Byline: by A.N. Wilson
THE DOCUMENT is tiny. Its 19 pages are the size of your credit card. Its author was 14 years old. And it is expected to reach [euro]350,000 when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby's auction house on December 15.
For this is a lost story by none other than Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, and a member of the famous family who lived in the parsonage in Yorkshire, northern England.
Our fascination with the Bronte sisters is seemingly inexhaustible. This autumn alone, there have been new films of Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights. Director Andrea Arnold's brooding, silent Wuthering Heights is the 27th film adaptation of this book.
Both films have as their backdrop the bleak moorland landscape which was so formative in the Bronte sisters' strange and secluded lives. But for all their insular existence, the stormy passion contained in the pages of the books shocked readers -- as well as gripping them -- when they were first published in the 1840s.
Emily Bronte was all passion, and Wuthering Heights makes clear her obsessions with some of the darkest subjects of all. The story concerns a forbidden love between its heroine Catherine and the brooding Heathcliff.
There are hints of incest (Heathcliff and Catherine are brought up as brother and sister); race (Heathcliff is a 'dark-skinned gypsy' and actually black in the new film); and even necrophilia (Heathcliff is obsessed with Catherine's corpse after she dies).
Charlotte Bronte was a more balanced character than Emily, and her story in Jane Eyre of the plain little governess who attracts the love of her boss -- a swarthy, rather villainous squire who secretly keeps a mad wife in the attic -- is of perennial fascination to the addicts of romance.
But the newly discovered little story of Charlotte's coming up for auction contains its own dark suggestions of incest -- and of madness as well.
Where did this darkness and turbulent passion come from?
An answer of sorts can be found in that extraordinary house Haworth Parsonage -- now one of the best literary museums in the world -- where the Bronte children saw out their short and all too tragic lives.
Not only did they lose their mother, Maria, to cancer when the oldest child was just seven years old. But of six siblings -- five of them girls -- two died before reaching their teens and none lived beyond the age of 39.
Visitors to Howarth will know that Charlotte Bronte, her sisters and her brother Branwell jotted down many poems and stories in just such tiny booklets as the one which has been recently discovered.
Tightly written on minute pieces of paper, and illustrated, these stories reveal the imagined worlds in which the closely-knit family all lived.
Thousands come every year to see the tiny books, the tiny rooms the family inhabited, the tiny clothes worn by these tiny reclusive people, and to savour the (if we are honest, rather unwholesome) fantasies which were concocted by a family of eccentric introverts in that remote, cramped residence.
Emily, the tall sister, (5ft 6in) invented a world called Gondal, a mystical land of magic, to escape the sorrow that never left her over her mother's death. Charlotte, more practical, and minute, invented the Kingdom of Angria.
In these stories, she imagined herself being swept off her feet by the Marquess of Douro -- the title belonging to the Duke of Wellington's heir -- whom she renamed Zamorna.
The tiny books at Haworth number tens of thousands of words, and they are a sign of how much the Brontes lived in their own world, how cut off they were from outsiders.
When neighbours visited the parsonage they noted how, in the presence of strangers, these little people would hug one another like timorous animals huddling against predators.
They spoke not with the local Yorkshire dialect, but with the Northern Irish brogue of their father, the Rev Patrick Bronte. He was a remarkable man, born into abject poverty in Ulster, the son of an agricultural labourer. Cleverness took him to Cambridge and into the Church.
He married Maria Bramwell, a Cornish woman, and they had six children in quick succession between 1814 and 1820 -- Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick (always known as Branwell), Emily and Anne. Mother died in 1821, the year they all moved to Haworth.
It was a remote, semi-industrial village, built on the edge of the moors -- the railway did not come until 1867.
A report by a public health inspector said it was one of the least sanitary villages in England, and had not a single water closet.
The water supply came into the village after flowing through the over-full burial ground beside the church. Half the population died before the age of six and the average life expectancy was 26.
When they were old enough, the Bronte girls were sent to one of the most horrible boarding schools in England -- Cowan Bridge, which Charlotte would describe in the fictional school of Lowood when she came to write Jane Eyre.
The Cowan Bridge headmaster, the Rev Carus Wilson, was a religious maniac who felt it was his Christian duty to torture children. Seventy girls shared one outside lavatory, which was a hole in the ground.
It was freezing cold and they were kept on starvation rations. If a child died, as often happened, the headmaster felt he had sent them to Heaven. 'I bless God,' he announced, when one child died, 'that he has taken from us the child of whose salvation we have best hope.'
He was never confident of the salvation of Charlotte, and beat her mercilessly. Two of the Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of consumption (tuberculosis) within two weeks of each other aged just 11 and 12 while pupils at Cowan Bridge.
After that, Mr Bronte brought all his children home, where their intro?spection and dependency upon one another increased. They sketched. They told one another stories - Charlotte remembered them pacing about the rooms excitedly as they did so. This weird household of over-excitable, sickly young people was to be the imaginative powerhouse which produced some of the most wonderful novels in the English language.
The little toy magazine story by Charlotte which is coming up for auction contains a swaggering hero who sets fire to his bed -- a foreshadowing of the mad Mrs Rochester setting fire to the house in Jane Eyre, and of Rochester being blinded in the conflagration. It happens that the real-life Bronte girls' brother, Branwell, set fire to his bed and would have died had they not put the fire out.
He was a (highly creative) drunkard and drug addict plagued by delirium tremens. Other than their reclusive father, Branwell was the only man in the sisters' lives for years, which perhaps explains Emily's obsession with incest.
Apart from the disastrous experience of boarding school, the only time they went away for any significant period was when their father sent Charlotte and Emily to Brussels in 1842 to perfect their French.
Emily hated it and could not wait to get back to Yorkshire. Her whole life was bound up in the moors and all her poetry, all her emotional life, took place in the solitude of Haworth.
Charlotte, by contrast, wanted all her life to get away from the parsonage. She fell in love in Brussels, with M. Heger -- a professor who was helping the young English governess with her French.
She poured the painful experience of totally unrequited love into her brilliant novels.
It was in 1847 that a London publisher -- Smith, Elder and Co -- received a novel by one Currer Bell: it was called Jane Eyre.
Another publisher, T.C.Newby, brought out Wuthering Heights, by Ellis Bell.
Both books, presented under pseudonyms, are pressure cookers with the lid firmly screwed on. They are so powerful because they are about frustrated passion.
And Jane Eyre, in particular, achieves its spectacular success by being a fantasy to which so many can respond -- namely that a plain little woman can win the heart of a romantic hero and succeed in finding love against all the odds.
'Finished Jane Eyre, which is really a wonderful book, very peculiar in parts, but so powerfully and admirably written, such a fine tone it is, such fi bo fine religious feeling, and such beautiful writings.' That was the opinion of another plain little woman -- Queen Victoria herself. Charlotte Bronte was the only one of the siblings to find anything like --Bsi em in emotional satisfaction in life as well as in fantasy.
Her brother Branwell's love life was a disaster. He could have been a good painter, but got a job at Luddendenfoot railway station 20 miles from Howarth, and had an unhappy affair with the station master's wife, a Mrs Robinson, 20 years his senior.
He died from abuse of opium and drink aged 31.
Like all his siblings, Bran well had tuberculosis, which carried off Emily at the age of 30 and Anne a few weeks later, aged 28.
When all the other siblings had died, Charlotte, in her late thirties, married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate. She found a happiness she had never known before, and she soon became pregnant.
But she had not shaken off the tuberculosis which afflicted them all, and hers was a sickly pregnancy, made worse by chills picked up by walking on the moors in her minuscule shoes. (You can still see them in Haworth -- they are like doll's shoes.)
Her appetite diminished to almost nothing. She took to her bed. She still could not quite believe, though, that she was going to share the miserable end of her siblings.
'Oh, I am not going to die, am I? We have been so happy!' she exclaimed to poor Mr Nicholls.
She died on March 31, 1855. She was 39. Mr Nicholls stayed on with old Mr Bronte in the parsonage until the vicar died, six years later. He then retired to Ireland, and lived on until 1906, having married again. He remained in love with Charlotte all his life, and when he died, his second wife had his coffin placed beneath Charlotte's portrait before it was carried out to burial.
It is thanks to Mr Nicholls that the Bronte children's little books, drawings, clothes and other memorabilia have been preserved.
The extraordinary gifts of the Brontes spring from the hidden well of genius. But genius has to be planted in a nourishing soil.
And the strangeness of this tragedystruck family, and the 'unhealthy' fantasies they indulged, combined with Patrick Bronte's determination to instil in them an intellectual seriousness and a pursuit of learning, enabled the genius to flourish.
The discovery of the little short story by Charlotte Bronte will excite the booksellers and the speculators, and be of great interest to scholars. But in the end it is the human element of this document which brings us out in goose -flesh.
Like the clothes she left behind, the tiny nature of this document brings her, for some reason, vividly to life again.
Seeing the miniature pages, we are once again in the enclosed, claustrophobic atmosphere of that parsonage, in the depths of winter, with the wind howling outside on the Yorkshire moors, and a group of children, hyperactive and flushed with tubercular blushes, exclaiming their fantastical tales, as, in the room over the corridor, their short-sighted and miserable father mourns his wife, hunched over his Greek Bible.
Passion: Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in the new film…