Charlotte Great and Small – Bronte Parsonage Museum

THE LIVES of the Brontë sisters closeted in their Haworth parsonage have been picked and unpicked and their relics raked over since the 1850s by biographers, writes Catherine Turnbull.

This exhibition to mark Charlotte’s 200th birthday on April 21 gathers up the pieces and literally stitches them back together.

One of the highlights is a passionate letter on loan from the British Library, which Charlotte wrote to the love of her life, the married Professor Constantin Heger in Brussels; said to be the inspiration for Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.

It was ripped up by Monsieur Heger and bizarrely sewn up by his wife. One of the contemporary artists commissioned to add to the show is Ligia Bouton, whose response to this is to tear up her own version and stitch the pieces back together.

The show’s curator, the author Tracy Chevalier, told an audience in Haworth at the opening that she felt a bit guilty about putting Charlotte’s intimate items, including her undergarment and a letter she didn’t intend anyone else to see, on display, “sewn back in a Frankenstein kind of way”.

Tracy said: “I’m not sure how Charlotte would have felt about that, it’s voyeuristic, she would probably have been horrified. But we have been respectful and are honouring a tiny woman, who lived in a small world, who had great ambition.”

We see just how small Charlotte was through her child-size bodice, gloves and shoes, marvel at the tiny books and paintings she made and a scrap from a dress she wore to a London dinner party hosted by William Makepeace Thackeray.

The sisters used hair to make jewellery and literally wore their family in rings and necklaces. We are moved by the wisps of Bronte hair.

Artist Serena Partridge used Tracy’s and parsonage staff’s hair as thread to make miniature boots. There’s a tiny bed you can make with quilts embroidered with Bronte quotes and a knitted tableau.

I love the humour of weaving the past and present, like the glow in the dark cap.