A glimpse of Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia.
To attempt to pry into the juvenilia—or “hidden works,” as the biographer Claire Harman terms them—of Charlotte Brontë is to encounter a gentle but undeniable refusal. The current exhibition devoted to Brontë’s life and work at the Morgan Library & Museum, drawn largely from its own collections and that of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, allows a few tantalizing glimpses of Brontë’s early writing. Most touching and accessible is her very first extant work, a small book made for her youngest sister “Ane,” who was motherless by her second year and motherless again at age five after the deaths of the family’s two eldest daughters. Open to a page illustrated by a beguiling tiny watercolor of a sailing ship, the book makes clear how early Brontë, then age twelve or so, understood the power of imaginary travel. That travel was very soon denied to adults, for the books that followed are, even when examined with a magnifying glass, virtually unreadable, despite their careful script and wonderfully exact illustrations; they’re simply too tiny for the middle-aged eye, and perhaps for any eye other than that of a Brontë sibling.
The four surviving Brontë children—three sisters and a brother—all wrote, but their intent was never to have their manuscripts read by others, most especially perhaps their father and aunt. Charlotte once promised a boarding-school friend a glimpse and then reneged. It seems that Monsieur Heger, her teacher, muse, maître, and great unrequited love, was the first to be entrusted with a few of her most cherished early works. Read More