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39 posts categorized "Discovering Literature"

19 June 2020

“To Mr Pope att Button’s Coffee House”: translating Homer on scraps

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by Tabitha Driver, Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts. Find out more about the Library's collections of material relating to Alexander Pope on Discovering Literature.

Though we have been unable to explore physical collections directly during the last few months, their materiality exercises a continuing fascination. Printing, handwriting, paper, and writing tools all provide evidence of the processes of creation and transmission that’s sometimes not at all easy to reproduce in digital form. A writer’s own manuscripts can reveal much, from the quality of paper to revisions, insertions and rewritings. Not all writers start work with a fresh sheet of paper, either. Used scraps, old envelopes or discarded documents can all serve just as well, whether snatched up as a matter of urgency or simply for economy’s sake.

One such case is the 18th century poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744). Early in his career Pope produced translations of Homer’s two great epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Pope’s Iliad took him over six years to complete – at times he despaired of ever finishing – but when it was finally published, by subscription and issued in parts from 1715 to 1720, it paid off handsomely. Thanks to his earnings from both Homeric epics, Pope acquired invaluable financial independence; as he strikingly declared in a poem from 1737: “But (thanks to Homer) since I live and thrive,/Indebted to no Prince or Peer alive” (Epistle 2, ii.68–9, Poems, 4.169). 

Pope drafted his Homeric translations on the backs of old letters sent to him by friends, family, writers, and other public figures, and on other written fragments. Some years after his death, the drafts were presented to the British Museum in three volumes (Add MS 4807-4809): volumes one and two are the draft translations of The Iliad and the third is The Odyssey. They were early on a source of interest. Samuel Johnson, who described Pope’s Iliad as “the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen” examined the manuscripts at the Museum closely for his life of Pope (Johnson, Lives of the poets, ed. G H Norman (1905) vol. 3, p. 119), and printed comparisons between selected verses from the draft and published versions of The Iliad. He put down Pope’s use of old letters for writing paper to “petty artifices of parsimony”, a sign of the poet’s tendency to excessive frugality. You can find out more about the manuscripts, and read a selection of folios from Add MS 4807, on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website, along with Pope’s sketch of Achilles’ shield from Add MS 4808.

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Opening verses of Homer’s Iliad, translated by Alexander Pope. Manuscript draft (Add MS 4807, f. 17)

 

Besides what we can see of Pope’s translating and writing process from the manuscripts themselves – the crossings out and insertions, and the variances from the published text that Johnson observed – the mixed bag of unrelated letters and notes on which they were written confer a rich additional layer of significance. They provide a fascinating insight into the development of Alexander Pope as a young writer in literary London of the early 18th century, and the coffee house milieu in which he moved, with its literary and political alliances, rivalries, business and friendship.

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End of book 6 of The Iliad, translated by Alexander Pope. Manuscript draft written on a letter addressed to Mr Pope, Button’s Coffee-house (Add MS 4807, f. 87v)

 

The writers of the letters and notes include Pope’s friends John Caryll, the Jacobite Baron Caryll of Durford, Edward Bedingfield of Grays Inn, Barnaby Bernard Lintot, Pope’s publisher, Charles Jervas, portrait artist and painting instructor of Pope, and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, poet, among others.

 

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Letter from Bernard Lintot about reception of “Mr Tickles book” at Buttons Coffee House, 10 June 1715 (Add MS 4807, f. 96v)

Topics touched on in the letters are miscellaneous too. They range from literary matters, such as publication of The Rape of the Lock (Pope’s mock-epic poem about the theft of a lock of hair) in 1712, instructions for the printer Jacob Tonson regarding Pope’s translation of the Sarpedon episode in Poetical miscellanies (1709), and the critical reception of a rival translation of the first book of The Iliad by Thomas Tickle, published in the same month as Pope’s (June 1715), to family affairs, such as medical advice and investments in the South Sea Bubble.

Thanks to the poet’s economical habit of re-using old paper for his writing, the manuscripts of “Pope’s Homer” have acquired a double significance. On the one hand they are important as the original drafts of his hugely successful translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. On the other, they offer us a vivid record of Pope’s life and times during all the years he worked on them.

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Alexander Pope’s sketch of the shield of Achilles (Add MS 4808)

17 June 2020

‘For it was the middle of June’: Dalloway Day

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By Laura Walker, Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts. Discover more about the British Library’s Virginia Woolf collections on Discovering Literature and find the three manuscript notebooks containing drafts of Mrs Dalloway on Digitised Manuscripts. See the Royal Society of Literature’s website for more information on their Dalloway Day events.

Virginia Woolf is perhaps best known for her ground breaking novel, Mrs Dalloway, which follows the events of a single Wednesday in June. The novel uses a stream of consciousness to follow individual characters inner thoughts and feelings. The two main characters, the socialite Clarissa Dalloway and the shell shocked First Wold War veteran Septimus Smith often provide mirrors of one another, reflecting concepts of sanity and insanity and life and death.

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Virginia Woolf, The Hours or Mrs Dalloway, Add MS 51044 front cover and f.5

© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work. 

Unsurprisingly it took longer than a day for Woolf to write the novel. She wrote at least two drafts of Mrs Dalloway, originally called The Hours, in seven cloth bound notebooks. Three of these notebooks are now held at the British Library. Woolf kept a record of the dates on which she wrote particular sections of the drafts. The date on the first page of the first British Library notebook (Add MS 51044) is Wednesday 27 June 1923, and follows on from the draft in another notebook at the Berg collection at the New York Public Library.

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Virginia Woolf, The Hours or Mrs Dalloway, Add MS 51045 f.113

© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work. 

The first notebook at the British Library begins with Peter Walsh, an old friend and flame of Clarissa’s walking in Westminster, which appears midway through the novel. This draft was completed over a year later on Thursday 9 October 1924 at 11.45 and runs into the second notebook (Add MS 51045) held at the British Library. Folio 113 is full of crossings out and changes to the text. It appears as though Woolf couldn’t get the ending quite right and, in this draft, it differs from the published version apart from the final line, ‘For there she was’.

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Virginia Woolf, The Hours or Mrs Dalloway, Add MS 51045 f.114

© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work. 

Woolf begins the novel again on the next page, folio 114, 11 days later on 20 October. It opens with the socialite Clarissa Dalloway who is leaving her house to buy flowers in advance of a party she is hosting later in the day. She is in a buoyant mood and takes delight in the city of London and its occupants.

In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

Woolf herself loved London, it was her ‘beloved city’ and she enjoyed visiting the landmarks, parks and gardens. In a diary entry from 29 March 1940 she describes ‘walking along the Strand and letting each face give me a buffet’.

The Royal Society of Literature are using London as the theme for a couple of their Dalloway events. From 10am on 17 June they will launch ‘“There We Stop; There We Stand” with S. I. Martin – author, artist and founder of 500 Years of Black London walks – on an aural tour of London, from the National Portrait Gallery to Tottenham Court Road, exploring the black cultural heritage of Clarissa Dalloway’s footsteps, and touching on the lives of those whose portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery.’

10am There We Stop; There We Stand: Exploring the black cultural history of London with S. I. Martin – an aural walking tour

‘”I love walking in London”, said Mrs Dalloway. “Really, it’s better than walking in the country."

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London under lockdown — or gradually easing lockdown — is very different to the bustling metropolis that Woolf described in the early 1920s. However, she would have known too well the experience of living through a pandemic; the Spanish Flu of 1918 was not a distant memory. In an article in The New YorkerMrs Dalloway is seen as ‘at least in part, a novel devoted to influenza’ and although not connected directly to the pandemic Clarissa is described to have fallen prey to the virus. The literary scholar Elizabeth Outka believes that any mention of influenza in the early 1920s must have been a reference to the pandemic of the Spanish Flu.

‘Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza)’

The situation today ‘puts Clarissa’s pleasure in traversing the city in a new light. So does reading it in the midst of our own pandemic, which has temporarily dissolved the busy urban scenes Woolf describes so lovingly throughout her book.’ In the next event at 2pm the Royal Society of Literature have joined with the Literary Hub, whose managing editor Emily Temple will host a Zoom based book-group to explore how Mrs Dalloway affects readers lives during this pandemic. It will explore themes of ‘solitude, PTSD, societal progress, and autonomy and freedom, Mrs Dalloway reflects much of many readers’ lives, and offers a lot for other readers to consider.’

2pm Literary Hub and RSL book club discussing Mrs Dalloway

Hosted by Literary Hub’s Emily Temple

‘Moments like this are buds on the tree of life.’ —Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

Most of the characters in Mrs Dalloway share their experiences of walking through the city. For Clarissa London is a playground and she has the wealth and the position to make the most of what the city can offer. However, Woolf uses the city to reflect Clarissa’s fading worth as an older woman, her loss of identity and the ‘gilded confinement’ of being ‘Mrs Richard Dalloway’.

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‘She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.’

Clarissa’s daughter Elizabeth also explores London including a wander down the Strand, which she sees as an adventure. ‘For no Dalloways came down the Strand daily; she was a pioneer, a stray, venturing, trusting.’ The Dalloways wealth and privilege and the opportunities it brought was something many aspired to and could never achieve. ‘To many of her contemporaries, this ordinary day buying flowers and organising a party represented a freedom they could only hope for due to inequalities of class, gender and race.’

8pm The Pleasure of the Everyday – presented with Literary Hub, with authors Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Kate Young, chaired by Literary Hub’s Emily Temple

‘Everything had come to a standstill’ —Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

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These themes will be considered in a Royal Society of Literature event at 8pm, which will chaired by the Literary Hub’s managing editor Emily Temple, with authors Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Kate Young. They will also ‘explore the quotidian pleasures we’ve developed appreciation for since lockdown, how literature can support us in these confusing times, and how this experience compares to Clarissa Dalloway’s own cerebral journey’.

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Virginia Woolf, The Hours or Mrs Dalloway, Add MS 51046 f.177v

© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work. 

Contained within the cloth bound notebooks are other works and articles by Woolf that sit at the end of the notebooks and between sections of Mrs Dalloway. The second notebook, (Add MS 51045) contains a short story for children called Nurse Langton's Golden Thimble. The other two notebooks contain passages from essays published in the Common Reader including 'The Pastons and Chaucer' and 'On not knowing Greek' as well as other articles and reviews.

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Virginia Woolf, Street Haunting (1930, San Francisco) Cup.510.pb.30

© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Woolf believed that a ‘good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out’. ‘Perhaps as loved as her fiction and letters, Woolf’s essays guide their reader through considerations of equality, the importance of literature, health, and pleasure. Many readers have discovered or re-discovered Woolf’s essays during lockdown, finding in them inspiration and solace in uncertain times. In her essay “Street Haunting” Virginia Woolf noted, “we are no longer quite ourselves”, which takes on new meaning almost a century later, when essays still help us make sense of the world around us. Join writers Mona Eltahawy and Sinéad Gleeson in conversation with Charleston’s Susannah Stevenson at 6.30pm as they discuss the power of modern essay writing, the potential of the form to progress feminism, and the legacy of Virginia Woolf’s work.’

6.30pm The Common Reader in Uncommon Times with authors Sinéad Gleeson and Mona Eltahawy, chaired by Charleston’s Susannah Stevenson

‘A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out’—Virginia Woolf, ‘The Common Reader’

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Perhaps Woolf’s most famous essay is ‘A Room of One’s Own’, a key text in feminist literary criticism where she examines the educational, social and financial disadvantages women have faced throughout history. It contains Woolf’s famous argument that, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ – although Woolf describes this as ‘an opinion upon one minor point’, and the essay explores the ‘unsolved problems’ of women and fiction ‘to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money’. 

 

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Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (Hogarth Press 1929), Cup.410.f.577
© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work. 

 

In the essay Woolf remarks upon the nature of female relationships, ‘Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen.  Sometimes women do like women.’ ‘Almost the entire body of Virginia Woolf’s writing – her novels, essays and letters –have been interpreted from a variety of queer perspectives, and her work has inspired many modern interpretations across film, dance and theatre.’ At 10pm BBC Radio 3 will air Free Thinking: ‘Queer Bloomsbury’, in which ‘presenter Shahidha Bari, authors Paul Mendez and Francesca Wade will discuss and debate Woolf’s legacy for modern queer writing, as well as lesser-known queer histories of Bloomsbury.’

10pm BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking: ‘Queer Bloomsbury’with authors Paul Mendez and Francesca Wade , chaired by Shahidha Bari

‘Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen.  Sometimes women do like women.”—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

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The full programme for the events on Dalloway as well as details on how to join in can be found on the Royal Society of Literature’s website.

 

 

22 May 2020

“Without being a burden to anybody”: A letter from Ann Radcliffe to her Mother-in-Law from afar.

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by Zoe Louca-Richards, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts. For an introduction to Anne Radcliffe, visit Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. For a digitised edition of Radcliffe's letter to her mother-in-law (part of Add MS 78689), click here. For a contemporary biography of Ann Radcliffe see Rictor Norton's The Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe (BL Shelfmark: YC.2000.a.3820).

With the restriction on travel and strict social distancing regulations of the past few months, many of us have had to adapt to caring for our parents (or older relatives) from afar. This challenge is certainly not one unique to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. We often take for granted the remarkable ease of movement we are afforded today. For people in the past without the fast and convenient luxury of modern transport, navigating this familial duty remotely was a necessity — and with no Face-time or WhatsApp for easy and efficient contact, communications were dependent on pen and paper alone. A unique letter held in the archive at the British Library, penned by 18th century gothic romancer and poet Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823), offers us an intriguing insight into the testing situation of distanced parental care in the late 1700s, as well as a rare glimpse of her personal affairs. A digitised copy of the letter can be found here.

The letter (Add MS 78689) was written from Ann Radcliffe to her mother-in-law, Deborah Radcliffe, and although undated is believed to have been written in the 1790s, during the height of Radcliffe’s success.  Unfortunately it is incomplete, with the middle (bottom half of the page) of the letter missing. Never the less, we can piece together a narrative from what remains. It begins “Dear Madam” - a somewhat impersonal greeting for a relative by today’s standards, but not uncommon in the 18th century – and continues to discuss her Mother-in-law’s financial and living situation.

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Add MS 78689 - Letter from Ann Radcliffe to her mother-in-law, from the EVELYN PAPERS Vol. DXXII .  British Library - Creative Commons with attribution.

 

The overall tone of the letter is frosty and seems more that of a chastising parent than of a concerned child-in-law. In the first part of the letter, Ann draws into question her mother-in-law’s continued complaints of financial hardship, noting that “The reasonableness of things in Yorkshire is well known”. Nonetheless, whether through duty or care, Ann assures her that she and William (her husband) will continue to support her. She adds that if she cannot be provided the necessities of life with their current level of financial assistance, without becoming a “burden to anybody”, she should move in with her and William, where she “shall always find plenty”.

The second part of the letter discusses some funds that Ann and William had sent to Deborah, which appear to have gone astray in transit. The situation seems a matter of contention, with Ann remarking “You will recollect the unwillingness which William formerly expressed to send money to you at Broughton […] I assured you we did not for a moment suppose you had received a two pound note when you assured us to the contrary, and it was therefore unnecessary for you to vindicate yourself again”. One can only assume that Deborah must have made her feelings of accusation very clear in the preceding letter to Ann. Tensions are clearly high, and without wanting to fall into any tired mother-in-law tropes, the letter gives the impression that Deborah and Ann’s relationship may have been strained. Ensuring the care of her mother-in-law from afar appears to be a frustrating charge for Ann. Nevertheless, she signs the letter off with her love and good wishes.

Ann_Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe (Public Domain)

 

Unfortunately, this may be the only evidence of Ann’s relationship with William’s mother that we are ever afforded. The authoress appears to have been a very private individual - she made very few public appearances during her lifetime, and left behind few manuscript items. This letter is one of only a handful of known surviving autograph documents. Whilst scholarship on her published works is extensive, the lack of primary material has resulted in few biographical accounts. The Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti is alleged to have started a biography of Radcliffe in the 1880s as part of the Roberts Brothers’ ‘Eminent Women’ series (AKA. the ‘Famous Women’ series in the US), but abandoned the endeavour due to the lack of information. What we know of Anne comes from only a handful of primary sources. Her first biography, Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd’s Memoir of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Radcliffe (1826), was penned 3 years after her death, and was based on information provided by William. It has been speculated that William's careful posthumous management of his wife's reputation may have extended to the destruction of her papers, but there is no evidence to prove this.

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First edition title page for Anne Radcliffe's novel, “The Italian” (public domain)

 

The bristly nature of the communications between Ann and her mother-in-law, draws to mind the relationship of Ellena and Marchesa di Vivaldi in The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797). It was Ann’s final novel (to be published in her lifetime), and its dark tale of love and persecution sees the Marchesa -- in the role of evil mother-in-law -- conspiring against her prospective daughter-in-law, Ellena. Could Ann have used her own experiences with her mother-in-law as inspiration? Many scholars have sought to draw parallels between Radcliffe and her heroines in an attempt to better understand the authoress. (The most frequent comparison being between Radcliffe and Emily from The Mysteries of Udolpho [1794]). Nevertheless, the relative lack of primary source material relating to Radcliffe means that any attempt to identify where -- or indeed if -- this relationship exists can only ever be speculative.

Without more sources we cannot make a concrete judgement about the relationship of these two women, and the letter leaves us wondering more about the Radcliffe family dynamics than it tells us. Never the less, this fragmented letter is a precious and rare remnant of Ann’s life, and many of us can undoubtedly sympathise with Ann’s exasperation, and the frazzled relationships that can coincide with caring for each other from a distance.

07 May 2020

Angela Carter: A Celebration

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By Greg Buzwell, Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives. Read more about the Angela Carter Archive on Discovering Literature and see the entire catalogue entry on our catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts at Add MS 88899. Listen back to our event, Angela Carter: a Celebration, presented in association with the Royal Society of Literature at the British Library on 24th November 2016.

To mark what would have been the year of Carter’s 80th birthday, we wanted to give everyone another chance to listen to Angela Carter: A Celebration, an event presented in association with the Royal Society of Literature at The British Library on 24 November 2016. Edmund Gordon, author of the multiple award-winning The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography talks to Lisa Appignanesi, Susannah Clapp and Pauline Melville, all friends of Carter. Something to enjoy, perhaps, while raising a drink (Carter enjoyed wine, I believe) of your choice in honour of Carter’s memory, and in celebration of her work.

 

Angela Carter, had she lived, would have celebrated her 80th birthday on May 7th this year. Sadly, we will never know what she would have made of the current world situation but, from her books, articles and interviews we can be certain that her opinions would have been perceptive, original and expressed with a refreshingly bracing honesty and vigour. There are many things to admire about Carter’s life and work, but perhaps none more so than the fact she wasn’t afraid of tackling the big subjects and addressing each one – sex, death, politics, class, feminism and parenthood to name but a few – with a devil-may-care directness. Even when people disagreed with her observations, as some did for example with The Sadeian Woman (1979) - her influential critique of pornography and the cultural determinism of gender and sexuality - it’s impossible not to admire the intelligence, wit and originality with which her ideas were expressed.

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Angela Carter, circa 1975. (c) Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter

During her career Carter wrote novels and short stories that changed the landscape of British fiction. In particular the books she published from the early 1970s onwards display a remarkable originality. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), for example, largely inspired by her experiences of Japan marries surrealism and philosophy to tell a tale that seems more relevant than ever in today’s world of computer games and virtual reality. The Passion of New Eve (1977) meanwhile, one of the key works of 1970s feminism, satirises simplistic notions of gender, sex and identity. Angela Carter was always well ahead of the curve. The stories in The Bloody Chamber combine feminism and fairy tales with sublime Gothic imagery to inspire emotions in the reader that are by turns shocking and uplifting. Her final two novels, Nights at the Circus (1984) and Wise Children (1991) took her work in new directions. Wise Children, with its highly theatrical – in every possible sense of the word – cast of characters is a stylish and original take on highbrow and lowbrow art and the claims both have for a place in the world, and in our affections.

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A page from Angela Carter’s manuscript draft of ‘The Bloody Chamber’. Add. MS 88899/1/13. © Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter

With the support of the Estate of Angela Carter the British Library was able to feature highlights from her papers on its Discovering Literature: 20th Century website. From articles on themes such as fairy tales, cross-dressing and identity to explorations of individual collection items such as Carter’s manuscript drafts of Nights at the Circus or her notes about Tooting Granada Cinema the website allowed us to bring items from the archive to a worldwide audience. Indeed, we could add to the picture of Carter given by her archive by including other British Library collection items, such as her experimental poem 'Unicorn', first printed in 1963 in Vision, a magazine edited by Carter and Nick Curry when the pair were students at Bristol University. The poem, which takes the medieval myth of the unicorn and virgin and transposes it to a sleazy modern setting of pornography and strip clubs provides an early precursor to novels like The Passion of New Eve and the stories in The Bloody Chamber.

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A page from Carter’s experimental poem ‘Unicorn’, from an edition published by the Location Press in 1966. Cup.805.a.9. © Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter

Curators always have favourites among the archives they look after, even if in many ways they’re not really supposed to ‘value’ one collection over another. Like passing the port to the right or snoozing through the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day curators having favourites is slightly frowned upon in some circles. All the same, given that an archive of a writer, politician, publisher, actor, etc., should provide as complete a picture as possible of their life and work the archive of Angela Carter is undeniably a fascinating source of wonders.

 

24 April 2020

Domesticity after the Housekeepers

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By Jessica Gregory, Curatorial Support Officer of Modern Manuscripts. The Grace Higgens Papers are found at Add MS 83198 – Add MS 83258. For more information on her life see The Charlton Trust.  A biography of Higgens, The Angel of Charleston: Grace Higgens, Housekeeper to the Bloomsbury Group was published by British Library Press in 2013.

As the reality of working from home begins to set in — and a new, intensely domestic form of life begins to take shape — I’ve been thinking about how the Library’s literary collections can sometimes gloss over the day-to-day realities of life in favour more abstract or aesthetic concerns. In thinking through this, I was drawn again to Grace Higgens (1903-1983). Higgens spent most of her working life in the household of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (of Bloomsbury Group fame), where she was employed as a domestic servant from the age of seventeen until her retirement at age seventy. In 2007 the British Library acquired Higgens’ archive, consisting of her diaries, letters and photographs. Her papers shed light on a life dedicated to professional housekeeping in a time when the management of the domestic sphere was changing rapidly and remind us — especially now, if we needed to be reminded — that the cultural life of a society has always depended upon the (often unsung) labour of certain key-workers.

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Grace HiggensDiary 1924, Add MS 83204 © Estate of Grace Higgens

 

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Grace Higgens describes witnessing the Woolfs on their bicycles looking absolute freaks. © Estate of Grace Higgens

 

As well as providing a a humourous insight into Higgens’ daily life and her opinions of the bohemian crowd that gathered around the house — including descriptions of Virginia and Leonard Woolf — her archives also show us what life dominated by domestic work looked like in the first half of the twentieth-century. When Higgens first entered employment, domestic service was one of the few careers open to her; and the knowledge that her life would be somewhat delimited by the house and garden came as no surprise to her. That so many of us are now struggling with the tighter borders around our own lives in part illustrates the profound changes that have taken place over the twentieth century, which have given many of us the privilege to choose how much we stay at home.

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UK Government Stay at Home Advert, 2020 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

The problem of keeping on top of the housework is only novel to those lucky enough to have not dealt with its pressures previously. The double burden of bread-winning and doing the housework has always been a reality to many working-class women. But for those who could afford to outsource  housework, this was one way in which they could assume more control over their lives; to build the foundations for walls which could support the erection of a ‘room of one’s own’.

Through the ages, the upper-classes have employed servants to cook, clean, garden and child-rear, but it was with the new money of the Victorian middle-classes that many families could also employ domestic servants. The pre-modern kitchens of this era meant that supplying heat, food and clean clothes to a family was a full-time job for at least one, if not more, servants. The Victorian era emphasised house-proudnessas an aspiration for women and publications directed at women from the time explained ways to achieve this. Most famously Mrs Beetons Book of Household Management, aimed to inform young wives of all the essentials needed to keep a husband happy and ensure that he would not stray. However, even Mrs. Beeton did not expect a wife to do all the work in the house, even going so far as to give advice on how much to pay domestic servants.

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The title page of Mrs Beetons, Book of Household Management, 1861 

By 1901, in the new Edwardian era there were upwards of 1.5 million domestic servants employed in households in Britain. This was the largest employment sector for women in Britain. Domestic service would dominate employment opportunities for women until the First World War. With work needed to be done on the home front, and more opportunities in the growing retail and clerical economy, more women left domestic service. This exodus was exacerbated through the Second World War as employment opportunities proliferated and the modernisation of the household kitchen meant much more labour-saving opportunities. Increasingly, the domestic servant was replaced with the housewife. By 1950, a third of women were in paid employment, but despite the advances of the era – the new NHS, smaller family sizes and an increased availability of part-time work - most womens daily lives were still centred on the domestic sphere.

By the time Grace Higgens bought her own home and retired in 1970, the role of the housekeeper as she knew it had changed beyond recognition. Grace Higgens daily life had been dominated by household chores, but so too were the lives of many married women at the time; only they were not paid. This would become a major concern for the Womens Liberation Movement which emerged in the nineteen seventies. As more women swapped the home for work, the domestic landscape changed once again. In households where both adults worked, domestic work came second to paid work and women increasingly contested assumption that the extrawork in the house automatically fell to them. With the eighties boom more families decided to outsource this work, much like their Victorian predecessors had. The domestic worker returned in a different guise, in that of the casual-contract cleaner, the au pair, nanny, cook, gardener and even the dog-walker.

Now, as we close our front door and return to the domestic sphere once again, many people are figuring out their relative positions for a life lived entirely in the home — if only for a short while. The full-time housekeeper like Grace Higgens may be — for the most part, at least — a relic of the past, but domestic work persists, and its division remains as always unequally distributed along lines of gender and class. Dynamics shift and change as we all adapt to the lock-down landscape. Preconceived roles of men and women in the home may be looser today than in Higgens’ day, but there is only one way to prove the hypothesis that nowadays we divide domestic work more fairly: roll up your sleeves, muck in and spread the load.

22 April 2020

Tour of the Literary Modern Archive and Manuscript Digital Collections

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 by Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. Follow the activities of the Modern Archives and Manuscripts department on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS .

Just because the Library has closed its doors doesn’t mean that our manuscript collections are out of reach. The push towards digitisation for these unique and often fragile collection items is guided by a need to preserve them for posterity, but now more than ever, in these unprecedented times, it’s great to be able to share them with our users, near and far.

The Library’s Digitised Manuscripts portal is one of the best places to find high-resolution digital images of our manuscript collections, hosting an incredibly diverse selection of material ranging  from botany in British India to the Zweig collection of Music manuscripts. Literary manuscripts represent a small but important collection within Digitised Manuscripts, but they can be difficult to locate. Of course, if you are searching directly on the Digitised Manuscripts portal and you already know the manuscript’s reference number, the most efficient way of locating any manuscript is by using ‘Advanced Options’ and entering your search into the ‘Manuscript Number’ field.

Manuscript numbers and digitised manuscripts can also be found using our catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts. If a manuscript has been digitised a digital version link will appear in the catalogue entry under the ‘I Want This’ tab. Unlike Discovering Literature, which interprets collection material and builds out context (and is a fantastic resource which will feature in an upcoming English & Drama Blog) Digitised Manuscripts is more like a digital Reading Room experience, reproducing the (often large) collection items in full, for your own discovery, interpretation and research. Both sites work in tandem, and if there’s material you’re interested in it’s always worth looking in both places.

In this blog I’ve included a guide to most of the literary manuscripts that can be found on Digitised Manuscripts, divided chronologically and in some cases by area or author. But first, I want to pick two of my personal highlights.

The Library holds the only surviving letters of Ignatius Sancho (Add MS 89077), one of the most famous Anglo-Africans in 18th-century Britain. According to Joseph Jekyll’s 1782 biography, Sancho was born on a transatlantic slave ship and brought to England as a child. Through a long and complex relationship with the noble Montagu family, Sancho was able to assert a level of intellectual and financial independence which made him into an icon for abolitionists in Britain. Sancho was a man of many talents: a shopkeeper, a composer and an accomplished writer. His Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave.

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Stevenson Papers: The letters of Ignatius Sancho (Add MS 51044). A summary of each letter is given in the British Library catalogue. Nine of the letters were published posthumously in Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782) with some variations. In places, the manuscript has been marked up with sections to be cut before publication. All 15 of the letters written by Ignatius Sancho (but not those by his children) are published in Vincent Carretta's 2015 edition.


In 1758 Sancho married Anne Osborne, a West Indian woman with whom he had seven children. Apart from the letters by Ignatius Sancho, the collection contains letters from his son William Leach Osborne Sancho (or Billy, 1775‒1810) and his daughter Elizabeth Sancho (1766‒1837). The letters are written to Ignatius Sancho’s friend William Stevenson (1750‒1821), a publisher and painter who trained under Sir Joshua Reynolds and to William’s father, the Reverend Seth Ellis Stevenson (d. 1796). The letters have all been digitised and are available to view on Digitised Manuscripts. More information on Sancho and the contents of the letters can be found on Discovering Literature.

Another personal favourite are three notebooks by Virginia Woolf, containing the working draft for one of her most famous novels, Mrs Dalloway, under the working-title The Hours, dated from 27th June 1923. This handwritten draft was chosen by Vita Sackville West as the manuscript that she would like to keep as a lasting memory of Woolf. It was presented to the Library by a member of her family. When the notebooks were bound by the British Museum, the original cloth and paper covers were kept and can be seen in these images.

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Notebooks of Virginia Woolf for her novel Mrs Dalloway, 1925 (Add MS 51044) and for essays published in The Common Reader, 1925. © The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

 

Restoration and 18th century

The British Library holds a wealth of original manuscripts from the Restoration and 18th century period. Unfortunately, very few manuscripts currently appear on Digitised Manuscripts. A greater selection can be found on the Library’s Discovering Literature site.

  • Agreement between John Milton and Samuel Symmons (Add MS 18861)
  • Ignatius Sancho
    • Letters to William Stevenson (Add MS 89077)
  • Thomas Hobbes
    • A minute or first Draught of the Optiques (Harley MS 3360)
    • The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (Harley MS 4235-4236)
    • The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (imperfect) (Harley MS 6858)

 

Romantics and Victorians

The majority of our literary treasures have been digitised for their long-term preservation and for use as surrogates. For restricted manuscripts, including the ones below by William Blake, Charlotte Bronte and Lewis Carroll that have been digitised, all readers will be asked to initially consult these images before accessing the original manuscript(s). We are looking to upload images of further literary manuscripts in the near future.

  • William Blake
    • Four Zoas (Add MS 39764)
    • The Notebook (Add MS 49460)
  • Charlotte Bronte
    • Jane Eyre, (Add MS 43474-43476)
    • Shirley (Add MS 43477-43479)
    • Villette (Add MS 43480-43482)
  • Lewis Carroll
    • Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, (Add MS 46700)
    • Diaries 4 and 5 (Add MS 54343-54344)
  • Thomas Hardy
    • Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Add MS 38182)
  • John Keats
    • Poems (Egerton MS 2780)
  • Edward Lear
    • 'History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipplepopple' (Add MS 47462)
  • William Wordsworth
    • Poems (Add MS 47864)
  • Charnwood Autographs (Add MS 70949)

 

The Romantics and Victorians pages of the Discovering Literature site can be found here.

 

Oscar Wilde

As part of a cultural exchange project working with Chinese institutions the British Library created a number of exhibitions, online learning resources, knowledge exchanges and events based on the Library’s literary treasures. This included the digitisation of a number of Oscar Wilde manuscripts that are now available on Digitised Manuscripts. The Library holds two main collections of Wilde material, the first Add MS 37942-37948 was presented by Robert Ross in 1909 and the second Add MS 81619-81884, the collection of Mary, Viscountess Eccles presented in 2004.

  • Autograph draft of Lady Windermere’s Fan (Add MS 37943)
  • Autograph draft of Mrs Arbuthnot (Add MS 37944)
  • Typescript draft of Mrs Arbuthnot Add MS 37945
  • Autograph draft of An Ideal Husband (Add MS 37946)
  • Typescript draft of An Ideal Husband (Add MS 37947)
  • Lady Lancing, early autograph draft of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 37948)
  • Typescript draft of Lady Windermere’s Fan (Add MS 81621)
  • Autograph draft of A Woman of No Importance (Add MS 81622)
  • Typescript draft of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 81624)
  • Photographs of early productions of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 81626)
  • Autograph draft of ‘A Note on Shakespeare’ (Add MS 81643)

A Chinese language version of Discovering Literature was created as part of the project.

 

First World War

In commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, the British Library partnered with Europeana to digitise and provide free access to as many collection items as possible created during the time of the war or relating to it. This included a wealth of literary material such as Wilfred Owen’s handwritten haunting poems often annotated by Siegfried Sassoon.

 

  • Laurence Binyon
    • ‘For the Fallen’ (Add MS 45160)
  • Rupert Brooke
    • ‘The Dead’ and ‘The Soldier’ (Add MS 39255 M)
    • Letter from Rupert Brooke to Harriet Monroe (Add MS 42181 B)
    • Exercise-book, containing eleven poems (Add MS 42509)
    • Scribbling pad, with notes in pencil, containing: (a) notes of military lectures and personal memoranda made whilst in the Royal Naval Division training at Blandford and (b) drafts of war poems, some cancelled, consisting of lines of War Sonnets and unpublished fragments (Add MS 42510)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
    • Casement Petition Papers (Add MS 63596)
  • Thomas Hardy letter to Edmund Gosse (Ashley MS B3341)
  • Samuel Koteliansky
    • Papers and correspondence (Add MS 48969-48975)
  • Wilfred Owen
    • Poems (Add MS 43720- Add MS 43721)
  • Dollie, Ernest, Maitland and Muriel Radford
    • Correspondence (Add MS 89029/1/9, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 59)
  • Isaac Rosenberg
    • Poems, prose and letters (Add MS 58852)
    • Letters, poems and books (Loan MS 103/77/1-3)
  • Siegfried Sassoon
    • Letters to his uncle, Sir William Hamo Thornycroft (Add MS 56099)
  • Philip Edward Thomas
    • Poems (Add MS 44990)
  • Royal Literary Fund Annual Reports (Loan 96 RLF 3/19-20)

Interpretation of some of the above collection items and articles based on key themes relating to the War can be found on the British Library’s World War One website. The Europeana 1914-1918 website hosts content from a variety of European institutions and private collections.

Parts of the Library’s literary collections have also been digitised by external companies. These are mostly subscription services and access is usually provided via the computers in the Reading Rooms. However, whilst the Library is closed it may be worth checking whether your local or University Library may provide remote access.

One key resource is Gale’s Nineteenth Century Collections Online, which includes images of the Lord Chamberlains Plays dating from 1824 until 1899, (Add MS 42865-43038, Add MS 53092-53701 and 53702-53708) as well as copies of manuscripts relating to George Bernard Shaw, G.K. Chesterton and the Coleridge family.

Other products containing British Library or other related literary collections include:

 

10 April 2020

Postcards for our times

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Postcard from the archive of Angela Carter Archive, Add MS 88899/3/4-24. © Courtesy of Susannah Clapp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

When was the last time you sent a friend a postcard? Perhaps now’s the time. Yes, you could Whatsapp or videocall or email, but who doesn’t love post? Even if receiving it in this day and age does throw up multiple questions. Should I wash my hands after touching it? Did the postwoman wear gloves? My dad even took to quarantining the daily newspaper for a while until the absurdity of reading 24 hour-old ‘news’ got the better of him. Still, once you’ve got past the hurdle of welcoming an item from the outside world into your home, there is all the joy of the postcard to appreciate. A written message and a visual element to admire, and perhaps some witty interplay between the two, depending on the acuity of the sender.

As we continue our blog series on Digital Literary Collections and following on from Callum’s post on the epistolary novel, I’d like to draw attention to the humble postcard. Sometimes overlooked within the correspondence section of a literary archive, many of our contemporary literary archives contain substantial numbers of postcards and greetings cards. Unlike the heavyweight genre that is the literary letter, they may not be as painstakingly performative and endlessly quotable as their paper counterparts. But these cardboard cousins offer us a more intimate and arguably less self-conscious view of literary friendships. And the images chosen by the senders can themselves offer insights into the workings of a writer’s imagination.

In Susannah Clapp’s article Angela Carter in Postcards on our Discovering Literature: 20th Century website, she recalls her friendship with Carter as played out in postcards ‘dashed off throughout the 1980s from Australia, the States, Europe, London’:

These cards told more than one story. The cartoons, paintings and photographs Angela chose sometimes contradicted, at other times re-emphasised her words on the other side. Some of the images glance at a conversation we had been having, or at an episode in Angela’s life. Sometimes, of course, the picture hints at nothing. Soon it will be harder to uncover the hidden history here, to know what is random and what is allusive.

The images which Carter sent to Clapp reveal her preoccupation with Shakespeare in the early stages of work on Wise Children, as well as her delight in lampooning authority figures, and her aesthetic tastes (there’s something particularly Carteresque about the red splatter of Mount Etna exploding in a card sent to Clapp in 1987). For further commentary see Susannah Clapp's article Angela Carter in Postcards, or her beautiful little book, A Card From Angela Carter.

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Postcards from the archive of Angela Carter Archive, Add MS 88899/3/4-24. © Courtesy of Susannah Clapp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

As a great sender of postcards, it follows that Carter also received many in return. The large collection in her archive includes examples from other writer friends, such as one from ‘Jim’ [J G] Ballard, congratulating her on ‘your demolition job on Our Saviour’, referring to a documentary she had written and narrated irreverently deconstructing visual images of Christ. Aptly, Ballard chose a reproduction of Dalí’s surrealist painting of Mae West as a vehicle for his message, while comparing her achievement to that of other surrealist artists: ‘Breton + Ernst would have been proud of you’. Given the visual sophistication of both writers’ work it’s not surprising that they both enjoyed this means of communication. (For more on Ballard’s interest in and influence on visual art see Roger Luckhurst’s article on our site.)

And of course, sometimes the postcards we find in a writer’s possession were never sent but were kept for inspiration, such as Winston Levy’s souvenir postcard of the Empire Windrush that hung on his daughter Andrea Levy’s wall as a visual reminder of the true story that prompted her to write Small Island.

Empire Windrush

Postcard of Empire Windrush purchased by Winston Levy on board ship, 1948 © By kind permission of Andrea Levy

I’m off to look through my postcard collection… Meanwhile, if anyone is feeling lonely and in need of post during lockdown, see the brilliant Shaun Usher’s offer to send a ‘letter of need’.

03 April 2020

Epistolary Novels and Social Distancing

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by Callum McKean, Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives and Manuscripts. Read more about 18th century letter writing culture, and the epistolary novel, on Discovering Literature Restoration & 18th century, here.

Broad technological change is often experienced as a distortion or shift in our lived experience of communication with one another. In this way, as in so many others, the twenty-first century mirrors and repeats what was rehearsed in the eighteenth-century. As Dr. Lucy Curran writes in the article linked above — cementing the relation between technology, speed and infrastructure: “the 18th century is commonly known as the great age of letter writing: postal routes rapidly expanded, and the epistolary novel emerged as a hugely popular genre”. As communication at a distance became more viable and wide-spread, so did novel forms of self-expression and self-construction, or, as Curran writes, ‘just as social media streams today allow modern celebrities to present versions of their intimate lives for public consumption, so early modern and 18th-century figures carefully constructed themselves in their letters for particular audiences keen to read these kinds of works”.

Frontispeice for Letter Writing ManualThe frontispiece of Samuel Richardson's Letters Written to and for Particular Friends, a letter-writing manual, which inspired perhaps the most famous epistolary novel, his Pamela (1740)

This knotty relationship in the epistolary novel between the secluded self and the social self, between private relationships and their performance, and between sociality — as mediated by rapid technological change — and isolation, has much to tell us about our current moment. Like it or not, the selves we construct through social media, instant messaging and video conferencing software are collected and stored somewhere (if even just in the minds of others) and they exist -- to a large extent -- outside of us. Reflecting on how others navigated these choppy waters in the past can teach us a lot about what it means to be performing, constructing, confiding and loving in a time of enforced social distancing. If you're curious, Dr. Lucy Curran's article for Discovering Literature: Restoration & 18th century is a great place to start.