Monday 22 January 2018

Bronte manuscript fetches over €800k at auction

Ellen Branagh

AN unpublished manuscript by Charlotte Bronte is heading to France after it was sold at auction for a record value of nearly £700,000 (€834,000).

The tiny manuscript of The Young Men's Magazine, Number 2, sold for £690,850 at an English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations sale at Sotheby's.

It was bought by Paris museum La Musie des Lettres et Manuscrits, scuppering attempts by the Bronte Society to return it to the Bronte Parsonage Museum at the writer's home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

The society had been awarded a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), and also launched a fundraising drive to get the manuscript.

But it said this was not enough on the day as the hammer price plus the buyer's commission took the final price to more than the amount raised.

Bonnie Greer, president of the Bronte Society, said: "This 'Little Book' puts down in luminous prose not only the daydreams of a little Yorkshire girl, but it also contains the seed of the work of one of the greatest writers in the English language, Charlotte Bronte.

"It will not be going home, back to the place where it all began, the parsonage at Haworth.

"Its presence there would have placed it not only at the heart of the proud community in which she was born and raised, but would have brought full circle a Yorkshire story, a northern story, a British story, a world story."

Written when Bronte was 14, the tale is set in Glass Town, the earliest fictional world created by the Bronte siblings.

Sotheby's estimated it would sell for between £200,000 and £300,000, but the manuscript sold for more than double the top estimate, setting new auction records for a manuscript by Charlotte Bronte and for a literary work by any of the Bronte sisters.

The book contains more than 4,000 words on 19 pages, each measuring around 1.4in (35mm) by 2.4in (61mm).

Dated August 1830 - 17 years before Bronte wrote Jane Eyre - it is said to have never before been seen by scholars.

Andrew McCarthy, director of the Bronte Parsonage Museum, said: "This is unquestionably the most significant Bronte manuscript to come to light in decades and an important part of our broader literary heritage.

"It belongs in Haworth and we are bitterly disappointed that scholars and members of the public may now not have the opportunity to study and enjoy it as part of our public collection. We very much hope that we will be able to establish contact with the new owner."

In a less high-profile sale on the same day, a portrait of sibling Emily Bronte sold for twice its estimate - fetching £23,836.

The oil portrait was sold last night at Northamptonshire auction house JP Humbert Auctioneers against a pre-sale estimate of £10,000-£15,000. It will stay in England after a fierce bidding battle with a prospective buyer in America.

Auctioneer Jonathan Humbert said: "We are delighted with the result which seems to prove our contention that this was in fact a hitherto unknown portrait of Emily Bronte.

"During viewing, at least four independent authorities on the Bronte family concurred with our view, one of whom has written a definitive publication on Wuthering Heights.

"This is the wonderful thing about art - it really gets people debating and theorising and clearly in this case, our theory, supported by our evidence, has been proved right."

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