Splashed all over google news today is the auctioning of letters supposedly revealing a previously unknown court action only barely avoided by Charlotte Brontë. The letters, written in 1912 (when Miss Brontë had long ago been laid to rest), suggest that Charlotte wrote an apology for her depiction of Rev. Carus Wilson as Mr Brocklehurst, confessing to exaggerating the conditions at the school, and re-writing part of Jane Eyre. The ‘apology’ has never been seen, although the reverend apparently sold it to pay for medical treatment.
It appears that court action was only avoided when Bronte wrote an apology, pointing out that she had exaggerated the details.
The story of the dispute is disclosed in three letters by Mr Carus-Wilson’s grandson, Edward Carus-Wilson, which have been put up for auction by an anonymous London book dealer and are due to be sold at Ludlow racecourse on June 21.
The letters were written in 1912 when Mr Carus-Wilson sold the manuscript of Bronte’s retraction to an autograph collector to pay for his child’s medical treatment.
Richard Westwood-Brookes, a documents expert for the auctioneers Mullock Madeley, in Shropshire, who decided to investigate the contents of the letters further, said: “The Bronte experts at the Parsonage Museum in Haworth were unaware of any kerfuffle involving Jane Eyre at the time it was published.”
It seems very strange to me, especially since these articles claim that no one knew that there was any controversy over the Lowood passages of the novel. If I knew about it, I am sure others did. In fact, many of the books written about the Brontes cover the furor that errupted over the depictions of Lowood. Even after Charlotte’s death, there were constant wrangling over it in the public press, even involving Charlotte’s husband who broke his silence to defend his wife’s depictions with perhaps too much passion. It is true that I’ve never heard of this crucial piece of evidence being presented- which begs the question of why it wasn’t brought up at the time. It also seems quite out of character for Charlotte to choose to retract something she has written, when she was so often passionate about the truth of her depictions taken from her own experience.
Image is of the Rev. Carus Wilson.