19 May 2023
Natalie Lucy talks about their project mapping the Caribbean Diaspora through the letters of Andrew Salkey.
I am a PhD student at UCL. I started a part-time placement at the British Library in September which finished at the end of February. I was supervised by Eleanor Casson, who, until recently, was working on the Andrew Salkey archive and Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator. The aim of the project was to map the Caribbean diaspora through the correspondence of the writer, broadcaster and poet Andrew Salkey. Well-known both as a meticulous chronicler and a prolific correspondent, the many fascinating and frequently poignant, letters in Salkey’s extensive archive reflect a network of Caribbean writers and academics for whom Salkey served not only as something of a nexus but also as a facilitator in their careers. More importantly, though, the correspondence shows the movement of these writers within a wider context of the diaspora, a feature which we have visually presented through the digital applications, Gephi and Kepler.
Why did I apply for this project?
My thesis explores the way that the trickster character, Anancy, has historically been reinvented, primarily at key political points, to say something about heritage and identity and how he emerges in the literature of British writers and artists, particularly those with Caribbean heritage. A significant part of my research concerns the ways that Anancy was appropriated in the writing of the Caribbean Arts Movement, a dynamic group of artists and writers formed in London in the mid-1960s. Andrew Salkey was one of the three founders of CAM, along with John La Rose and Edward Kamau Brathwaite. He had been in London since the early 1950s and had already demonstrated his potential influence as something of an ‘enabler’, both through his immense generosity towards his fellow writers and his connections both within the writing world and at the BBC. The project offered an exciting opportunity. Not only would I be able to access Andrew Salkey’s archive, which would undoubtedly enhance my research, but the project had the potential to explore the dynamics between the writers and to bring to life something of the networks, which were so key to the establishment of a literary and cultural foundation.
What are Gephi and Kepler?
Gephi is an open graph visualization platform. It has been used in a variety of projects, to illustrate both social networks, which are evidenced within correspondence, and historical patterns of movement. In these projects, Gephi has been used as a way to make data more accessible and, by visually animating it, more engaging.
Kepler is an open source geospatial analysis tool, which was originally created by Uber to map Uber drivers around the world. This offered a useful application through which to map the movement of the Caribbean writers in Salkey’s correspondence during key periods.
Gathering the Data
The first stage of the project was to acquire the data that would ultimately be used in the visual map of the diaspora. Salkey was a meticulous archivist, retaining a significant quantity of the letters he received; he was also a diligent and attentive correspondent. Salkey’s friends were prominent Caribbean writers and publishers and Salkey’s archive contains the letters of Samuel Selvon, his distinctive language reminiscent of his groundbreaking novel The Lonely Londoners, George Lamming and Jan Carew.
The initial data was limited to the date and location of the correspondence, information that could suggest the patterns of movement within the diaspora. The idea was that it would provide a framework with which to start to explore the potential of the project.
The letters were so rich in detail, however, that other information was also recorded. I was able to note when correspondents mentioned other countries that they were planning to visit or when they spoke about other writers within the network. This provided an additional layer of information, which helped to broaden the analysis of the Caribbean diasporic network, linking people with each other as well as with Salkey.
One of the recurring themes of the letters was the evident impact that these writers had on each other, not only as a network through which to promote their work, but also to seek some form of solidarity. In numerous letters, Andrew Salkey is asked for advice or practical assistance. Sometimes this is a request for a review of their work, or a recommendation for a lecturing post, or his opinion on a piece of writing. Further clues are revealed by the fact that some of the letters also contain Salkey’s additional notes, handwritten in the margin or a penned tick beside a request.
What did I Learn?
In addition to the fascinating insight into the important work that the British Library does, I have discovered something about Andrew Salkey himself. What evolve within the letters are essentially a series of stories of friendships, between remarkable writers and artists. Sometimes, the extent of appreciation for Salkey’s generosity in helping so many other writers and friends can also be glimpsed within the, frequently poetical, words on the page. Samuel Selvon’s letters to Salkey are habitually humorous, but occasionally he steps outside his mocking, affectionate style, and says something that is profoundly moving. In one letter to Salkey on 15 March 1975, he writes: ‘you have a great gift, Andrew, so great, that even with those few words, and my inability to express myself as you do, you will understand and appreciate what I am trying to say. That is the quintessence of your genius - that behind the ballad and the episode that other human beings will laugh kiff-kiff at and enjoy you can see with the inner eye and analyse with the unique power that God gave you.'
Natalie Lucy was a PhD placement at the British Library from September 2022 until February 2023. In this blog, Natalie explains her interest in the project, development of the project through the content of the correspondence, as well as what she learned from the placement. This blog is linked with another post on the Digital Scholarship Blog, which gives more detail on the digital visualisation applications used for this project.
22 May 2020
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.
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.
22 April 2020
by Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts. Follow the activities of the Modern Archives and Manuscripts department on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS .
Just because the Library has closed its doors doesn’t mean that our manuscript collections are out of reach. The push towards digitisation for these unique and often fragile collection items is guided by a need to preserve them for posterity, but now more than ever, in these unprecedented times, it’s great to be able to share them with our users, near and far.
The Library’s Digitised Manuscripts portal is one of the best places to find high-resolution digital images of our manuscript collections, hosting an incredibly diverse selection of material ranging from botany in British India to the Zweig collection of Music manuscripts. Literary manuscripts represent a small but important collection within Digitised Manuscripts, but they can be difficult to locate. Of course, if you are searching directly on the Digitised Manuscripts portal and you already know the manuscript’s reference number, the most efficient way of locating any manuscript is by using ‘Advanced Options’ and entering your search into the ‘Manuscript Number’ field.
Manuscript numbers and digitised manuscripts can also be found using our catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts. If a manuscript has been digitised a digital version link will appear in the catalogue entry under the ‘I Want This’ tab. Unlike Discovering Literature, which interprets collection material and builds out context (and is a fantastic resource which will feature in an upcoming English & Drama Blog) Digitised Manuscripts is more like a digital Reading Room experience, reproducing the (often large) collection items in full, for your own discovery, interpretation and research. Both sites work in tandem, and if there’s material you’re interested in it’s always worth looking in both places.
In this blog I’ve included a guide to most of the literary manuscripts that can be found on Digitised Manuscripts, divided chronologically and in some cases by area or author. But first, I want to pick two of my personal highlights.
The Library holds the only surviving letters of Ignatius Sancho (Add MS 89077), one of the most famous Anglo-Africans in 18th-century Britain. According to Joseph Jekyll’s 1782 biography, Sancho was born on a transatlantic slave ship and brought to England as a child. Through a long and complex relationship with the noble Montagu family, Sancho was able to assert a level of intellectual and financial independence which made him into an icon for abolitionists in Britain. Sancho was a man of many talents: a shopkeeper, a composer and an accomplished writer. His Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave.
Stevenson Papers: The letters of Ignatius Sancho (Add MS 51044). A summary of each letter is given in the British Library catalogue. Nine of the letters were published posthumously in Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782) with some variations. In places, the manuscript has been marked up with sections to be cut before publication. All 15 of the letters written by Ignatius Sancho (but not those by his children) are published in Vincent Carretta's 2015 edition.
In 1758 Sancho married Anne Osborne, a West Indian woman with whom he had seven children. Apart from the letters by Ignatius Sancho, the collection contains letters from his son William Leach Osborne Sancho (or Billy, 1775‒1810) and his daughter Elizabeth Sancho (1766‒1837). The letters are written to Ignatius Sancho’s friend William Stevenson (1750‒1821), a publisher and painter who trained under Sir Joshua Reynolds and to William’s father, the Reverend Seth Ellis Stevenson (d. 1796). The letters have all been digitised and are available to view on Digitised Manuscripts. More information on Sancho and the contents of the letters can be found on Discovering Literature.
Another personal favourite are three notebooks by Virginia Woolf, containing the working draft for one of her most famous novels, Mrs Dalloway, under the working-title The Hours, dated from 27th June 1923. This handwritten draft was chosen by Vita Sackville West as the manuscript that she would like to keep as a lasting memory of Woolf. It was presented to the Library by a member of her family. When the notebooks were bound by the British Museum, the original cloth and paper covers were kept and can be seen in these images.
Notebooks of Virginia Woolf for her novel Mrs Dalloway, 1925 (Add MS 51044) and for essays published in The Common Reader, 1925. © The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
Restoration and 18th century
The British Library holds a wealth of original manuscripts from the Restoration and 18th century period. Unfortunately, very few manuscripts currently appear on Digitised Manuscripts. A greater selection can be found on the Library’s Discovering Literature site.
- Agreement between John Milton and Samuel Symmons (Add MS 18861)
- Ignatius Sancho
- Letters to William Stevenson (Add MS 89077)
- Thomas Hobbes
- A minute or first Draught of the Optiques (Harley MS 3360)
- The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (Harley MS 4235-4236)
- The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (imperfect) (Harley MS 6858)
Romantics and Victorians
The majority of our literary treasures have been digitised for their long-term preservation and for use as surrogates. For restricted manuscripts, including the ones below by William Blake, Charlotte Bronte and Lewis Carroll that have been digitised, all readers will be asked to initially consult these images before accessing the original manuscript(s). We are looking to upload images of further literary manuscripts in the near future.
- William Blake
- Four Zoas (Add MS 39764)
- The Notebook (Add MS 49460)
- Charlotte Bronte
- Jane Eyre, (Add MS 43474-43476)
- Shirley (Add MS 43477-43479)
- Villette (Add MS 43480-43482)
- Lewis Carroll
- Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, (Add MS 46700)
- Diaries 4 and 5 (Add MS 54343-54344)
- Thomas Hardy
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Add MS 38182)
- John Keats
- Poems (Egerton MS 2780)
- Edward Lear
- 'History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipplepopple' (Add MS 47462)
- William Wordsworth
- Poems (Add MS 47864)
- Charnwood Autographs (Add MS 70949)
The Romantics and Victorians pages of the Discovering Literature site can be found here.
As part of a cultural exchange project working with Chinese institutions the British Library created a number of exhibitions, online learning resources, knowledge exchanges and events based on the Library’s literary treasures. This included the digitisation of a number of Oscar Wilde manuscripts that are now available on Digitised Manuscripts. The Library holds two main collections of Wilde material, the first Add MS 37942-37948 was presented by Robert Ross in 1909 and the second Add MS 81619-81884, the collection of Mary, Viscountess Eccles presented in 2004.
- Autograph draft of Lady Windermere’s Fan (Add MS 37943)
- Autograph draft of Mrs Arbuthnot (Add MS 37944)
- Typescript draft of Mrs Arbuthnot Add MS 37945
- Autograph draft of An Ideal Husband (Add MS 37946)
- Typescript draft of An Ideal Husband (Add MS 37947)
- Lady Lancing, early autograph draft of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 37948)
- Typescript draft of Lady Windermere’s Fan (Add MS 81621)
- Autograph draft of A Woman of No Importance (Add MS 81622)
- Typescript draft of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 81624)
- Photographs of early productions of The Importance of Being Ernest (Add MS 81626)
- Autograph draft of ‘A Note on Shakespeare’ (Add MS 81643)
A Chinese language version of Discovering Literature was created as part of the project.
First World War
In commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, the British Library partnered with Europeana to digitise and provide free access to as many collection items as possible created during the time of the war or relating to it. This included a wealth of literary material such as Wilfred Owen’s handwritten haunting poems often annotated by Siegfried Sassoon.
- Laurence Binyon
- ‘For the Fallen’ (Add MS 45160)
- Rupert Brooke
- ‘The Dead’ and ‘The Soldier’ (Add MS 39255 M)
- Letter from Rupert Brooke to Harriet Monroe (Add MS 42181 B)
- Exercise-book, containing eleven poems (Add MS 42509)
- Scribbling pad, with notes in pencil, containing: (a) notes of military lectures and personal memoranda made whilst in the Royal Naval Division training at Blandford and (b) drafts of war poems, some cancelled, consisting of lines of War Sonnets and unpublished fragments (Add MS 42510)
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Casement Petition Papers (Add MS 63596)
- Thomas Hardy letter to Edmund Gosse (Ashley MS B3341)
- Samuel Koteliansky
- Papers and correspondence (Add MS 48969-48975)
- Wilfred Owen
- Poems (Add MS 43720- Add MS 43721)
- Dollie, Ernest, Maitland and Muriel Radford
- Correspondence (Add MS 89029/1/9, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 59)
- Isaac Rosenberg
- Poems, prose and letters (Add MS 58852)
- Letters, poems and books (Loan MS 103/77/1-3)
- Siegfried Sassoon
- Letters to his uncle, Sir William Hamo Thornycroft (Add MS 56099)
- Philip Edward Thomas
- Poems (Add MS 44990)
- Royal Literary Fund Annual Reports (Loan 96 RLF 3/19-20)
Interpretation of some of the above collection items and articles based on key themes relating to the War can be found on the British Library’s World War One website. The Europeana 1914-1918 website hosts content from a variety of European institutions and private collections.
Parts of the Library’s literary collections have also been digitised by external companies. These are mostly subscription services and access is usually provided via the computers in the Reading Rooms. However, whilst the Library is closed it may be worth checking whether your local or University Library may provide remote access.
One key resource is Gale’s Nineteenth Century Collections Online, which includes images of the Lord Chamberlains Plays dating from 1824 until 1899, (Add MS 42865-43038, Add MS 53092-53701 and 53702-53708) as well as copies of manuscripts relating to George Bernard Shaw, G.K. Chesterton and the Coleridge family.
Other products containing British Library or other related literary collections include:
- Eighteenth Century Collections Online
- Early English Books Online
- British Literary Manuscripts Online
10 April 2020
Postcard from the archive of Angela Carter Archive, Add MS 88899/3/4-24. © Courtesy of Susannah Clapp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
When was the last time you sent a friend a postcard? Perhaps now’s the time. Yes, you could Whatsapp or videocall or email, but who doesn’t love post? Even if receiving it in this day and age does throw up multiple questions. Should I wash my hands after touching it? Did the postwoman wear gloves? My dad even took to quarantining the daily newspaper for a while until the absurdity of reading 24 hour-old ‘news’ got the better of him. Still, once you’ve got past the hurdle of welcoming an item from the outside world into your home, there is all the joy of the postcard to appreciate. A written message and a visual element to admire, and perhaps some witty interplay between the two, depending on the acuity of the sender.
As we continue our blog series on Digital Literary Collections and following on from Callum’s post on the epistolary novel, I’d like to draw attention to the humble postcard. Sometimes overlooked within the correspondence section of a literary archive, many of our contemporary literary archives contain substantial numbers of postcards and greetings cards. Unlike the heavyweight genre that is the literary letter, they may not be as painstakingly performative and endlessly quotable as their paper counterparts. But these cardboard cousins offer us a more intimate and arguably less self-conscious view of literary friendships. And the images chosen by the senders can themselves offer insights into the workings of a writer’s imagination.
In Susannah Clapp’s article Angela Carter in Postcards on our Discovering Literature: 20th Century website, she recalls her friendship with Carter as played out in postcards ‘dashed off throughout the 1980s from Australia, the States, Europe, London’:
These cards told more than one story. The cartoons, paintings and photographs Angela chose sometimes contradicted, at other times re-emphasised her words on the other side. Some of the images glance at a conversation we had been having, or at an episode in Angela’s life. Sometimes, of course, the picture hints at nothing. Soon it will be harder to uncover the hidden history here, to know what is random and what is allusive.
The images which Carter sent to Clapp reveal her preoccupation with Shakespeare in the early stages of work on Wise Children, as well as her delight in lampooning authority figures, and her aesthetic tastes (there’s something particularly Carteresque about the red splatter of Mount Etna exploding in a card sent to Clapp in 1987). For further commentary see Susannah Clapp's article Angela Carter in Postcards, or her beautiful little book, A Card From Angela Carter.
Postcards from the archive of Angela Carter Archive, Add MS 88899/3/4-24. © Courtesy of Susannah Clapp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
As a great sender of postcards, it follows that Carter also received many in return. The large collection in her archive includes examples from other writer friends, such as one from ‘Jim’ [J G] Ballard, congratulating her on ‘your demolition job on Our Saviour’, referring to a documentary she had written and narrated irreverently deconstructing visual images of Christ. Aptly, Ballard chose a reproduction of Dalí’s surrealist painting of Mae West as a vehicle for his message, while comparing her achievement to that of other surrealist artists: ‘Breton + Ernst would have been proud of you’. Given the visual sophistication of both writers’ work it’s not surprising that they both enjoyed this means of communication. (For more on Ballard’s interest in and influence on visual art see Roger Luckhurst’s article on our site.)
And of course, sometimes the postcards we find in a writer’s possession were never sent but were kept for inspiration, such as Winston Levy’s souvenir postcard of the Empire Windrush that hung on his daughter Andrea Levy’s wall as a visual reminder of the true story that prompted her to write Small Island.
Postcard of Empire Windrush purchased by Winston Levy on board ship, 1948 © By kind permission of Andrea Levy
I’m off to look through my postcard collection… Meanwhile, if anyone is feeling lonely and in need of post during lockdown, see the brilliant Shaun Usher’s offer to send a ‘letter of need’.
03 April 2020
by Callum McKean, Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives and Manuscripts. Read more about 18th century letter writing culture, and the epistolary novel, on Discovering Literature Restoration & 18th century, here.
Broad technological change is often experienced as a distortion or shift in our lived experience of communication with one another. In this way, as in so many others, the twenty-first century mirrors and repeats what was rehearsed in the eighteenth-century. As Dr. Lucy Curran writes in the article linked above — cementing the relation between technology, speed and infrastructure: “the 18th century is commonly known as the great age of letter writing: postal routes rapidly expanded, and the epistolary novel emerged as a hugely popular genre”. As communication at a distance became more viable and wide-spread, so did novel forms of self-expression and self-construction, or, as Curran writes, ‘just as social media streams today allow modern celebrities to present versions of their intimate lives for public consumption, so early modern and 18th-century figures carefully constructed themselves in their letters for particular audiences keen to read these kinds of works”.
The frontispiece of Samuel Richardson's Letters Written to and for Particular Friends, a letter-writing manual, which inspired perhaps the most famous epistolary novel, his Pamela (1740)
This knotty relationship in the epistolary novel between the secluded self and the social self, between private relationships and their performance, and between sociality — as mediated by rapid technological change — and isolation, has much to tell us about our current moment. Like it or not, the selves we construct through social media, instant messaging and video conferencing software are collected and stored somewhere (if even just in the minds of others) and they exist -- to a large extent -- outside of us. Reflecting on how others navigated these choppy waters in the past can teach us a lot about what it means to be performing, constructing, confiding and loving in a time of enforced social distancing. If you're curious, Dr. Lucy Curran's article for Discovering Literature: Restoration & 18th century is a great place to start.
20 March 2020
By Chris Beckett
- Joseph Brearley Papers: Add MS 89422.
- Guy Vaesen: Papers Relating to Harold Pinter: Add MS 89421.
- Susan Engel: Theatre Papers and Photographs: Add MS 89420.
The British Library’s collections of material relating to Harold Pinter continue to grow. Just released into the Manuscripts Reading Room are two small but significant acquisitions, one from Susan Engel, who acted in the first production of The Room (15-16 May, 1957), and another from the Estate of Guy Vaesen, who was Assistant Director to Pinter for the double-bill The Lover and The Dwarfs produced by Michael Codron at the New Arts Theatre in 1963. The third and more extensive deposit also now open to researchers is the archive of Joe Brearley, Pinter’s teacher and mentor at Hackney Downs School.
Susan Engel was a drama student at the University of Bristol when she took the role of Rose Hudd in Pinter’s first play, The Room. The play was produced and directed by Henry Woolf, one of Pinter’s close circle of Hackney Downs friends, who was at the time a postgraduate student in the Drama Department. As well as directing, Woolf also played Mr. Kidd. Woolf’s passion for the theatre, like Pinter’s, was strongly inspired by Brearley’s enthusiasm for poetry and drama. Engel has provided her programme for the play, seven original photographs of the production and her typescript copy of the play. Rose’s part is underlined throughout, and Engel’s occasional annotations show something of Woolf’s direction.
Michael Billington’s biography of Pinter tells how, one evening in July 1957, Engel was instrumental in bringing together Pinter and his future theatrical agent, Jimmy Wax. Engel’s papers include a letter and a card from Pinter that show he kept her informed. Following Harold Hobson’s influential review of The Room (when it was revived at the National Student Drama Festival, again at Bristol, in December 1957), Pinter wrote to Engel (January 1958) that The Birthday Party, ‘my 3-acter is expected to go on at the Lyric Hammersmith. Quite a thing. Thank God you were Rose’. Although the play flopped badly on its first run, Pinter remained resolute: ‘a cheer for Hobson. I ain’t finished yet!’ (postcard to Engel, 4 June 1958).
Guy Vaesen kept a fascinating theatre journal in which he recorded, over eighty-eight closely-written notebook pages, the 1963 Pinter-led rehearsals for The Lover and The Dwarfs. Pinter and Vivien Merchant, who played ‘Sarah’ in The Lover, had previously acted together in several of Vaesen’s productions in repertory. At Bournemouth, in the summer of 1956, Merchant played Jane Eyre to Pinter’s Rochester; at the end of the season, they married. Vaesen’s journal is therefore not only illuminating about Pinter’s approach to stage direction but is enriched by personal observation and it displays particular insights that only close association brings. Of the two plays, it was The Dwarfs that proved the more challenging in rehearsal. Pinter’s response to the actors’ difficulties with some of his lines was that they should simply follow the rhythm of the words: ‘In short,’ Vaesen reports Pinter as saying, ‘if you hit a line with particular emphasis (within the rhythm) the line will become clear. Listen to the sound first – and the meaning will clear through this […]. Music and rhythm. They must be your guides.’ Here, Pinter’s approach to performance exhibits a poet’s confidence in the cadence of his words.
Vaesen’s papers include thirty-two letters and cards from Pinter, beginning in 1963 with a letter confirming that he is to work with Pinter in directing the double bill: ‘Codron is completely happy about the idea! So am I, as you know.’ In typical Pinter style, the letters tend to be brief and direct. They continue until 1995, when we find Pinter ‘off today to Chichester where I’m directing Harwood’s new play.’ Lifelong friends, Pinter kept Vaesen abreast of his writing and directing projects for stage and screen. In later life, Vaesen enjoyed considerable success as an artist. Pinter bought his cricket scenes. In 1980, he wrote to say that he has a Vaesen ‘in almost every room in both houses now’.
Pinter’s acceptance speech for the Cohen Literature Prize (1995) included a warm tribute to his ‘inspirational’ teacher at Hackney Downs, Joe Brearley, who ‘possessed a passionate enthusiasm for English poetry’, especially the dramatic poetry of Shakespeare and John Webster. Pinter said that Webster’s words made him feel ‘dizzy’. Henry Woolf has recalled the vivid impression that Webster made on ‘the Hackney gang’ when Brearley took some of his pupils to see The White Devil. In his Cohen speech, Pinter remembered long walks with Brearley when they would ‘declare into the wind, at the passing trolley-buses or indeed to the passers-by, nuggets of Webster’. Betrayal, cruelty, moral corruption, and torture – mainstays of dark Jacobean theatre – were to be repeatedly re-inscribed in Pinter’s plays. The memorial poem he wrote for Brearley, who died 19 November 1977, evokes these excited walks and talks of his youth, perambulations so indelible that it seemed to Pinter he was, in some ever-necessary way, undertaking them still: ‘You’re gone, I’m at your side, / Walking with you from Clapton Pond to Finsbury Park, / And on, and on.’ When Mr. Kidd in The Room says ‘So I thought to myself, I’d better have a look at those pipes’, one can imagine an inward chuckle as Woolf performed, reminded as he surely must have been of Webster’s visceral line, cited by Pinter in his Cohen speech: ‘There’s a plumber laying pipes in my guts’.
Joe Brearley retired from Hackney Downs School in 1971, at the age of 62. He spent the next six years of his life – all that was to remain to him – in Germany. A German speaker, and a teacher of German as well as English, Brearley had spent his summers in the 1930s in Germany as a private English tutor, where he witnessed at first hand the rise of the National Socialist Party. In 1933, he heard Hitler speak at a rally at Rüdesheim on the Rhine. After the War, he returned to teach at Hackney Downs School, where fifty per cent of the pupils, including Pinter, were from Jewish families. Although Brearley’s final years in Germany were few, they were nevertheless eventful. At the Gymnasium where he taught English (his retirement did not bring an end to the impulse to teach), Brearley met the artist and teacher Mara Loytved-Hardegg, thirty-three years his junior, with whom he was to share his last years (and who has now donated Brearley’s papers to the British Library). They lived in Nuremburg. To an out-going yet conservative former Deputy Head, Mara’s circle of young friends – avant-garde artists, teachers, film-makers, and Marxists – were a rich source of intellectual stimulation (although, as the papers show, he drew the line at Marxism and at smoking cannabis).
Brearley’s archive is weighted towards these final and personally-fulfilling years: there are extensive files of correspondence and two journals that record, in poetry, photographs and watercolours, holidays with Mara in Greece and Ireland. But the collection also includes some earlier Hackney Downs material. There are printed programmes for the school plays that Brearley produced, and school exercise books that record the staging and lighting schemes for the two plays by Shakespeare in which Pinter acted, as Macbeth and as Romeo. Brearley did not act in his production of Macbeth, but in Romeo and Juliet he played Prince Escalus.
In September 1977, only weeks before his death in November, Brearley returned to England to meet up with a longstanding American friend and his wife. Much to Brearley’s frustration, they are determined to visit – whistle-stop fashion, guide-book in hand – every cathedral city in southern England. Along the way, however, Brearley manages to augment the repetitive schedule. They visit Henry Woolf, ‘an old (actor) pupil of mine’ then living in Folkestone. Two days later, they detour to Brighton where Brearley is reacquainted with Pinter’s parents (in 1948, Brearley had interceded on Pinter’s behalf when, much to the dismay of his parents, he decided to register as a conscientious objector). At the end of the exhausting itinerary, on Friday 30 September, Brearley lunches with Pinter, at ‘The Little Acropolis’ in Charlotte Street. Inevitably, much of their conversation touches upon Pinter’s changed personal circumstances, sensationally reported at the time in the newspapers: the end of his marriage to Vivien Merchant and his new life with Antonia Fraser. When Brearley and Pinter met for the last time, they were both were embarking on new futures.
Pinter is a presence throughout the archive, which includes his correspondence with both Brearley and Loytved-Hardegg, continuing solicitously until his death in 2008. But there is a second consistent presence who must be mentioned. On the same tour of southern England, Brearley slipped away to make one further personal call. Passing through Cambridge, he called upon his old tutor, F. R. Leavis, whose health was then rapidly declining. Queenie Leavis greeted him: ‘It’s good to see his really old students from the great days … one has to be so careful now. I have to keep away people who come out of mere curiosity … and journalists out for a story.’ Brearley read for the English Tripos at Cambridge under Leavis’s supervision. In an autograph testimonial in the archive, Leavis wrote (14 March 1932): ‘[Brearley] has in particular studied critical method, especially as it bears upon the problem of teaching English. He is a cultivated man with a trained mind, & is himself well qualified to teach. I recommend him with great confidence.’ Among the many letters of condolence Mara received was one from Q. D. Leavis, who admitted to having initially hesitated in agreeing to Brearley’s visit, ‘Dr Leavis so changed and not able to converse’. She paints a poignant picture of their last meeting: ‘I shall never forget how kind and sympathetic [Joe] was to my husband, sitting by his bed & holding his hand’.
Leavis outlived Brearley by five months. His persistent presence in the archive – which extends even to a final brief entry (2 November 1977) in Brearley’s last journal, written from his hospital bed – serves as a reminder that Brearley’s enduring influence upon the young Pinter in the late 1940s, including the ‘revelation’, as Pinter described it, of Webster’s plays, had a particular critical and pedagogical setting. It also supplies a context to Pinter’s advice to the actors rehearsing The Dwarfs, that their guide should be the music and rhythm, the movement – to borrow a favoured term from Leavis – of his words. If Brearley’s teacher was not far from his thoughts in hospital, nor was his pupil. The first note in the same hospital journal (15 October) registers a dream of a dream, a dream of Pinter acting in a ‘school production’ of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
22 November 2019
a guest blog by Milena Borden, who has been engaged with the Evelyn Waugh Society, the University of Leicester and the British Library in research for the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. and has published on the topic ‘Evelyn Waugh and the Second World War’. She completed her PhD at UCL and is interested in perspectives of intersections between history and fiction. These papers, and many more by Evelyn Waugh, are available to consult, for free, in our Reading Rooms.
Evelyn Waugh, photographed in about 1940
19 July (19)57
PTY 12.25 SLOANE
PRIORITY EVELYN WAUGH CARE FOLYLES 119 CHARINGCROSS ROAD WC2=
HOW WONDERFUL WE ARE GOING TO SEE YOU TODAY YOU
KEPT ME AWAKE NEARLY ALL NIGHT LAUGHING AND
CRYING AT YOUR MARVELLOUS BOOK LOVE = VIVIEN +
Add MS 81067
Vivien Leigh (famous for playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, 1939) sent this telegram a few hours before the Foyle’s Literary Luncheon dedicated to Evelyn Waugh’s novella, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957).  It is preserved in a collection of three related items at the British Library, and offers a glimpse into the celebrity milieu which both sender and receiver inhabited at the time (although Leigh’s husband, Sir Lawrence Olivier, who was implied in the 'we' of Leigh's telegram didn't turn up to the party, in the end). Despite its short length, this SMS-like burst of twenty-five words is packed with energy. One can almost see Leigh dictating it enthusiastically to the Sloane Square Post Office -- no-punctuation; cigarette in hand.
But what information can we glean from these papers about their friendship and the book? Leigh cabled that she had spent the night before reading and laughing and crying. Inevitably one wonders what did she, who suffered from a bipolar disorder from around the age of 25, find funny or not so funny in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold - a semi-biographical account of a deeply disturbed human being based on Waugh’s own experience with psychosis.
Gilbert is a carefully constructed character underpinned by a single and powerful belief, which is also a hallucination, that he is persecuted; because he is a German and a Jew; a Roman Catholic and a fascist; a communist homosexual and a suicidal drunk. Gilbert is more or less the same as Waugh. His hallucinatory conversations with imaginary enemies are full of distinctly autobiographical features. Like Waugh, Gilbert is somebody who “abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz”, a member of the S.O.E. during the Second World War and a fake aristocrat who allegedly sympathized with Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.
Medically inclined readers of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold often find Waugh’s self-parodying style unconvincing as a description of a clinical psychosis or delusion, although they recognize that there might be an element of alcohol induced hallucinatory experience in it. Alexandra Pitman argues that the novel illustrates “the difficulty in distinguishing alcoholic hallucinations from psychotic illness” but proves that in the case of the former if one stopped drinking the problem would resolve quickly, as in the case of Gilbert.
Maybe Leigh could laugh and cry with laughter at the fictionalized telescopic look Waugh took towards his own character because it had very little in common with her own highly volatile life, which behind the scenes was dominated by battles with mental illness. Ten days after the Foyle’s event Leigh discovered that Olivier was having a affair and slashed him across the eyes with a wet face cloth while hitting her head on a marble bedside table.Her depressive and aggressive drinking habit drove her professionalism but also aggravated her illness and eventually killed her at the age of 53. She would die ten years later, a victim of her illness, at her flat at 54 Eaton Square, the very same place from which she'd sent the breezy telegraph to Waugh. What the actress Maxine Audley said about Leigh could probably be said about Waugh too: “When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad, she was awful!” 
Also included in the collection is an earlier Leigh letter addressed to Waugh, dated 21 February 1955. This letter spreads over three square pages of blue letter-headed paper of enlarged handwriting, and thanks Waugh for his Spectator review of Peter Brook’s Titus Andronicus (1955).  “I am quite unaccustomed to such very pleasant laudatory language”, Leigh writes. She also asked Waugh if he would be going to see Macbeth, a production directed by Glen Byam Shaw in the same year in which she played Lavinia, offering to book seats and inviting him to dinner with her and Olivier afterwards.
The third item is a handwritten telegram dated 21 February 1957 addressed to Combe Florey House: “Hurray we are so delighted for you Vivien and Larry”. This is catalogued as being sent by Olivier and presumably congratulated the Waughs for the move to their new home in late 1956.
In the end, these telegrams -- constrained as they are by form and function -- can only gesture towards the deeper friendships between those that wrote them. Nevertheless, if we're willing to look at them more closely, certain currents become more visible; of shared troubles and triumphs; laughter and tears.
 Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh: No Abiding City 1939-1966, London: Dent,
1992, pp. 390-91
 BMJ, 337: a2791, issue 7683, 2008
 Hugo Vickers, Vivien Leigh, London:Hamilton, 1988 pp. 250-260
 Ibid., p.2
 Spectator, 2 Sept. 1955
30 August 2018
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)
English and Drama blog recent posts
- Andrew Salkey Archive – Mapping the Caribbean Diaspora through Letters
- “Without being a burden to anybody”: A letter from Ann Radcliffe to her Mother-in-Law from afar.
- Tour of the Literary Modern Archive and Manuscript Digital Collections
- Postcards for our times
- Epistolary Novels and Social Distancing
- Three New British Library Collections Featuring Harold Pinter
- Evelyn Waugh and Vivien Leigh: Telegraphic Messaging
- Mary Shelley in Italy: ‘…tragedy with a scene both affecting and sublime’
- T S Eliot in Margate: Writing ‘The Waste Land’
- Standing With Salman: Banned Books Week looks back at The Satanic Verses