June 14, 2021
Brontë Society fights to keep “lost” Emily Brontë poems available for the public
by Heather Gluck
Revealed for the first time in almost a century, 31 poems handwritten by Emily Brontë are going up for auction at Sotheby’s. The poems, featuring pencil revisions by Charlotte Brontë, are valued at between £800,000 and £1,200,000. The poems, as well as other Brontë artifacts are, according to a press release by Sotheby’s, “the most important material by the Brontë sisters to come to light in a generation—unrivaled in importance by any other private collection.” However, the sale is controversial, with some groups expressing outrage that the manuscripts may once again disperse and disappear into private hands.
The Brontë Society, one of the oldest literary societies in the English-language world, is calling on members of parliament to put forward legislation which would give public institutions a chance to acquire items of national interest before they are placed on the international market. They’re also calling for regulations to protect artifacts that are in private ownership, including establishing conservation standards and requiring access to the public, as through digitization. Such legislation could threaten the financial gains of for-profit museums, as well as frustrate those who own personal libraries that include historical items.
The Brontë Society has managed the Brontë Parsonage, the family’s former home in Haworth, since it was gifted to them in 1928. Today it is a museum dedicated to the Brontës’ lives and works, housing the world’s largest collection of artifacts associated with the family. In a statement, the Society writes:
The manuscripts in the Honresfeld Library were written in Haworth and, as a collection, they bear witness to the intense collaboration and creativity that bound Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontë together and to their home at Haworth Parsonage.
The Society believes that the rightful home for these unique and extraordinary manuscripts, unseen for a hundred years, is at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where they can be enjoyed by visitors, explored by scholars and shared with Brontë enthusiasts around the world for generations to come.
… We all have a stake in these remarkable treasures. We need to look beyond the narrow commercialisation and privatisation of heritage and work together to protect and share what we all value.
The Brontë Society intends to buy as many auction lots as they are able to, but are restricted by the financial impacts of the pandemic. They are asking the British public to join their letter-writing campaign, and for all supporters to share their opinions on Twitter using the hashtag #SavetheHonresfeldLibrary.
Heather Gluck is an intern at Melville House.