Old books, mysteries & ethical dilemmas

Tonight is the official opening of the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s also Charlotte Bronte’s birthday. So appropriate that one of the treasures that will be revealed at the fair is a tiny book Bronte wrote when she was only thirteen years old. No one (in the public) has seen this book since 1916. Now it will be for sale for $1.25 million. Or more.


Credit: Clark Hodgin for The New York Times

The little book contains 10 poems by Charlotte Bronte. Scholars have long  known that these poems existed because an 1857 biography of Bronte mentioned them, but no one has been able to read them or analyze them or transcribe them. As Jennifer Schuessler explained in The New York Times, “The miniature microvolumes had remained in the Brontë family until the 1890s, when they were dispersed, along with many other manuscripts and artifacts, after the death of the second wife of Charlotte’s widower. Today, all the other tiny books made by Charlotte are in institutional collections, including the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.”

The mystery of collecting

What I find myself cogitating over is the potential buyer of this treasure. What is she going to do with this book? She could lay out her $1.25 million (or more) for Bronte’s little book and stick it in a closet with instructions that no one ever be able to see it again. Or she could donate it to the NY Public Library. That led me to wonder what I would do if someone offered me $1.25 million to buy one of my mystery novels, on the condition that no one but the buyer ever be able to look at it.

Would I take the money? Would you?

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The MWA anthology, Crime Hits Home, in which she has a story, just won an Anthony Award. She teaches novel-writing at Gotham Writers and is on the staff of the New York Write to Pitch Conference. www.susanjbreen.com




  1. Bloggers pose questions at the end of their posts, and I’m rarely interested in posting an answer. But your question is provocative and worthy or lengthy debate. I wish my response was as interesting! I would rather my book be out and about so it could be read by as many (or as few) readers as had an interest. Who knows? Perhaps I could sell enough copies to make $2 million! (Even if they didn’t, I like the idea of one supporting one’s book. We all need to have as much faith in our books as we do our children, right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *