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Bronte apologised for Lowood

Letters reveal that Bronte rewrote the Lowood section after receiving a legal threat from the real school's headmaster.

india Updated: Jun 01, 2006 18:10 IST

By Gershwin Wanneburg

Charlotte Brontë offered to rewrite parts of Jane Eyre after a legal threat from the headmaster of the school on which she based the infamous Lowood school, newly discovered letters show.

The letters have raised the prospect that somewhere, tucked away in a dusty attic or a pile of musty papers, could lie an amended manuscript of the 19th-century classic, toned down by the British novelist to avoid a libel lawsuit.

The letters, written by the headmaster's grandson in 1912, will be put up for sale next month by auction house Mullock Madeley, documents expert Richard Westwood-Brookes said on Friday.

The book's Lowood school, presided over by the cruel Mr Brocklehurst, was a harsh place where pupils were half-starved.

According to the letters, the description upset headmaster Reverend William Carus-Wilson, who wrote to his former pupil Brontë and threatened her with legal action after recognising himself and his school from her description of Lowood.

 
 William Hurt as Edward Rochester and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre in Franco Zeferelli's Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre

But the letters, discovered a month ago and written by Carus-Wilson's grandson Edward, show Brontë dissuaded him from pursuing his case by sending him a 1,400-word sketch, expurgated of the offending passages.

"He ... wrote to Charlotte Brontë to remonstrate with her, and the result was that she wrote the sketch that I have in my possession retracting a good deal of what she had formerly written about the school," Edward wrote in one of three letters to a prospective buyer of a revised manuscript.

Brontë never changed the original book and the headmaster never pursued a legal case.

The letters, discovered in a pile of documents sent by a book dealer to the auctioneer, are expected to fetch up to £100 ($185).

But the manuscript, if found, could go for a lot more.

"If it (the manuscript) was to be found, the value at auction could well be £100,000. It's of incalculable importance," Westwood-Brookes told Reuters.

"Jane Eyre, after all, is known all over the world as one of the most important books of the 19th century."

More than 150 years after her death, Brontë still enjoys a passionate following, along with her sisters Emily and Anne, for their epic tales set on the windswept Yorkshire moors.

Up to one million fans annually come from around the world to their home town of Haworth in northern England.