A tiny Brontë book comes home again

A matchbox-size handlettered gentleman’s magazine created by the 14-year-old Charlotte Brontë was acquired at auction by the Brontë Parsonage Museum for $777,000.Aguttes SVV; France

In 1830, when she was 14 years old, Charlotte Brontë created a series of six matchbox-size books known as The Young Men’s Magazine, complete with dramatic stories and tiny hand-lettered ads.

Now, after an intrigue-filled detour to Paris, the second volume in the series is headed back to the brick parsonage on the edge of the moors where it was created.

The Brontë Society in Haworth, England, announced on Monday that it had acquired the miniature magazine for $777,000 (including fees) at the auction house Drouot in Paris.

“That this unique manuscript will be back in Haworth is an absolute highlight of my 30 years working at the museum,” Ann Dinsdale, principal curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, said in a statement. “Charlotte wrote this minuscule magazine for the toy soldiers she and her siblings played with, and as we walk through the same rooms they did, it seems immensely fitting that it is coming home.”

The auction capped off a saga that began in 2011 when the museum lost a heavily publicized bid to acquire the micro-periodical at Sotheby’s. Instead, it was purchased for $1.1 million by the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, a recently created commercial venture in Paris that — in a gothic twist — closed after it was accused of being a fraudulent investment scheme.

Over the past month, the Brontë Parsonage Museum had raised more than $111,000 through a crowdfunding effort that drew support from prominent figures in the arts, including actress Judi Dench, the honorary president of the Brontë Society. The bulk of the purchase price was provided by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and other groups.

The 19-page, 4,000-word manuscript measures about 1.5 by 2.5 inches. It features vividly dramatic hand-lettered ads (“Six young men wish to let themselves all a hire for the purpose in cleaning out pockets they are in reduced CIRCUMSTANCES,” reads one), as well as three stories set in the fictional settlement of Glass Town, including one featuring a scene that seems to be a precursor to the famous one in “Jane Eyre” where Mr. Rochester’s wife sets fire to his bed.

The Brontë Parsonage already owns four of the six volumes of The Young Men’s Magazine. (The whereabouts of the remaining one has been unknown since around 1930, according to the museum.)

Charlotte Brontë created it after she declared editorial independence, as it were, from Branwell’s Blackwoods Magazine, another miniature magazine created by her brother, Branwell.

“Edited by the genius C.B.,” reads the title page of one of those earlier magazines, which are owned by Harvard’s Houghton Library, which also holds six other miniature books created by Charlotte.

New York Times

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