Bronte's 'dreadful dream' returns

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EVEN BY Charlotte Bronte's unremitting standards, it was a time when emotions raged hard. Within three months she had watched tuberculosis kill her sister and brother and now she watched another sibling, Anne (who would die within months), contract it.

Pen and paper offered the only catharsis for her tempestuous grief, of course, and yesterday the public was allowed to peer in on her sorrow for the first time when her only letter telling of all three family calamities went on show.

The writer's devotees are terribly excited by the return of the "dreadful dream" letter to the Parsonage Museum at the Bronte home in Haworth, West Yorkshire. The Bronte Society contributed pounds 8,000 of the pounds 50,000 needed to bring it from the United States, where it was part of a private collection and spotted for sale in a dealer's catalogue. The museum contributed pounds 10,000 and the remainder was raised mainly through private donations.

"Oh yes, here is the 'dark night of the soul'," said the museum's director, Mike Hill, who was enthused to the point of delirium by the rhythmical beauty which Charlotte's grief appears to have delivered.

"It does so bring out that she was a natural writer. This is not an artificially composed letter. There's a fabulous rhythm there. She is a natural-born writer."

The only time the letter has been published was in the Twenties, in a collection of her letters - but the transcription was flawed.

In sepia-coloured iron gall ink on mourning stationery(white paper with a black border) Charlotte writes: "God has hitherto supported me in some sort through all these bitter calamities ... but there have been hours - days - weeks of inexpressible anguish to undergo and the cloud of impending distress still lowers dark and sullen above us."

The letter was written from the Parsonage on 15 March 1849 to Laetitia Wheelwright, a former pupil and a friend, who was living in London.

For all the repression and isolation they may have experienced, the Bronte sisters demonstrated the fiercest access to their own emotions and Charlotte's letters - which she came to live for - are one of the results.

The new, four-sided letter, will be displayed one year in four under a low light to prevent deterioration.

It is called the "dreadful dream" letter because it opens: "I have not quite forgotten about you through the winter but I have remembered you only like some pleasant waking idea, struggling through a dreadful dream."

Charlotte's brother, Branwell, a notorious drinker with an opium habit, died from tuberculosis in September 1849. The disease killed her sister Emily, the author of Wuthering Heights, three months later, while Anne died the following May, two months after the letter was written.