Friday, October 24, 2008

At the Berg Collection, New York Public Library

A few months ago BrontëBlog travelled to New York. The city's sightseeing offer is immense, but we felt that a visit to the New York Public Library, particularly to the Berg Collection was a must for us. And right we were.


The Berg Collection started when the brothers Henry W. Berg and Albert A. Berg approached the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library to propose donating their private collections, which were made up of literary rarities, mainly of the printed sort, but also of some manuscripts. So at the point when in 1940 Albert - Henry had sadly passed away since the negotiations began - and the Board of Trustees reached an agreement, the collection only included a watercolour by Charlotte Brontë.

Later, however, through the acquisition of several other private libraries, the Berg Collection acquired more and more Brontëana.

This - and more - is what we were told in that cosy wood-panelled room while we had a few, amazing Brontë manuscripts in front of us. The number of Brontë manuscripts is quite large now, and so we only got a glimpse of what the collection is made up of. We saw one of the famous bound volumes containing the tiny, awe-inspiring Tales of the Islanders, the manuscript pages now embedded in bigger pages. Two handwritten poems by Charlotte Brontë - Saul and Memory - were also shown to us. And then came a small box which opened to reveal the tiny, folded paper which contains two drawings by Charlotte Brontë - The ruins of Caractacus Palace (no. 18 in The Art of the Brontës) and The Keep of the Bridge (on the right and no. 21 in The Art of the Brontës) - together with the diminutive manuscript of the story The Keep of the Bridge. It's only when you look at these tiny manuscripts and drawings that you actually realise how much they cherished their paper and how it's not at all surprising that Charlotte ruined her eyesight.

While we were admiring all this, we were being told more and more interesting facts about the Berg Collection. It turned out that Charles Dickens's writing desk was a few meters away from us. Also, the Berg Collection contains the largest collection of Virginia Woolf papers and objects in the world. And much to our awe we were promptly shown the cane that Virginia Woolf let go of when she threw herself in the waters of the river Ouse.

By the time we left, the library was closed for visitors, the corridors were empty and the chairs in Bryant Park beckoned.

This visit would not have been possible without Mr Isaac Gerwitz's kindness and patience with us. We would also like to thank the two anonymous researchers who escorted us out of the library premises.

Categories: ,

Comments :

1 Comment
brontesister said...
on  

I worked at the NYPL (in the Human Resources Dept) for a while in the 1980's and had the great good fortune to meet the Berg's curator at the time, Dr. Lola Szladits. When I mentioned my interest in the Brontë family, she kindly invited me over to the collection to see an exhibit of the childhood writings.

I did go over one afternoon when there were no researchers there, and Dr. Szladits showed me around. I was amazed at the number of pieces on display in glass table cases - I could bend right over them and be six inches away from where their hands had touched the pages! Dr. Szladits was gratified, I think, to see how awed I was to be in the presence of the Brontë's physical works. She let me stay as long as I wanted and generously pointed out objects of special interest.

Her generosity in sharing her knowledge helped inspire my lifelong interest in the Brontës, and I would like to share this link about Lola in tribute to her and her work: http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/01/obituaries/lola-l-szladits-20-year-curator-at-new-york-s-library-dies-at-67.html

Post a Comment