THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

80 posts categorized "Literature"

22 November 2019

Evelyn Waugh and Vivien Leigh: Telegraphic Messaging

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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.

 

Portrait

Evelyn Waugh, photographed in about 1940

Post Office

Telegram

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). [1] 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.[2]

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.[3]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!” [4]

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). [5] “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. 

[1] Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh: No Abiding City 1939-1966, London: Dent,

1992, pp. 390-91

[2] BMJ, 337: a2791, issue 7683, 2008

[3] Hugo Vickers, Vivien Leigh, London:Hamilton, 1988 pp. 250-260

[4] Ibid., p.2

[5] Spectator, 2 Sept. 1955

Happy 200th Birthday George Eliot

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By Laura Walker, Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1851-1950. The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery is a free exhibition space at the British Library, which will feature a one case display on George Eliot until 26th January 2020. 

Today (22nd November) George Eliot celebrates her 200th birthday. To mark her bicentenary a one case exhibition in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery displays five items relating to Eliot’s life and work.

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Eliot was born near Nuneaton, Warwickshire and her contrasting experiences of rural and urban life during her childhood in the Midlands inspired many of her novels. Following a good education and the freedom to pursue her own scholarly interests, Eliot grew up well read, intellectually curious and a was gifted writer. She moved to London in 1851 to pursue a journalistic career, where she met and fell in love with the critic George Henry Lewes –  a married man who was estranged from his wife. From 1853 Eliot lived with Lewes openly and started referring to herself as Marian Evans Lewes, in defiance of Victorian notions of propriety.

She began writing fiction in 1856, publishing all of her novels under the pseudonym George Eliot. She took her partner’s first name, George, and chose Eliot as 'a good mouth-filling, easily pronounced word'. Female authors did not need to write under a pseudonym, but Eliot wanted the freedom to write outside the romance genre. She was also a known radical living in an anomalous social position with a married man, Mary Evans Lewes as such, was compelled to protect her identity. 

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Letter from Charles Dickens to George Eliot, 18 January 1858, Add MS 41667 B

 

Following the publication of Eliot’s collection of short stories entitled Scenes of a Clerical Life in 1858, there was much speculation over who the author could be. Soon after publication Charles Dickens wrote to Eliot partly in praise of the author’s ‘extraordinary merit’ but also to propose that the writer was a woman. Dickens felt that there were ‘such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now’. Eliot revealed her identity as Marian Evans Lewes in June 1859 over a year after this letter was written, after persistent rumours that a Midlands man called Joseph Liggins was the author of Scenes of a Clerical Life and her first novel Adam Bede (1859).

Mill on the Floss was the second and the most autobiographical of Eliot’s novels. The characters of Maggie and Tom Tulliver greatly resemble Marian Evans (Eliot) and her brother Isaac. In the extract on display Maggie is visiting Tom at school where they discuss women's' education. Tom’s teacher, Mr Stelling, describes how he believes that women are ‘quick and shallow’, which leaves Maggie feeling ‘mortified’.

 

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George Eliot, Mill on the Floss, Add MS 34023 f.291

 

Within the British Library’s collections are over 200 letters written to, by or about George Eliot and her partner George Henry Lewes. One correspondent of Eliot’s was Emilia Francis Strong (known as Francis), a writer, advocate of women’s rights and a close friend. Francis married Mark Pattison, a priest and Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford in 1861. There was speculation when Middlemarch was first published, that Francis was the model for Dorothea Brooke due to her strong religious views and unhappy marriage to a much older man.

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Letter from George Eliot to Emilia Francis Pattison, 16 December 1872, Add MS 43907 f.56v

 

One volume of Middlemarch is currently on display at the Library alongside a letter from Eliot to Emilia Francis Pattison from 16 December 1872. This letter offers a glimpse into Eliot’s life with her ‘husband’ George Henry Lewes.

‘But it is a holiday to sit with one’s feet at the fire reading one’s husband’s writing- at least when, like mine, he allows me to differ from him’.

Eliot goes on to write that ‘I hope we are not the happiest people in the world, but we are amongst the happiest’. Eliot led an extraordinary life, full of difficult decisions and challenges, but she also found happiness and love. She took a strong interest in the world around her, which inspired the strong sense of  the ‘ordinary’ and the attendant realism of her novels. The letters and manuscripts on display give a sense of the interrelationship between her life and her work. Eliot is one of the rare authors to achieve both critical and commercial success during her lifetime. She is undoubtedly one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian age and beyond.

21 November 2019

'Anything But Petering Out' - celebrating Peter Nichols at Trafalgar Studios

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by Zoë Wilcox, Curator of Contemporary Performance and Creative Archives

In tribute to Peter Nichols who sadly died in September, Trafalgar Studios is staging an afternoon of readings on 27 November to celebrate his theatrical legacy, generously supported by the British Library Collections Trust. Directed by his grandson, George Nichols, and starring Roger Allam and other special guests to be announced, the event will take a look at Peter Nichols’ vast literary contribution with excerpts from his much-loved television and stage plays including Promenade (1959), The National Health (1969), Forget-Me-Not-Lane (1971) and Poppy (1982), as well as passages from his personal diaries and rare unproduced plays from Nichols’ archive at the British Library.

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Peter Nichols, photo courtesy of Trafalgar Studios

Also on show in the Trafalgar Studios’ bar is a display about the evolution of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Nichols’ most famous play which is currently being revived by the Trafalgar in a new production by Simon Evans. You can see reproductions from Peter Nichols’ archive in the Studio Bar, tracing the play’s difficult birth from initial doubts over the first draft, to wranglings with the Lord Chamberlain’s censors and its ultimate glowing reception at its premiere in 1967.

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'The Evolution of Joe Egg', display curated by the British Library for Trafalgar Studios' Studio Bar, until 30 Nov. Photo courtesy of Trafalgar Studios. 

If that has whetted your appetite for further research, the wider archive is available to consult at the British Library. Acquired 20 years ago this month, the Peter Nichols Papers comprises 256 volumes of personal and professional papers from 1945 to the 2000s. You can listen to Peter Nichols reflecting on his career on BL Sounds, and various other interviews and theatre recordings are available to listen to onsite at the Library (search our Sound & Moving Image catalogue for details).

In light of Peter’s recent passing, it’s difficult not to read fresh significance into his words. In the programme for the current production of Joe Egg, Jamie Andrews from the British Library recalls one particular email exchange amongst many:

I see that at one point, feeling the physical challenges of ageing, his subject line was a typically self-deprecating ‘Petering Out’; but that a few emails later, it had changed to ‘Anything But Petering Out’…. A far more accurate assessment of his later years.

Just as Peter’s words will live on in all who knew him, his work survives in the archive he left behind and the potential it holds for many more revivals to come.


Peter Nichols: A Celebration will take place next Wednesday 27 November at 3pm. Tickets are available from ATG Tickets.


Peter Richard Nichols CBE, playwright, born 31 July 1927; died 7 September 2019, aged 92.

12 November 2019

Call for Papers -- Creative Activism Now!: Andrew Salkey and Today’s Diasporic Cultural Networks

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A celebratory conference placing Andrew Salkey’s legacy in the modern moment and exploring the Caribbean diasporic networks of today will be held at The Knowledge Centre, The British Library, London on Saturday 20th June 2020.

Keynote speakers:

  • Professor Robert A. Hill, leading scholar on Marcus Garvey and Research Professor, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Professor Nadia Ellis, author of Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora, English Department, University of California, Berkeley

Writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey became a central figure in a circle of Caribbean writers, artists and intellectuals when he moved to London from Jamaica in the 1950s, later co-founding the Caribbean Artists Movement and dedicating his life to literary activism across the Caribbean diaspora. While his achievements and influence were widely acknowledged in his own lifetime, his name is less-well-known today. Twenty-five years on from Salkey’s death, this conference seeks to retrieve his legacy and to open up questions about today’s Caribbean diasporic networks. How have they changed? Are the same questions from the past still important today?

Born in Panama in 1928 and raised in Jamaica, Andrew Salkey was a novelist, poet, editor, broadcaster and academic. He embodied the Black Radical Tradition as a member of the League of Coloured Peoples and the Movement for Colonial Freedom; as an author and folklorist; and in his support for revolutionary Cuba and the freedom struggles of Guyana and Chile. Salkey was the main presenter and writer-in-residence in the Caribbean section of the BBC World Service giving a platform for a generation of writers including Sam Selvon, George Lamming and V S Naipaul through its ‘Caribbean Voices’ programme. He was influential in the British publishing industry, recommending V S Naipaul and Wilson Harris to Andre Deutsch and Faber & Faber respectively, championing women writers such as Beryl Gilroy, and supporting Bogle L'Ouverture and New Beacon Books in their pioneering roles as the first publishing houses for Black writing in Britain. In 1966, he co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement alongside Kamau Brathwaite and John La Rose. From 1976 until his death in 1995, Salkey lived in the US and worked as Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College in Amherst. His life and work have been seen as embodying the Black Radical Tradition.

Dubbed the unofficial archivist of the Caribbean cultural scene by his friend Sam Selvon, he preserved not only his own literary drafts, diaries and wide-ranging correspondence, but also rare printed ephemera, news cuttings, project files and sound recordings. The Andrew Salkey Archive will be open to researchers at the British Library from autumn 2020.

We are currently accepting abstracts for 15-minute papers from scholars and early career researchers with an interest in Caribbean diaspora studies. We encourage paper proposals from a wide variety of institutions. We also welcome papers from writers, artists, performers, activists and archivists.

Themes to consider:

  • The works of Andrew Salkey
  • Literary and cultural networks across the Diaspora – past and present
  • Women’s writing and activism
  • The Caribbean Artists Movement
  • Diasporic communication, languages and idioms
  • Expressions of home, belonging, exile, transnationality
  • Radical Politics, Black Radical Aesthetics, human liberation
  • The politics of the archive, memory and erasure, the ethics of dispersed and contested archives, Decolonising the Archive
  • New media, broadcasting, publishing, literary festivals

A British Library conference in collaboration with Goldsmiths Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, Goldsmiths MA in Black British Writing and The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library

Access bursaries of up to £250 will be available to delegates not in permanent employment to help with travel and/or childcare costs. Details of how to apply will be shared with applicants once paper acceptances have been circulated.  The bursaries have been made available through support from the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.  Any enquiries about the bursaries should be sent to eccles-centre@bl.uk.

Abstracts for papers and enquiries should be sent by e-mail to Eleanor Casson, Eleanor.Casson@bl.uk

Deadline for abstracts: Monday 27th January 2020

Decisions announced: March 2020

08 November 2019

Digital Literature and Emerging Media: 10 Years of the New Media Writing Prize

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by Giulia Carla Rossi Curator of Digital Publications @giugimonogatari. Find out more about the New Media Writing Prize here. For more information about the Library's Emerging Formats project, click here.

On 18 July, The British Library hosted a Digital Conversations event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the New Media Writing Prize. Digital Conversations is a series of events that explores the way in which technology is changing how we experience our life and how we communicate. New media writing perfectly fits within this theme as an example of the impact innovative technologies have on how we tell stories and express ourselves.

Now in its 10th year, the if:book UK New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) started as a one-off event in a literary festival in Poole. After realising its great potential, the event was moved to Bournemouth University (where it’s based today), with the help of co-founder and organiser Jim Pope. The 2019 prize is now comprised of five strands: the if:book award is the main award and the Dot Prize is an award for project proposals connecting literature with the digital; both are sponsored by if:book founder Chris Meade. The Unicorn Training Student Award, the Journalism Award and the Skylab innovation award round out the compliment, making 2019 the first year where these groups and mediums will be explicitly and separately recognised.

In ten years of the prize, words have always been at the centre of these works, combined with all sorts of new media, in constantly changing and innovative ways. New media writing is not identifiable with a single practice: it’s a whole range of forms that happens across disciplines and cultures. Genres have also been extremely varied since the beginning of the award: journalism, poetry, games, fiction, non-fiction, digital connected to non-digital. The constant element throughout the years has been the different way of writing (and reading) which this combination of digital and literature creates, giving the reader new agency and allowing for things that cannot happen in print. 

New media writing to engage diverse audiences and preserve obsolete technologies

The event kicked off with a presentation by Andy Campbell, Co-Director of arts organisation One-to-One Development Trust, and judge of the NMWP since its inception. Andy talked about working with technology and people from a variety of backgrounds to tell stories both fictionally and factually. One-to-One Development Trust is involved in a range of different projects – some of the most ambitious ones are created in their in-house digital fiction studio, Dreaming Methods

The studio began as a personal exploration on writing and new media; with the rapid changes in technology, Dreaming Methods has now shifted into the realm of playable narratives and immersive experiences. The studio produces works that use game mechanics to improve readers’ engagement and draw them to new forms of storytelling. One example of this is Wallpaper (2015), a VR sci-fi ghost story that explores reading and immersion. Following game dynamics, readers will get a score once they finished the story, depending on how much of the narrative they managed to uncover – this encourages readers/players to come back to the narrative to try and improve their score. Another example is All the Delicate Duplicates (2016): defined as literary videogame, it explores family relationships and mental health. 

1All the Delicate Duplicates. © One to One Development Trust - Dreaming Methods and Mez Breeze

New media writing, like any discipline dealing with emerging technologies, is closely linked to the question of digital preservation. Some of the submissions entered in the first years of the NMWP have been successfully preserved by the Internet Archive thanks to their Wayback Machine, while others have now vanished. The latest Dreaming Methods project stems from this very issue: Digital Fiction Curious is a virtual museum created to house and preserve Flash works in VR. Flash will disappear in 2020, which makes the risk of loss very real for a great number of interactive narratives. Digital Fiction Curious uses three early Flash literary works created by the founders of One-to-One Development Trust and Dreaming Methods as a proof of concept. The access to all source code made possible to retain all the original Flash features and interaction patterns in VR. 

The virtual museum was conceived as an archive, but it has become more of an artwork in its own right. It gives its audience the possibility to not just experience obsolete works in their originality, but to also explore them in new ways: Digital Fiction Curious includes a VR-within-VR function, which allows us to imagine the different shape these work could have taken had VR technology been available at the development stage. 

2Digital Fiction Curious © One to One Development Trust – Dreaming Methods in association with Sheffield Hallam University

This project has proven that a VR environment can successfully support Flash technology – the aim is now to create a comprehensive archive of different authors. Flash appears quite frequently among the submissions to the NMWP, especially in the early years – in 2010, 70% of the entries were created using this tool, and they’re now at risk of becoming inaccessible. 

New media writing to represent the multitude of our emotional landscape 

One example of new media writing that uses Flash, is the very first winner of the NMWP, Underbelly, by Christine Wilks. Underbelly revolves around a woman sculptor working on the site of a former colliery in the North of England. The work mixes audio and video, overlapping the inner dialogue of the sculptor (expressing her most hidden desires and fears) with the sepulchral voices of 19th century women who used to mine on the site. The result is a haunting of voices, reflecting on womanhood and on how much control can women have over their own lives.

Revealing what is hidden under the surface is one of the main concerns of Underbelly – there is a variety of themes and historical remnants buried within the work, as layers for the reader to excavate, mirroring the mining process as well as the sculpting itself. Readers search the map for elements that trigger narrative events: historical images of mine workers inhabit the same space of old anatomical drawings of dissected bodies. Gynaecological imagery is also recurring as yet another example of excavation, in the anatomical sense of cavity in the human body. The map itself is reminiscent of a anatomical drawing, an adaptation of the medieval Hereford Mappa Mundi, with the colliery tunnels and cavities taking the shape of the womb of Mother Earth.

3Underbelly © Christine Wilks

Christine also discussed a few of her new projects.Writing New Bodies is an international research project on bibliotherapy, currently in the process of being developed. It’s a work of interactive digital fiction which aims to address body-image issues, where her own  text-driven game engine works to develop interactive narratives focused on the characters' psychology through a rich vocabulary of emotional states.

New media writing to democratise language and escape censorship 

Amira Hanafi won the main prize in 2018 with A Dictionary of the Revolution. This work was driven by Amira’s desire to understand the language that was developing around her in Cairo during the Arab Spring: people were talking politics in the streets, openly expressing themselves in a way that hadn’t been possible before they took control of public spaces in 2011. Originally conceived as a book, A Dictionary of the Revolution took almost 5 years to reach its current form.

The writing of this work can be divided into two main steps: the first step consisted of collecting the words people used when discussing politics into 320 cards. Cards allowed for a fluid narrative that could be shuffled and recombined and were the perfect tool to spark conversation around how the meaning of words can change after great social and political events. The second step was to interview people interacting with the cards, and then use these recordings (of almost 200 interviews) to form a dictionary of language as a process – the aim was not to define terms, but to represent language as something that’s alive, pliable material that we revise and remake as collective. Amira’s process involved listening to interviews by term, not by interviewee, so that different voices could mix and provide multiple perspectives.

The final step was to assemble the text to understand the collective language, and find a way to organise the data and show the hidden patterns. Amira wanted her work to be available in Egypt first, but by the time she finished transcribing her audio archive the political atmosphere had changed, and it was hard to imagine the text would make it through censorship unchanged (if at all). Online publishing began to seem the best option, especially in terms of making the book accessible. Digital tools also opened up new possibilities for analysing the text and organising the narrative. She chose to visualise data through a core diagram, which represents connections between nodes (words) in a circular layout, using line weight to indicate the closeness of the relationship.

4A Dictionary of the Revolution © Amira Hanafi

Machine reading found connections between words that weren’t obvious in print, and the website structure allows readers to explore the dictionary in a non-linear way, through a web of connected concepts, events, and characters. Although analytics tools for one-page websites tend to not be precise, it looks like people only spend a short amount of time on the website. This seems to suggest that most users are interacting with the diagram more than reading the full text. The project has translated into its visualisation; it has ‘gamified’. With the shift to visualisation as the main narrative, the act of reading has also transformed into navigating the web of relationships between words.

New media writing to own your narrative and renew civic identity

The 2018 Dot Award for a digital literature project proposal was won by Kayt Lackie (Burgess) for her VESSEL Project, a transmedia storytelling project and pervasive game set in her hometown of Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada. The project is supported by the Vessel Transmedia Storytelling Lab, an initiative that uses new media storytelling to explore the history and culture of a community.

Elliot Lake was hit by a tragedy in 2012 when the roof of the local shopping mall collapsed causing a number of casualties. Suddenly the town jumped to the front of the news, with this story ending up defining the community to a national audience (and to the town itself), as well as negatively impacting its economy. Kayt’s project seeks to use counter narratives to re-appropriate media representation and progress community renewal and civic identities through multimedia writing and storytelling.

The VESSEL Project (Virtual Experience & Superimposed StoryWorld in Elliot Lake) is a transmedia story set in a fictionalised version of Elliot Lake, mixing folklore, science and environmental conservation. It draws upon the town history, as well as the cultures and languages of its community, bringing people together in a unified story world. The transmedia story will represent the first act of the VESSEL Project, created by a collective of writers through a series of new media and digital writing workshops (like the Ephemera Storytelling Box) and further developed by other participants to the project (artists, creators, schools, etc.) The transmedia story will be hosted online and unfold through a variety of art pieces, such as social media accounts, photos, blogs, art installations, videos and audio file.

5The VESSEL Ephemera Storytelling Box © The VESSEL Transmedia Storytelling Lab

The transmedia story will culminate in an alternate-reality festival weekend (scheduled for summer 2021), which will introduce the project to a wider audience. Elliot Lake will become the physical setting of a real world video game, where people can solve puzzles and overcome challenges while experiencing the story created and performed by the local community. A location-based app will also be developed as part of the festival, and hopefully help to preserve it and give it a long afterlife after the festival is over.

This pervasive form of new media storytelling is effective in bringing people together to create counter narratives and tell the story of a place and a community. It allows participants to recognise that powerful stories are all around them and not just controlled by the media – people feel seen through storytelling, which strengthens their sense of civic identity.

The Emerging Formats Project

The British Library, together with the other five Legal Deposit Libraries, is currently researching how to manage collections of innovative digital publications. For this purpose, the Emerging Formats Project was set up, looking at collection management requirements for complex new media.

Many of these publications present challenges linked to their software and hardware dependencies, which might affect long-term preservation as well as access to content. The rapid pace at which new technologies emerge and become obsolete also presents a risk to born-digital publications with no print counterpart. 

The British Library is looking into different collection methods for different formats: we have recently collected files for inkle’s 80 Days, including contextual information that could aid preservation and future access. We are also testing web archiving tools for capturing online interactive narratives: Rhizome’s Webrecorder has proven effective in capturing some examples of early Flash works, and the British Library’s own Annotation and Curation Tool (ACT) has allowed us to create an Interactive Narratives collection on the UK Web Archive, with the option of nominating yours or someone else's work for inclusion.

 

29 October 2019

Andrew Salkey: A Man of Many Hats

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By Eleanor Casson, Archivist and Cataloguer of the Andrew Salkey Archive (Deposit 10310), working in collaboration with the Eccles Centre for American Studies and the British Library. The catalogue will be made available in Autumn 2020. The British Library, in collaboration with The Eccles Centre and Goldsmiths, University of London, are also planning a conference celebrating Andrew Salkey’s legacy and exploring the Caribbean diasporic networks of today. Details of this will be released soon. 

Andrew Salkey, who was born in Colón, Panama, brought up in Jamaica, and later relocated to both the United Kingdom and the United States, was instrumental in developing and refining a diasporic consciousness among Caribbean artists and intellectuals at home and abroad in the latter half of the twentieth century. As a novelist, poet, editor, broadcaster, academic, promoter and activist, he presented the BBC’s hugely important ‘Caribbean Voices’ program, where he was also writer-in-residence; he co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM); taught Creative Writing at Hampshire College in Amherst Massachusetts; and supported influential publishers Bogle L’Ouverture and New Beacon Books. His archive, acquired by the Library in 2005, sheds light on the sheer variety of these roles, and the characteristic intensity and humanity which he brought to each of them.

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Photograph of Andrew Salkey, from the Andrew Salkey Archive, Deposit 10310. With kind permission of Jason Salkey.

The Archive is comprised of 158 boxes of correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts (including Salkey’s poem Jamaica), and ephemera from various events documenting the literary, academic, and political spheres of the Caribbean diaspora, as well as Salkey's important place within them. The diversity of Salkey's correspondence is striking. Notable inclusions range from political figures -- even world leaders like Michael Manley and Cheddi Jagan -- all the way to literary stars such as E.R. Braithwaite, C.L.R. James, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Beryl Gilroy to name a few. Throughout all of these conversations, though, we see how well respected and regarded Salkey was professionally and personally; as a founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement, a leading academic, a literary figure, a friend and a mentor.

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Storage of the Andrew Salkey Archive, Deposit 10310, showing the scale of the papers at the British Library. With the kind permission of Jason Salkey. 

20191025_145313-2A selection of archival material; typescript of ‘Jamaica’ poem by Andrew Salkey, manuscript of ‘Joey Tyson’ by Andrew Salkey and correspondence from the Andrew Salkey Archive, Deposit 10310. Reproduced with the kind permission of Jason Salkey.

A Friend

The largest body of correspondence in the collection comes from Austin Clarke [1934-2016] a Barbadian novelist, broadcaster, and academic who spent most of his career in Toronto, Canada. The long distance correspondence was so prolific that Clarke asked Salkey whether he could publish their letters together in 1976, referring to it affectionately as a “frivolous and comical correspondence between two writers who said things that the rest of the world did not feel disposed to know”. Clarke’s letters  to Salkey offer an insight in to his own working methods, his relationship with his publishers, and his opinions on Black Power movements around the world, but they are also notable for their evocation of the  the deep and personal friendship which the two men shared. “I want to apologise to you my great friend for depressing you with all my sensations and problems", Clarke writes after a characteristic outpouring "but there is no other with whom I can share these feelings. I value your undying friendship and love”. Similar currents run through Salkey's correspondence with other leading Caribbean writers and intellectuals, including George Lamming and Jan Carew, and Sam Selvon.

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A letter written by Austin Clarke to Andrew Salkey 10 January 1976 from the Andrew Salkey Archive, Deposit 10310. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Estate of Austin Clarke.

 

A Founding Member of the Caribbean Artists Movement

Salkey played a key role in the community element of the Caribbean Artists Movement. He would respond to correspondence about CAM’s work and maintained contact with CAM members after the movement ended in 1972. He was known for his prompt and courteous replies to anyone that contacted him. He could nurture friendships through his letters and act as a buffer between opposing personalities. He stated in an interview to Anne Walmsley for her book on CAM that “I was the one that most of them got on with. I also made sure that I was of service to friendships.”[1] Many CAM members frequently appear in his general correspondence files including Marina Maxwell, Orlando and Nerys Patterson, and Horace Ové -- all of whom reminisce with Salkey about past CAM meetings and continue to exchange ideas and creative endeavours. Correspondents from the broader world of publishing are also present, perhaps most notably, Salkey maintained close links with John La Rose and Sarah White through his continued support of New Beacon Books. Salkey’s correspondence also includes a selection of letters with Kamau Brathwaite, one of the co-founders of CAM , which spans the period between 1965-1989. The early letters reveal a close professional and personal relationship between the two men, where Bajan forms and Standard English interact and blend in interesting ways: “For Christssake, man, they've got my TS [typescript]”, Braithwaite writes in one exemplary letter, ‘and I can't get a word out of them. Give them a lil ring fuh me, nuh man?’, blending the intimate and the professional, the formal and the informal.

A Mentor

Salkey’s role in CAM often extended to that of a mentor, especially to the younger members of the movement, including people like Michael Anthony.[2] “I would like to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for all that you have done for me" Linton Kewsi Johnson writes in one letter,  “you have been of tremendous help to me and I couldn't have done without your encouragement”. Salkey was naturally fitted to the more pastoral aspects of his role as Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College, then, as he advised students taking credits in creative writing, particularly poetry. Through his role as an advisor, Salkey was able to foster great friendships through his personal encouragement and professional criticism. In one of his letters to a friend, he called teaching “a sacred profession, akin to the priesthood.” His correspondence illustrates how encouraging Salkey was with the students on his courses, particularly women. This was because he knew that women writers faced greater obstacles getting their work noticed and he wanted to help. Paule Marshall thanked him in a letter for “his encouragement, help and general all around prime-movership.” Toni Morrison thanked him in one of her letters for his praise of her novel “I am so pleased about your pleasure. Particularly because several men…have had hard things to say about it.” His students’ opinions of him illustrate a nurturing spirit and indicate the depth of trust he created in his friendships, one student wrote in a letter “your love and encouragement have really nurtured the poet in me”.

[1] Anne Walmsley, The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966-1972: A Literary & Cultural History, (London: New Beacon Books, 1992), p.44

[2] Ibid, p.44

 

17 August 2019

“That was our place.” - The Cambridge of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

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by guest blogger Di Beddow, PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London, researching Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Cambridge. The notebook containing the Hughes poem 'Cambridge Was Our Courtship' (Add MS 88918/1/2) is currently on display in the Library's Treasures Gallery, and available to view -- in part -- through our Discovering Literature site. 

Hughes Godwin BL COpy

Ted Hughes by Fay Godwin, Copyright British Library Board 

Ted Hughes omitted from Birthday Letters the poem simply known as “X” [1] which can be found in a notebook in the British Library.  It begins -

Cambridge was our courtship.
Not the colleges, or such precincts,
But everything from the Millbridge
Towards Grantchester.

The Cambridge of Plath and Hughes, as pictured in Birthday Letters (Hughes’s award winning 1998 poetry collection) is a place where the university and the academic life of the city are all but absent.  The landscapes of Hughes’s earlier poetry are also largely missing. No untamed Ireland, primitive or rural Devon; no ancient Elmet here, indeed, when such landscapes do make an appearance they tend to be used as a backdrop only for the central player on stage, who like Godot, never arrives. Sylvia Plath, Hughes’s first wife is however very much present in the poetry. Erica Wagner recounts in Ariel’s Gift [2] that Hughes in writing the work was not consciously writing poems, but the process was essentially about trying to, “evoke (her) presence to myself, and to feel her there listening.” [3] The collection travels from Spain to America, home to Devon and to Yorkshire, but when looking at the importance of Cambridge in Hughes’s work, the poem “X” has offered an entirely new and different pathway through the university city of the two poets and through Birthday Letters itself.

“Cambridge was our Courtship”, was brought to light by an article in The Times on Friday October 17 2008 (p.18) entitled “Rough-hewn genius of Hughes laid bare in unfinished verses”.  Jamie Andrews from The British Library is quoted at the time, as saying the poem was probably omitted from the final selection to balance the poems between earlier and later life.  We remember though as well that Hughes said the writing of the poems over the years was done with no view of publication and indeed in a letter to Keith Sagar, he reflects that, Hughes writes:

'I wrote them, months often years apart, never thinking of them as parts of a whole - just as opportunities to write in a simple, unguarded, intimate way - to release something!  Nor can I recall how I came to shuffle them into that order - following chronology of subject matter was the only rule, I think. [4]

It is important to note that this poem -- 'X' --  has no amendments, but is simply written out as though from dictation. The other poems in the exercise book bear the scars of much reworking, so this one was surely not omitted from Birthday Letters for lack of quality; it would seem that this significant poem is left out of the collection because it is so localised, too personal and specific.  Unless you live or had lived in Cambridge, this area of the city and its boundaries would not be known or be of any real importance to you.

From the Millbridge the Cam flows through Coe Fen on the left bank, a green grazing area with small tributaries and sluices, rough pasture and meadow vegetation. On the right, as you walk away from the city, the meadows open out into Sheep’s Green and the old course of the Cam, underneath Fen Causeway and across to Lammas Land; the river then strikes out to skirt around Newnham and then on to Grantchester Meadows.  Hughes describes this area as:

Ornamented with willows, and green level,
Full drooping willows and rushes, and mallard and swans,
Or stumpy pollard willows and the dank silence
Of the slippery lapsing Cam.  That was our place.

Picture1 Picture2
Picture3

Three maps showing the topography and layout of Cambridge, and especially the districts recorded in Hughes's poem, much as he and Plath would have known it. Copyright Jeremy Bays - awspublishing. 


The absolute alliteration of “willows” and the sibilance throughout the poem describes the Cam as a slow and natural river, with a wildlife that takes us away from the hard consonants of “Cambridge … courtship” and “colleges” which seem alien to the pair. Instead, Hughes focuses on the wildlife of the meadows; the three part description of the willows, for example, is significant: first they ornament the fen and one is reminded of Plath’s description in “Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows” : “It is a country on a nursery plate.” [5]  There is something quaint and unreal about the picture of river, willows and cows.  Then the second set of willows here are “Full drooping” almost Pre-Raphaelite in their evocation of sadness and elegiac fecundity.  Finally in the set of three, the willows have become, “stumpy pollard” and cut back much like the archaic symbolism of rebirth that enthralled Hughes, for example in his description of Shamanism in “Regenerations” in Winter Pollen:

'a magical death, then dismemberment…From this nadir, the shaman is resurrected, with new insides, a new body created for him by the spirits. [6]

This tone chimes with the “dank silence” of this environment, which suggests dark, dampness and decay, not an appropriate place for courtship and love one would have thought. The poets appear to have chosen this as their Cambridge because it was, “Not spoiled by precedent, for either of us.”  In this landscape they do not need to match expectations of the past, or of academia, but instead they indulged their love “In the watery weedy dream” which as Hughes describes, is metaphorically, “An aquarium”. In this watery world Hughes, as ever, knows his geography, that Cambridge rises only slightly above sea-level with much of the fens to the north, falling below sea-level:

Waltzing figures, among glimpses
Of crumbling parapets, a horizon
Sinking below sea level.

Flat and low-lying, Cambridge is depicted by Hughes as a water land from a dream, with other people beyond the couple merely performing a dance across the set.  The scenery and the horizon for Hughes is like an ancient monument of ruins, which has little relevance to him and his lover, indeed there is a nightmarish and chthonic quality to the vision. He weaves a spell of this scene with a perpetual repetition of “w” showing that their place was “willows…watery weedy dream…Waltzing figures…world…we…what…when…were,” and “wings.”  The poem finishes with a final rhetorical question:

We did not know what wings felt like.
Were what we felt wings?

But this is the final question of several; Hughes asks the ghost of Plath if she can recall what they talked about; if they were actually going somewhere: if they were “exploring” or if they were actually:

… talking away
Bewilderment, or trying word shapes
To make hopes visible.

The “word shapes” they made here, particularly Plath’s, concentrate on this piece of land and its nature. She uses the meadows in “Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows” to show how the idyllic university vision of Cambridge also bears the threat of the owl hunting the rat; it is here that Hughes suggests she hides “The Earthenware Head” which she narrates in 1959 and he uses again in Birthday Letters citing the spot where they placed it:

… Just past where the field
Broadens and the path strays up to the right
To lose the river and puzzle for Grantchester,
A chosen willow leaned towards the water. [7]

Again in “Chaucer” Hughes celebrates Plath’s performance of The Canterbury Tales to the cows in the Meadows.  He admits that they were enthralled, “twenty cows stayed with you hypnotised.” [8] Hughes recognised that Plath was very different to the history of the Cambridge colleges:

The Colleges lifted their heads.  It did seem
You disturbed something just perfected” [9]

Hughes contends that both poets started to formulate their futures, there, along the Cam and across the meadows. In Birthday Letters he returns to this place to settle in himself his responsibility for the vision of a shared future,that like the university in the poem, becomes, “crumbling parapets” and sunken horizons.  Poem “X” omitted from the collection, for me, conjures up the Cambridge of arguably English Literature’s most famous couple.  In a languid flow of the Cam’s willows and a “watery weedy dream” we find a landscape as personal and compelling as any that Hughes wrote of in earlier works.

[1]Ted Hughes “X” in notebook of the Hughes collection, labelled “18 Rugby Street” (Add. MS 88918/1/6 in the British Library) and published in an article in The Times  p.18 “Rough-hewn genius of Hughes laid bare in unfinished verses” Friday October 17 2008

[2] Erica Wagner Ariel’s Gift (Faber London 2000) 2001 paperback edition page numbers follow, hence forward abbreviated to AG

[3] AG p.22

[4] Ted Hughes to Keith Sagar 22 June 1998 The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar (The British Library London 2012) p. 267

[5] Sylvia Plath “Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows” in Collected Poems (Faber London 1981) pp. 111-112

[6] Ted Hughes “Regenerations” in Winter Pollen (Faber London 1994) p. 57

[7] Ted Hughes “The Earthenware Head” Birthday Letters (Faber London 1998) Hence forward abbreviated to BL

[8] Ted Hughes “Chaucer” BL  p.51

[9] Ted Hughes “God Help the Wolf after Whom the Dogs Do Not Bark” BL p. 26

 

05 July 2019

Penelope Fitzgerald’s Archive: A Human Connection

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by Sarah Ellis, Archivist and Cataloguer of the Penelope Fitzgerald Archive (Add MS 89289). The archive is now available to consult, for free, in our Reading Rooms.

In 2017, the British Library acquired the archive of Penelope Fitzgerald (née Knox), English novelist, biographer and essayist (1916-2000). Her 1979 novel, Offshore, won the Booker Prize and the work acclaimed as her masterpiece, The Blue Flower, secured a National Book Critics Circle Award in the USA in 1997.

Penelope Fitzgerald by Jane Bown

Penelope Fitzgerald, by Jane Bown: copyright of Jane Bown Estate

Audiences loved Penelope Fitzgerald’s novels for the worlds they conjured into being; drawn – at least at first – from her own life experiences. Her biographical writing is similarly grounded. In one revealing note in her papers she outlines the necessary preconditions for beginning a work of biography: "if it's not possible to have had personal contact with the subject”, she writes, “then at least I need contact with someone who once knew him or her, however long ago." [1] Such an emphasis on personal connection was no doubt informed by the varied social contexts which make up Fitzgerald’s own biography. (A houseboat community at Chelsea Reach; the BBC during the Second World War; and a Southwold bookshop, to name but a few.) The archive reveals an artistry fuelled by human connection but informed and supported by wider documentary evidence gathered during intensive periods of research. As the two approaches collide, we can see how the rich worlds of her fiction and the sensitive portraits in her biographical writing become possible.

Behind the Silence
One of the qualities most frequently ascribed to Fitzgerald is that of 'reticence'. Terence Dooley, in his introduction to Fitzgerald’s posthumously published letters, tells how she could convey what she wanted in letters in a way she didn’t feel able to in person [2]. If the written word was where Fitzgerald’s communicative gifts lay, then her archive represents a relative wellspring of expressive power. Far from displaying reticence, Fitzgerald’s personal writings – from her earliest letters written to her parents from Wycombe Abbey School, to diary entries in her later years – reveal a voice free from constraint. Hers was a growing, industrious and expansive mind, constantly observing, recording and expressing itself through the written word, rather than through speech.

Add MS 89289-2-17_My China Diary & Small Memo Book

Add MS 89289/2/17 ‘My China Diary’ and ‘Small Memo Book’
© With kind permission of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Literary Estate

However expansive the archive might seem, though, Fitzgerald’s papers are fragmentary: the largest part is at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas and the British Library holds a smaller but significant portion (170 files). Tragically, some material was lost when her houseboat sank in the 1960s. The extant parts being dispersed in this way has resulted not only in a physical but also an intellectual disunity – but what we have here in London is both delightful and revealing. As with any archive, partial or not, Fitzgerald’s papers are mere glimpses of the author and her work – never a complete picture but perhaps as close as it’s possible for us to get.

Add MS 89289-6-2&1-11_Typewriter

Add MS 89289/6/2 Fitzgerald’s Silver Reed typewriter operating instructions &
Add MS 89289/1/11 Review of A N Wilson’s biography of C S Lewis (verso)
© With kind permission of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Literary Estate.

So, What's in This Archive?
The archive covers the period of 1965-2012, extending beyond Fitzgerald’s lifetime and including materials captured posthumously by her children and Literary Estate. The contents of the archive include research, draft and proof materials for a number of her works, 26 of her notebooks, correspondence (business and personal), her annotated library and collected writings about her life and literary endeavours.

In addition to illustrating aspects of her professional life and working practices as an author, the archive provides insights into her personal life, relationships, interests and other involvements outside, or predating, her writing career. For instance, Fitzgerald involved herself with literary societies and campaigned to support the local library in the face of funding cuts, channelling energy not just into her creative output but also into her local community.  

Further to the many facets of Fitzgerald’s personal and professional life, her papers reflect a selective cross-section of Knox family history in various documentary forms. Knox family members whose stories feature prominently are the subjects of the group biography which she composed about her father, ‘Evoe’, and his three brothers, published in 1977. Remarkable in their own rights, papers once belonging to those individuals now sit integrated with Fitzgerald’s papers, much gathered in research for The Knox Brothers. Another notable component of the archive is the material relating to Fitzgerald’s first novel, The Golden Child (1977), in her original notebooks. Initially called ‘The Golden Opinion’, the work was extensively cut by Duckworth Publishers.

Add MS 89289-2-1_Knox Book 1

Add MS 89289/2/1, Knox Book 1, from Fitzgerald’s notebooks.
© With kind permission of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Literary Estate

So much in the archive holds the potential for researchers to garner rich insights about the working practices, creative processes and day-to-day engagements of Penelope Fitzgerald during the period when she was a published author. These are complemented by items pre-dating that period which show the vital preparation building up to it, such as her committed studies of literature and art or copious notes relating to her teaching work.

An Invitation
“How does she do it?” asked Julian Barnes over a decade ago [3], about Fitzgerald’s ability to paint the vivid and entirely believable worlds of her novels, so succinctly. Come and see for yourself – the archive is now available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

[1] Penelope Fitzgerald, Writing about Human Beings (London, British Library, Add MS 89289/1/15, undated; 1993?).

[2] Terence Dooley (ed.), So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald (London: Fourth Estate, 2008), p. xiv.

[3] Julian Barnes, 'How did she do it?', Guardian, 26 July 2008, Culture - Books Section <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jul/26/fiction> [accessed 5 July 2019].