Lost Brontë manuscript discovered in New Zealand library

The missing finale to a rollicking story by Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily, Charlotte and Anne, has been discovered in a New Zealand public library, having been wrongly classified for decades as a letter.

The 1837 manuscript fragment, from the Dunedin Public Library’s special collections department, was correctly identified after months of research following its display at an exhibition earlier this year.

Dr Thomas McLean from The University of Otago and Dr Grace Moore from the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at The University of Melbourne deciphered and transcribed the document before researching literary archives to see where it might fit.

Their findings, to be published in the December issue of Notes and Queries (Oxford University Press), reveal that the fragment is the lost ending to a tale in the Angrian Saga, Branwell’s long-running adventure story written over many years with his sister Charlotte.

The fragment completes an already-published scene set in an inn, which involves a drunken brawl, a naked, renegade parson, and a fire. The rest of the story is housed at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire.

Dr McLean said it was hugely exciting to discover the true identity of the Brontë fragment, and to help piece together a literary puzzle.

“In our line of work it’s incredibly thrilling to discover a lost manuscript and ascertain where it belongs in literary history,” Dr McLean said.

“It was a very difficult process decoding the manuscript’s almost microscopic text as the Brontë children crammed in as much writing as possible during this time due to the high cost of paper.”

Dr Moore said literary history hadn’t always done justice to Branwell’s creative talents.

“It is tempting to read the drink-fuelled scenes in the Angrian sagas as foreshadowing Branwell’s own decline, but they often stem from other adventure stories that Charlotte and Branwell read,” Dr Moore said.

“An accomplished writer, poet and painter, Branwell was in fact the first Brontë sibling to be published, but he never found a focus for his creativity and eventually became an alcoholic and opium addict before dying at just 31.”

Image: The Brontë Sisters by Patrick Branwell Brontë (restored), National Portrait Gallery. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commens.