Santa Barbara’s Randall House Rare Books, a specialty bookstore owned by long-time local resident and book aficionado Ronald R. Randall, has sold two unpublished Charlotte Brontë manuscripts to the Brontë Society in Haworth, England.
The short story fragment and poem manuscripts were stowed inside a book, which had belonged to Charlotte’s mother Maria Brontë, called “The Remains of Henry Kirke White” by Robert Southey. The book survived a shipwreck and was inscribed by Charlotte’s father Patrick Brontë, “the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved,” according to Randall House.
Set in 1833, Charlotte Brontë’s unfinished short story is “a satirical take on life in Harworth,” the village where the family lived, Brontë scholar Doctor Juliet Barker said. The story was written under the pseudonym of one of Charlotte’s male alter egos, Lord Charles Wellesley. The poem takes place in the six Brontë children’s fantasy world and, according to Randall House, is true to Charlotte’s poetic style.
“Without doubt this has been one of the most exciting finds in my six decades of being a rare bookseller,” said Randall, “it also has been one of the most difficult to figure out. Not least the handwriting of the poem, which is in Charlotte’s minuscule handwriting, and deciphering this took months.” As Maria Brontë’s book also contained writing by her husband, Charlotte’s husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, and other authors, much research was completed to determine which passages were written by whom.
In 1861, the book was first sold at Patrick Brontë’s estate sale, Randall House said. For close to a century, the book belonged to an American family who chooses to remain anonymous. The family entrusted Randall House to negotiate the sale of Charlotte’s two manuscripts.
Three English charities — the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the National Libraries — gave a grant to allow the Brontë Society to buy the book.