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17 January 2023

Digitisation of manuscripts from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library

By Catherine Angerson, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts.

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library is a collection of books and manuscripts of exceptional historical and literary importance formed by the Lancashire mill owner William Law (1836–1901) in the late 19th century and cared for by subsequent generations of the family until the sale of the collection in 2022. The collection includes manuscripts and rare editions of the work of Jane Austen, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, the Brontë siblings, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Honresfield House, just outside Littleborough near Rochdale, was where William Law lived with his brother Alfred, who inherited the collection after William’s death in 1901. It then passed to a nephew, the Conservative MP Sir Alfred Law (1860–1939). Selected scholars were granted access during the 1930s and transcriptions of several of the manuscripts were made, but the collection then largely disappeared from public view after the death of Alfred Law in 1939.

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library was purchased for the nation in 2022 by the Friends of the National Libraries with the support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and many other generous supporters. The collection has been shared between cultural heritage institutions in the UK who are all committed to making the items in their care publically accessible.

The British Library was one of the beneficiaries, receiving 102 printed books, four manuscript items, and the William Maskell chapbook collection. The manuscript items have now been digitised and you can access the images by following the links below.

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Emily Brontë’s notebook of poems, 1844–46, Add MS 89488, ff. 5v-6r.

One of the highlights of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is the notebook of Emily Brontë’s poems (Add MS 89488) which she kept between 1844 and 1846. Few of Emily Brontë’s literary manuscripts survive and the notebook is a fascinating record of her creative process. Brontë transcribed neat copies of 31 of her own poems into this notebook, recording the date of original composition next to each.

The first poem, ‘Loud without the wind was roaring’, is dated 11 November 1838 when Emily was 20. She composed the final poem, ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’, on 2 January 1846 at the age of 27. Some of the poems include further revisions in the hand of her sister Charlotte. Beneath the poem ‘How beautiful the earth is still’ of 2 June 1845, pictured below, Charlotte has written, ‘Never was better stuff penned’, in the miniature script shared by both sisters.

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Emily Brontë’s poem ‘How beautiful the earth is still’, composed 2 June 1845, Add MS 89488, f. 17v.

The notebook is the source for 15 of the 21 of Emily Brontë’s poems selected for Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). The other six poems came from Emily’s ‘Gondal Poems’ notebook which she kept at the same time. Emily Brontë’s own signed copy of Poems (1846) is also among the treasures of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.

Another treasure allocated to the British Library is a miniature book by Charlotte Brontë titled, 'Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree' (Add MS 89486). The tiny book, created by Charlotte when she was just 13 years old, is one of seven early Brontë manuscripts now jointly owned by the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. The book is narrated by Captain Tree, one of Charlotte’s childhood pen names. It consists of ten chapters that feature ‘Celebrated Men’ such as the Duke of Wellington, Lord Charles Wellesley, Captain Bud and Young Man Naughty. These figures were drawn from real life as well as from the fictional world of Glass Town. The Glass Town Federation was a complex fantasy land created by Charlotte and her siblings Branwell, Emily and Anne.

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Charlotte Brontë, ‘Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree’, 12–17 December 1829, Add MS 89486.

The book measures a tiny 5 x 3.7 cm, the size of a small matchbox. The digital images allow us to zoom in on Brontë’s tiny script and to examine the pages of the manuscript in detail. The pages are slightly uneven in size. This is because Charlotte cut the paper by hand and sewed the pages together using a needle and thread, and the book is still bound in its original yellow sugar paper cover.

The manuscript items allocated to the British Library also include a letter dated 10 November 1847 from Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams of Smith, Elder & Co., the publisher of Jane Eyre (1847) (Add MS 89487). In this letter, Brontë (using her pen name ‘C. Bell’) complains about the ‘exhausting delay and procrastination’ that her sisters Emily (‘Ellis’) and Anne (‘Acton’) have had to endure in the publication of their novels by Thomas Newby. Emily Brontë’s only novel Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s first novel Agnes Grey were both published by Newby in December 1847 shortly after Charlotte wrote this letter.

In addition to the Brontë manuscripts described above, the British Library also received two leaves from the manuscript of Walter Scott’s Kenilworth (Add MS 89485), a novel of intrigue and deception set in Elizabethan England. These handwritten pages were part of the manuscript which Scott sent to the printer John Ballantyne for the publication of the novel in January 1821. The Library also holds the larger part of the manuscript of Kenilworth and two further leaves acquired in 2017.

The manuscripts have been digitised in full and images can be accessed via the archives and manuscripts catalogue and through the links in this blogpost. The printed items are described in the main catalogue and can be identified by the shelfmark prefix ‘Hon’. See our new collection guide for further details.

A small selection of books and manuscripts from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library in London (until 19 February 2023). The display includes a leaf from Walter Scott’s Kenilworth manuscript, the letter from Charlotte Brontë to WS Williams, Emily Brontë’s poetry notebook together with her own copy of Poems (1846), and two of the chapbooks from the Maskell collection.

We are delighted to be working with the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library to make the Brontë material available to new audiences (online and in an exhibition) over the coming months and years.    

 

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28 October 2022

‘The Darker Side’ – Unpublished Arthur Conan Doyle Chapter Acquired by the British Library

By Zoe Louca-Richards, Curator Modern Archives and Manuscripts, and Dr Christine Ferguson, Chair in English Studies at the University of Stirling.

In 2019, the British Library acquired a rather remarkable piece of Arthur Conan Doyle history – an unpublished chapter from his final Professor Challenger novel The Land of Mist. The ‘lost’ chapter, as it was dubbed, comprises nine pages in Conan Doyle’s hand and is titled ‘Chapter XIII/ The Darker Side’ (Add MS 89427).

Previously, the chapter is believed to have remained in the possession of Doyle’s family until the death of his eldest son Denis Conan Doyle in 1955, whereupon the manuscript was auctioned in New York on November 22, 1955 and then again in March, 1966. The manuscript was sent to auction in 2019 by Meisei Iwaki University, Japan, where it was purchased by the British Library and is now available to be consulted by researchers.  

The first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist
The first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist (Add MS 89427 f.1r)

The Land of Mist deals heavily with both spiritualism, a movement and belief in which Conan Doyle had become active following the death of his son and brother in WW1, and Christianity, the faith in which he had been raised. It follows several of the characters from Conan Doyle’s earlier Professor Challenger novels as they investigate the spirit world. At first largely sceptical, approaching with purely professional interest, they soon become enthralled by the individuals they encounter and their other worldly experiences.

Conan Doyle drafted the narrative over a few months between late 1924 and early 1925. It appeared in The Strand Magazine from July 1925 to March 1926 before publication by Hutchinson and Co in 1926.

This draft chapter, Chapter XIII, which contains numerous corrections and additions throughout, is believed to have been written whilst Conan Doyle was travelling in Switzerland. Conan Doyle’s close connection with the country is well documented, and it is believed several other chapters from Land of Mist were also drafted there.

Professor Christine Ferguson, Chair in English Studies at the University of Stirling, is currently working on a new scholarly edition of The Land of Mist, due for publication in 2024. Ferguson’s research focuses on nineteenth and twentieth-century British literature, and in particular on the impact of occult beliefs and new religious movements on the popular fiction of these periods. During the course of her research into the Land of Mist, she has looked closely at the ‘Lost’ chapter and its significance to the rest of the novel, as well as its broader significance to Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and personal beliefs. She notes of the chapter: 

Folio 7 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. On this page a young French man named La Paix describes his seduction and financial entrapment by a beautiful spirit named Sylvia
Folio 7 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. (Add MS 89427 f.7r)

“‘The Darker Side’ arguably represents the most sensational and prurient episode within The Land of Mist, detailing the seduction and financial entrapment of a young French man named La Paix by a beautiful spirit named Sylvia who demands that he pay increasingly large sums of money to advertise her name in the French press. If he does not, she threatens, he will soon die.

Alongside the chapter it was originally intended to precede (‘There are Heights and Depths’), it seems to have been designed to dramatize the distinctions between the pious British spiritualists for whom Doyle had in the 1920s become a figurehead, and the more scientifically aligned psychical researchers at work in Europe. While the former, represented by the high-minded Christian spiritualist Algernon Mailey, are given purely religious motivations for exploring the other world, the latter are presented as agnostic materialists, disinterested in the moral aspects of the question. Ever the patriot, Doyle presents only pure-hearted British spiritualism as proof and protection against the type of metaphysical threat posed by Sylvia and her ilk: ‘unless you get the religious bearing of this thing’, Mailey insists, ‘it is always a danger’”.

Detail from the first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. Shown is a small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book’ (Add MS 89427 f.1 detail)
Detail from the first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. Shown is a small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book’ (Add MS 89427 f.1 detail)

A small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book.’ It seems that Doyle had intended for the chapter to be included. Although the Chapter is labelled chapter XIII, Professor Ferguson believes the chapter should in fact be situated narratively between what were published as chapter XI ‘Where Silas Linden Comes Into His Own’ and Chapter XII ‘There are Heights and there are Depths.’

Like Doyle, we cannot be certain as to why the chapter was omitted. However, the subject matter that the chapter deals with is somewhat challenging in its nature touching on issues of nationalism and gender politics. Christine notes:

“British nationalism is not the only ideological position or indeed, form of bias, on display in “The Darker Side.” This chapter also compounds the deep sexism embedded within The Land of Mist, most evident hitherto in the novel’s side lining of Enid Challenger, daughter of The Lost World’s Professor George Edward Challenger, within its male conversion quest.  While Professor Challenger, Edward Malone, and Lord John Roxton test, explore, and ultimately push to achieve a fully rationalist form of spiritualist belief, Enid remains largely silent, seeming to automatically assent to the truth of spiritualism with no great struggle and proving most—perhaps only ever— instrumental to the plot when channelling the words of dead men.

Folio 8 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. This page reveals Conan Doyle’s sexism with the character Mailey’s comments about the spirit Sylvia. (Add MS 89427 f.8r)
Folio 8 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. This page reveals Conan Doyle’s sexism with the character Mailey’s comments about the spirit Sylvia. (Add MS 89427 f.8r)

This chapter implies that there may be good reasons for limiting women’s power both in and beyond the séance room. When La Paix asks Mailey if Sylvia is a demon, the older man gestures to the Paris streets outside and says, ‘You’ll find dozens of Sylvias there. . . You do not call them demons. . .  No. I do not call her a demon, but the unchanged spirit of woman. Living or dead, he suggests, women are always already demonic, a threat to the men from whom they seek power’. These powerfully misogynistic sentiments will render ‘The Darker Side’ a key document for scholars of Doyle’s gender politics in years to come.

In light of such controversial content, it might be tempting to view the omission of ‘The Darker Side’ from the published version of The Land of Mist as deliberate, perhaps a last-minute retraction by a jittery publisher. But there is no evidence for doing so. On the contrary, it seems clear that both Doyle and Hutchinson & Co. fully intended it to appear in the first edition, which includes an appendix item about the chapter (‘Note on Chapter XII’), but not the actual chapter itself. More likely, the chapter simply fell victim to a slip in the proof and production process.”  

The acquisition of the chapter by the British Library will open its contents up to broader research and offers both enthusiasts and scholars alike further material documenting Conan Doyle’s own spiritual beliefs.

Further reading:

The Arthur Conan Doyle Papers (Add MS 88924), include extensive correspondence to and from Conan Doyle and his family, literary manuscripts, lectures and essays, diaries, papers relating to Arthur Conan Doyle's education, and a significant cache of papers related to his involvement with spiritualism.

Arthur Conan Doyle: Brigadier Gerard stories (Add MS 89337)

Several of Conan Doyle’s plays can also be found in the Lord Chamberlains Plays collection.

21 October 2022

In Memory of Carmen Callil

Carmen Callil, publisher, author and founder of Virago Press died on Monday.

Callil founded the publishing house Virago Press, in 1972, and was also Managing Director of Chatto and Windus and the Hogarth Press between 1982-1994. Callil remained Chairman of Virago Press until 1995 and was also a member of the Board of Channel 4 Television, between 1985 and 1991, and a member of the committee for The Booker Prize between 1979-1984.

Callil wrote and published in her own right, including Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland, a biography of Louis Darquier de Pellepoix and Vichy France, published in 2006.

The British Library Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts Department holds the archive of Virago Press, as well as the recently acquired personal papers of Callil herself. A truly contemporary collection, with material spanning into the 2010s, the Carmen Callil archive is still being catalogued and is expected to be available to researchers in 2023.  

As the cataloguer of this material, it was an honour to be able to work alongside Callil while processing it. She was always supportive and interested in the work we were doing, as well as enthusiastic about participating in events and research, and with helping our team to navigate the collections.

‘Keep whatever you think a student of women’s literature in 2000 would like to know about us’ [1] Callil wrote on an internal memo to the staff of the Virago Press in the early 1980s.

The message appears to have been taken on board. Both the Virago Press Papers and the Carmen Callil Archive come together to create a wonderful resource for researchers in a wide range of areas, as well as being a fitting part of remembering Carmen herself.

Image shows a promotional pin badge for Virago Press which has a white background and an image of an apple with a bite taken out of it below the Virago Press fontThe Virago Press Archive, Add MS 88904, is accessible in the Manuscripts Reading room.

The Carmen Callil Archive, Add MS 89178, is currently being catalogued and will be released to researchers in 2023. Please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk for any enquiries.

 

References: 

[1] The Carmen Callil Archive, Add MS 89178/1/71