22 May 2020
“Without being a burden to anybody”: A letter from Ann Radcliffe to her Mother-in-Law from afar.
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.
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 (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.
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 ). 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
30 August 2018
Mary Shelley in Italy: ‘…tragedy with a scene both affecting and sublime’
By Stephen Noble, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. You can read more about Mary Shelley on our Discovering Literature website. Material relating to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is now on display in our Treasures Gallery.
In 1818 Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley travelled to Italy on the advice of Percy’s doctors, but also to avoid their creditors. Over the next few years they travelled all over the country and it was a time of great creative output for them both. Mary completed the novels Matilda and Valperga, as well as the plays Proserpine and Midas, while Percy wrote his lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound.
These years were also marred by tragedy. In September 1818 their daughter Clara contracted dysentery and died in Venice, where they had gone to find medical attention. Nine months later whilst staying in Rome, their son William died after catching malaria.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Richard Rothwell, oil on canvas, NPG 1235 ©
Reproduced with the kind permission of National Portrait Gallery, London
Despite the traumas the couple endured, they continued to travel and were able to enjoy their experiences in Italy. In January 1821 Mary Shelley wrote to her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Ashley MS 4020), giving her ‘some account of my adventures’. She had been to Lucca to see a performance of Tommaso Sgricci, a famous improvisational poet. She wrote ‘Sgricci acquitted himself to admiration in the conduct and passion & poetry of his piece. As he went on he altered the argument as it had been delivered to him and wound up the tragedy with a scene both affecting and sublime’.
Mary Shelley, letter to Claire Clairmont,  January 1821 (Ashley MS 4020, f2v)
Mary was moved by the performance, and by how ‘truly and passionately did his words depict the scene’. Others in the party were not so impressed, describing it as ‘una cosa mediocra’, a mediocre thing, but to Mary ‘it appeared a miracle’.
In July 1822 tragedy struck again. When returning from a trip to Livorno, where he had visited their friends Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned when his boat sank during a heavy storm in the Gulf of La Spezia. A few weeks later Mary Shelley wrote to her friend Maria Gisborne describing the last months she and Percy had spent together, the events of his death and her immense grief (Ashley MS 5022). ‘I said in a letter to Peacock, my dear Mrs. Gisborne, that I would send you some account of the last miserable months of my disastrous life’…‘The scene of my existence is closed’.
Mary Shelley, letter to Maria Gisborne, 15 August 1822 (Ashley MS 5022, f1)
On Monday 8 July, ‘it was stormy all day, and we did not at all suppose that they could put to sea’. By Wednesday the weather had improved enough for boats to arrive, which ‘brought word that they sailed on Monday, but we did not believe them’. On Friday 12 July, a letter arrived for Percy from Leigh Hunt in which Hunt wrote ‘Pray write to tell us how you got home, for they say that you had bad weather after you sailed Monday, and we are anxious’.
Now she knew something had gone wrong, ‘The paper fell from my hands. I trembled all over’, but she still had hope that the worst had not happened. In Lerici, the nearest town, she was told there had been no reports of any accidents. In Livorno she learned that Percy had been warned about the storm, but set sail anyway.
It was while returning home on Saturday 13 July that Mary learned that part of his boat had been found, washed ashore a few miles away from Lerici. It was not until 19 July, almost two weeks after his death, that Percy Bysshe Shelley’s body was recovered.
Mary Shelley, letter to Maria Gisborne, 15 August 1822 (Ashley MS 5022, f5)
Mary closes the letter: ‘Well, here is my story – the last story I shall have to tell. All that might have been bright in my life is now despoiled’.
Mary Shelley did go on to tell other stories, writing and publishing many novels, short stories, travel books, biographies, articles, and poems. Published in 1930 with the title Absence, Mary Shelley wrote of her grief for her husband (Ashley MS A4023):
‘Ah! he is gone — and I alone;
How dark and dreary seems the time!
‘Tis Thus, when the glad sun is flown,
Night rushes o’er the Indian clime’.
Autograph, fair copy of a poem ‘Ah! he is gone — and I alone’ by Mary Shelley, undated (Ashley MS A4023)
30 July 2018
Fine lines between fiction and reality: Emily Brontë’s Gondal poems
By Catherine Angerson, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts , on the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth. Brontë’s ‘Gondal Poems’ notebook is currently on display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery in London. You can read more about Emily Brontë, her manuscripts and works on our Discovering Literature website.
As children, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë created imaginary countries and kingdoms for their toy soldiers. Their games and plays evolved into epic tales which they recorded in writing and charted on maps. While the two eldest surviving Brontë siblings, Charlotte and Branwell, created the kingdom of Angria, Emily and her younger sister Anne, invented their own world called Gondal. None of Emily and Anne’s ‘Gondal Chronicles’ in prose have survived, but a remarkable notebook of ‘Gondal Poems’, copied out by Emily from earlier drafts between 1844 and 1848, has been used as a source for reconstructing the saga. The poems are not just remnants of the fictional world of Gondal; they are also expressions of lived experience. Nature, love, loss, death, and desire are some of the themes of the Gondal poems.
Emily began copying her poems into the ‘Gondal Poems’ notebook, and a second untitled notebook, in February 1844. Many of the poems were composed several years earlier. The first poem is dated 6 March 1837 when Emily was 18. Her novel, Wuthering Heights, was published in 1847 and she carried on writing in the Gondal notebook until 13 May 1848, just a few months before her death from tuberculosis at the age of 30.
Emily Brontë’s ‘Gondal Poems’ notebook, Add MS 43483, ff. 24v-25
Known as the shyest of the Brontë siblings, Emily did not accompany her sisters Charlotte and Anne to meet the publisher of their poems in London in July 1848. She had, however, agreed to the publication of 21 of her poems, pseudonymously in Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846). Six of the 44 poems in the Gondal notebook were included in this volume. Emily judiciously removed references to the private world of Gondal and its inhabitants before the poems were published.
In Emily and Anne’s mythical world, Gondal is an island in the North Pacific. The Gondals have recently discovered the island of Gaaldine in the South Pacific. Gaaldine has a tropical climate, palm trees and bright blue skies, while the windswept and snowy landscape of Gondal is reminiscent of the Yorkshire moors. The saga can be interpreted as a fictional reimagining of British colonialism represented by the Gondals, or as Christopher Heywood has argued, an allegory of Anglo-Irish conflicts throughout the ages. The sisters had access to a wide range of books and periodicals in their Irish father’s library at the Parsonage in Haworth.
Top Withens: the landscape which inspired Emily Brontë’s fictional locations. Photograph: author’s own.
Emily’s poems share the emotional intensity of Wuthering Heights, her more famous creation. The Gondal Poems notebook is currently on display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery alongside one of Charlotte Brontë’s notebooks of Angria tales. Emily’s notebook is open to display folios 3 (verso) and 4. Although the manuscript poems have been called ‘fair copies’, many contain crossings-out and changes, as Emily edited her poems during the process of transcribing them.
The poems ‘A. G. A. to A. S.’ and ‘To the bluebell’ can be seen in full on these two pages. ‘A. G. A.’ are the initials of Augusta Geraldine Almeda, the heroine of the Gondal saga who becomes the Queen of Gondal and has several love affairs. Here she mourns the departure, or death, of a loved one:
"O wander not so far away!
O love, forgive this selfish tear.
It may be sad for thee to stay
But how can I live lonely here?"
‘Gondal Poems’, Add MS 43483, f. 3v-4v
Today we celebrate Emily Jane Brontë’s short, passionate and creative life, and the works and traces that she left behind. ‘To the bluebell’ (pictured above) describes the short blooming life of a blue bell. The poet, having experienced so much death and loss in her own life, is consoled by the ‘soothing words’ of the woodland flower:
“Glad I bloom - and calm I fade
Weeping twilight dews my bed
Mourner, mourner dry thy tears.
Sorrow comes with lengthened years!"
05 January 2017
Lessons in Vampires and the Gothic
by guest blogger Emma McEvoy Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Westminster
Last year, the British Library launched a new adult learning programme, providing short courses that bring together guest specialists, Library curators and its unique collections.
I was invited by the Library to develop a pilot course exploring Gothic literature in context, which ran in April and May. For five evenings we explored and debated a range of texts from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and considered the development of Gothic through a variety of media and over a couple of centuries. We also encountered a wonderful array of collection items with curator Greg Buzwell, from Walpole’s own copy of Otranto to Bram Stoker’s cut-and-pasted and handwritten playscript for Dracula.
Following the success of Gothic the Library commissioned a second course to start at Halloween, and I decided that Vampires would make a suitable follow-up. Vampires are undoubtedly glamorous (despite their inauspicious beginnings as something more closely related to what we’d consider a zombie), and they have a sturdy literary history to their name (though sometimes – as is arguably the case in Coleridge’s Christabel – the name isn’t one that is mentioned).
On Gothic I had been the sole academic lead but for Vampires, I decided to invite three other academics with expertise in the field to share the teaching. Professor Alexandra Warwick talked on ‘Vampires, Victorians and Women’, Dr Stacey Abbott introduced us to ‘The Cinematic Spectacle of Vampirism’, and Dr Catherine Spooner discussed ‘Contemporary Vampires: Comedy and Romance’. In our final session we were joined again by curator Greg Buzwell, who talked us through some other exciting items from the Library’s collections.
So on 27 October, I was back in the Library’s Learning Centre to start a five-week exploration of vampires. As with the Gothic course we had a nice mix of participants, with a variety of working backgrounds and interests (postcolonialism, folk horror and the Double, for example) to bring to the discussion.
I led the first session, in which we looked at vampire texts from the Romantic period. We started by examining early 18th-century newspaper reports on the vampire panic, before turning to the often-quoted passage from Dom Augustin Calmet’s treatise (on angels, demons, spirits etc).
Dom Augustin Calmet (engraved 1750)
(To my mind, Calmet – Catholic writer on vampire lore – is an early prototype of Stoker’s Van Helsing.) After this, we sprinted through some vampire texts from German literature – marvelling at how early some of the enduring motifs are established. Already in 1748, for instance, Ossenfelder’s short poem “The Vampire” associates erotic love with vampirism and pits the power of a mother against the vampire lover. Needless to say, in these cases, mothers seldom win. Fathers do occasionally, but – as in the case of Carmilla – it’s rather a pyrrhic victory.
Carmilla image by D M Friston from The Dark Blue (1872)
It was interesting to see the strands that were to recur throughout the course. Christabel, unsurprisingly, refused to be quietened. The cross-fertilization with the German tradition was apparent, not just in the first seminar but in the third, when Stacey showed us extracts from Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) and pointed out that some of those working on early Hollywood vampire films were German emigrés with roots in Expressionist cinema. Both Alex and Catherine talked about the anxieties provoked by the figure of the female reader/viewer – in relation to Victorian novels and Twilight, respectively. It’s interesting that the figure of the female fan can be encountered in one of the first British mentions of the vampire phenomenon – in a report in The Craftsman in May, 1732. What struck me as another prominent vein (apologies) in vampire representation is the melding of literary tradition with the idea of celebrity and biography. Polidori’s literary success (though he was repeatedly not credited for it, see the image below) was achieved by drawing not only on literary tradition (including Byron’s own myth-making) but also on celebrity gossip. (He also, of course, drew on Byron’s ghost-story idea). Clement and Waititi’s vampire house-share mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014), which we looked at in Catherine’s session, is one of the latest examples.
1884 edition of Polidori’s (not Byron’s) “The Vampyre”
One of the best aspects of an evening short course is that everyone has chosen to take it out of interest and for enjoyment – no one is having to worry about formal assessment. I was struck by how much productive conversation takes place at the tea break. People not only start swapping text recommendations, and drawing in references to things they’ve recently seen or heard, but will also try out ideas that might feel too ‘large’ to raise in the slightly more formal seminar setting. Wandering towards a tea-table liberates a lot of thought. There were lots of high points. I particularly enjoyed the ire that the revelation scene from Twilight provoked. Everyone seemed to love hating it. Dreyer’s Vampyr, on the other hand, went down very well.
Our final session was the one I was looking forward to most. Having experienced Greg Buzwell’s sessions for the Gothic course (and having visited the Library’s Terror and Wonder exhibition that he’d curated), I knew that some really fascinating works would be brought out and that Greg would instigate some lively discussion. I was not to be disappointed. Amongst many other items, there was a map of Transylvania used by Stoker for plotting the action in Dracula, the volume containing the celebrated wood-cut of Vlad the Impaler, and some wonderfully lurid (and censored) artwork in Kine Weekly (January 1970) [LOU.1575 1970] for The Vampire Lovers (1970).
For me – and for many of the students – the highlight was Byron’s letter referring to the Diodati happenings, with its vigorous underlining of all the allegations Bryon is supposed to be refuting – “incest” and “promiscuous intercourse”.
Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray 15 May 1819 © GG Byron. Ashley MS 4740
by Emma McEvoy Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Westminster
For more information on adult courses, visit www.bl.uk/events/adult-learning-courses
14 October 2016
Angela Carter and the Visual Imagination
I was too young to see The Company of Wolves when it first came out in 1984. Consequently, until the film appeared on video, I had to make do with reading the reviews in newspapers and admiring the stills reproduced in film magazines. The stills were remarkable, full of fairy-tale imagery run riot. One shot showed a banqueting scene in which ornately dressed guests had developed lupine faces; another showed a cluster of eggs lying in a nest, one of which had cracked from top to bottom to reveal a baby. Perhaps most memorably of all one still depicted a wolf’s snout, all sleek and furred, emerging from a man’s mouth - the beast within made manifest. Inspired by the lush Gothic imagery of the film (I’ve always believed that if Gothic is worth doing it’s worth over doing, it’s a genre that thrives on excess – I’m all for velvet drapes, icy-mists and all round spectacular flamboyance when it comes to Gothic) I sought out The Bloody Chamber, the volume containing the short story that provided the inspiration for the film. And so I discovered the world of Angela Carter – 'Feminist', 'Magic Realist', 'Gothic author', 're-worker of fairy tales' and generally someone to whom a seemingly endless stream of labels have been applied over the years, all of which tell part of the story but none of which do the breadth of her work and her imagination justice.
(Angela Carter by Fay Godwin © British Library Board)
Perhaps as a result of this early exposure to Neil Jordan’s film adaptation Angela Carter’s work has always, to my mind, possessed something of a cinematic quality. Jean Luc Goddard and Frederico Felline were clearly influences but I often like to imagine that there is possibly a dash of Hammer Horror lurking in the shadows behind some of her stories. In her final novel, Wise Children, Carter had explored the way in which high art and low, Shakespeare and music hall for example, often become entwined. Given such an outlook surely it’s possible to speculate that films like The Curse of the Werewolf, The Brides of Dracula and The Kiss of the Vampire might have played a part in the genesis of stories such as ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘The Lady of the House of Love’. I like to think so, no matter how fanciful such a notion may be on my part. Still, true or not, I’ve always been pleased that I came to Carter’s work via film.
(Poster for The Company of Wolves, directed by Neil Jordan and with a screenplay by Neil Jordan and Angela Carter)
‘Dying’, as Gore Vidal once gloomily remarked, is often ‘a good career move’ and in the year following Carter's death in 1992 the British Academy received over forty proposals for doctoral research into her work. Sadly, in art as in life a person’s influence and worth often only really become apparent once they have gone. Angela Carter’s tragically early death propelled her work into the limelight. Almost twenty five years later, and with Edmund Gordon’s eagerly awaited The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography now in the bookshops, the fascination and admiration surrounding her work continues to grow from strength to strength. In a sense Carter’s work achieves that rare but perfect balance – simultaneously adored by academia for its insight, depth and invention but maintaining popular appeal due to its fabulous characters, storylines and sheer exuberance.
The British Library holds Angela Carter’s archive, a resource that consists of a wealth of manuscript material including diaries, notebooks, letters, drafts of novels, outlines for short stories and research notes. Each part of the archive offers a fascinating glimpse into Carter’s life and work but, for those with a love of her fiction, perhaps the most revealing items are the notebooks in which she recorded her research and worked on ideas that later became fully developed episodes in her books.
(Above Add. MS 88899/1/11, a page of Angela Carter’s notes for Nights at the Circus. © Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter).
Shown above, by way of example, is a page from one of her notebooks in which she outlines her initial thoughts about the character of Sophie Fevvers from the novel Nights at the Circus (1984). It is fascinating to see the character in embryo, and to be able to explore how layer upon layer of idea, imagination and imagery is built up until Fevvers, a six-foot-two trapeze artist with wings, emerges complete in the published book. The genesis from notebook to novel took many drafts and, as can be seen below in this page of an early draft of the opening chapter the re-workings of the text continually grow and evolve rather than emerge fully formed.
(Add. MS 88899/1/12. Early draft of the opening scenes from Nights at the Circus. © Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter).
Carter’s notebooks are a continual delight, and looking through their pages offers a unique insight into the creative process. In a way it is the literary equivalent of siting in a studio with an artist as they work on a painting, seeing the successive sketches and layers of paint as they are applied until the finished portrait appears. You don’t often get the chance in life to see creative genius in action, but Carter’s archive does give us one such opportunity to see exactly that.
Much more about Angela Carter’s archive and work can be found on the Discovering Literature: 20th Century website, with examples from her notebooks relating to Nights at the Circus being available, together with examples of the early drafts of the novel . The British Library, in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature, will also be hosting an event - Angela Carter: A Celebration - on November 24th 2016. Nearly 25 years after her death Angela Carter is more relevant than ever.
12 January 2015
"Terror ... and the Supernatural": Stanley Kubrick's Gothic Adaptation of The Shining
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of the most recognisable works on display in the Terror and Wonder exhibition so we decided to ask Catriona McAvoy to explain its Gothic credentials. Catriona is a writer and filmmaker from London whose research into the films and working practices of Stanley Kubrick began with her Masters degree in 2009. Since then she has presented her findings at several international conferences and in discussion panels. Her forthcoming publications include chapters in Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives (Black Dog Publishing, 2015) and in Studies in the Horror Film: Stanly Kubrick's The Shining Vol. 1 & 2 (Centipede Press, 2015). More information about her research can be found at kubrickism.com.
The Shining is a film steeped in the Gothic tradition. Stephen King's book makes reference to Gothic literature and Stanley Kubrick approached the adaptation with this in mind. He recruited the author Diane Johnson to co-write the screenplay with him. He had read her modern Gothic novel The Shadow Knows (1974) and she taught a course on Gothic literature at the University of California, making her in Kubrick's opinion "the ideal collaborator".1 They discussed psychoanalysis and a wide range of literature, reading and recommending many books to each other in order to weave deeper themes into the fabric of the film.
The British Library's Gothic exhibition traces the same rich literary history that Kubrick and Johnson explored. Connections can be made between some of the exhibits and the evidence of the Gothic influences on The Shining found in The Stanley Kubrick Archive, The Diane Johnson Archive and from an interview I carried out with Diane Johnson. The exhibition displays some fascinating items from the production of The Shining including photographs and a note from Kubrick listing the 'Manifestations of a Haunted House'. Also displayed is the scrapbook prop which featured heavily in early drafts of the film (several scenes featuring it were shot but they were eventually edited out, leaving it appearing only once). However, it is not just in this section of the exhibition that we find the ghosts of The Shining. We can retrace our steps through the maze of meaning in Kubrick's film using some of the exhibits to guide us.
In the first room of the exhibition Shakespeare's work is highlighted as an inspiration for Gothic writers. His ghosts and supernatural happenings have certainly haunted the genre but his influence goes further than this. The externalization of inner turmoil is a common theme of the Gothic that is present in Shakespeare's work; think of Lady Macbeth who could not wash the blood from her hands. In Kubrick's development notes on The Shining "shades of Throne of Blood" is written beside an idea for a dramatic scene with Danny and Jack.3 Throne of Blood (1957) was Akira Kurosawa's brilliant adaptation of Macbeth and this is one of the few film references noted in The Shining development. Shakespeare again appears in a note from Diane Johnson. She is considering the balance of the narrative and the motivation of the characters and has written: "Tragedy or Fairytale? Lear - Tom Thumb. Moment of choice for Jack - Danny saves everyone."4 Diane Johnson explained the connection with The Shining and the story of King Lear to me as related to tragedy and the perils of "over-reaching ambition."5
Continuing through the exhibition the work of Ann Radcliffe provides the next link to The Shining. Her novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is a defining Gothic tale from this period. One of the key features of her writing is the evocative description of landscapes. Gothic literature often uses landscape and the sublime to inspire terror and awe; dark forests, remote mountains and precarious paths leading to gloomy castles. Johnson recalls discussing the work of Ann Radcliffe with Kubrick during their research. In the dramatic opening sequence of the film we are taken on an aerial journey following Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) as he drives through a Gothic landscape of forests and mountains to the remote and haunted Overlook Hotel. Later in the film as the family make the journey together Jack relishes telling them the story of the Donner party, early settlers who got stranded in the hills and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive: ferocious nature turning man to beast.
Matthew Lewis's novel The Monk (1796) provides the next clue to the secrets of The Shining. Amongst the book's supernatural happenings the main protagonist falls into a dream trance and rapes a young woman. Sleepwalking was a key theme in King's book and also appeared in Johnson's novel. In the film Jack is seen having a terrible nightmare at his desk and is drawn into the hotel's ballroom and to the mysterious room 237 in a dreamlike state. Johnson relates The Monk's psychological and supernatural themes to the narrative of The Shining. Jack's pursuit of pleasure at the expense of others is his downfall, mirroring the fate of the monk, Ambrosio, in Lewis's book. The exhibition displays the edited third edition open on a page where we see Lewis had to remove an enthusiastic description of a young woman's bare breast for a milder fourth edition. Interestingly almost 200 years later Kubrick had to blur out the breasts of the naked woman in the 237 bathtub scene for censors in several countries.
The manuscript of Frankenstein (1818) handwritten by Mary Shelley and annotated by Percy Shelley is a fascinating part of the exhibition. Displayed is the section where Frankenstein comes face to face with the monster in the mountains. Again here we see an evocative description of an unforgiving landscape, relating back to Ann Radcliffe's work and linking us to the setting of the Overlook Hotel. More importantly we find Frankenstein confronting the monster that he created, perhaps the monster within. This duality is a theme throughout Kubrick's film; mirrors are frequently used to show the two sides of Jack and of the Overlook. Jack's inner turmoil and ultimate unleashing of his monstrous side provides us with the true horror of the film and of man's dark side. Johnson remembers discussing Frankenstein with Kubrick during the development of the screenplay. King perhaps also had this character in mind as he describes Frankenstein's monster in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre (1981) as "The Thing Without a Name", an archetype for numerous horrific creations.
The Brontës’ Gothic imagery is an important part of The Shining's visual horror. The exhibition fittingly displays items from the work of Emily and Charlotte, which connect directly with The Shining. Diane Johnson explains: "in an attempt to understand the essential seriousness of the genre, we discussed Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre"6 Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) manuscript is displayed open to a page describing Bertha, 'the madwoman in the attic'. This is referenced in The Shining with the crazed corpse of the 'bathtub lady' in room 237. The theme of imprisonment in the grand old house is central to Jane Eyre and is echoed in The Shining.
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) also played a part in the development of the screenplay. In Diane Johnson's manuscript notes, next to the scene where Danny is confronted by the ghostly Grady Girls, she has written "rather like the very affecting scene in Wuthering Heights where the visitor wakes up to discover a child's imploring hand reaching through the broken window."7 On display in the exhibition is a 1943 edition of Wuthering Heights showing an illustration of the very scene that Johnson describes in her notes. She confirms it was the "imagery ... and the underlying psychic elements"8 of this story that Kubrick was interested in.
Next in the exhibition's Shining maze is the work of Edgar Allan Poe. His story 'The Masque of the Red Death' (1842) is heavily referenced throughout King's novel (there is a short extract in the epigraph and it reappears many times throughout the text). Although the ballroom scene association remains in the film, Kubrick avoided making such obvious links to the story. In a 1980 interview he downplayed the connection: "All his [Stephen King's] Poe quotes and Red Death things are alright but didn't seem necessary".9 However Diane Johnson does recall discussing "how Poe ended his stories".10
The enduring tradition of the fairytale is the last clue to the mysteries of The Shining that we find in the exhibition. Although a genre in itself and influential to the book and film in many other ways there is also an overlap with the Gothic themes here too. The exhibition points out that fairytales are "not strictly Gothic" but that often the stories are '"supernatural and frightening". On display is a 1909 copy of Red Riding Hood, a tale that is referenced in the research for The Shining. Diane Johnson has commented that she and Kubrick explored fairytales through the psychoanalytic lens of Bruno Bettelheim's book The Uses of Enchantment (1976). In the Stanley Kubrick Archive Kubrick's personal copy of the book with annotations and highlighted sections gives some very revealing insights into the Jack and Danny (Danny Lloyd) relationship of The Shining. Of particular note here is a highlighted section including a description of the symbolism of Charles Perrault's Wolf and Red Riding Hood characters. There are many suggestions of Jack as the big bad wolf in Kubrick's notes and in the film this is made evident in one of the most iconic scenes. As Jack prepares to axe through the bathroom door to get to a terrified Wendy (Shelley Duvall) he teases: "little pigs, little pigs let me in ... "
As we piece together the evidence of the many literary influences on The Shining we can begin to understand more about this enigmatic film. It is perhaps the ghosts of the Gothic past haunting the story that have helped to make it such an enduring classic. The familiar themes from historical literature that influence the characterization, the visual elements and the narrative of the film create a feeling of 'The Uncanny'. The Shining resonates with our cultural past and long imagined fears; like the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, The Shining has "always been here".
To learn more about The Shining and the history of Gothic literature visit Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination (now in its final weeks). For more information (including extra late night openings) please visit the website
1 Kubrick, Stanley, “Oui, il y a des revenants”, interview with Michel Ciment, L’Express, 25 October 1980, Reprinted in Michel Ciment, Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, New York: Faber and Faber, 2001.
2 Johnson, Diane, "Draft Fragments and Notes", 1978, DJ/1/B/23/1-2, Diane Johnson Archive, Harry Ransom Centre (HRC), University of Texas Austin.
3 Johnson, Diane, "Draft Fragments and Notes", 1978, HRC.
4 Johnson, Diane (2013). Interview with Catriona McAvoy. 11 November, 2013. From the forthcoming publication: Studies in the Horror Film: Stanley Kubrick's the Shining. Ed. Danel Olson. Centipede Press, 2015.
5 Johnson, Diane (1978). "Kubrick Films 'The Shining' In Secrecy in English Studio", interview with Aljean Harmetz, The New York Times, November 1978.
6 Johnson, Diane, “Treatment”, 16 August 1977, SK/15/1/9, Stanley Kubrick Archive (SKA), Archives and Special Collections Centre, University of the Arts London.
7 Johnson, Diane (2013).
8 Kubrick, Stanley (1980). Interview with Vicente Molina Foix. Reprint. The Stanley Kubrick Archives. Ed. Alison Castle. Koln: Taschen, 2008.
9 Johnson, Diane (1978).
NB - The title of this post is taken from one of Stanley Kubrick's letters in which he describes The Shining as "a film of terror...and the supernatural" (Kubrick, Stanley, letter to Saul Bass describing The Shining, 10 October 1978, SK/15/5/2/5, SKA).
22 December 2014
What's in a name, or How Gothic is Goth?
From the outset the curators of the Terror and Wonder exhibition were determined to devote a significant amount of space to the goth subculture. In order to make sure we got the story right we turned to Pete Scathe for advice. Pete is the unofficial historian of the early days of Goth and his website is an invaluable source of information. He regularly DJs in the Portsmouth area and you can follow him on Twitter @petescathe. Here Pete explains the relationship between goth and Gothic.
Over time, meanings of words can change, shift and expand. With the words 'goths' and 'Gothic', not only have the meanings been expanded by application to what we now call the goth scene, but the scene itself was changed by having the word applied to it.
The early goth scene began as an offshoot from punk, and one early term applied to it was 'positive punk'. This never caught on - it was too much of a mouthful, even when shortened to 'posi-punk'. And the implication that it was superior to punk meant that the old punks would never be happy using it. Fortunately a term then came along that they were happy to use, and they were soon moaning about 'hordes of bloody goths' - not so much an exciting new subculture to them, more of a vexing infestation.
Exactly how the goth/Gothic tag got applied to the emerging subculture is a complicated story (for which see my website) but the term immediately caught on, as it fitted the scene far better than 'positive punk'. The questions are how much 'Gothic' there was in the scene before it acquired the tag, and how the scene changed as a result of acquiring the tag.
For most early goth bands, Gothic wasn't necessarily something to be taken seriously, it was something to be occasionally plundered for imagery, fun and maybe the odd song idea (it helped that Gothic imagery looked good in black and white, and black and white record covers were cheaper to print). Certainly the original goth club, the Batcave, used Gothic imagery in a deliberately tongue-in-cheek way – Ollie Wisdom from Specimen, one of the Batcave founders, was a dead ringer for Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Show.
The early goth scene was vibrant, exciting, and based around following a cluster of excellent live bands that fostered a tribal sense of identity. Early goth gigs were lively events, and the usual dancing style was 'chicken dancing', which involved flailing elbows (the decidedly more sedate 'Gothic Two Step', where goths in flowing dresses walked back and forth on the dancefloor amidst billowing clouds of smoke, was a later invention that I first encountered in Leeds in the mid 80s). The look of these early goths was a mix of existing punk/new wave fashion, their own DIY look and styles influenced by bands, notably Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and (later) Specimen.
The gothic punk look became a more glamorous (and often androgynous) monochrome style that had its roots in the fetish/bondage side of early punk but may also have owed something to the imagery of black and white films, like Theda Bara in Cleopatra. Indeed, most of the Gothic influences in the early scene seem to have come through the medium of film, TV, imagery and cliché rather than Gothic literature.
There were literary influences in the early scene, but these were rarely directly Gothic. Literary influences tended to be decadent, transgressive and non-mainstream rather than straightforwardly Gothic. The Whip LP, a collaboration between several early goth bands, was inspired by D M Thomas's The White Hotel, a novel about mental disturbance, sexual fantasies and the Holocaust, whereas The Cure referenced Albert Camus and Blood & Roses referenced Aleister Crowley.
Outside literature, their interests were widespread. Bauhaus, probably the most Gothically-inclined of the early bands, also sang about the likes of Nijinsky or Antonin Artaud, whilst Southern Death Cult were obsessed with Native American imagery. The Banshees sang about everything from multiple personality disorder to Dada photocollages.
The Gothic was one of several interweaving strands in the early goth bands, alongside a personal/introspective side, as typified by the early 80s Cure or Danse Society, an arty/dramatic side, as typified by Virgin Prunes or Sex Gang Children, and a sort of glam/camp Gothic as typified by Specimen or Alien Sex Fiend. Of these, the arty/dramatic strand was probably the strongest, and was one of the reasons that so many of the early goth bands were so good live. The downside of this was that the bands could be seen as pretentious, and certainly were by a lot of the media. It didn't help that goth bands were far less likely than punk bands to sing about social issues, and 'goth' became a term of abuse in the music press.
Most bands in the early scene were completely bemused by this goth tag. It was understandable that the likes of Bauhaus and Alien Sex Fiend would be tagged goth, but other bands in the scene (like Danse Society) acquired the tag simply by having a similar look, sound and followers. As goth became a clearly defined scene, it started to acquire 'subcultural rules', as had happened with other scenes, and this is where the 'Gothic' tag started to make a difference. The original bands hadn't been influenced by the Gothic tag, except sometimes in trying to distance themselves from it, but newcomers to the scene often tried to fit in and be accepted by being Gothic. The look changed from the earlier spiky fetish glam look to something decidedly more elegant, and many new goth bands dropped energetic tribal drumming (and often drummers) in favour of something slower, more atmospheric and more Gothic. Members of one later goth band stated that the early goth bands hadn't been that Gothic and that they themselves were determined to be more Gothic, thus illustrating the power of the tag (the early bands hadn't, of course, been trying to be Gothic as they had no idea that they were goth bands!).
This obsession with being Gothic sometimes turned into a game of 'gother than thou' that rendered the scene terribly vulnerable to media satire and gave it an embarrassing reputation, but it also meant that many new goths, in trying to be Gothic, began to show an interest in Gothic films and literature. Some had entered the scene because of an existing inclination towards that sort of thing, but it's likely that the existence of the goth scene both intensified and in some cases created a new interest in the Gothic.
It's hard to say exactly what effect this had, but certainly the goth scene tended to appeal to arty and creative people, many of whom then went to work in the media and creative industries. Whilst for a long time many of them might have denied ever being goths and thus avoided anything overtly Gothic, the influences were certainly there and it's possible that today's media culture is that little bit more aware of the Gothic thanks to the 80s goth scene.
Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination is open until January 20th. For more information (including opening times during the festive period) and to book tickets please visit the website
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