Unpublished Charlotte Brontë writings return to Haworth in mother's book

Brontë Society secures treasured heirloom belonging to the sisters’ mother, with letters, poems and short stories by family members tucked inside

A book containing unpublished work by Charlotte Brontë – and one of the few surviving possessions of her mother after her property was lost in a shipwreck – has returned to the family’s home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

This drawing and text (possibly an early version of shorthand) is believed to be by Branwell.
This drawing and text (possibly an early version of shorthand) is believed to be by Branwell Brontë, Charlotte’s brother. Photograph: ©The Brontë Society

The copy of Robert Southey’s edition of The Remains of Henry Kirke White was owned by Maria Branwell, who in 1812 married the curate Patrick Brontë. She had annotated the book and it was among her possessions shipped from her home in Cornwall when she decided to stay in Yorkshire, after meeting and falling in love with her future husband.

However, the ship was wrecked off the Devon coast and her trunk was lost, save for a few items – including this book, which as a result became a treasured heirloom for the Brontë family. Maria died in 1821, when her children were very young. Her book was sold at an auction at Haworth parsonage following the death of Patrick Brontë in 1861, and has spent most of the last century in the US.

In 2015, the book was tracked down to a private collector in California. The Brontë Society, based at the literary sisters’ former home in Haworth, purchased it for £170,000 after receiving funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National Libraries.

The book contains an inscription in Latin written by Patrick Brontë that says it is “the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved”.

Members of the family added their own annotations and sketches within its leather covers, as well as letters – one by Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte’s husband, written shortly after her death in 1855. It also contains a poem and a piece of prose by Charlotte itself, written on separate sheets of paper inserted into the book.

The poem is thought to have been written by Charlotte when she was very young, but the piece of prose is a “highly unusual” short story, according to Rebecca Yorke of the Brontë Parsonage Museum. It features characters from Charlotte’s imaginary world of Angria, a fantasy setting she created when she was young, crossing over into the real world and “meeting” real-life characters from Haworth.

Now that the sale is complete, the book has returned to Haworth where it will eventually be displayed to the public. Ann Dinsdale, collections manager at the museum, 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 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 has been a wonderful addition to our celebrations marking Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary.”

Juliet Barker, historian and author of The Brontës added: “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.”

The book is currently available to view as part of the Treasures Tours organised by the museum and will go on public display at the Parsonage in 2017.


David Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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