Friday, May 16, 2014

My hero / Lucasta Miller on Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë

My hero: Lucasta Miller on Emily Brontë

The British Library's Romantics and Victorians manuscripts can now be viewed online. Lucasta Miller has already experienced the transgressive frisson of reading Emily's diary entries

Lucasta Miller
Fri 16 May 2014 16.00 BST
hat difference does it make to see the original manuscript of a literary text rather than just read the printed version? As someone who once nearly sullied a priceless Charlotte Brontë manuscript in an American archive with one of my own tears, I would say it makes all the difference. Faced with the real thing, my pretensions to being a detached and objective researcher dissolved.

The British Library has just made it possible to access images of their Romantics and Victorians manuscripts online, so that anyone can now read works by writers ranging from Austen to Dickens in their own handwriting at a safe distance. The most fascinating are not the fair copies of great works, written to submit to publishers before the days of typewriters, but the private documents never intended for public eyes. Seeing them as they are offers a transgressive frisson, a sense of intruding on a private space.

This is particularly the case with Emily Brontë's diary entry, written at "past 4 o'clock" on Monday 26 June 1837, now accessible on the British Library's new website. Emily never kept an ongoing journal, only a few fragments offering fly-on-the-wall records of what was going on in Haworth Parsonage at the moment of writing, secret missives intended only for her own eyes and those of her sister Anne, whom she sketches, along with herself, writing at the dining-room table, in this particular example. It shows the way in which Emily's imaginative and real lives intersected: news of characters in her fantasy world of "Gondal" rubs shoulders with a down‑to-earth record of the fact that Charlotte is at that very moment upstairs sewing, listening to Branwell read aloud. The entry ends with a transcription of an actual conversation, as Emily and Anne discuss the possibility of going out on the moors before evening to get into the mood for writing. But we will never know whether or not they did so. Emily, as ever, remains fugitive.
 The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller is published by Vintage.


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