November 19, 2015
First Shelley, now Brontë: Yet another 19th century writer to publish new work
by Ena Brdjanovic
It’s been a fruitful month for academic sleuths—Oxford acquired a long lost political poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, an upcoming catalog of Francis Bacon features over one-hundred never-before-seen paintings, including one discovered in a warehouse, and The Hague’s Museum voor Communicatie cracked open a treasure trove (no, literally) of 2,600 undelivered letters dating back to the 17th century.
Now, according to the BBC, two previously unpublished works by Charlotte Brontë have been discovered in a leather-bound volume of poetry owned by the writer’s mother, Maria Brontë.
The book in question—The Remains of Henry Kirke White by Robert Southey—was a coveted item in the Brontë household. Maria, who died when the six Brontë siblings were children, brought the poetry volume with her when she married Patrick Brontë in 1812—it was one of the few items recovered when the ship carrying Maria’s belongings wrecked off the coast of Devon. The book is still stained with salt-water; its title page bears an in inscription in Latin from Patrick to Maria: “The book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.”
According to the Brontë Society, the pages of the book are teeming with marginalia and annotations from all members of the Brontë family—a worthy find in and of itself—but the discoveries of particular note were tucked between the pages: a short story and poem written by seventeen-year-old Charlotte.
The two previously unseen works date back to 1833, and were written under the pseudonym Lord Charles Wellesley. The works display a satirical nature. As The Guardian‘s Alison Flood reports:
The short story features a public flogging, embezzling from the Wesleyan chapel, and a “vicious” caricature of the Reverend John Winterbottom—a religious opponent of the children’s father. Winterbottom is “in the middle of the night dragged from his bed” and then “by the heels from one end of the village to the other,” writes Charlotte in the story.
The newly discovered poem runs 77 lines, and though incomplete, is set in Angria, a fantasy world created by Charlotte her brother, Branwell. In addition to the two works by Charlotte, the book’s pages also contained a letter to the writer from her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, written shortly before Charlotte’s death in 1855.
Dr. Juliet Barker, former curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum and author of a landmark biography of the Brontë family, told the BBC: “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.”
Sold by the Brontë estate to a book collector in the U.S. in 1861, The Remains of Henry Kirke White has returned to Haworth, the Brontës’ Yorkshire home. The manuscripts, as well as the book within which they were discovered, have been acquired by the Brontë Society & Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National Libraries. The museum has expressed hopes of exhibiting the newly found materials to commemorate the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth in 2016.
Ena Brdjanovic is Director of Digital Media at Melville House.