I used to go to furniture auctions, where most of the buyers and sellers were known to the auctioneer and it was dangerous to scratch your nose, because you might end up with a worm-eaten table you didn't need. The auction last Friday evening was different.
All of the Brontë-related volumes came from the library of the late Arthur D Walker, all of them had his label (with a catalogue reference) on the inside cover, and all the money raised went to the Brontë Society. Each person present was issued with a laminated piece of paper with a number on it, to be raised when a bid was made.
Most of the books went for between ten and twenty pounds - a little bit too much for some of them (who cares - all for a good cause), and some were bargains. Others, worth hundreds, were beyond the reach of anybody present - like the second edition print of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë.
Of course, most of those present had a fair number of the titles at home. There was a slightly embarrassing pause when a copy of Rebecca Fraser's Charlotte Brontë came up, because at first nobody made a bid, and its author was sitting at the back. Eventually she called out an offer for ten pounds, and there was laughter. It went for twenty.
What did I buy? I was outbid for a couple of items which would have plugged gaps or replaced what I have lent out and never had returned, but I ended up with Companion to the Brontës (Barbara and Gareth Lloyd Evans), Charlotte Brontë The Evolution of Genius (Winifred Gérin) and The Brontë Sisters (Ernest Dimnet)
Earlier in the day I had listened to a lecture on writer's homes by Victoria Glendinning (pictured below) - brilliantly entertaining, with insights into her working methods. It is absolutely necessary for a biographer to travel, to soak up atmospheres and appreciate ambiances, to walk slowly around houses, to poke around in garden sheds. She was particularly eloquent about Monk's House in Rodmell, East Sussex, home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf for many years. For much of their stay it did not have gas or electricity, and a little stream ran through it from front door to back door during wet weather. It was very isolated from the metropolis, and Leonard had to go to Lewes for basic necessities like coffee.
George Bernard Shaw's house in the Hertfordshire village of Ayot St Lawrence, near Welwyn, she described as a no-nonsense rectory, the interior plain "which is fitting for such a cerebral man". Jonathan Swift's house in Dublin she described as particularly full of atmosphere, hardly changed inside since his day, but in a different landscape because all the narrow streets and old courtyards which used to surround it have disappeared. She could imagine the "hyperactive" writer running up and down the wooden stairs until he was completely exhausted.
She wondered about the necessity of some of the rearrangements and reconstructions which have been undertaken in many famous writers' houses - the National Trust has finally stemmed the flow of water through Monk's House, for example - and brought the audience back to the Brontë Parsonage Museum.