News | November 25, 2015

Unpublished Charlotte Bronte Manuscripts Sold to Bronte Museum by California Rare Bookseller


Randall House Rare Books is pleased and proud to have successfully completed negotiations for the sale of two unpublished Charlotte Bronte manuscripts to the Bronte Society in England.  The discovery of the manuscripts is called “extraordinary” by Bronte expert Dr. Juliet Barker who went on to say "It's so unusual to get unpublished manuscripts in this day and age. To find an unpublished one like this—that we had no knowledge of its existence—is extraordinary." Dr. Barker wrote the seminal history of the Bronte Family. She has further stated that there is no question about the authenticity of the material.

The manuscripts and other autograph material are in a book that belonged to Charlotte’s mother, Maria, titled “The Remains of Henry Kirke White” by Robert Southey. The boat carrying Maria’s belongings, including this book, prior to her marriage to Patrick Bronte, suffered a shipwreck but were recovered. On an inside page in the book there is a Latin inscription, in Patrick Bronte’s handwriting “the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.”

The manuscripts consist of a short story fragment and a poem. The short story is set in 1833 and written in the pseudonym of “Lord Charles Wellesley” one of Charlotte’s favourite male alter egos. The writing is, according to Dr. Barker “a satirical take on life in Haworth [the home village of the Brontes].”  The poem is set in the fantasy world created by the Bronte children, including her brother Branwell, in childhood, and is typical of the poems Charlotte wrote.

The sale to the Bronte Society of this treasure is being made possible by a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the V & A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries [all of England].  Originally the book was sold in 1861 at the sale of Patrick Bronte’s estate. For the past nearly 100 years it’s been in the ownership of the same family here in the US who wish to remain anonymous at the moment. The family has impeccable literary antecedents, and Randall House Rare Books is proud to have been entrusted with the sale of this particular book and several other important works.

Ron Randall states “without doubt this has been one of the most exciting finds in my six decades of being a rare bookseller.” He further says: “without doubt it also has been one of the most difficult to figure out. Not least the handwriting of the poem which is in Charlotte’s minuscule handwriting and deciphering  this took months.” There was a lot of painstaking research in establishing who was who, and who had written what. There is not only Charlotte’s writing in the book, but also Patrick Bronte, and Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte’s husband, as well as other both contemporary and somewhat later persons.  Incidentally, Henry Kirk White,  whom the book is about was a university friend of Patrick Bronte’s, they had both been sizars at Cambridge University in the very early 1800s.

Ron Randall has encountered many “treasures” during his working life and has many memorable stories. He also grew up in a literary family; Ron’s father, David A. Randall had a distinguished career in rare books starting at Scribner’s Rare Book Department and eventually becoming the first Director of the Lilly Library; he was the American half of the duo, David A. Randall and John Carter the English half, who put together the legendary exhibition “Printing and the Mind of Man” in 1950 in London.