Treasures await Brontë fans this winter at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. It’s one of my favorite spots to visit when in the Big Apple, and this is an exhibit not to be missed.
Shows at the Morgan always have material of the highest quality, and this one is no exception. They’ve got the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, on loan from the British Library.
William Grimes, author of the New York Times article on the show, manages to mangle the context of this famous quote. He writes, “The exhibition’s subtitle comes from the pivotal chapter in “Jane Eyre” in which the heroine, although deeply in love with Mr. Rochester, the master of the house where she is a governess, spurns his proposal that she live with him, in effect, as his mistress.” (In fact, this is the scene where he proposes marriage, though it’s true that when she insists on leaving, Jane has not yet heard the magic words. After their abortive wedding, he does ask her to live as his mistress, and she runs away from Thornfield to escape the temptation.)
Another choice item is Branwell Brontë’s portrait of his three sisters.
As children, the Brontës developed elaborate fictional worlds and recorded them in a series of miniature manuscripts, of which the Morgan owns a selection. As a miniature collector, I am looking forward to seeing these.
The NYT article doesn’t mention it, but I suspect that they will display another of the Morgan’s Brontë treasures, an entry from Charlotte’s diary which includes an erotic daydream. From outside, she looks through the windows of a palace in her fictional kingdom of Angria, and sees a drunken man reclining on a sofa:
his brown complexion flushed with wine, & his broad chest heaving wildly as the breath issued in spurts from his distended nostrils, while I watched the fluttering of his white shirt ruffles starting through the more than half-unbuttoned waistcoat, & beheld the expression of his Arabian countenance savagely exulting even in sleep
The exhibit also includes an unexpected bonus, one of Charlotte’s dresses. It’s a chance to stand beside her, in a way. A brilliant intellect and a powerful will inhabited that tiny frame, only four feet nine inches tall.
The show runs through January 2.