- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

HAWORTH, England — Charlotte Bronte 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 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 the Rev. William Carus-Wilson, who wrote to his former pupil Miss Bronte and threatened her with legal action after recognizing himself and the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge from her description of Lowood.

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

“He … wrote to Charlotte Bronte 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,” Mr. Carus-Wilson, the grandson, wrote in one of three letters to a prospective buyer of a revised manuscript.

Miss Bronte 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 $185. But the manuscript, if found, could go for a lot more.

“If [the manuscript] was to be found, the value at auction could well be [$185,000]. It’s of incalculable importance,” Mr. Westwood-Brookes said in an interview.

“‘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, Miss Bronte still enjoys a passionate following, along with her sisters Emily and Anne, for their epic tales set on the windswept Yorkshire moors.

Up to a million fans annually come from around the world to the writer’s hometown of Haworth in northern England.

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