Rare Charlotte Bronte book coming home after museum’s auction success

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The book by Charlotte Bronte slipped through the museum’s fingers eight years ago

A book written by Charlotte Bronte at the age of 14 will return home after being bought by the Bronte Society at auction in Paris.

The miniature work, called The Young Men’s Magazine, will go to the Parsonage Museum in the Brontes’ old home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

It was bought for €600,000 (£512,970) after a fundraising campaign by the Bronte Society, which runs the museum.

The museum lost out on the book when it last went under the hammer in 2011.

The total price including buyer’s premium was €780,000 (£666,790).

The work is one of six “little books” written by Charlotte, the eldest of the three sisters, in 1830. Five are known to survive, and the Bronte Parsonage Museum already holds the other four.

The works were created for Charlotte’s toy soldiers and document an imaginary world created by the family called Glass Town.

Charlotte is best known for her 1847 classic novel Jane Eyre.

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Charlotte Bronte captured by the artist George Richmond

Kitty Wright, executive director of The Bronte Society, said: “We were determined to do everything we could to bring back this extraordinary ‘little book’ to the Bronte Parsonage Museum and now can’t quite believe that it will in fact be coming home to where it was written 189 years ago.

“We have been truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people from all over the world backing our campaign and can’t wait to have it in place with the others and on public view to the world.”

‘An absolute highlight’

The museum’s principal curator Ann Dinsdale added that bringing the “unique manuscript” back to Haworth was an “absolute highlight” of her 30-year career at the venue.

“Charlotte wrote this miniscule 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 and we would like to say an enormous thank you to everyone who made it possible.”

Part of the Young Men’s Magazine describes a murderer driven to madness after being haunted by his victims, and how “an immense fire” burning in his head causes his bed curtains to set alight.

Experts at the museum say this section of the story is “a clear precursor” of a famous scene between Bertha and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre, which Charlotte would publish 17 years later.

The society said more than 1,000 people had pledged money to help buy the book. Several celebrities, including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Tracy Chevalier, backed the society’s efforts to raise money.

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Dame Judi Dench led a campaign to raise funds for the book to be secured for the Bronte Parsonage Museum

York-born Dame Judi, who is president of the Bronte Society, said earlier this year: “I have long been fascinated by the little books created by the Brontes when they were children.

“These tiny manuscripts are like a magical doorway into the imaginary worlds they inhabited, and also hint at their ambition to become published authors.”

The existence of the book that went up for sale – measuring 35mm x 61mm and consisting of 20 pages – came to light in 2011 when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s.

The Bronte society was outbid by a discredited investment scheme that is no longer operational. The scheme was run by Gérard Lhéritier and his company Aristophil, who set up the Musee des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris.

Lhéritier saw the potential financial rewards in rare works such as the Bronte book, so bought and filled his museum with them. His company was accused of selling shares in a Ponzi-style pyramid scheme, built on false advertising and illusionary market values.

About 18,000 people in France are believed to have been defrauded in what went on to become one of the biggest ever arts market scams, having invested nearly €1bn. The company behind it was shut down by regulators in 2014.

According to The Art Newspaper, the French government is seeking to recover hundreds of public archives that should never have been sold and a criminal investigation is ongoing.

Lhéritier denies all accusations.

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