The Brontë Parsonage Museum has launched a fundraising campaign to buy a rare manuscript by Charlotte Brontë.
Written in 1830, when Brontë was 14-years-old, the manuscript features three intricately hand-written stories and has remained in private ownership since it left Haworth following the deaths of the Brontës. It came to light when it came up for auction at Sotheby’s in 2011 when the museum was outbid by a now non-operational investment scheme.
‘The Young Men’s Magazine’ was a series of six tiny booklets, of which five are known to survive. Produced by Brontë at home at the Parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire, they document an imaginary world created by the family.
The item up for auction at Drouot in Paris on 18th November is the fifth in the sequence and is expected to sell for at least £650,000. The Brontë Parsonage Museum already holds the other four in the series and says "the acquisition of this exceptional unpublished work would complete a world class collection". The book is also of "immense scholarly interest, clearly showing Brontë’s development as a writer and revealing early themes that carry over into her published work, including Jane Eyre".
Kitty Wright, executive director of The Brontë Society said: “This extraordinary manuscript slipped through our fingers in 2011 so we are especially determined to make the most of this second opportunity to bring it home to Haworth. It is expected to sell for at least £650,000 and we’ve been working hard for many months applying to trusts and foundations. This is the final and public phase of our campaign and we urge lovers of literature everywhere to support us now, so that we can go to the auction with a competitive bid and prevent the little book from disappearing into a private collection.”
The book, which measures no more than 35mm x 61mm, consists of 20 pages and comprises three stories, ‘A letter from Lord Charles Wellesley’, ‘The Midnight Song’ and ‘Journal of a Frenchman [continued]’. It has a brown paper cover and contains more than 4,000 hand-written words in a folded and stitched magazine. This particular little book describes a murderer 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, a "clear precursor of a famous scene between Bertha and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre, which Charlotte would publish 17 years later", said the museum.
Ann Dinsdale, principal curator at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, sad: “These little books are enormously important to both visitors and scholars. The four that we are fortunate enough to own are some of our most popular exhibits and to see this volume of The Young Men’s Magazine reunited with the others in our collection would be wonderful. If we are successful, it would be one of the most important things to happen in the 30 years I’ve worked at the Parsonage; a real highlight.”
Judi Dench, president of the Brontë Society, added: “I have long been fascinated by the little books created by the Brontës when they were children. These tiny manuscripts are like a magical doorway into the imaginary worlds they inhabited and also hint at their ambition to become published authors. It’s very moving to think of 14 year-old Charlotte creating this particular little book at home in Haworth Parsonage and I hope that everyone will help the Brontë Society to bring it back to Yorkshire where it belongs.”