23 September 2022
by Dominic Newman, Manuscripts Cataloguer.
Donald Michael Thomas (b. 1935) made his name as a writer when, in the early 1980s, his novel ‘The White Hotel’ scored a sudden success in the United States. With its psychedelic expedition into the subconscious, Freud and the Holocaust, and the vertiginous buckling and melting away of trust in its fickle narrator, the sensation it caused then spread back across the Atlantic to Britain.
Yet Thomas had been writing steadily and copiously for many years beforehand, as his archive, now fully catalogued and available in the Reading Rooms, records. In his early career he considered himself mainly a poet: between the 1960s and the 1980s he filled thirty-five notebooks (preserved in photocopied form) with sketches and drafts of verse. A home-made chart (Add MS 89363/9/6) chronicles appearances of his early poems in magazines and journals.
It was only at the end of the 1970s that Thomas turned to writing novels. His first, ‘Birthstone’, set in his native Cornwall and already exploring his interest in the ideas of Sigmund Freud, is preserved in a first-edition copy (Add MS 89363/1/4) with annotations and amendments by the author. Draft material and annotated typescripts and proofs record work on the other titles that then followed in quick succession, including ‘Russian Nights’, a sequence of novels which, though originally planned as a trilogy, expanded first into a quartet, then a quintet.
Russia is a recurring theme in Thomas’s work. He has translated the poetry of Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova, and made radio adaptations of Russian literature. In the late 1990s he embarked on a substantial biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘A Century in his Life’, which won the Orwell Book Prize in 1999. The archive contains a great deal of draft and research material for this book, as well as photographs and interview transcripts.
A more unusual series of papers (Add MS 89363/8) records one of the great frustrations of Thomas’s career: the seeming impossibility of making a film adaptation of ‘The White Hotel’, in spite of at least three separate attempts by different producers over the years. The idea of a film first surfaced almost immediately after the novel’s overnight success, and at various junctures it seemed almost certain to be made. But each time the project ran into difficulties, including of the legal variety (Thomas even found himself being dragged unwittingly into an American court case). He relates the whole saga in his memoir ‘Bleak Hotel’ (2008), a typescript of which is also present in the archive (Add MS 89363/3/4-5).
Thomas has retained much of his correspondence with publishers and well-known writers (Charles Causley, Stevie Smith, Peter Redgrove, and others), along with hundreds of messages from his sister Lois (Add MS 89363/9/18-24). There are also dozens of family photographs (Add MS 89363/9/8-11), starting at the time of his parents’ courtship in Cornwall in the 1920s and continuing through his childhood and adult life. Lively scenes at home in Truro, where he returned to live in the late 1980s, are preserved for posterity. Most of the snaps are captioned by Thomas himself: ‘Rugby with Dad’ – ‘I was always distant at visits to beach / sea’ – ‘Singing my face off’. Family and friends too are fondly epitheted. There is even a calendar entitled ‘Singing Thomas’s’, each month with a different picture of the family singing, drinking and generally making merry. Thomas has still found time to write, however: the latest drafts and sketches in the archive (Add MS 89363/2/9-23) date from as recently as 2017.
The D. M. Thomas archive is available under shelf-mark Add MS 89363.
08 July 2022
By Alexander Lock, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts.
Today, 8 July 2022, marks the bicentenary of the death of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). One of the most politically radical of the Romantic poets, Shelley’s best known works include ‘Ozymandias’ (1818), ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ (1819), and ‘To the Skylark’ (1820).
Shelley died at sea, aged just 29, on 8 July 1822. Earlier that month Shelley had sailed in his boat, the Don Juan, from his home in San Terenzo to Livorno. On that voyage he was accompanied by a young boat hand, Charles Vivian, and two close friends Edward Williams and naval officer Daniel Roberts. Shelley sailed to Livorno to meet Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron in order to develop their plans for the publication of a new anti-establishment journal The Liberal. Having accompanied Hunt to his accommodation in Pisa, on 8 July Shelley, Williams and Vivian set sail for home. Within a few hours the Don Juan was caught in a severe storm and all three men were lost at sea.
Shelley's body washed ashore near Viareggio on 18 July 1822 and William’s body was found on the same day three miles further along the shore. The remains of Vivian were discovered some weeks later. According to the friend who found them, Edward John Trelawny, Shelley was identified by the ‘volume of Sophocles’ he had ‘in one pocket, and Keats’s poems in the other’. Initially buried in quicklime, Shelley and Williams were exhumed and cremated on 16 August 1822 on the beach near Viareggio where they were found. It had been decided that Shelley’s remains should be interred near John Keats’ in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, whilst the remains of Williams were to be returned to England. In order to facilitate the movement of their bodies and overcome the Italian quarantine laws governing the burial of bodies washed from the sea, it was decided that the men be cremated.
Following the funeral the ashes were collected for burial by Edward Trelawney who had also taken some of Shelley’s hair as a memento. He gave the hair and some of the ashes as a keepsake to Claire Clairmont – Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Lord Byron’s lover who was staying with the Shelleys in San Terenzo. These items would eventually pass to the British Library.
In the weeks leading up to his death, Shelley suffered from visions of drowning and death. In a letter written just after Shelley died – now in the British Library as Ashley MS 5022 – his wife Mary Shelley recounted how he dreamt that ‘the sea was rushing in’ and that he was strangling her whilst Edward Williams and his wife Jane looked on as corpses. After her husband's drowning, Mary began to consider how his visions might have foretold the future.
To mark the bicentenary of the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley, curators at the British Library worked with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah on a new Radio 4 programme ‘Percy Shelley, Reformer and Radical’. Presented by Zephaniah, the 2 part series brings a very personal take on Shelley’s work and how it influenced his own work and that of other poets. As part of this recording we showed Zephaniah the original draft of the ‘Mask of Anarchy’, Shelley’s annotated copy of ‘Queen Mab’, as well as the hair and ashes of the poet taken from his funeral pyre.
Episode 1 was broadcast on Sunday 3 July and episode 2 will be aired on Sunday 10 July, at 4.30pm on BBC Radio 4. The episodes will be available online after broadcast.
21 June 2022
By Catherine Angerson, Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. A small display to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) can be seen in the Treasures Gallery until 25 September 2022.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner recounts the experiences of a mariner whose ship becomes trapped in ice during a long voyage. The mariner brings great misfortune on the ship and its crew by killing the albatross which helped to bring them to safety. Coleridge’s depression and own experiences of travel led to his increasing identification with the Mariner and he continued to revise the poem, first published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, at different episodes during his life.
A new temporary display in the Treasures Gallery brings together three of Coleridge’s manuscripts (a poem and two notebooks) and two 20th-century illustrated editions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the poet.
The first item on display is a handwritten poem titled 'Dura Navis' which Coleridge said he composed at the age of 15 while he was a pupil at Christ’s Hospital in Sussex. The poem shows the poet’s early preoccupation with the isolation of the traveller and the dangers of travelling by sea. The manuscript is an autograph fair copy written down by Coleridge many years after he first composed the poem. A 51-year-old Coleridge added a comment at the bottom of the first page saying that the poem ‘does not contain a line that any clever school boy might not have written’ (Add MS 34225, f.1r).
At the centre of the small display are two of the 55 of Coleridge’s notebooks purchased by the British Museum from the descendants of Coleridge’s brother James in 1951. Coleridge used pocket-sized notebooks to record thoughts, feelings, quotations, travel accounts, language learning (especially German), philosophical musings, poems and more. Notebook No. 9 (Add MS 47506) contains Coleridge’s impressions of a voyage to Malta in April 1804. In a brief moment of calm in the Bay of Biscay, the poet observes ‘the beautiful Surface of the Sea in this gentle Breeze’ (f. 33v). A reference to his friend William Wordsworth’s poem The Female Vagrant can be seen near the bottom of the page: ‘And on the gliding Vessel Heaven & Ocean smil’d!’ (f. 34r)
In October 1806, Coleridge drafted a new version of a short section of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in his Notebook No. 11 (Add MS 47508). While the opening lines, ‘With never a whisper in the main / Off shot the spectre ship’, are close to lines 198–199 of the poem published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, the following two lines do not appear in the first or the amended version published in 1817:
And stifled words & groans of pain
Mix’d on each trembling ^ murmering lip
Other images are altered but recognisable from part III of the poem published in Sibylline Leaves (1817). ‘The Sky was dull & dark the Night’ in the 1806 notebook becomes ‘The stars were dim, and thick the night’ in 1817.
Many artists have been drawn to the creative force and supernatural imagery of The Ancient Mariner. The first illustrated edition on display was designed, decorated and illustrated by Hungarian artist Willy Pogány (born Vilmos András Pogány, 1882–1955) and published in 1910. The illustration of the ship struck by a ‘storm-blast’ is reproduced from Pogány’s watercolour and corresponds to Coleridge’s words on the opposite page. In the poem, the ship is driven by a storm, ‘tyrannous and strong’, towards the South Pole. Pogány’s storm has a suggestion of wings like the winged storm which chases the ship in the poem.
The display concludes with Mervyn Peake’s stark image of a suffering and repentant Mariner in an edition published by Chatto & Windus in 1943. In contrast to Pogány’s deluxe edition printed on vellum, this edition with seven black-and-white illustrations reproduced from Peake’s drawings was designed to be affordable. In Coleridge’s poem, the crew hangs the albatross around the Mariner’s neck to mark his guilt for killing the bird of good omen. Peake’s image hints at the possibility of redemption for the Mariner.
The Coleridge display at the British Library (until 25 September) overlaps by a few weeks with the loan of the manuscript of Coleridge’s other famous poem, Kubla Kahn, and a 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads to the Museum of Somerset for the exhibition In Xanadu: Coleridge and the West Country (until 25 June). The anniversary is also being marked at the British Library on 20 October with the Wordsworth Trust annual lecture by renowned Coleridge biographer Richard Holmes. Tickets will be available from mid-August.
Kathleen Coburn, Merton Christensen and Anthony John Harding, eds, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957–2002)
Seamus Perry, ed., Coleridge's Notebooks: A Selection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)
30 March 2022
Written by Helen Melody, Lead Curator of Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives.
The British Library has been home to the P.G. Wodehouse archive since September 2016. It is a large collection of 481 folders and volumes, which provides a real insight into the life and work of the writer, humourist and lyricist.
The archive contains material relating to Wodehouse’s literary career, his theatrical and cinematic work, the Second World War period and his private life. Also included are papers relating to fans of Wodehouse, research and articles about his writing, events and commemorations organised after his death, and adaptations of his work.
The archive is catalogued and more information can be found by searching the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue using keywords or the reference Loan MS 129. Anyone with a reader’s pass can consult the archive in the Manuscripts reading room on the second floor of the Library. Please see the Reader Registration pages of the Library’s website for more information about how to register for a pass if you do not already have one.
The Wodehouse archive is a resource for everyone but it could be particularly useful for anyone who is planning to submit an entry for the international Essay prize that has been launched by the P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK). The initiative was launched in late 2021 to mark the 140th anniversary of Wodehouse’s birth and coincide with the 25th anniversary of the creation of the society in 2022. Two prizes of £1000 and £250 will be awarded to the adult and junior winners respectively by a judging panel that includes Paula Byrne, Stephen Fry and Sophie Ratcliffe.
The prize is open to all. The judges ask that entries focus on Wodehouse’s novels, stories, plays and journalism with the hope that they will throw scholarly new light on aspects of his writing.
Entries, which must be original and previously unpublished, should be submitted to email@example.com by 12 noon BST on Wednesday 1 September 2022. Full details and Terms & Conditions can be found on the Society’s website. Good luck to anyone who decides to enter.
21 March 2022
By Eleanor Dickens, Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives and Manuscripts.
The British Library has recently announced the acquisition of the Beryl Gilroy Archive, which was donated to the library in 2020.
Beryl Agatha Gilroy (1924–2001), was an acclaimed writer, teacher and ethno-psychotherapist.
Her archive includes drafts of published and unpublished manuscripts, notebooks, research and reflective essays on her own writing. As well as correspondence, material from her counselling practice and born-digital material.
Highlights of the archive include two drafts of In Praise of Love and Children, a rare fictional account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean. These two drafts, one typed and annotated and the other hand-written, show successive versions of Gilroy’s first novel, which was written in 1959 but not published until 1996.
Another highlight, and quite unique, aspect of Gilroy’s archive are the series of essays she wrote analysing and reflecting on her own fiction. Her archive contains such writing for all of her published novels and they are a fantastic additional insight into her work.
The archive also contains unpublished manuscripts of Gilroy’s work, both fiction, for example, a historical novel set during the 1780 Gordon Riots based on the life of a woman known as ‘Black Harriot’ who is thought to be depicted in William Hogarth’s painting The Rake’s Progress. As well as non-fiction, including a non-fiction draft about teaching, which works as a sequel to her memoir Black Teacher, and explores the ways that racist attitudes pervaded her experience of education.
Gilroy said herself that she ‘[…] belonged any place where there were children.’ And her passion, care and dedication for children’s well-being and education shines throughout her archive. Not least in the manuscripts of her contributions to the Nippers series, published by Macmillan, and her own notebooks and research into teaching and inspiring creativity in children.
One of our favourite items in the archive is a copy of a zine Gilroy made with students at Beckford Infants School (now West Hampstead Primary School), where she was head teacher between 1969-1982.
The zine is called ‘BIM’, which probably stands for ‘Beckford Infants Magazine’, and contains poetry, drawings and creative writing by the students at the school. The zine is a wonderful example of Gilroy combining her beliefs in child-centred learning, creative expression and positive self-image.
As part of celebrating Beryl Gilroy and her exceptional archive, there will be a free display in the Treasures Gallery, Celebrating Beryl Gilroy, running from 17 March until 26 June. The display includes highlights from the archive.
As part of this display, the British Library also commissioned the Liverpool-born Nigerian-German artist and filmmaker Amber Akaunu to respond creatively to the archive. Amber has created a zine, The Blueprint and a short film celebrating black women who help educate, nurture and develop children, which will also be on display.
Amber worked on the zine with Lana Maugé, a former student of Gilroy’s, and their contribution in the form of the zine feels like an excellent way of connecting with the zine Gilroy created with her students.
Amber Akaunu, said: ‘Spending time with Gilroy's archive was a luxury that visitors of the British Library will now also get to experience. The contents of the archive are honest, deeply reflective, and unique to the experiences of Dr. Beryl Gilroy. I created my film and zine response with these same attributes in mind, and centred around the idea that Black women, and their archive, are the blueprint to which we build from.’
The acquisition of the Beryl Gilroy archive expands the Library’s existing collections of Caribbean and Black British literary archives, including those of Andrew Salkey, Andrea Levy, James Berry and Wasafiri magazine. It will be available for research on completion of cataloguing in autumn 2022.
For further information or enquiries please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
02 November 2021
By Eleanor Casson, Archivist and cataloguer of the Andrew Salkey Archive (Deposit 10310). Last few days to get tickets to Artist, Mentor, Friend, Activist: Andrew Salkey a Man of Many Hats a British Library conference held in collaboration with Goldsmiths Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, MA Black British Writing (Goldsmiths) and The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.
The Conference is free to book and everyone is welcome. Book your place now.
Andrew Salkey, a Jamaican writer, emigrated to the UK in the early 1950s to study at London University. Salkey was one of a few Caribbean writers swept up in the boom of interest in Britain for the ‘exoticism’ of colonial countries, particularly after the migration of Caribbean workers to Britain. His successful, critically acclaimed debut novel A Quality of Violence was published in 1959. In 1960, he followed this with a significantly more controversial novel Escape to an Autumn Pavement, which has, over time, become an influential piece exploring the Caribbean diasporas portrayal of heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
This early success as a Caribbean writer in Britain led Salkey to become an instrumental figure in developing a diasporic consciousness among Caribbean artists and intellectuals at home and abroad. Salkey experienced the majority of his literary success in the 1960s-1970s with the steady publishing of his children’s novels alongside his adult fiction and poetry. This early success reflects the appetites of British and American publishers during this period. Salkey’s literary works are often underpinned by a political message or influenced by Salkey’s experience of ‘exile’ from his home, Jamaica. By the 1980s the popularity of this type of writing had waned and Caribbean writers often found it more difficult to be published in the UK and also in the US. Salkey continued to write prolifically regardless of his works being published less often. His archive, held at the British Library, includes unpublished manuscripts and typescripts of work he attempted to publish without success. All of the unpublished novels in the archive are children’s novels: The Multi-Coloured Bear of Moscow Road, Luisito, and Norman Kelly. This blog will focus on his unpublished children’s novel Luisito and his unpublished long poem In America.
Luisito is a children’s novel based on the true story of the assassination of a ten-year-old boy, Luis Alfonso Velasquez Flores (Luisito), by the Somoza Regime in Nicaragua during the Nicaraguan Revolution. Luisito was a child revolutionary fighting against the oppressive Somoza Regime in the late 1970s. Salkey wrote in his notes that he first read about the assassination of Luisito in Gramma the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party on 2 September 1979. He began his research notebook on the events surrounding the event and Luisito’s life on 12 October 1980. He lists the ‘characters’, ‘events’ and ‘places’ in the story based on his research of the events in much the same way he did for all of his novels. To ensure he had the correct information Salkey contacted the Office of the National Network in Solidarity with the Nicaraguan People in Washington DC, and the Nicaraguan Mission at the United Nations in New York. He also wrote to the Nicaraguan government twice, in October 1980 and September 1981, but did not receive a reply. Salkey’s friend, the American writer and activist Margaret Randall, was living and working in Nicaragua at the time. She had interviewed Luisito’s mother for her own work about Nicaraguan women. She sent Salkey copies of photographs of his mother and his passport. It is clear from the level of detail how invested Salkey became not only in Luisito’s death, but the cause he was fighting for against the Somoza Regime. Salkey wrote in his diary ‘I haven’t experienced this before, this extraordinary personal identification with the life and death of someone I’m trying to write about. A very odd feeling and equally odd behaviour on my part’.
There are similarities between this children’s novel and his earlier children’s book Joey Tyson. Both look at a ‘real life’ event from the perspective of a child and attempt to engage the reader in adult issues in a way they can understand. There is a clear educational undertone to the work that can be found in most of Salkey’s children’s story writing. The story was sent to publishers in the UK and the US, but was ultimately rejected by them all. Salkey was told by one US publisher that it was ‘too polemical. Too political’.
Salkey began the long poem In America in July 1976, just before his permanent move from the UK to the US, and completed it in August 1981. He had originally allocated four years to write the four ‘books’ (chapters) that make up the poem. In the notebook he kept for this work he wrote a set of notes for this period and a further “late extra notes” for the additional work he did on the poem. This literary project was a deeply personal one for Salkey. He writes in his diary ‘it’s a kind of diarist’s long poem, a record of the poet’s slow acquaintance of his new situation in America, and of America as an experience capable of being written about in poetry’. Alongside this exploration of America, the long poem also delves in to Salkey’s feelings of self-imposed exile from Jamaica and the mixed feelings of living closer to the Caribbean than before. Salkey wrote his novel Luisito within the same time period, which influenced his writing of In America:
In the same breath, the very same poet reminds us:
Somewhere, right now, someone, or system clever as
mustard, is busy building a Somoza castle of sand on an
unsuspecting shoreline. Stop it, if you can!
This verse also encapsulates Salkey’s call to arms style of literary activism. Ultimately the polemic tone of some of the poetry in the long poem contributed to publishers rejecting the manuscript. US publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux Inc. were interested in the long poem but ultimately turned it down to focus on younger poets. William Morrow also turned it down. Salkey writes in his diary in November 1981 that he was not surprised that US publishers rejected the work; ‘I don’t think most of them are ready for the quirky experience the manuscript tends to deliver. In a sense, they never will’. Unfortunately, Salkey was equally as unsuccessful in the UK. He sent the manuscript to Hutchinson Publishing Group, Allison & Busby, and Faber and Faber; they all turned the manuscript down. The UK publishers saw merit in the work as an ambitious, interesting and diverse long poem. However, the did not think that there would be a viable audience for this type of work in the UK.
 The George Padmore Institute: Why Publish Independently (online) Accessed 2nd April 2020 https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/the-pioneering-years/new-beacon-books-early-history/why-publish-independently
13 October 2021
by Alison Bailey, Lead Curator Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000 and Curator of Paddington: The Story of a Bear.
The first stories about Paddington – the bear famous for his kindness, politeness and love of marmalade – were published by Collins (now HarperCollins Publishers) on 13 October 1958.
Perhaps you already know the background to Paddington’s creation? On Christmas Eve 1956 Michael Bond saw a toy bear sitting all alone on the shelf in Selfridges department store in London. He bought the bear as an extra Christmas present for his wife and they called him Paddington – after the station. Several months later, when Michael was looking for inspiration for some children’s stories, he saw the bear and wrote 8 chapters in 10 days.
Here at the British Library in London we are celebrating Paddington and Michael Bond in our Paccar 2 exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, which runs until 31 October 2021. To illustrate Bond’s creative process we are lucky enough to have Michael’s ‘Notebook’ from 1957 (loaned by the Estate of Michael Bond) in which he wrote notes and ideas for his early Paddington stories.
Michael’s agent, Harvey Unna, who had encouraged him to write children’s stories, sent the manuscript to several publishers. It was followed up by Barbara Ker Wilson - then children’s books editor at Collins and herself a writer. In her report (lent to the exhibition by HarperCollins Publishers) she suggests Collins accept the stories for publication and notes her appreciation of both the character of Paddington and the overall style of the writing. The publisher’s reader she sent the manuscript to was equally enthusiastic – and we display the response (again lent by HarperCollins Publishers) next to Wilson’s report.
So, on 13 October 1958, A Bear called Paddington, was published. In the exhibition we are showing two copies of the first edition – one loaned by Michael’s daughter, Karen Jankel, which is signed by Michael and was given to his parents. This is in the first section of the exhibition – Beginnings – and is shown closed, so you can see Peggy Fortnum’s distinctive pen and ink drawing of Paddington on the dust jacket.
Opening showing first page of text from Michael Bond, A Bear called Paddington. With drawings by Peggy Fortnum. London: Collins, 1958.
The other copy is the legal deposit copy from our own collections in the Home section of the exhibition. This is open at the very first page of the very first story “Please look after this bear” and shows Paddington, again illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, with his hat, label and suitcase, as he appeared when the Browns first met him.
After those early stories about Paddington there were many more – including the final picture book story Michael wrote, Paddington at St Paul’s, illustrated by R.W. Alley and published in 2018 – 60 years after A Bear called Paddington. We display a copy in the exhibition, together with a selection of about 20 illustrated books from the many titles in our own collections, including pop-ups and translations. They sit among examples of original artwork by Peggy Fortnum, R.W. Alley and David McKee, as well as memorabilia on loan from Michael Bond’s family, plush toys, sound and film clips and material created by two local schools. All in all, 11 illustrators are represented.
This has been a cheering project to have worked on with the Exhibitions and Learning Teams over the last 18 months – a bright spot amid the gloom – and I hope you too will enjoy reading or re-reading Paddington to celebrate this anniversary.
- Michael Bond, A Bear called Paddington. With drawings by Peggy Fortnum. London: Collins, 1958. (British Library shelfmark: 12840.l.4.)
- Michael Bond, Paddington at St. Paul’s. Illustrated by R.W. Alley. London: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2018.
- Michael Bond, Bears & forebears: a life so far. London: HarperCollins, 1996. (B.L. shelfmarks: YC.1996.b.5818. and 96/28405)
With thanks to our travel partner Great Western Railway.
16 December 2020
By Jessica Gregory, Curatorial Support Officer for Modern Manuscripts, 1601 – 1950. The papers of Emilia Francis Dilke (Née Strong, formerly Pattison) can be found at Add MS 43903-43908. The correspondence of Emilia Francis Dilke and Gertrude Tuckwell are found at Add MS 49610-49612. The British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, explores the history of women’s rights activism and is open now.
Emila Francis (Née Strong), Lady Dilke by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1887.
(NPG 5288, © National Portrait Gallery, London)
For too long, the achievements of women of the past have been lost; many who have made significant contributions to various fields find themselves remembered only in relation to the men in their lives. Tracing their own histories through archival collections can be a difficult task: within their husband’s papers, their legacies are already framed by the names they inherit and the proximity to power which was granted by them. Retelling the achievements of women from the past often requires us to reconstruct and draw together their lives through their disparate archival legacies, so often mapped according to their inherited names.
One such case is that of Emilia Francis Strong. She would become an essayist, author, art historian and women’s rights activist, but despite her varied intellectual output, there is a surprising lack of primary material preserved. The British Library holds some of her papers within her second husband’s archive: The Charles Dilke Papers. There are also a few items of correspondence within the collections of other powerful men too, but she has — to adapt Woolf’s famous phrase — no Archive of her Own.
Strong’s marriage to Dilke and her social class ensured that her name was preserved in history, but her varied intellectual pursuits have been overshadowed by her husband’s sex-scandal, which even now would have tabloid editors licking their lips. (And which, regrettably, I have to go into in order to contextualise her life).
Sir Charles Dilke and Emilia Dilke,1894, By W. & D. Downey, published by Cassel and Company, Ltd. (NPG x8701. © National Portrait Gallery, London)
Charles was a Liberal MP with a radical agenda, but the discovery of his extramarital relations with his brother’s mother-in-law, followed by his brother’s sister-in-law, Virginia Crawford, was just scratching the surface of his misdeeds. When Mr. Crawford’s divorce trial made the headlines, the judge found Virginia Crawford guilty of adultery, but — paradoxically — found Charles Dilke innocent of the same crime. On top of this, Dilke found himself pursued by an investigative journalist with a grudge, and was soon forced to enter a case in an effort to clear his name, which catastrophically backfired when his heavily mutilated liaison diaries were paraded in court. The torn and self-censored diaries seemed to prove Charles Dilke’s adultery and he became a figure of ridicule for his desperate attempts to cover up his indiscretions. Emilia had defended Charles at the trial, but the damage was done. His reputation crumbled and his love-life was the talk of the town for many years to come.
Engagement Book of Sir Charles Dilke, 1888,
Add MS 49402
Emilia’s legacy — like her life — is framed by this relationship. The situation would not be much improved by remembering her as ‘Emilia Pattison, wife of Mark Pattison’, either; her first marriage was so famously unhappy that she and her husband are said to be the real-life inspiration for the unhappy couple of Mr. Casaubon and Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s, Middlemarch.
A letter to Emilia Pattison from her friend, author George Eliot, 1870. Add MS 43907. British Library.
However, apart from her two marriages, Emilia sought to establish a name for herself through her own actions and writings. She studied at the South Kensington Art School in London. After her studies, she began contributing essays to the periodicals, such as The Saturday Review. She studied and wrote on Art and became arts editor of The Academy journal. Married to Mark Pattison at this point, she signed her articles E. F. S. Pattison, adding the ‘S’ to signify her maiden name: Strong — to reflect an element of her independence from her husband. Emilia published on the subject of French Art and gained a reputation as a respectable historian and critic in her own right.
She was also interested in social reform and particularly in improving working conditions for women. She was a prominent figure in the Women’s Trade Union League, founded in 1874 and became its president in 1886. She wrote on the subject of women’s rights at work. In the book Women’s Work, she explores the idea that women are a feature of the modern workplace and that their low wages are damaging not just to women, but to men — who were having their wages undercut — too. She outlines her argument for a raise of women’s wages to be in line with those of men as follows:
It is only too clear that economic independence of women is very, very far from being accomplished…Even though a woman’s work may be as good and as rapid as a man’s, we have seen that her scale of payment is frequently inferior to his…it would seem, therefore, clearly to be in the interest of workman to promote legislation and such methods of organisation as will afford to women the same vantageground [sic] as men
Emilia examined many aspects of women’s work in her essays and opinion pieces, outlining issues of inequality and advocating for health reforms in various sectors — even speaking at the Trade Unions’ Congress. She advocated for women’s trade unionism and would continue to publish on this subject — as well as Fine Art — for the rest of her life. Emilia was also friends with Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst and supported their campaigns for women’s suffrage.
Header for an Article published in the North American Review, 1891.
Even more than this, Emelia also wrote fiction, publishing two volumes of short stories, called, The Shrine of Death and Other Stories (1886) and The Shrine of Love and Other Stories (1891). The preface to The Shrine of Love seems to reaffirm the importance of working for reform through life:
Nothing has troubled me more than the weight of retribution which often falls on those who revolt against any point of prevailing order.
Fly-page image from The Shrine of Death and Other Stories, 1886.
Hers are strange, allegorical tales, sometimes with a supernatural element, and a strong focus on morality and fate. They did not prove popular at the time, but these stories have recently been consolidated and republished for a new audience.
Considering this complex and varied legacy, it is a reductive to think of Emilia Dilke as simply the wife of MP Charles Dilke. Her many writing talents should have ensured her a more pronounced legacy than the one she currently holds. Compared to other women of the era, Emilia Dilke was privileged enough to be published and this has preserved many of her thoughts for the long-term. There is no doubt her work on women’s rights was an influence on other women, including her niece Gertrude Tuckwell, who advocated for women’s rights and women’s suffrage, becoming one of the first female magistrates in the UK. However, the lack of available archival material reflects a system of collecting that was very much centered on prominent men.
Gertrude Tuckwell, Emilia Dilke’s niece, women’s rights advocate and suffragist. Wikicommons.
The centuries of male dominance in society are reflected in the contents of historic archive collections. The exclusion of women from professional careers means that essential institutional records are primarily authored by men on the actions of men. Therefore, women of the past with intellectual careers and contributions to various fields, often find themselves excluded from many historical records. Without admittance into the professional sphere their work has often been side-lined as that of personal ‘interests’ or ‘hobbies’, and therefore, historically not deemed worthy of formal preservation. This may help explain the disparity between Charles Dilke’s archival collections and Emilia’s.
As well as this, the ability to trace individuals is also more complex for some than it is for others. Barring titles, ranks and self-administered change, the majority of male names will remain the same throughout life, whereas women’s names often change through marriage. Archivists make efforts to discover women’s maiden names so that they can link individuals’ relative outputs together and to help establish a full biography of a person, but sometimes these names are never found. Emilia went by many names during her life, she had her married names, but also preferred to call herself Francis over Emilia at times. As well as this, she would sometimes include her maiden name in signatures and sometimes prefer to author articles with differing initials. Given this abundance of known names, one might see how articles of her authorship may not be linked together.
A combination of structural bias and incidental loss has inhibited the collection of women’s archives for generations, but there is change in the air. Archival institutions now make efforts to correct imbalances in their archival collections. The efforts to brings the many untold lives of women back into history was a major feature of second-wave feminism. As well as this, the internet has provided a means of connecting and tying women’s narratives together, enabling the writing of fuller biographies and giving more credence to their achievements.
The legacy of Emilia Francis Dilke has certainly benefitted from these changes, and many of her works have even been digitised and so can be accessed by a wider range of scholars. Likewise, contemporary women have made efforts to recover Emilia Dilke’s legacy, with Professor Hilary Fraser writing her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, and Dr. Kali Israel writing a contemporary feminist biography of Emilia Dilke that explores her accomplishments on her own terms. But such work has had to be accomplished without a comprehensive archival legacy for Emilia’s life and work. Given all this, one can see how easily other women have been lost to history, especially without the privilege of access to publishing that Emilia enjoyed. So many legacies have been reduced to a few scraps of paper and given our current advances in the field of archives, it is essential that we make an effort today to ensure that female archival legacies are fuller, broader, and most importantly, present in the future.
- Women’s Work…With a Preface by Lady Dilke, by A. A. Brooke. (London: Methuen & Co, 1894)
- The Shrine of Death, and other stories. L.P., By Emilia Francis Strong Dilke. (London: Routledge and sons, 1886)
- The Shrine of Love, and other stories. L.P., By Emilia Francis Strong Dilke. (London: Routledge and sons, 1891)
- Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture. By Kali Israel. (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1999).
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