THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

On literature and theatre collections from the 16th century to the present day

Introduction

From Shakespeare’s First Folio to live recordings of experimental theatre, from Charlotte Brontë’s love letters to Wendy Cope’s emails, our collections offer unique, fascinating and unexpected sources for your research. Discover more about our manuscript, printed, digital and audiovisual collections here. Follow us on Twitter: @BLEnglish_Drama. Read more

27 June 2017

Undercurrent: British Library Associate Theatre Company

UNDERCURRENT THEATRE ANNOUNCED AS BRITISH LIBRARY’S FIRST ASSOCIATE THEATRE COMPANY

Undercurrent Theatre are an innovative and research based London theatre company, who have today been announced as the British Library’s first Associate Theatre Company. In a year-long residency, the Associateship will open up the British Library’s unparalleled collections to a diverse range of users, through innovative engagement with the Library’s public, cultural and creative audiences. Working closely with Library curators, Undercurrent Theatre plan to facilitate and generate new cross-cultural opportunities.

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Laura Farnworth, photographed by Sophie Cornell

Undercurrent will research eight topics whilst in residence and host opportunities for artists to delve into this research, opening up the possibility of future partnerships. It is our aim that this research will not only lead to new productions for Undercurrent, but will also be a source of inspiration for many other artists in developing creative projects. The residency will culminate in mid 2018 with two public performance events at the British Library.

The partnership began in 2016 with the critically acclaimed production ‘Calculating Kindness’. This production was researched over three years using the personal archives of evolutionary biologists George Price and W.D. Hamilton archives which are held at the Library. The play brought to the public the little known true story of George Price, and inspired Price’s own daughters to donate further papers of their father to the British Library and travel to the UK to lay a headstone at his previously unmarked grave. The play ran at the Camden People’s Theatre in London to excellent reviews and plans for a wider tour are currently in progress.

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Calculating Kindness, photographed by Richard Davenport

Roly Keating, the British Library’s Chief Executive, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Undercurrent Theatre as our first Associate Theatre Company, following our previous successful collaboration on Calculating Kindness last year. We are committed to exploring the rich potential of the Library’s collections as sites of creative inspiration and are hugely looking forward to working with Undercurrent, through this Associateship, to continue opening up the Library and its collections to new audiences and communities.”

Undercurrent Theatre Artistic Director Laura Farnworth said: “We are delighted to be starting this residency at the British Library. As a company our mission is to uncover and explore extraordinary stories. We see the British Library as the home of all stories, and can’t imagine a better place to reside and be inspired to create future work for new audiences.”

Undercurrent Theatre Executive Producer Sophie Cornell said: “This Associateship and support from Arts Council England allows us precious artistic research time, which is so often over-looked and under-funded. This will ensure we can reach out into the artistic community and test a research-residency model.”

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Undercurrent is a London-based theatre company who unearth extraordinary real life stories with fearless imagination. They gather oceans of material which are interrogated, filtered and moulded into exhilarating and aesthetically bold experiences for audiences across the U.K. Specialising in research-based performance, Undercurrent’s artistic process centres around a piece of rigorous research and includes weeks of development time which brings the design team into the heart of the collaborative process. 

Follow the residency @uk_undercurrent, or by signing up to Undercurrent’s mailing list www.undercurrent-uk.com/mailing-list

09 June 2017

New Acquisition: Three Works by Natalie d’Arbeloff

Jerry Jenkins, Curator of Contemporary British Published Collections writes:

Recently, I was transported far away from my open plan office, by the vivid work of the renowned book artist Natalie d’Arbeloff.

D’Arbeloff was born in Paris of Russo-French parentage. Since settling in London her career has spanned five decades during which she has worked as a painter, printmaker, book-artist, cartoonist and teacher.

Being a novice in the area of artist’s books it is was a great pleasure to meet the artist and to be introduced personally to Natalie’s work. Something extra is added to the interaction when it occurs in person. This was very evident in March when Natalie visited us in the British Library. During her visit she outlined some of the techniques in her printing processes that went into her work. As she presented her works to myself and fellow curators the books seemed to come alive. There was a growing air of excitement in the room.

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Seventh of seven poems and etchings from  For a Song.

Everything about the work entitled For a Song intimates accessibility. The texture of the book and its size, being a compact sixteen and a half centimetres square nestles comfortably in your palms. The finely honed poetry all draws you closer and closer into this work. Often inner spaces are so firmly shut away for fear of having those delicate feelings trampled and crushed. Between the soft tactile boards of the full leather binding we are confronted with the raw courage, though gentle language of seven love poems.  These are accompanied by the soft flowing lines of etchings printed in intaglio and relief. The verse is set in juxtaposition with the technique. The text was engraved with a power tool on metal plates before being printed in relief.

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Full leather binding of For a Song with blind–embossed panels in a velvet–lined  box.NA2 enochtitle

The title page  of  The Creation from the Book of Enoch (Five and a Half Hours in Paradise)

Published in 1992, The Creation from the Book of Enoch (Five and a Half Hours in Paradise) (copy 9 of 12) consists of twenty loose double leaves printed black from sugar–lift and aquatint plates. This technique enhances the letter press giving it a commanding presence on the page drawing the eye into the starkness.

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Double leaf from The Creation from  the Book of Enoch (five and a half  hours in Paradise)  the Garden of Eden. 

Fungus & Curmudgeonly, a title which I cannot say without a chuckle, excites me on a number of levels.  Pointedly a mix of media, the clear comparison for me is with works such as Heuristic Media’s app version of Shakespeare’s Tempest, where it is possible to follow the text while actors, including Sir Ian McKellen, perform the play.  This offers an aural immersion into the play along with the performance.

Fungus and Curmudgeonly is a play by Simon Meyerson illustrated by Natalie d'Arbeloff. It was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1976 then following that in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Macbeth Room of the Shakespeare Hotel in 1977. Our copy is presented in a maroon cloth-covered double slipcase which incorporates the cassette with a recording of the play with Charles Turner reading the role of Fungus, ageing Shakespearian super-star, and Jack LeWhite as Curmudgeonly, his understudy. 

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Fungus & Curmudgeonly with its maroon cloth-covered double slipcase incorporating the cassette.

The ingenuity of the slip case brings two mediums together in one object providing a practical yet pleasingly simple way to present the work.  

 These and other works of Natalie d’Arbeloff are accessible through Explore the British Library. The internet provides an additional rabbit hole of exploration of d’Arbeloff’s work through her comprehensive collection of web pages which explore many aspects of her work.  

Images are reproduced with the kind permission of  Natalie d’Arbeloff.

Bibliography

For a Song: General Reference Collection RF.2017.a.10

Fungus & Curmudgeonly General Reference Collection EMD.2017.b.8

 

01 June 2017

The writing of J. G. Ballard’s Crash: a look under the bonnet

 Chris Beckett writes:

Shock greeted the publication of J. G. Ballard’s Crash in 1973. Cult status quickly followed. Today, the novel is widely considered to be a modern classic, a novel that speaks both of its time – the darkening close of a decade of colourful liberation – and speaks dystopically to us today, connected yet disconnected as we are in a time of digital narcissism, detached 21st century voyeurs of pleasure and horror at the touch of a screen. Meanwhile, traffic increases – hurtling towards the limits of catastrophic systems failure – by road, and by what used to be called the information super highway. Is Ballard’s novel a Swiftian satire, a ‘cautionary tale’, as the author suggested, or is it, as he also characterised his novel – as if to evoke de Sade – a ‘psychopathic hymn’? Ballard maintained both positions at different times. The novel’s enduring qualities are connected to its moral ambivalence, an ambivalence that is deeply embedded in a richly layered text that resists closure.

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Add MS 88938/3/8/1.

There are two drafts of the novel in Ballard’s papers at the British Library, both revised and annotated, intensively so in the case of the earlier draft. This is how the earlier draft begins:

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Add MS 88938/3/8/1.

The first sentence of the typescript will remain unchanged (surely echoing the opening of Camus’s L’Etranger): ‘Vaughan died yesterday in his last car crash’. Ballard’s novel is a dark conjugation of its opening sentence. The sentence ominously suggests a series of (deliberate) crashes where we expect to read of a single accidental event. But the top left corner of the page, the note in black ink struck-through in red, is where the page as manuscript page begins, with the sketching of a generic setting for Ballard’s writing of the period, the Road Research Laboratory where V[aughan] works: ‘At the RRL at night with girl – they make love as he talks about V., among the wrecks’.

But neither the drafts nor the final form of words – where the text comes to rest, held in creative tension – exist purely, however distinctive, however novel the novel seems. So where did Crash spring from? What is the history of the text?  How is the novel connected to what came before? What else was Ballard writing during the same period?

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 I have just edited a new edition of Crash that tries to address these text-led questions by supplementing the familiar published text of the novel with generous selections of unpublished archive material. Crash: The Collector’s Edition (4th Estate, 2017) places the novel in its writing context. Five chapters in draft are set within the novel. In addition, there are selected stories – the predecessor ‘condensed novels’ – from The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and Ballard’s two ‘surgical fictions’ (a mammoplasty for Mae West and a face lift for Princess Margaret).

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 The new edition also publishes for the first time Ballard’s draft script for the BBC short film Crash! (broadcast BBC2, 12 February 1971), directed by Harley Cokeliss. Ballard appears in the film alongside a mysterious female figure (played by Gabrielle Drake) whose enigmatic presence punctuates the collagist visual essay. She appears and disappears, sometimes inside the car, sometimes in the middle distance. She gets out of a new car in a car showroom, then lingers among the car wrecks at the breaker’s yard. We see the contours of her body in the shower dissolving into the curved forms of a car body, and we see her slumped across a steering wheel, her face bloodied from a collision. The film was made (in the winter of 1970) between writing the first and second drafts of the novel. Its stylised visual language informs Ballard’s final text. The film is a bridgework that looks back to The Atrocity Exhibition (the following passage from the draft script is taken from ‘The Summer Cannibals’), and looks forward to the emerging novel:

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Add MS 89171/1.

The earlier draft of Crash is a remarkable document that conveys something of the intensity and the spontaneity of composition. The manuscript is layered over time by the strata of three-coloured revision: annotation-deposits in black and blue and red ink in the margins and over on the backs of pages. The inks codify the rhythms of writing and revision, rhythms that oscillate within the Crash manuscripts, from the drafts to the final text, and oscillate as well, as Ballard pursues his traumatised subject, in the cross-currents of his contemporaneous writing.

For further reading about Crash in draft, see Chris Beckett, ‘The Opening of Crash in Slow Motion’ on the British Library Discovering Literature site: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/the-opening-of-crash-in-slow-motion

11 May 2017

Collecting Kenilworth: leaves of a Romance reunited

Oh, what a tangled web we weave When first we practise to deceive!

These famous lines from Walter Scott’s poem Marmion (1808) might perfectly describe the plot of Kenilworth (1821), the Scottish author’s historical novel of intrigue and deception set in Elizabethan England. Piecing together Scott’s original manuscript for Kenilworth is also a tangled task. The British Library has recently acquired two leaves of the manuscript, numbered 14 and 15 in Scott’s hand (now Add MS 89229). The larger part of the manuscript (Egerton MS 1661) has been in the British Library’s collections since 1855.

A mounted note bound within the newly acquired volume states: 'Part of the original ms. of Kenilworth given to me Edmond Logan by John Ballantine'. John Ballantyne, Scott’s editor and printer, must have given the leaves to the Scottish-Canadian geologist soon after the novel was printed because he died six months later on 16 June 1821. The volume has been in private collections since then and was purchased by the British Library with a generous grant from the Friends of the British Library at an auction in New York in March.

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Engraving of a portrait of Scott, by A. Wivel, after C. Picart, 1824. The portrait faces the title page in the volume of two manuscript leaves of Kenilworth, Add MS 89229, f. 2v.

Kenilworth opens in a drinking establishment, namely Giles Gosling’s Bonny Black Bear. Michael Lambourne has just returned from his travels and is unable to shake off a bad reputation for the misdemeanours and drunkenness that characterised his youth. He wagers with the other guests that he can gain entry to Cumnor Place, a nearby manor, where it is rumoured that a beautiful young woman is being kept captive. Edmund Tressilian accompanies Lambourne to Cumnor Place. The two leaves of the manuscript describe Lambourne’s encounter with the steward of Cumnor Place, Anthony Foster, at the end of chapter three and beginning of chapter four.

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The first of the two leaves, numbered 14 by Scott, British Library shelfmark: Add MS 89229, f. 5.

On the second leaf (numbered 15), Lambourne reminds Foster of the convenience of the ‘old religion’ (Catholicism) for villains:

Do I not remember how you were wont to carry your confessio conscience to confession as duly as the [night] ^month^ came round & when thou hadst had it scoured and burnished and white washed by the priest thou wert every ready for the worst villainy which could be devised (page 15, lines 7-10)

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The second of the two leaves, numbered 15 by Scott, British Library shelfmark: Add MS 89229, f. 6.

The leaves fill the gap in the manuscript between pages 3 to 13 held by Edinburgh University Library and the larger part of the manuscript, which begins at page 16.

The editors of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels returned to Scott’s manuscript as well as the first edition when creating a critical edition (Edinburgh University Press, 1993). Many changes were made between the manuscript and the first edition. Some of the changes were intentional and authorised by Scott, such as the introduction of punctuation and the correction of grammatical errors. Mistakes were introduced, however, in the interpretation of Scott’s densely packed handwriting as the publishers and compositors (typesetters) rushed to get Scott’s novel to the press as quickly as possible.

Kenilworth was published in Edinburgh on 15 January 1821 and in London on 18 January, only four months after Scott started writing it. Thirteen of the numbered leaves remain unaccounted for. It is probable that the leaves have never been together as a whole manuscript, as Scott sent completed parts of the manuscript to Ballantyne as he was writing the novel.

By Catherine Angerson, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

‘Essay on the Text’, in Walter Scott, Kenilworth: A Romance, ed. by J. H. Alexander (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), pp. 395–432

05 May 2017

Discovering Literature: Shakespeare and Renaissance Writers

by Tamara Tubb, Research Curator, and Andrea Varney, Researcher and Writer.

Our website, Discovering Literature: Shakespeare and Renaissance Writers brings together a selection of British Library treasures and newly commissioned articles that shed light on the social, spiritual and supernatural settings of some the Renaissance period’s most engaging works. The site, which initially focussed on Shakespeare’s plays, first launched in 2016 and has now been expanded  with a wealth of new content on a wider range of writers and works, including Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Edward II, Shakespeare’s sonnets, the poetry of John Donne, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone and The Alchemist.

On the site, key literary works of the English Renaissance are explored through their cultural contexts: you can read about the real women who inspired John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1623) and learn more about ground-breaking texts such as Emilia Lanier’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), the first feminist publication in English.

One of the central figures of the English Renaissance, Christopher Marlowe is often seen as the wild-boy of Elizabethan literature. His turbulent life and violent death have prompted many comparisons with the radical hero-villains of his plays, from the blasphemous Doctor Faustus who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for magical powers, to the love-struck King Edward II, undone by passion for his male favourites. For the first time, we’ve put online an infamous note from the spy Richard Baines, making damning accusations that Marlowe was an ‘Atheist’ with too much love ‘for Tobacco & Boies’. We’ll probably never know if these claims are true, but we’ve digitised many other items to capture the spiritual, sexual and political worlds that shaped Marlowe’s drama.

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Richard Baines seems to take pleasure in characterising Marlowe as the most outrageous of atheists, Harley MS 6848, f. 85v.

Our section on Doctor Faustus shows the tension, in Marlowe’s day, between thrilling belief in magic and faith that God would punish anyone who claimed supernatural powers. An article by Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong asks whether the play condemns Faustus’s sin or relishes his superhuman ambition. There’s also a treasure trove of items relating to John Dee, the real Elizabethan magician who insisted that he had holy aims but was accused of sorcery. Dee’s handwritten guide to magic, De Heptarchia Mystica (1582) records his attempts to summon angels through his medium Edward Kelley. But there’s also a petition to James I (1604), in which Dee is forced to deny that he’s an ‘Invocator of Divels’.

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John Dee claims that Prince Hagonel appeared to him with 42 ministers, represented in the manuscript by seven rows of six dots, Sloane MS 3191, f. 40v.

The section on Edward II reveals the king as a focus for centuries of heated debate about same-sex love, homophobia, duty and self-fulfilment.  An illuminated manuscript, Jean de Wavrin’s Recueil des Croniques d’Engleterre (1471–1483), has a beautiful miniature painting of Edward’s marriage to Isabella of France in 1308, but the French text beneath it betrays the king’s love of his favourite, Piers Gaveston. Over five centuries later, Derek Jarman made his wonderfully eclectic sketchbooks for a 1991 film inspired by Marlowe’s Edward II. They show Jarman making connections between the tragic medieval king and his own experiences as a gay man in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

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The marriage of Edward II and Isabella of France, Royal MS 15 E IV, f. 295v.

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Derek Jarman’s ‘Queer’ Sketchbook for his film of Edward II (1991), f. 2a.

Like Marlowe, Ben Jonson didn’t play by the rules. Known to his contemporaries as a braggart, a drunk and a hothead, he had multiple run-ins with the law and served several stints in prison – once even escaping execution for murder because of a legal loophole. Jonson’s lived experiences, and his interest in the criminal underworld, are apparent in the shady characters that populate his city comedies Volpone and The Alchemist. The seamy underbelly of Jonson’s London is explored on the website through rogue pamphlets (the Renaissance equivalent to modern tabloid newspapers and gossip columns), which expose the various scams and deceptions of contemporary criminals and confidence tricksters. A Caveat for Common Cursetors (1567) is especially interesting because it includes a dictionary of criminal cant, or slang.

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Dictionary of ‘pelting speche’, A Caveat for Common Cursetors (1567), Sig. G3v

The confidence tricksters in The Alchemist dupe their (comically irksome and chronically unlikable) victims into ‘investing’ their money in an alchemy scam. In order to dig deeper into the scam, and understand alchemy as a serious scientific subject, we’ve published online for the first time images from a beautifully illustrated medieval manuscript, The Ordinal of Alchemy (1477).

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Alchemists at work in a laboratory, The Ordinall of Alchymy (1477), f. 37v

Also explored on the site are the ways in which Jonson, and other Renaissance poets such as Donne and Shakespeare, adapted literary conventions in order to create their own distinct styles. Volpone is a fusion of classical mythology, medieval morality and original Jonsonian comedic flair, which, when combined, created an innovative new theatrical form. Volpone borrows from works such as Aesop’s Fables, of which Caxton’s first English edition (1484) is digitised on site, as well as medieval plays rooted in religious beliefs, such as Everyman, in which vice and virtue go head to head for the audience’s moral benefit.

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The fable of ‘the raven and the fox’, in Aesop’s Fables printed by William Caxton (1484), f. xxxviii

The rich collection of sources relating to John Donne reveals how his poems were changed by the different forms in which they were first read. His racy ‘Elegy: To his Mistress Going to Bed’ becomes all the more enticing when we know that it was banned from the first print edition of 1633, but included in private anthologies like the Newcastle Manuscript. At the same time, print seems to open up new playful possibilities for one of Donne’s most famous poems. In her analysis of ‘The Flea’, Aviva Dautch suggests how the third line, ‘Me it suck'd first’, is altered when the printed long ‘s’ looks exactly like an ‘f’. 

Crop of 'The Flea'

‘The Flea’ as it was first printed in 1633, with the long ‘s’ looking like an ‘f’, G.11415, p. 230.

The section surrounding John Webster’s blood-soaked tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, invites you to examine the role of women in Renaissance culture. Dympna Callaghan’s article ‘The Duchess of Malfi and Renaissance women’ places Webster's character in the context of contemporary drama, politics, and discourses about widows and female sexuality. Items connected to Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I and their close relation Lady Arbella Stuart present context, and contemporaneous inspiration, for the character of the Duchess - a powerful woman in her own right who nevertheless struggled to have it all: love, family and a career.

The Duchess of Malfi section also includes original early modern texts on werewolves, shape shifting and the supernatural.

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Werewolf pamphlet: The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter, (1590).

The Renaissance Writers phase is the latest to be added to the broader Discovering Literature website, which will continue to expand in the near future to include literature from Beowulf to the present day.

27 April 2017

John Milton's publishing contract for Paradise Lost

John Milton’s publishing contract for Paradise Lost goes on display

350 years ago today, the poet John Milton entered into an agreement with the printer Samuel Simmons to publish his epic poem Paradise Lost. Through this publishing contract, one of the greatest works of English literature came into print. The original contract for Paradise Lost is held by the British Library, and has just been placed on display in our Treasures Gallery.

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John Milton’s contract for the publication of Paradise Lost, 27 April 1667. British Library shelfmark: Add MS 18861.

The contract between John Milton and Samuel Simmons reveals that Milton was to receive £5 from Simmons immediately for Paradise Lost, and a further £5 once 1,300 copies of the poem had been sold. There was potential for Milton to earn an additional £10 if two further editions, also of 1,300 copies each, were sold. Unfortunately Milton died shortly after the second edition was produced in 1674, and so received only £10 for his masterpiece.

On display alongside Milton's contract is the first edition of Paradise Lost, which Simmons duly printed in 1667. It is in ten ‘books’ or sections, and contains over ten thousand lines of verse. Simmons did not include his own name on the title page, but listed the three London booksellers who acted as wholesale distributors of the book.

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The first edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (London, 1667). British Library shelfmark: C.14.a.9.

Milton’s poem, on the subject of the temptation of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden of Eden, had occupied him for many years before it was finally published. Having lost the sight in both eyes by his early forties, he had to dictate the work laboriously, line-by-line, to an assistant.

The publishing contract is believed to have been signed on Milton’s behalf by an amanuensis. Milton then affixed his seal to it. This is the earliest known example of a contract between an English author and their publisher.

by Sandra Tuppen, Lead Curator, Modern Archives & Manuscripts 1601-1850

21 April 2017

TRANSLATORS TAKE CENTRE STAGE AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY THIS SPRING

by Deborah Dawkin, PHD student working on the Michael Meyers Archive at the British Library

On 8 May we will be hosting The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive.  Showcasing the most recent international research, this conference will reveal the stories of translators throughout history: from the Early Modern period to the present day, and from every corner of the world.

It is hard to imagine the library of any serious bookworm that did not include international classics such as Homer, Tolstoy, Proust, Neitzsche and de Beauvoir, as well as examples of more contemporary authors such as Saramago, Kundera, Knausgård, Murakami, and some Scandinavian crime to boot. But we rarely consider the translators who make it possible for us to read these books; translators have largely remained invisible throughout history. So too, the stories behind the creation of translations: the lengths to which translators might go to ensure the publication of literary gems; the sometimes fierce arguments between translators and their editors; the sacrifices made by translators in difficult political times; and the personal and literary networks, even love affairs, that lie behind translations.

This one-day event in our Knowledge Centre will reveal fascinating stories drawn from diverse historical sources about the human, flesh-and-blood translator: Our panelists will introduce us to (amongst others) translators who have risked exile or even their lives for their beliefs, female translators whose identities have been hidden in a male dominated world, and WWII Japanese interpreters convicted as war criminals. We’ll hear about the part-time criminal who acted for many years as his deaf friend’s court interpreter in 18th-century Ireland and the dragoman who worked as a translator and tourist guide in 19th Century Egypt – and whose recently discovered scrapbook sheds light not only on the everyday life of a non-elite Middle Eastern translator, but on an array of international clients. We’ll encounter Armenian and Persian translators working for the 18th century East India Company and literary translators negotiating with their editors in a time of heavy censorship in the Soviet Union.

While the majority of the conference focusses on translators of the past, there will also be a panel devoted to the collection of data about contemporary translators. Subjects include: the day-to-day struggles of visually impaired interpreters in Poland; research about Finnish translators’ backgrounds and working lives; what the surveys carried out through the Emerging Translators’ Network reveal about the trajectories of the careers and lives of translators in the UK.

This conference also aims to create a space in which the “corporeal” translator might be brought out of hiding and given precedence. It will include a project by emerging Berlin/London based photographer, Julia Schönstädt, on the (in)visibility of translators today. This features photographs taken by Schönstädt at the London Book Fair 2017 along with extracts of interviews with contemporary translators.

The interviews are revealing. Many translators expressed a certain frustration at the public’s ignorance about translation, and stressed the importance of increased recognition for their work, including through the recent use of #namethetranslator on twitter. Others pointed out that the translator’s work often goes beyond the translation of a text – they can also act as cultural ambassadors, literary scouts, advisers.

Yet, some expressed a disinterest in having any public persona: “I quite like to be invisible”, said Kate Lambert, “Perhaps it’s a way of hiding. You do it [your work] behind the scenes. You do it sneakily.” Another, Adrian Nathan West, said “Invisibility? If I can be frank, and I’m afraid this may be a minority opinion, I don’t really care. You know, I like to read, I like to translate…it’s fine…I could have been a pop-star or be in action movies, I could be an actor if I wanted [fame]…right?” 

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The Made Translator Made Corporeal: Translators Through the Lens by Julia Schönstädt and curated by Deborah Dawkin, will be shown at the conference.

 

The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive

8 May 2017 at the British Library

Programme & ticket booking: https://www.bl.uk/events/the-translator-made-corporeal-translation-history-and-the-archive

Website: http://thetranslatormadecorporeal.wordpress.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/translatormadecorporeal

Twitter: @translator_2017 

Conference hashtag: #translatorcorporeal

 

 

24 March 2017

‘Post-it’ notes in the Will Self archive

Chris Beckett writes:

‘My books begin life in notebooks, then they move on to Post-it notes, the Post-its go up on the walls of the room […] short story ideas, tropes, metaphors, gags, characters, etc. When I'm working on a book, the Post-its come down off the wall and go into scrapbooks.’ (‘Writers' Rooms: Will Self’, The Guardian, 6 April 2007.)

Here’s Self’s writing room in 71 photographs: http://www.will-self.com/writing-room/index.php

The photographs capture the scale of the author’s devotion to the little yellow pad. The scrapbooks into which Self has gathered the ‘post-it’ notes now form part of his archive at the British Library. Grid-like on the wall, and grid-like in the scrapbooks, the notes intrigue and fascinate. They are little doorways into the text, little honeycomb cells of access.

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Having recently read How the Dead Live (2000), a group of ‘post-it’ notes in the novel’s scrapbook caught my eye. 

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I smiled at the note about the minicab driver who crosses London by an internal map of Lagos (second row, third from left – see p. 310 of the novel). I remembered Lily Bloom’s heavy-smoking fantasy of an elaborate contraption to feed her a continuous supply of ready-lit cigarettes – think cogs, wheels and pulleys, think Heath Robinson – drawn by the American cartoonist Rube Goldberg (first row, novel p. 300). I noted Lily’s anxious ‘dieting lists’, and I caught her familiar combative tone in ‘very few people are fond of me’ (second row) although I can’t find the words in the book. I then wondered about the striking phrase ‘ginny mist’ (second row, second from the left). When I found ‘ginny mist’ in the published text (p. 101), I saw that the image had been deftly extended and deepened: ‘I remember this lack of sensation; it’s happened enough times to me in this bedroom, usually in a ginny mist, a forest of juniper’.  

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Looking through the scrapbook for Walking to Hollywood (my current reading), I discovered a group of ‘post-it’ notes on Scientology. The unreliable narrator of the novel, a writer called Will Self who has lost his capacity to suspend disbelief, goes on a walking odyssey to Hollywood to discover who killed the movies, and has CGI firmly in his sights. In this novel of seems and simulacra, everyone looks like a familiar actor, even Self, who is ‘played’ by Pete Postlethwaite and/or David Thewlis. ‘Actors feel like Thetans’ says one post-it note (see below, second row, second note from the left). L. Ron Hubbard’s cult is described in the novel as a mash-up of ‘Astounding Stories, the Bhagavad Gita and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’ (p. 141).

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In the late 1980s, the narrator once ‘inveigled’ himself on to an introductory Scientology weekend course at the Saint Hill Manor headquarters, near East Grinstead, but was firmly rejected when they discovered his ‘homosexual inclinations’. Thereafter, he was repeatedly rebuffed: ‘over the coming years I went on pitching up at Tottenham Court Road, in disguises and under assumed names, armed with strategies for “fooling” the Capacity Analysis. It was all to no avail: the smiling Scientologists would let me take the test again, then send me on my way, with the advice that I see a doctor, a therapist, a priest – do anything, in short, but submit myself to their own mind control’ (p. 141). Among the background notes for Walking to Hollywood are the results of a Scientology personality test displayed as a graph (Hubbard’s OCA, the so-called ‘Oxford Capacity Analysis’). The test was undertaken by one (thinly disguised) Wihh [sic] Orr at the Scientology Life Improvement Center, Sunset Boulevard, 14 June 2008.

Returning home from Los Angeles, Self finds that the (cartoon) ‘superpowers’ he possessed in LA have vanished, only to be replaced by a growing sense that his ‘mental faculties’ are deteriorating. He walks the crumbling coastline of East Yorkshire and meditates morbidly on ‘the fuzziness and forgetfulness’ (p. 329) that has descended on him. Like the cliffs he walks along, his foot-weary narrative is eroded and ‘breaks off’, along with a sense of purpose and identity: ‘This would be a unique walk of erasure – a forty-mile extended metaphor for my own embattled persona, as its foundations were washed away’ (p. 345). 

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‘The fictional account breaks off short: it is eroded’.

Before starting out on his littoral tramp of East Yorkshire – an ambulatory coda to the morphing masks of LA – Self muses: ‘It was true that in the decade since I had stopped drinking and taking drugs my short-term memory seemed to have improved; at any rate, I no longer needed the elaborate system of Post-it notes stuck to the walls of my writing room that had for years served me as a kind of random access. If I maintained this, it was more as an art installation, or magic ritual […] (p. 330).

And so perhaps we have then, in a sense, in the Walking to Hollywood scrapbook, Self’s final scrapbook post-it note: not the very last physically – the pages of notes continue beyond it – but the note that points, with the satisfying force of circularity, not only to ‘post-it’ notes as a subject within the text but also to the end of the writer’s practical need for them. The art installation has had its final show. RAM is no longer required on the walls.

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‘Amnesia / Post-its’ (third row, first left). And: ‘My family. Who are they? Why haven’t they forgotten me?' (far right).

However, Self quickly decides that his reasoning for the end of the writing room installation is delusional. It is not that his short-term memory has greatly improved, it is just that he now works differently, is better at his trade: ‘I now wrote books with the workmanlike despatch of a carpenter turning out tables, this busy practice obscuring the loss of much I had once known’ (p. 331). 

Next week, I start to catalogue the two novels that followed the ‘wayward and melancholic’ (Self’s description) Walking to Hollywood: they are Umbrella (2012) and Shark (2014). A cursory glance at what the boxes contain suggests that the narrator is indeed an unreliable fellow. Not only are there yellow notes hiding in the drafts of Umbrella, but there is also a scrapbook for Shark. Perhaps we really shouldn’t believe a word he says.

 

Chris Beckett’s blog on the family papers in the Self archive is here:  http://blogs.bl.uk/english-and-drama/2017/02/first-report-from-the-will-self-archive-family-matters.html

Images of material from the Will Self archive are used with kind permission of the author.