As the Literatures and Languages Library prepare to celebrate 200-year anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, we delight in the news that an unknown poem written around the time she authored Jane Eyre was recently discovered. It will enrich the already remarkable collection of the Brontë Parsonage Museum of Haworth, England, being the last addition to the Brontë juvenilia involving Charlotte, their brother Branwell, and their mother, the owner of the book in which the letter was found carefully folded.
Known as Currer Bell, Charlotte penned many poems, which she and her sisters published in the volume Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846), that at the time it sold only two copies. This newly discovered poem, like her entire work, makes us ponder whether to treat her creation through the lens of the personal or to treat women writers the way they were treated by their nineteenth-century contemporaries in an impersonal manner. As Columbia Professor Edward Mendelsohn once said, the reader and the critic alike need to get in touch with their own feelings to understand literature. Charlotte’s poems show her beautifully describing interwoven relationships and emotions among a group of people that only a self-introspective nature could observe and feel. Charlotte’s letters edited by Margaret Smith (The letters of Charlotte Brontë : with a selection of letters by family and friends,1995-2004, vol. 1-3, and an Oxford edition of 2007, available in our library) are all about family and friends and they alone will tell us how she would want us to understand her life and her work.
Our library acquired a new biography of the Brontë sisters The Brontës in Context, edited by Marianne Thormählen (Cambridge 2012), in which of particular interest might be Janet Gezari’s chapter on their poetry. To place Charlotte in particular in the context of her family, society, and her work’s chronology, check our library holding, A Brontë Family Chronology by Edward Chitham (Palgrave, 2003).