to the present day with those of Glass Town. Charlotte’s present and literal day is presented in blues and grays while the created story is in full and brilliant tones delivered in colored charcoal. Background details are often displayed in blasts of color and the characters themselves are reminiscent of the toy soldiers that were the initial impetus for the Brontës’ tales. They are angular and fluid caricatures, but always individuals and readily easy to tell apart.

The intersections of memoir and fantasy invite the reader into the inventiveness of creators of the past and our contemporary world. The novel also begs the question of the enticement of a fictional world over the years and what happens to this imaginary world when its creators grow up? This is a book to be savored. Highly recommended for fans of the Brontës’ novels (it is amply researched) as well as those who enjoy creative world building and ambitious and fully realized characters. I would also highly recommend this graphic novel to young adult readers (and their teachers) as Greenberg brings the authors’ rich imaginations to life and offers insight to the novels that follow the early collaborations of these talented siblings.

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës
By Isabel Greenberg
ISBN: 9781419732683
Abrams Comicarts, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Related to…: Retelling

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

    Reviewer

    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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