Tiny DIY Books by Victorian Tweens

by Liz Maynes-Aminzade

What could be better than tiny books? Tiny books made by tiny beloved authoresses! We all know and love Jane Eyre, the story of an orphan seeking out a path to happiness in this wild world (“It’s hard to get by just upon a smile, girl” — Charlotte Brontë). But what many Brontë fans don’t know is that her literary career began much earlier and much more ADORABLY. Check out these miniature books made by the 13-year-old Charlotte and her 12-year-old little brother, Branwell!

Charlotte and Branwell crafted dozens and dozens of these little (4×5-cm) books. Since paper was expensive back in the day, they made the books by sewing together scraps of newspaper lying around the house. One of the best things about the books is the handwriting, which is so small that you need a magnifying glass to read it.

Some books have short stories inside, like Charlotte’s “The Poetester,” about an aspiring poet who tries to off one of his critics after a bad review. Others are parodies of popular Victorian literary magazines. 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.

Branwell is very much the precocious little brother, always trying to one-up his big sister. He makes fun of Charlotte’s writing, in one book, for lacking the “grave and gorgeous light” of his own. You know, classic little brother stuff. Still, they continued to collaborate on these books throughout their teenage years. Charlotte was probably thinking, “You sure can be annoying, but there is only so much roaming the moors a girl can do, so I guess I’ll make tiny books with you.” (Oh sorry, I have to run, I just got offered a million-dollar contract to write a historical novel about the Brontës.)

It’s hard to imagine tweens today making these books, unless we started forcing them to take needlepoint classes, which apparently did wonders for dexterity, and took away their Hulu. Which happens to be my 2012 presidential campaign platform (YES WE CAN). In the meantime, if you ever find yourself at the Pierpont Morgan Library or Harvard’s Houghton Library, you should ask to take a look at these books.

Liz Maynes-Aminzade lives in Cambridge and has six Tumblrs; five of them are secret, but the other one is okay.