LONDON (Reuters) - A French museum paid 691,000 pounds ($1.1 million) on Thursday for a miniature manuscript written by Charlotte Bronte, ending hopes it would return to the British author’s former home that is now a museum.
The 1830 booklet, which fits comfortably into the palm of a hand, had been expected to fetch 200-300,000 pounds, and the final price was an auction record for a manuscript by any of the Bronte sisters.
After what Sotheby’s described as a “tense bidding battle,” the manuscript was bought by La Musee des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris, where it will be exhibited in January.
The news came as a blow to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in the famous literary family’s former home in northern England which had launched an appeal to buy the artifact.
The museum already owns four of the six tiny booklets, and one remains untraced.
“This is unquestionably the most significant Bronte manuscript to come to light in decades and an important part of our broader literary heritage,” said Andrew McCarthy, director of the Bronte Parsonage Museum.
“It belongs in Haworth and we are bitterly disappointed that scholars and members of the public may now not have the opportunity to study and enjoy it as part of our public collection.”
The museum had secured a grant of just over 613,000 pounds to secure lot no. 46 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, a fund of “last resort” to keep key treasures in the country, but it proved insufficient.
The booklet by the author of the 19th century classic “Jane Eyre” contains more than 4,000 words in miniature letters on 19 pages, which measure less than 1.5 by 2.5 inches.
Bronte wrote the manuscript when she was 14 and living with her family at Haworth in Yorkshire, and it was one of six hand-written “Young Men’s Magazines” she created at that time.
The magazine is set in the fantasy world of “Glass Town,” the earliest of the fictional worlds created by the four Bronte siblings that included Charlotte’s younger sister Emily who went on to write “Wuthering Heights.”
Sotheby’s, which auctioned the mini-magazine as part of its English literature sale in London, called it “the most important Bronte manuscript to have appeared at public auction in more than 30 years.”
“This tiny manuscript represents (Bronte’s) first burst of creativity and provides a rare and intimate insight into one of history’s great literary minds,” said Philip Errington, Sotheby’s specialist in the books and manuscripts department.
The magazine includes a passage describing a character’s madness which appears to be a precursor to the famous scene in Jane Eyre when Mr. Rochester’s insane wife, kept in the attic, seeks revenge by setting fire to the bed-curtains.
Overall the auction raised 1.7 million pounds including buyer’s premium, compared with pre-sale expectations of 1.1-1.6 million pounds not including the premium.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato