1800s library

1800s library – Barta IV via Flickr

Holly Chapman reports on the exciting discovery of two previously unseen Charlotte Brontë works, hidden inside a precious Brontë heirloom.

Charlotte Brontë is one of the most famous writers in literary history, known for works such as Jane Eyre and Villette. Recently the Brontë Society has uncovered an unpublished manuscript of a poem and short story written by a young Charlotte Brontë.

The treasure was discovered inside a book previously owned by Charlotte’s mother Maria Brontë. The manuscript itself was found in Maria Brontë’s copy of The Remains of Henry Kirke White by Robert Southey. Prior to her marriage to Patrick Brontë, a boat carrying Maria’s belongings was shipwrecked off the Devonshire coast in 1812. Southey’s book was one of the few items that were salvaged from the wreck. It also features Patrick’s Latin inscription which states, ‘the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.’

Dr Juliet Barker, Brontë specialist and biographer, is in no doubt of the manuscripts authenticity, noting Charlotte’s distinctive handwriting that varied in regards to the piece she was writing. Dr Barker also comments “the book alone is a valuable acquisition because of its rare associations with Mrs before her marriage to Patrick, but its importance is immeasurably increased by the unpublished manuscripts tipped into it.’

The manuscripts have been dated to 1833, when Charlotte would have been around 17. The poem is 77 lines, and the prose runs for 74 lines. Ann Dinsdale, the collections manager at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, commented on the discovery as ‘one of the most significant Brontë items to come to light in many years’.

Both pieces of prose and poetry focus on characters from the fictional Kingdom of Angria, created by Charlotte and her brother Branwell, and written about in several other stories. In the newly discovered prose piece, characters from Angria encounter real people from the city of England. The poem focuses on Mary, the lovesick wife of the King of Angria, Zamorna.

With the aid of organisations such as the National Heritage Fund, the V&A; Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National libraries, the Brontë Society are aiming to gain sufficient funds to negotiate acquiring Maria Brontë’s book and Charlotte Brontë’s manuscripts. Back in 2011 La Musee des Lettres et Manuscrits obtained a manuscript that was written by Charlotte Brontë when she was 14, costing a grand total of £690,000. So the Brontë Society are determined not to let this hidden treasure go.

With all this in mind, it appears there is one question that Brontë fans are eager to ask; when will we get to read it?