Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
English Language and Literature | Other English Language and Literature
Many famous authors have had paracosms—imaginary worlds created in childhood that are marked by very detailed conventions, like languages or dialects, history, culture, geography, publications, politics, military, and sometimes even deities. Three such authors are Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë and Lewis Carroll. These authors had an intense and lasting attachment to their paracosms, and this relationship influenced their later work.
Since the study of paracosms has just arisen in the last two decades or so, a majority of the work done on the paracosms of famous authors has been concentrated in three traditional spheres: literary, biographical, and psychological. When we recognize the early work of these authors as “paracosms” specifically, we bring together the three disciplines to create a more complete picture of the relationship between the author, the paracosm, and the published work.
The focus of the paracosmic approach is to look at four main aspects of the paracosm: its longevity, the paracosmist’s desire to keep the paracosm private, the control an author has over his or her paracosm, and the unity the paracosm affords by drawing many disparate pieces of work together into a whole. Because of these factors, an author who has a paracosm has a very different relationship with their published and unpublished works than an author whose early works are not paracosms. In my paper, the early works of the Brontë sisters and Lewis Carroll are looked at through the lens of the paracosmic approach, and this relationship is examined. This method serves as a model for future study of other authors who have had paracosms, in order to develop a more detailed and complex analysis of the interaction between the author, his or her private world, and the works which made them famous.
The paracosms of Emily Brontë and Charlotte Brontë—the countries of Angria and Gondal—lasted more than twenty years, having a serious impact on the relationships of the siblings to each other and to the outside world. The sisters, particularly Emily, invested a great deal of energy to keep their paracosms a secret from non-family members. The consistency of the rules the Brontë sisters set up for their paracosms gave them a special kind of control over their worlds, and the unity of the locations in their paracosmic worlds helped shape the way they constructed location-interaction in their published fiction.
The paracosm of Lewis Carroll took the form of private family magazines, of which Carroll was the editor, affording him total control over the details of form and content of these magazines. The periodicals continued for several years, and though at first they were compilations of work from the entire family, Carroll’s siblings soon lost interest. His perseverance in the creation of these magazines long after his siblings’ desertion, and his reluctance to publish work first written for his magazines under his real name (Charles Dodgson) illustrate two of the paracosmic features of the attachment he formed with these magazines—the sustained interest and desire for secrecy that makes paracosms unique. Furthermore, the fact that the paracosm takes the form of a magazine let Carroll combine many separate pieces of writing into a coherent whole, and the control he exercised over the final publishing of Alice in Wonderland was so intricate and demanding as to be reminiscent of the total control he had when editing his family magazines.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass began as paracosms—he told these stories privately to his child-friends, the Liddell sisters, in installments over time at their request. After a time, he bound a version of these stories for Alice Liddell, and was convinced to publish them. The transition from paracosm to heterocosm—a fictional world shared by many people—was a complex one for Carroll, and his extensive correspondence with his illustrators and publishers speaks to the difficulty he had relinquishing the privacy and control of his paracosm to others.
Petrella, Kristin, "A Crucial Juncture: The Paracosmic Approach to the Private Worlds of Lewis Carroll and the Brontës" (2009). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 430.
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