Brontë Society secures Charlotte Brontë letters used by Elizabeth Gaskell

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 December 2012
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a painted portrait of Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Brontë, JH Thompson circa 1850s.

A rare and important collection of six Charlotte Brontë letters are returning to the writer’s former home in Haworth, West Yorkshire after the Brontë Society acquired them for £185,000 at Sotheby’s auction.

Previously in a private collection the letters were written by Charlotte Brontë to her closest friend Ellen Nussey following their time as pupils at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, near Mirfield from 1831.

The two corresponded regularly until Charlotte’s death in 1855 by which time Nussey had amassed a collection of upwards of 500 Brontë letters, many of which survived to support subsequent Brontë scholarship.

The first letter in the collection dates to October 18 1832, shortly after their schooldays ended, and the final letter is written to Ellen’s sister on December 28 1854, just weeks before Charlotte’s death the following March.

Nussey loaned around 350 of her letters (including the six acquired today) to Elizabeth Gaskell during her research for The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857).

Gaskell quoted from them abundantly in the biography of her former friend and they were also incorporated in a first edition copy of her two-volume Brontë biography, close to the printed texts.

Ann Dinsdale, Collections Manager of Brontë Parsonage Museum, where the letters will be held, described them as “amongst the most significant Brontë letters to come to light in decades”.

“They belong in Haworth,” she added, “and we are delighted that both scholars and members of the public will now have the opportunity to study and enjoy them, either here at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, or through our on-line resources.”

The society was able to acquire the letters thanks to support of £198,450 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the UK’s fund of last resort for saving the nation’s most important heritage at risk.

They will join a collection of correspondence and ephemera relating to Nussey already held at the Parsonage Museum. For Brontë scholars, who will have access to the originals for the first time since Gaskell handled them, it will offer an invaluable opportunity to scan them closely and compare them to what are thought to be imperfect versions previously published.

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