Thursday, September 22, 2016

Charlotte Brontë at the Morgan Library

One of Brontë's day dresses
Now through January 2, book lovers have a rare opportunity to view the personal artifacts and early editions of Charlotte Brontë at the Morgan Library in New York City.

The exhibit, called "Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will," showcases her writing from childhood on, including the tiny notebooks she created with her siblings, her artwork, her early published works including her handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, visiting the U.S. for the first time, and personal effects like her writing desk and a day dress. It's an amazing treat.

Brontë's portable writing desk
I went to the show on a busy Saturday afternoon and jostled with fellow Brontë fans for up-close views. Beginning with a portrait of her father Patrick, the exhibit showcases her work in non-chronological order and features several items she collaborated on with her siblings Anne, Emily and Branwell. Visitors can also view several of Brontë's drawings and paintings; like many girls of her social class she was raised to be a competent visual artist. The exhibit ends with the Jane Eyre manuscript, open to one of the most moving and important scenes in the book- Rochester's proposal to Jane. Seeing that scene in Brontë's own hand was a truly emotional experience.

Visitors are allowed to photograph everything but the manuscript. Visitors can also download an app that accompanies the exhibit for transcriptions of some of the handwritten items on display- letters, stories and manuscripts. You'll need those transcriptions- Charlotte and her siblings filled notebooks with handwriting so tiny it's difficult to believe. And the Morgan gift shop offers various Brontë-related souvenirs.
A tiny book Brontë wrote and illustrated
This exhibit comes on the heels of the release of Claire Harman's excellent biography, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, and I recommend reading that book whether or not you see the show. The book offers a pretty detailed understanding of the family and having read it enhanced my appreciation of the show, which offers sufficient information to understand what's on the display but can't reach the book's depth.

Overall it was a fascinating, wonderful exhibit and a rare chance to see Brontë's own things, her own writing in her own hand, and gain an insight into one of the most influential writers in English literature. I urge anyone who's going to be in the NYC area between now and the end of the year to check it out!