Judi Dench, Jacqueline Wilson and Tracy Chevalier are among several names throwing their weight behind the Brontë Parsonage Museum’s bid to keep one of Charlotte Brontë’s tiny manuscripts from being “shut away in a private collection”, with public donations topping £50,000 with just a week to go before the miniature book is auctioned.
Written in 1830 when Brontë was 14, the manuscript measures just 35mm x 61mm and features three hand-written stories, one of which describes a murderer who is driven to madness when he is haunted by his victims. In private ownership since the death of Charlotte in 1855, the last of the famous literary sisters to die, it is one of six tiny booklets produced by the writer at the Parsonage in Haworth. Only five are known to have survived, and the museum owns the remaining four of the “little books”.
The manuscript last came up for auction in 2011, when the museum was outbid by an investment scheme; the institution is now desperate to acquire what it called an “extremely rare, immensely significant piece of history” when it is auctioned in Paris on 18 November, so it can make it available to visitors and scholars.
The book is expected to sell for at least £650,000, and the museum has been applying to trusts and foundations to raise the funds, with an additional public crowdfunder topping £50,000.
“There are just a few days to go before Charlotte’s little book goes to auction in Paris and we are urging everyone, literature lover or not, to be part of this historic moment to bring this literary gem home to where it was written 189 years ago,” said a spokesperson for the museum.
Dench, who is honorary president of the Brontë Society, called for members of the public to help “bring it back to Yorkshire where it belongs”.
“These tiny manuscripts are like a magical doorway into the imaginary worlds they inhabited and also hint at their ambition to become published authors,” she said. “It’s very moving to think of 14 year-old Charlotte creating this particular little book at home in Haworth Parsonage.”
The museum said that the story about the murderer, who has an “immense fire” burning in his head which causes his bed curtains to set alight, was a “clear precursor” of a scene between Bertha and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre, which Brontë would publish 17 years later. “We want to be able to look after it, learn from it and use it to inspire future generations how and why Charlotte started writing, and would hate to see it shut away in a private collection,” said its spokesperson. “This is the first time we have run a Crowdfunder campaign as part of this process and we have been incredibly touched by comments left by those who have already supported us. We want to bring the book back for all of them.”
Jacqueline Wilson also threw her weight behind the campaign. “Fourteen-year-olds often write little books. I did myself, and many young girls send me their own literary efforts. But Charlotte Brontë’s little book is so very different – a handwritten delightful miniature work from a 14-year-old who would grow up to be a literary genius,” she said.
Actor Sarah Lancashire, musician Cerys Matthews, and writers Audrey Niffenegger, Tracy Chevalier and Bonnie Greer are also among those backing the campaign. “These little books are a unique insight into the 14-year-old Charlotte and to be privy to their content feels so intimate and such a privilege,” said Lancashire. “The little book coming up for auction in Paris belongs here in Haworth, and I ask everyone who can to support the campaign to bring it home.”
“I love the idea of something so iconic to the Brontës’ lives going back to the place where it was created, rather than tucked away in some private collector’s safe,” added Chevalier. “Charlotte and her siblings learned how to create worlds as teenagers, and the little books were a crucial part of that training.”
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