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Have £1,200,000? Emily Brontë’s lost handwritten poems are up for auction.

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May 27, 2021, 12:00pm

A volume of 31 handwritten poems by Emily Brontë, with pencil corrections by Charlotte Brontë, is going up for auction at Sotheby’s along with other rare Brontë-affiliated manuscripts and other works collected by Alfred and William Law. Sotheby’s has valued the manuscript between £800,000 and £1,200,000.

The handwritten manuscript played a critical role in the Brontë sisters’ public-facing writing careers; Charlotte stumbled upon the poems and convinced Emily to publish them, starting the Brontë sisters’ publication journey. In Charlotte’s 1850 preface to Wuthering Heights, she writes of “accidentally light[ing] on a MS volume of verse in my sister Emily’s handwriting”:

I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me—a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, nor at all like poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music—melancholy, and elevating.

Though scholars knew about the manuscript, many assumed it—as well as the Brontës’ annotated copy of A History of British Birds mentioned in Jane Eyre, notes passed between Anne and Emily, and a letter from Charlotte to her publisher—was lost to history. When collectors Alfred and William Law passed away, Alfred’s nephew (also named Alfred) inherited the collection, but after the younger Alfred died, the collection disappeared from public view. Said Dr. Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s English literature and historical manuscripts specialist: “I work with literary manuscripts all the time, and Emily Brontë is not someone you ever expect to see because so little of her manuscripts survive. So to have something like this is just electrifying.”

[h/t The Guardian, NYTimes, BBC]

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