Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript sells for over $1m at Sotheby's auction

Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre is one of the most famous and well-read in literature.

Written in the style of an autobiography, with the frequently quoted line of 'Reader, I married him.', it often seen as a novel which makes some moves towards a feminist view, with a strong female central character.

So it wasn't a great surprise that Sotheby's auction of Fine Books and Manuscripts gained a great deal of attention when it offered an unpublished miniature autograph manuscript of the novelist as one of its highlights. It is in exceptional condition though with a tiny nick to second leaf, without the loss of any paper.

The unpublished manuscript contains three works by the young Charlotte Brontë never seen by scholars, making this undoubtedly the most important Brontë manuscript to have appeared at a public auction in more than thirty years and one of only a handful of such manuscripts remaining in private hands.

Brontë juvenilia is of unusual importance as their childhood empires of the imagination loom so large in our understanding and appreciation of their mature works: generations of readers have been moved by the thought of these four extraordinarily gifted children conjuring up wonderful worlds together in their lonely Yorkshire parsonage.

Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript
Small, but perfectly formed - the Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript

The manuscript contains a passage describing a murderer brought to delirium by a remembrance of 'Caroline Krista' he has killed and 'Lord Charles' who he believes to have been dispatched by an assassin:

"...he constantly raged about the spirits of Caroline Krista & Charles Wellesley dancing before him. he said that every now & then they glided through his eyes to his brain where an immense fire was continually burning & that he felt them adding fuel to the flames that caused it to catch the curtains of the bed that would soon be reduced to ashes. at other times he said he felt them pulling his heart-strings till a sound like a death knell came from them..."

The passage is particularly intriguing as it seems to be a precursor to a scene in Jane Eyre when the 'madwoman' starts a fire in her husband Mr Rochester's bedroom.

The piece was expected to sell for £300,000, but eager bidders quickly surpassed this and it found a new home with a bid of £690,850.

Original manuscripts from great 19th century writers can certainly be very valuable. In the summer of this year, the only surviving major Jane Austen manuscript in private hands tripled expectations at Sotheby's to sell for just under £1m.

Fortunately, you don't need to spend six figure sums to get your hands on something written by an author from this time. We're currently offering two handwritten letters signed by Charles Dickens, to author and journalist Charles Mackay and the other to the Athenauem Club in London.


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