When Dan Leno performed as the Pantomime Dame in the 1880s he transformed a previously minor role into the main part and shaped pantomime into the Christmas show we know today.
Illustrated cover of the score of My Old Man (1889) H.1260.m.(43
The great clown Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) had been the star of Regency pantomime and brought the subtle arts of mime and gesture to this popular entertainment. In Grimaldi’s performances the clown was always the main character but after his death these clever skills were lost and soon replaced by the much less finely drawn charms of Principal Boys and Pantomime Dames. Clowns no longer played a pivotal role in the production and returned to the circus leaving pantomime without a main character and in need of a new direction. This was provided through the comic genius of Dan Leno.
Foresters’ Music Hall playbill (1885) Evan.611
On Monday, October 5th, 1885, Leno made his first appearance in London at the Foresters’ Music Hall. Playbills in the Evanion Collection document Leno’s early London success (Evan.611, Evan.1063) and list him as a champion dancer – he had won a world clog dancing competition in Leeds in 1880. His champion clog dance was the main part of his turn at the Foresters’ but his comic song – I’mGoing to buy Milk for the Twins – proved more popular with London audiences. Although the words have not survived, we know that Leno rushed on stage in the guise of an ordinary, harassed, yet spirited and resilient woman, and immediately grabbed the attention of the audience with his rapid comic patter in which he revealed the many small injustices of everyday life. Although Leno performed alone on stage the characters he embodied were so well drawn that his stage always seemed to be fully peopled.
Oxford Music Hall playbill (1886) Evan.1063
George Conquest, manager of the Surrey Theatre in Lambeth, South London was so impressed by Leno’s performances that he was quickly engaged to play Dame Durden in the 1886-7 pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. Leno’s Dame stole the show and he subsequently appeared in every spectacular pantomime at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until the end of the 1904 season.
Illustration of Dan Leno as Mother Goose. Jay Hickory Wood: Dan Leno. London, 1905 10827.f.24.
The Good Old Original Mother Goose
Leno became the pantomime star of the late Victorian era. The main part of Mother Goose was written for him by the writer J. Hickory Wood for the 1902-3 Christmas season at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The character went through a number of phases – from poor to wealthy, humble to haughty, plain to beautiful and young to a final incarnation as the good old original Mother Goose, complete with top-knot and bunion.
Mother Goose was Leno’s favourite pantomime role and was considered to be the greatest triumph of his pantomime career.
VisitThere Will Be Fun – a free British Library exhibition on Victorian popular entertainments, open until March 2017, and see many other rare and wonderful treasures from the Evanion Collection.
Helen Peden, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1601-1900
I was too young to see The Company of Wolves when it first came out in 1984. Consequently, until the film appeared on video, I had to make do with reading the reviews in newspapers and admiring the stills reproduced in film magazines. The stills were remarkable, full of fairy-tale imagery run riot. One shot showed a banqueting scene in which ornately dressed guests had developed lupine faces; another showed a cluster of eggs lying in a nest, one of which had cracked from top to bottom to reveal a baby. Perhaps most memorably of all one still depicted a wolf’s snout, all sleek and furred, emerging from a man’s mouth - the beast within made manifest. Inspired by the lush Gothic imagery of the film (I’ve always believed that if Gothic is worth doing it’s worth over doing, it’s a genre that thrives on excess – I’m all for velvet drapes, icy-mists and all round spectacular flamboyance when it comes to Gothic) I sought out The Bloody Chamber, the volume containing the short story that provided the inspiration for the film. And so I discovered the world of Angela Carter – 'Feminist', 'Magic Realist', 'Gothic author', 're-worker of fairy tales' and generally someone to whom a seemingly endless stream of labels have been applied over the years, all of which tell part of the story but none of which do the breadth of her work and her imagination justice.
Perhaps as a result of this early exposure to Neil Jordan’s film adaptation Angela Carter’s work has always, to my mind, possessed something of a cinematic quality. Jean Luc Goddard and Frederico Felline were clearly influences but I often like to imagine that there is possibly a dash of Hammer Horror lurking in the shadows behind some of her stories. In her final novel, Wise Children, Carter had explored the way in which high art and low, Shakespeare and music hall for example, often become entwined. Given such an outlook surely it’s possible to speculate that films like The Curse of the Werewolf, The Brides of Dracula and The Kiss of the Vampire might have played a part in the genesis of stories such as ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘The Lady of the House of Love’. I like to think so, no matter how fanciful such a notion may be on my part. Still, true or not, I’ve always been pleased that I came to Carter’s work via film.
(Poster for The Company of Wolves, directed by Neil Jordan and with a screenplay by Neil Jordan and Angela Carter)
‘Dying’, as Gore Vidal once gloomily remarked, is often ‘a good career move’ and in the year following Carter's death in 1992 the British Academy received over forty proposals for doctoral research into her work. Sadly, in art as in life a person’s influence and worth often only really become apparent once they have gone. Angela Carter’s tragically early death propelled her work into the limelight. Almost twenty five years later, and with Edmund Gordon’s eagerly awaited The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography now in the bookshops, the fascination and admiration surrounding her work continues to grow from strength to strength. In a sense Carter’s work achieves that rare but perfect balance – simultaneously adored by academia for its insight, depth and invention but maintaining popular appeal due to its fabulous characters, storylines and sheer exuberance.
The British Library holds Angela Carter’s archive, a resource that consists of a wealth of manuscript material including diaries, notebooks, letters, drafts of novels, outlines for short stories and research notes. Each part of the archive offers a fascinating glimpse into Carter’s life and work but, for those with a love of her fiction, perhaps the most revealing items are the notebooks in which she recorded her research and worked on ideas that later became fully developed episodes in her books.
Shown above, by way of example, is a page from one of her notebooks in which she outlines her initial thoughts about the character of Sophie Fevvers from the novel Nights at the Circus (1984). It is fascinating to see the character in embryo, and to be able to explore how layer upon layer of idea, imagination and imagery is built up until Fevvers, a six-foot-two trapeze artist with wings, emerges complete in the published book. The genesis from notebook to novel took many drafts and, as can be seen below in this page of an early draft of the opening chapter the re-workings of the text continually grow and evolve rather than emerge fully formed.
Carter’s notebooks are a continual delight, and looking through their pages offers a unique insight into the creative process. In a way it is the literary equivalent of siting in a studio with an artist as they work on a painting, seeing the successive sketches and layers of paint as they are applied until the finished portrait appears. You don’t often get the chance in life to see creative genius in action, but Carter’s archive does give us one such opportunity to see exactly that.
By Sophie Oliver, co-curator of the display ‘Wide Sargasso Sea: Jean Rhys, Jane Eyre and the Making of an Author’
Jean Rhys is amply represented in the British Library’s manuscript collection, including by several versions of her best-known (and widely loved) novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). Fifty years after that book appeared, and 200 since the birth of Charlotte Brontë, whose Jane Eyre (1847) inspired it, 2016 seemed like a good moment to celebrate Rhys and the British Library’s archival holdings of her work.
The display ‘Wide Sargasso Sea: Jean Rhys, Jane Eyre and the Making of an Author’, showing in the Treasures Gallery until 8 January, takes Brontë as a starting point. From her manuscript of Jane Eyre we’ve shown the part when Rochester takes Jane to see his ‘mad’ first wife, Bertha Mason, whom he rejects in the cruellest terms: ‘her nature wholly alien to mine […] her vices […] intemperate and unchaste’. Rhys referred to this nineteenth-century classic text as ‘frozen assets’, material to be reignited and given new life. She objected to what she felt was Brontë’s one-dimensional depiction of Bertha as a ‘poor Creole lunatic’, and resolved to write ‘her story’. Although Rhys’s letters show that she hugely admired Brontë, this oppositional stance was typical. For many literary critics, Rhys is above all a West Indian and a woman writer: her relationship to the Western canon is tangential and celebrated as such.
For her part, in work and life Rhys promoted an image of herself ‘outside the machine’, as one of her stories is titled. Yet she admitted that she longed for Wide Sargasso Sea ‘to be understood and read and so on’. The long process of drafting her final novel was spurred on by the attention that she gradually began to receive in the 1950s (having all but disappeared after Good Morning, Midnight was published in 1939) from critics, publishers and the BBC, which broadcast a radio dramatisation of Good Morning, Midnight in 1957.
The display was conceived to explore this aspect of Jean Rhys’s career – the public reception of her work and the making of her reputation in the years leading up to Wide Sargasso Sea and in the decade after, when she achieved international renown. The British Library’s Rhys archive is particularly strong on this period. For example, it holds Rhys’s corrected page proofs of the story ‘Till September Petronella’, published in London Magazine in 1960. This was Rhys’s first appearance in print since 1939, so in some ways represents the re-ignition of her literary career. She remembered it fondly for years, writing in one letter that ‘Petronella’ ‘just about saved my life’.
The Rhys archive also includes drafts of her earlier novels After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1931) and Voyage in the Dark (1934) – pages of determined, fluent notes together with frenzied revisions and angry crossings-out. All of her earlier books were reissued in hardback and paperback in the late 1960s after the great success of Wide Sargasso Sea. The return of the 1930s fiction brought Rhys to a broad contemporary audience – not just through the books themselves, but in the form of profiles in the mainstream press and TV adaptations. The work that Rhys wrote in the interwar period seemed to fit in the 1960s, a decade of great social change. Thirty years previously she had written books and stories that listened to the marginal voices – those of women and racial minorities – that were being heard more in the 1960s. A profile in the fashion and lifestyle magazine Nova that is included in the display suggests that Rhys’s fictional obsession with flawed women spoke to that publication’s celebration of female identity in all its contradictory guises.
Julie Kavanagh, ‘Rhys-cycled’, Women’s Wear Daily, 13 November 1974. Photo by Willie Christie. Reproduced with kind permission of Julie Kavanagh and Willie Christie
As well as manuscripts, then, the display draws on the full breadth of the British Library’s collections, including newspapers and magazines, formats that were central to the story of Rhys’s rise to fame. Her presence in the press on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1970s confirms that Rhys and her work had become fashionable. Two newspaper items that we weren’t able to include refer to a Rhys ‘cult’ in this period. Julie Kavanagh’s 1974 profile in Women’s Wear Daily, ‘Rhys-cycled’ (illustrated), connects the republication of Rhys’s earlier work with the fashion system’s continual updating of old trends. Originally a fashion trade journal, by this point WWD was a ‘fashion gossip’ magazine with a mass market, decreeing who and what were the latest social and cultural phenomena. In late 1974, it seems, Rhys was. The previous year, aged 82, she had even been given her own fashion shoot in The Sunday Times, styled by the notorious fashion editor Molly Parkin (illustrated). The photographs were taken by Norman Eales, whose images of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy had appeared in Vogue, Queen and Cosmopolitan.
Molly Parkin, ‘Look! Fashion’, The Sunday Times, 25 February 1973. Jean Rhys photographed by Norman Eales. Reproduced with kind permission of the estate of Norman Eales
The fashion press often picked up on Rhys’s own love of clothes and their importance in her fiction, where they feature as signs of hope and despair – the promise of fulfilment and individuality or a way to blend in, but also the threat of deadening sameness. In the Sunday Times piece, contemporary quotes from Rhys are interwoven with fashion-conscious citations from her writing. Some have a more abstract link to fashion, such as this from Voyage in the Dark: ‘It was one of those days when you can see the ghosts of all the other lovely days. You drink a bit and watch the ghosts of all the lovely days that have ever been from behind a glass.’ But in the context it seems clear: the way that the past haunts the present is like the return of an old style. Much like Rhys herself, then: a ghost who, last seen in the 1930s, returned with new relevance in the 1960s.
Sophie Oliver is finishing a PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her article ‘Fashion in Jean Rhys/Jean Rhys in Fashion’ will be published in the journal Modernist Cultures in November 2016.
National Poetry Day comes during the judging phase of the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets, an award administered by the British Library and the Wordsworth Trust in association with the TLS and Harvard University’s Centre for Hellenic Studies. The Awards aim to raise the profile of poetry pamphlets and to recognise the contribution they make to the world of poetry. For the Library, running the Awards helps to ensure that a substantial number of poetry pamphlets published each year in the UK find their way into the Library’s collections so that they can be kept for readers and researchers now and in the future. In this sense the Awards are evidence of the Library’s continuing commitment to collect print culture, not just from mainstream publishers, but also from small and independent presses all the way through to self-published pamphlets. The pamphlets themselves show the enduring appeal of print as a medium for bringing poetry to a wider readership.
A selection of the pamphlets entered for this year’s Michael Marks Awards.
It is also interesting to note the variety of sizes and shapes amongst the entries submitted, and whilst the pamphlets encompass a range of poetic forms, there is also diversity in terms of the layout of text on the printed page.
From prose poems to spreadsheet poetry: a selection of less traditional text layouts in the pamphlets.
Many of these pamphlets are published by small presses dedicated to poetry, but some are self-published or come into being through arts projects undertaken by cultural institutions, councils or community groups. The Library aims to capture this creative diversity; we encourage anyone publishing a pamphlet to deposit a copy in the Library for the collections, irrespective of whether it has an ISBN or is distributed formally through booksellers. We have recently been delighted to acquire for our collections all issues to date of ‘Rising’, the niche ('nish') poetry zine produced and distributed by Tim Wells since 1993.
Rising poetry zine, edited by Tim Wells.
The Library’s interest in poetry does not begin or end with print. In Contemporary British Collections we are working to collect poetry in a range of other formats, and we are also investigating the way that poetry publishing, and literature more widely, is changing in the context of digital developments. The most obvious manifestation of the move towards digital publishing is in our collection of mainstream and academic publishing where a substantial number of publishers have now switched from depositing a printed copy of each work they publish to depositing their works in electronic format instead. This reflects the 2013 change in the law allowing the British Library, and the other five legal deposit libraries, to receive content in electronic format. Where publishers have moved over to depositing works in electronic format, readers coming to the Library’s reading rooms can click straight through from the catalogue to read these works immediately, on screen. The screenshot below from our catalogue gives an idea of some of the poetry collections, from Catullus and Yeats to Vikram Seth and Clive James, now being received as e-books rather than as print copies.
A screenshot from 'Explore the British Library' showing a sample of poetry collections received as e-books.
The e-books appearing in the catalogue reflect traditional print culture in its digital manifestation, in that these works are digital copies of works conceived of as books and replicating their form. Digital publishing is not limited to the format of the book, nor limited to presenting only fixed text and images. The Library has recently hosted a PhD placement student, Joe McCarney, to undertake a study of online-only poetry publishing, from online zines and journals through to e-poetry that exploits the wider potential of digital media in terms of sound, images and visualisation, animations or interactive content. As part of his project, Joe identified online-only poetry sites to be added to the UK web archive; he described this work in this fascinating post. Joe also produced a report on the range of formats and forms used by practitioners of e-literature and on existing efforts to archive this type of creative publishing, and his report will help the Library as develops ways to capture and preserve emerging media formats, so that they will be available for study in future. Whilst the rapid pace of change of new media presents challenges for the Library, our poetry collections in particular are given a further dimension through the wide range of poetry recordings included amongst the Arts, Literature and Performance collections of recorded sound, many of which are available to listen to outside the Library. Recent recordings include short readings by the poets shortlisted for last year's Michael Marks Awards. This year's shortlist will be announced on 19th October, with the final awards evening taking place on 13th December.
by Debbie Cox, Lead Curator, Contemporary British Publishing
by Fearghus Roulston, PHD student working on the British Library's zine collections
On 9 September, the British Library hosted a workshop and discussion on zines – limited-circulation, often homemade publications dealing with relatively niche or unusual topics. The Library has a wide-ranging collection of these materials, dating from the early 1970s onwards, and one of the highlights of the workshop for me was the opportunity to hear about the variety and breadth of the research prompted by different kinds of zines.
We were delighted to bring together a group of researchers, academics and colleagues from within the Library over the course of the afternoon, to talk about how zines have featured in their work and writing. Over two short sessions we moved from the 1950s to the present day, from France to Manchester via the USA, and from punk music to radical politics and literary counter-cultures.
Image from Chris Warne's presentation
In the first session, Rebecca Claire-Binns of UCL described Gee Vaucher’s design and zine aesthetic and its relationship to anarcho-punk, and especially to Crass; the University of Sussex’s Dr Chris Warne gave a different geographical perspective by analysing the influence of punk design practices on the French art collective Bazooka during their stint working with the leftist Libération newspaper; and Dr Jackie Batey showcased the University of Portsmouth’s Zineopolis collection of art zines, suggesting possible avenues for research within this archive and showing some of her own work connecting these zines to contemporary issues of mental health.
Image from Jackie Batey's presentation on zines
Despite the apparent disparity of these topics, they brought together a group of really interesting ideas on the relationship between politics and aesthetics, and on how currents of design take shape across time.
In the second session, Professor Bill Osgerby of London Metropolitan University looked at some very early precursors of zines, from the literary counter-culture of the 1950s to biker zines from the 1960s. He also linked the development of zines as a form to technological shifts. The availability of relatively cheap photocopying from the 1970s onwards is a particularly important factor.
Image from Bill Osgerby's presentation
Bill was followed by Dr David Wilkinson from Manchester Metropolitan University on how zines, especially City Fun, helped him chart the evolution of post-punk as a subculture in Manchester. This research contributed to his new book. I concluded by looking at some Northern Irish punk zines and the insight they give into aspects of everyday life in Ulster in the 1970s, particularly into boredom as described (and perhaps exaggerated) by the young people writing in the zines.
This session highlighted, again, the geographic diversity of zines. It also suggested various different ways of reading them as sources – through their relationship with technology, but also as routes into a particular historic understanding of emotion and of cities. We rounded off the evening with a trip to the final event of the Library’s Punk 1976-78 exhibition, Punky Reggae Party: The Story of Rock Against Racism.
by Kathryn Johnson, Curator Theatrical Archives and Manuscripts
Until the passing of the Theatres Act in September 1968, which removed the legal necessity for all stage plays to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, these are the dread words which a producer might read when he opened the letter from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office informing him of the cuts and alterations required in his script before the Lord Chamberlain was prepared to issue a licence.
There had been a permanent official in charge of staged entertainments since 1545, in the shape of the Master of the Revels, but only after the return of Charles II in 1660 did the Lord Chamberlain begin to take a serious interest in censorship and the regulation of the theatre. The first Theatres Act of 1737 came about because Sir Robert Walpole was suffering under the satirical attacks of Henry Fielding and others on the shortcomings of his ministry. This act reduced at a stroke the number of “legitimate” theatres in London to two, Covent Garden and Drury Lane. While this provision was lifted by a second Theatres Act in 1843, the censorship of new plays continued until 1968.
Image of the Lord Chamberlain's Day Books
Some of the new regulations laid down by the 1843 Act continued unchanged for more than a century. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office levied a charge for reading a play – one guinea (£1.05) for a one act play, and two guineas (£2.10) for plays longer than one act. The Office kept extremely careful records of all plays and monies received, largely because the Examiner of Plays, the functionary whose job it was to read each play and advise the Lord Chamberlain whether they were fit for licence, was paid these sums of money rather than a salary. These careful lists survive in the British Library as the Lord Chamberlain’s Day Books.
Only in 1911 was the Examiner of Plays required to write a formal report recording the grounds on which he had decided (or declined) to recommend that a play be licensed. The files which grew around the reports submitted by the Examiners have survived as the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays Correspondence. In later years a file for a controversial play might contain everything from complaints from members of the public – “This is the New Babylon!” raged one anonymous correspondent about a risqué revue of 1937– to press cuttings, copies of police reports, and ticket stubs and witness statements for the occasions when a play’s producer was prosecuted for presenting unlicensed material.
The rules by which plays were judged fit or unfit came about as a result of the 1909 Joint Select Committee on the theatre. The Committee suggested that the Lord Chamberlain should license any play submitted to him unlesshe considered it
To be indecent
To contain “offensive personalities”
To represent on the stage in an invidious manner a living person, or a person recently dead
To do violence to the sentiment of religious reverence
To be calculated to conduce to crime and vice
To be calculated to impair friendly relations with any Foreign Power
To be calculated to cause a breach of the peace
In practice this meant that a play must not have living persons as characters, or those recently dead, whatever the manner in which they were depicted. This rule applied particularly to the Royal Family: no plays about Queen Victoria were permitted before the late 1930s. No Biblical personage, and certainly not God or Jesus Christ could appear as a stage character, however reverent the production.
No wonder that a satirical alphabet of the 1930s had under the letter C : “C is for CENSOR, who keeps the stage clean, by ruling out God and the Crown as obscene.”
A development of rule (a) led to the set of rules concocted to regulate the nude reviews which appeared in London and elsewhere from the late 1930s, the most famous of which were the long series of Revudeville shows at the Windmill Theatre in Soho. Occasional complaints about indecency of dress on stage were nothing new, and there had been a considerable brouhaha when a revue in Coronation Week 1937 had been accused of featuring topless dancers. But in April 1940 the Lord Chamberlain of the day, Lord Clarendon, held a conference on stage nudity and the supposed decline in moral standards. Rather like the 1909 Select Committee, it achieved little except to formulate the famous rules, summarised as “If it moves,it’s rude”. The nude tableaux had to resemble works of art, and exhibit genuine artistic merit. The lighting had to be subdued, and no movement whatsoever was permitted – the girls posing nude were not even allowed to smile. Furthermore, before any nude pose could be exhibited, a photograph had to be submitted for official approval. Many though not all of these photographs survive in the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays Correspondence files, sometimes neatly annotated with the words “YES” or “NO” by a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s staff.
Image of Reader's report for the second submitted version of Hair!, LCP Correspondence LR 1968/2
Moves to liberalise and then to abolish altogether the laws on censorship gathered pace in the middle and late 1960s. By the time the Joint Committee on the Censorship of the Theatre began its meetings in the summer of 1966, radical change was unstoppable. The first draft of the bill which became the 1968 Theatres Act saw the light in January of that year. By July it was ready for the Royal Assent, and on 26 September 1968, it became law. The very last play to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain was As long as I live, a melodrama written for amateur performance, read and recommended for a licence by Examiner Charles Heriot less than a week before the act became law. But the most famous play of 1968 remains the “tribal love-rock musical” Hair, submitted three times in the spring and summer of 1968 by three different managements, each time refused a licence. It is perhaps not accidental that Hair – complete with expletives and full-frontal male nudity -eventually opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 27 September 1968, the very day after the new act became law.
Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.