March 26, 2018
Two lost Charlotte Brontë manuscripts will be published this year
by Stephanie DeLuca
Big news for Charlotte Brontë fans.
The eldest Brontë, who is, of course, best-known for writing Jane Eyre—a novel some of us are forced to read in middle school but don’t come to have a deeper appreciation for until a few years later, when we reread it during the blooming of our feminist awakening and then hold it in our hearts the rest of our lives—has previously unpublished work forthcoming.
According to a report by Heloise Wood over at The Bookseller, the conflict–beleaguered Brontë Society has plans to publish a seventy-seven-line poem and a seventy-four-line story by Brontë, which were found in the leaves of a book that belonged to the author’s mother, Maria. As we wrote back in 2015, Maria’s copy of The Remains of Henry Kirke White managed to survive a shipwreck that destroyed most of her possessions. Her husband Patrick, Charlotte’s father, inscribed it in Latin: “The book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved.”
And preserved it has been. It spent most of the last century in America as part of a private collection. The Brontë Society bought it back in 2016 for £200,000.
Wood explains what readers can expect to find in the upcoming publication: “Facsimiles of the two manuscripts, annotations found in the book and a sketch by Charlotte Brontë’s brother, Branwell, will be reproduced in the new title along with contributions from four Brontë specialists. They will explore the significance of the find and will ‘reveal important new information’ relating to her mother, and her place in the Brontë story.”
What’s the big deal here? For one thing, it’s the Brontë Society’s debut as a publisher. Besides, consider this: Charlotte Brontë was discouraged from publishing her work by other (male) writers, as well as the rules of polite society that decreed women don’t write. When she finally did write, she concealed her gender under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. Who knows how many pieces of her writing were lost to the undervaluation of art created by women? Our own Sady Doyle tackles Charlotte’s timidness to publish in her recent book Trainwreck:
Here was a woman seeking to establish herself as a writer, while being required by her male contemporaries to keep so busy with her proper feminine tasks… that she didn’t have the time or inclination to sit down and imagine anything, let alone to develop those thoughts into a substantial piece of writing. To seek publication was, by definition, to “trouble” other people with her thoughts. To publish would mean that she had failed at being female.
This upcoming publication from the Brontë Society, although a small addition to Charlotte’s cannon, helps to right (write) the wrong.
No publication date has been released as of yet, but a spokesperson for the Brontë Society told Wood that the title will be out in time for the holiday gift season. Reader, I’ll preorder it.
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.