Fine Books and Manuscripts

Fine Books and Manuscripts

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 1008. [Brontë, Emily, and Ann Brontë] — Ellis Bell and Acton Bell | An outstanding survival of the sisters' debut novels .

Property from an Important American Collection

[Brontë, Emily, and Ann Brontë] — Ellis Bell and Acton Bell | An outstanding survival of the sisters' debut novels

Lot Closed

December 8, 07:08 PM GMT


120,000 - 180,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from an Important American Collection

[Brontë, Emily, and Ann Brontë] — Ellis Bell and Acton Bell

Wuthering Heights. A Novel, by Ellis Bell [And:] Agnes Grey. A Novel, by Acton Bell. London: Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847

3 volumes, 12mo (Wuthering Heights: 190 x 117 mm; Agnes Grey: 194 x 121 mm). Wuthering Heights: 2 vols. Minor and scattered foxing primarily to Vol. II. Later half brown morocco and marbled paper-covered boards, spines with raised bands in six compartments, green morocco lettering-pieces to second and third, edges marbled. Agnes Grey: Lacking publisher's ads at end, one or two stray spots and smudges. Later half brown pebble-grain morocco and marbled paper-covered boards, spine with raised bands in six compartment, second and third gilt-lettered, other with repeat pattern in gilt, top edge gilt; extremities rubbed, upper joint tender. Housed together in custom slipcase.

The scarce first edition, first printing, of Emily and Anne's ever-enduring debuts.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, occupies the first two volumes of the first edition, with Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë, taking the third. Following the publication of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the sisters focused on their novels, writing again under their pseudonyms. Emily and Anne, following some difficulty, found their publisher in Thomas Cautley Newby, and the three volume set was published in December 1847, though the result was not terribly straightforward.

The publication of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey is famously complex. Comprising two separate novels, and being published by the notoriously inept Newby, it was never a typical Victorian triple-decker. Surviving examples, in any state are extremely rare, but Smith mentions five binding variants, and that rebound copies of the three-volume set sometimes show an Agnes Grey in a different original binding from Wuthering Heights, noting that the "publishers, too, may have created another state of the binding for a separate distribution of Wuthering Heights" (Smith 61).

“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” ― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

The dark romance of Wuthering Heights is set amongst the West Yorkshire moors, and haunted by the tortured antihero, Heathcliff. It was Emily's only novel. She died at the age of 30, the year after Wuthering Heights was published. Over the next 50 years or so, her following increased, and by the turn of the 20th century, she began to overtake her elder sister Charlotte as the most popular of the “three weird sisters” (as Ted Hughes once wrote). While Emily Brontë was an increasingly important figure with those eager to claim her as a proto-feminist, more than an century elapsed before she was accepted into the cannon. In 1948, F.R. Leavis explicitly excluded Emily Brontë from his controversial The Great Tradition by arguing that Wuthering Heights was nothing but “a kind of sport.” This seems like an odd appraisal of an intensely serious narrative. In fact, of the 13 characters introduced at the beginning Wuthering Heights (excluding servants and the two narrators), 11 are dead by the end.

“It is foolish to wish for beauty. Sensible people never either desire it for themselves or care about it in others. If the mind be but well cultivated, and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior.” ― Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey follows the titular protagonist as she navigates the difficulties of being a governess for the wealthy English aristocracy. Anne Brontë meticulously depicts the isolation that defined a governess's life. At the time she was writing, this was the only respectable occupation available to unmarried women without a family fortune to rely on. In this way governesses were caught between social classes—not servants, but not on the same level as their employers. Anne Brontë's writing is masterfully subtle as she conveys the invisibility of her heroine, and the power of these social structures.

In may respects, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey could not be more different, though each offers a prime example of the distinct Brontë genius that has made their works both revolutionary and enduring.

A set of Brontë masterpieces, rare in any state.


Parrish 85; Sadleir 350; Smith 60–63


Wuthering Heights: Bent Juel-Jensen (booklabels to front pastedowns) — Cheswardine Hall (bookplates to front pastedowns); Agnes Grey: Edward Hubert Litchfield (bookplate to front pastedown; [?] his sale, Parke Bernet, 3-5 December 1951, lot 93)