Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Arts Tuesday- Charlotte Brontë Book


I heard about these amazing miniature books in December when they were being auctioned at Sotheby’s in London. The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire was working to raise money to purchase the books.

Here is what Director Andrew McCarthy wrote on the parsonage blog on November 15, 2011:

The manuscript, previously untraced and unpublished, is expected to fetch between £200,000 - £300,000 and contains three works by the young Charlotte Brontë, produced in September 1830 when she was 14 years old. It is part of a series of manuscripts known as ‘The Young Men’s Magazines’ which were inspired by a box of toy soldiers bought for Branwell Brontë by his father in 1826.

The soldiers sparked a remarkable burst of creativity from the young Brontës who began creating stories which were handwritten into tiny books intended for the toy soldiers to ‘read’. Their minute scale and miniature details, such as title pages and advertisements, were modelled on a popular publication of the time, Blackwood’s Magazine. The Brontë Museum has the largest collection of these little manuscript books in the world and they are amongst the most popular exhibits with visitors and have also been the subject of much scholarly research in recent years.

The little books chart Charlotte Brontë’s development as a writer and reveal how many of her early themes carry over into her published novels. The first piece in the manuscript to be sold at Sotheby’s recounts how a murderer is driven to madness after being haunted by his victims, and how ‘an immense fire’ burning in his head causes his bed curtains to set alight, prefiguring the well-known scene in Charlotte’s novel, Jane Eyre, in which Rochester’s insane wife sets light to his bed curtains.

This manuscript is currently in a private collection and has never previously been published. It’s certainly the most significant Brontë manuscript to come to light in decades, but we should also see this as a national treasure with significance to our broader literary heritage. It would be very sad indeed if this wonderful manuscript were not repatriated or was again lost to a private collection. We feel very strongly that it belongs here in Haworth and we’re appealing for people to get in touch if they can help us raise the funds to make sure it does return, so that visitors can enjoy it, either here at the museum or through our on-line resources.


The books did in fact go to another buyer—La Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris. The museum intends to put the book on display.


View images of the book at the Houghton Library website.

Zut alors! Here's the Daily Mail's take on a British national treasure going to France.


Reading about this reminded me of a children's book I had read in high school when I became fascinated by the Brontë clan—Return of the Twelves (first published in England as The Twelve and the Genii) by Pauline Clarke. After moving into a house in Yorkshire where the Brontës had lived, eight-year-old Max finds toy soldiers who come to life. He discovers they are in fact Branwell's and the plot involves word getting out a buyer wanting to take them to the United States. The little books are mentioned in the story. I reread it and found it delightful yet again.

4 comments:

Lil Gee said...

Lovely article! Who knew??

Velma said...

fascinating. thanks for reporting, susan.

Patricia Anne McGoldrick said...

This is such a precious vignette! So glad you shared this Bronte story.

Linda Branch Dunn said...

The Return of the Twelve was one of my very favorite books, and of my daughter's in her turn. I think it is out of print but so worth seeking. Strong girl, strong boy, a grown-up who believes, and real live toy soldiers, who march home across the moors.

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