A rare book the size of a matchbox written by the teenage Charlotte Brontë will go on public display for the first time after a museum paid €600,000 (£505,000) to bring it back to Britain.
Curators said they wept when they finally received the book, which arrived from an auction house in Paris. It was penned by the oldest of the Brontë sisters at the family’s home in Haworth, West Yorkshire, 200 years ago.
Handwritten by Brontë at the age of 14, the book has just 20 pages and contains three entire short stories.
It is one of six surviving “little books” penned by the author of Jane Eyre and had been in a private collection since her death in 1855.
In November last year, the Brontë Society was able to bring the “hugely important” academic work back to Britain when it went up for auction.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum, at the home of the sisters, launched a fundraising appeal after being outbid at a previous auction. Donations of £85,000 from more than 1,000 supporters added to money from trusts and public funding bodies.
The historic piece of literature was eventually bought for €600,000 and will go on display for the first time on Saturday.
Ann Dinsdale, the principal curator at the museum, said she had been there for 30 years and had never seen such a display of emotion.
“We had a welcome committee of staff who’d made a point of being in the museum to see it arrive. It was like a historic occasion,” she said. “Some of us felt a little tearful. So much effort and passion had gone into bringing it to Haworth and we’d worked so long and so hard to make it happen.
“It seemed extraordinary that there had been this huge interest in such a tiny item.”
The manuscript, called The Young Men’s Magazine, contains more than 4,000 handwritten words in a meticulously folded and stitched magazine.
It is made up of three stories: A letter From Lord Charles Wellesley, The Midnight Song and Journal of a Frenchman.
Part of it describes a murderer driven to madness after being haunted by his victims, and how “an immense fire” burning in his head causes his bed curtains to set alight.
Experts at the museum say this section of the story is a clear precursor of a famous scene between Bertha and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre, which Charlotte would publish 17 years later.Another is a fantasy about fine dining and aristocratic living, which Dinsdale says reads as “almost an antidote to domestic life at Haworth”.
“It’s hugely important in academic terms because it adds so much to our knowledge of Charlotte’s development as a writer,” Dinsdale said. She added: “The three pieces of prose make it absolutely clear that she had an incredible imagination.”
The booklet was one of a series of six, of which five are known to survive. The other four are already owned by the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
Kitty Wright, the executive director of the Brontë Society, said: “We have been truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people from all over the world backing our campaign.”
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