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The Brontë Society is delighted to announce it has secured funds to acquire Mrs Brontë’s copy of Robert Southey’s ‘The Remains of Henry Kirke White’ which contains unpublished manuscripts by Charlotte Brontë.BBC News quotes Juliet Barker saying:
The volume, which was much-treasured by the Brontë family, will be acquired thanks to £170,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), in addition to funding from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.
The book is one of the rare surviving possessions of Mrs Maria Brontë, whose box, containing all her property, was shipwrecked off the Devonshire coast shortly before her marriage to Patrick Brontë in 1812. It contains Latin inscriptions in Patrick’s hand stating that this was ‘….the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.’
The pages of the book contain annotations, markings and sketches by various members of the Brontë family. Also included are a poem and a fragment of prose by Charlotte Brontë and a letter by Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte’s husband, written shortly after her death in 1855.
Ann Dinsdale, Collections Manager at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, said:
“Mrs Brontë’s book is one of the most significant Brontë items to come to light in many years. It was clearly well-used and of great sentimental value to the Brontë children, who lost their mother while they were very young. In addition, the unpublished writings by Charlotte offer new opportunities for research, which is really exciting. This acquisition is a wonderful start to our celebrations marking Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary next year.”Juliet Barker, historian and author of the acclaimed biography, ‘The Brontës’ said:
“The book alone is a valuable acquisition because of its rare associations with Mrs Brontë before her marriage to Patrick, but its importance is immeasurably increased by the unpublished manuscripts tipped into it. There could be no better place for it to be preserved for the future than the Brontë Parsonage Museum.”Sir Peter Luff, Chair of NHMF, said:
“The enduring popularity of the Brontë sisters and their contribution to English literature makes this treasured family possession an incredibly precious piece of our national story. However, the unpublished manuscripts, doodles and annotations contained within it elevates its importance, offering new insight into Charlotte that meant the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund felt it must return to the UK where can be studied and enjoyed.”The book was sold at the sale held at the Parsonage following the death of Patrick Brontë in 1861. It has spent most of the last century in the United States and will return to Haworth in the new year, where it will go on display in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, alongside another book owned by Mrs Brontë.
Dr Barker, who wrote a seminal history of the Brontë Family, told the BBC she was "astonished" when she heard about the newly discovery material.Rebbeca Yorke in The Guardian says:
"It's so unusual to get unpublished manuscripts in this day and age. To find an unpublished one like this - that we had no knowledge of its existence - is extraordinary." (...)
Dr Barker believes there is "no question" of the manuscripts' authenticity, citing Charlotte Brontë's distinctive handwriting - which varied according to the type of material she was writing - as well as the contemporary detail and Charlotte's use of her "favourite" male pseudonym, Lord Charles Wellesley.
Set in 1833, the short story fragment - described by Dr Barker as a "satirical take on life in Haworth" - is 74 lines long and written in the character of "the debonair, man-about-town" Lord Charles. [The prose fragment "has references to lots of people who genuinely lived in Haworth at the time" including sending up the local methodists.]
The incomplete poem was written in Charlotte Brontë's "tiny" handwriting intended both to save paper and hide the contents from her father's failing eyesight.
Highlighting the significance of the manuscript, Dr Barker stressed the "insight [it gives us] into Charlotte's character".
"Charlotte much preferred to write as a man," she explained. "It allowed her to go, as a writer, to places she couldn't go as a woman."
The incomplete "dramatic" poem is 77 lines and revolves around the fantasy world of Angria, which Charlotte dreamt up with her brother, Branwell, in childhood.
Dr Barker described it as "typical" of the poems she wrote. The first quatrain reads:
Mary thou dids't not know that I was nighThou dids't not know my gaze was fixed on theeI stood apart and watched thee gliding byIn all thy calm unconscious majesty
The book was originally sold following the death of Patrick Brontë in 1861 and has been held by the same family in the US for nearly 100 years.It is believed to have been offered for sale just once previously, in 1918 - but it was either withdrawn ahead of sale or no buyers were found.The forthcoming bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte's birth next year, which will be marked around the world - including an exhibition about the Brontës in New York - is thought to have precipitated the current sale.
“We knew the book existed but we didn’t know it had these papers in it,” said spokesperson Rebecca Yorke. “They’ve never been published or come to light before.”Ann Dinsdale in The Guardian gives more details about the prose fragment and the poem:
She described the finds as “hugely important”. The book “was clearly well-used and of great sentimental value to the Brontë children, who lost their mother while they were very young. In addition, the unpublished writings by Charlotte offer new opportunities for research, which is really exciting.”Of course the news are in many other outlets like The Telegraph & Argus, The Telegraph, The Oregonian, Marie Claire,
Both pieces of work relate to the fantasy world of Angria imagined by Charlotte and her brother Branwell in a series of tiny books. “It played a huge part in their lives,” said Dinsdale. “Everything they read and everyone they met in Haworth fed into their imaginary world.”
The short story features a public flogging, embezzling from the Wesleyan chapel, and a “vicious” caricature of the Reverend John Winterbottom – a religious opponent of the children’s father. Winterbottom is “in the middle of the night dragged from his bed” and then “by the heels from one end of the village to the other”, writes Charlotte in the story.
The poem features Mary Percy, the lovesick wife of the king of Angria Zamorna, and “one of the leading Angria characters”, said Dinsdale. “It’s quite an ambitious poem for a young girl, full of thees and thous,” she added. (Alison Flood)