The Brontë Society, based at the Brontë family parsonage in Haworth, has purchased a strikingly unique Brontë association copy with a fascinating history. The book, an otherwise unremarkable edition of The Remains of Henry Kirke White, was owned by Maria Brontë (nee Branwell), the short-lived matriarch of the Brontë clan who died in 1821, shortly after the birth of her final child, Anne. What makes the book unique - and what makes it seem a product of a Brontë story itself - is that it was one of just a few of Maria's possessions to survive a shipwreck. What's more, it bears annotations, inscriptions, sketches, letters, and prose pieces from other members of the Brontë family, including an unpublished poem by Charlotte herself.
Maria Branwell married Patrick Brontë, the future priest of Haworth parish in Yorkshire, in 1812. Originally from Cornwall, Maria sent home for her possessions, which were placed on a ship. The ship never made it, succumbing to a storm, and sinking beneath the waves off the Devon coast. Maria's trunk of possessions was lost, however her copy of The Remains of Henry Kirke White somehow survived and was eventually delivered into her care in Yorkshire. As a result, the Brontë clan viewed the book almost as a sacred object, a notion heightened by Maria's early death from ovarian cancer in 1821 at the age of 38 after bearing six children.
Patrick Brontë inscribed a touching passage in Latin in the book, which translates to, "the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved."
Over time, other members of the Brontë family added their own touches to the book, including a poem and short story by a very young Charlotte.
After Patrick Brontë's death in 1861, the book was sold at auction at Haworth and spent much of the ensuing 150 years in the states bouncing between private collections. In 2015, Randall House Rare Books in California discovered the book and subsequently offered it to the Brontë Society (more about that here). After receiving funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National Libraries, The Brontë Society was able to purchase the book for £170,000.
Maria's long-lost book will go on display at the Haworth Parsonage in 2017.
Photo via The Brontë Society.