Charlotte Bronte (represented by The Bronte Society) is making headlines again with a newly discovered literary treasure. Unfortunately, it’s not the full-fledged manuscript we might have anticipated (or hoped for). Instead, the treasure is in the form of a book’s marginalia.
But, then… The book, Robert Southey’s The Remains of Henry Kirke White, has a fascinating history in itself — it was one of the few salvaged possessions of Maria Bronte, Charlotte Bronte’s mother, from a truck that was lost in a shipwreck off the Devonshire coast in 1812. As one of her only belongings, the book was a cherished heirloom when she married Patrick Bronte. The pages of the “saved” book became the repository of sketches, annotations, markings and other inscriptions for the Bronte family.
Amidst the scribbles and sketches, experts have identified examples of the miniscule handwriting, which is known to represent the adolescent writings of Charlotte Bronte. Of specific importance are a poem and prose, which are written on pages and inserted into the book. There’s also a letter, written by her husband (Arthur Bell Nicholls) after her death, in 1855.
Of this latest Bronte treasure, Ann Dinsdale, Principle Curator at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, said: “Mrs Brontë’s book is one of the most significant Brontë items to come to light in many years. It was clearly well-used and of great sentimental value to the Brontë children, who lost their mother while they were very young. In addition, the unpublished writings by Charlotte offer new opportunities for research, which is really exciting.”
We aren’t able to step back in time, and experience the lives of our favorite authors; but discoveries like this offer such invaluable insight, while also leaving precious breadcrumbs that clue us into their evolution into the author we’ve known and loved.