A 14-Year-Old Charlotte Brontë Made This Tiny Book for Toy Soldiers to Read in 1830. It Just Sold For More Than $860,000
The dramatic, miniature volume includes a fiery scene that anticipates ‘Jane Eyre.’
Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre in 1847, when she was 31 years old, but she was already making books when she was a teenager in West Yorkshire, England. The Young Men’s Magazine, one of six miniature, handmade books that she made with her brother Branwell when she was 14 years old in 1830, was recently purchased at auction by the Brontë Parsonage Museum, based in Charlotte’s hometown.
Charlotte, Branwell, and their two younger sisters Emily and Anne conjured a fictitious place they called Glass Town, situated in West Africa; Young Men’s Magazine and the other miniatures document this town. Written for a very particular audience (Branwell’s toy soldiers), the book is dramatic and intense. One scene apparently features a killer haunted by his victims to the point of insanity, causing an “immense fire” in his head to literally manifest, burning his bed curtains. The museum states that experts agree that this part of Young Men’s Magazine is “a clear precursor” to the moment in Jane Eyre in which Edward Rochester’s first wife, Bertha Mason, goes mad and lights a fire in the attic where she’s been sequestered. She eventually jumps out of the building to her death, leaving Rochester free to marry Jane.
The tiny Young Men’s Magazine manuscript was purchased by the Brontë Society at auction for €780,000 ($864,130). The Brontë Society, which runs the Brontë Parsonage Museum, ran a successful fundraiser in which more than 1,000 people, including Dame Judi Dench–a longtime Brontë fan and honorary president of the Society–ponied up donations to help bring the book home to West Yorkshire. The Parsonage Museum already holds four of the other six miniature books written by Brontë; one is missing.
In a twist, this is the second time the Brontë Society has tried to purchase Young Men’s Magazine. In 2011, Gérard Lhéritier outbid the Society and placed the book in his Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris, which housed 136,000 other original manuscripts and letters. But the museum was shut down in 2014 when Lhéritier was accused of running the museum like a Ponzi scheme; authorities say that 18,000 people were defrauded to the tune of €900 million.
Hopefully, the diminutive Brontë tome has now found a more stable home. “The team here at the Brontë Parsonage Museum have all worked really hard for this and are thrilled that this little book of Charlotte’s will be joining the others in our collection,” a spokesperson for the Brontë Parsonage Museum said in a statement to Artnet News. “On another level, there is a tremendous sense of achievement: this miniature manuscript will be here in the museum long after we have all gone–we are simply its custodians for now and that alone feels like a historic moment.”
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