Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brontë relics - A review

Our thanks to the Brontë Parsonage Museum for sending us a review copy of this catalogue.

Brontë Relics: A Collection History
Ann Dinsdale, Sarah Laycock and Julie Akhurst
Brontë Society Publications
ISBN: 978-1-903007-15-0, 48pp, 2012
In the past we have repeatedly written our wish for a history of the Brontë Parsonage collection and in a strangely positive take on the 'careful what you wish for' warning, we have got not just that but also a a temporary exhibition on the subject right at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

The exhibition catalogue, a collaborative work by Ann Dinsdale, Sarah Laycock and Julie Akhurst, traces the history of the Brontëana items kept there, starting with Charlotte's widower Arthur Bell Nicholls right up to the latest auctions.

It of course includes a chapter on the notorious T. J. Wise, who tricked both Arthur Bell Nicholls and Ellen Nussey into thinking that by selling him their cherished items they would eventually end up in a national museum, not spread all over the world, mutilated and misattributed for decades to come (and indeed many unsolved questions and lost manuscripts today originated there).

Throughout the catalogue there are are lots of great-quality pictures both from the Parsonage collection of Brontëana and from the photography archives. But to us the most striking of all would be the one in black and white showing Martha Brown's sister Tabitha in old age displaying her Brontëana. The picture was described to us by Ann Dinsdale as 'pure Haworth' and it would seem to be exactly that.

The catalogue is a typical Brontë Society publication: good quality paper and a close attention to details.

It's also a fascinating, entertaining read and a great companion to the actual exhibition, particularly for those who are interested in the subject but won't be able to attend. It's funny how, say, a kitchen candle holder can have, not just a history, but be passed down the generations as a highly valuable and meaningful relic. And for those of us who think that Brontëana should be where it belongs, it's terribly exciting to read about the collection taking shape over the decades up until now when it can rightly boast of being the largest collection of Brontëana in the world. As it should.

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