English and Drama blog

On literature and theatre collections from the 16th century to the present day


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17 March 2023

Fairy tales and creative campaigns

by Gwen Morris, Digital Learning Administrator, the British Library Learning team. 

In this post, Gwen reflects on her role and her work on our digital campaigns for primary schools. These creative campaigns aim to spark love of reading, writing and drawing, in response to the treasures on our Discovering Children’s Books website. Our current campaign (running until 28 March 2023) invites children to cook up their own fairy tales with tips from Michael Rosen, Sandra Agard and other brilliant storytellers. Schools from across the UK are making little books and filling them with their own stories, inspired by tales of the past.

What’s a typical day for you as the Digital Learning Administrator?

My role as Digital Learning Administrator is varied and fulfilling. I especially enjoy collaborating with my colleagues to provide teachers and students with exciting online learning resources.

My day often begins with a team meeting to discuss our digital campaigns. These range from making miniature books to ‘Step inside your story’, which puts young writers at the heart of their own tales and proves that everyone can be an author. Our meetings are a great opportunity for me to learn from my colleagues’ points of view as we share ideas for our campaigns.

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Michael Rosen created a film revealing what makes fairy tales special, with brilliant animations by Allen Fatimaharan
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Cinderella’s fairy godmother turns lizards into footmen. Shelfmark: 12410.r.5. Title: Cinderella, retold by C S Evans and illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1919). Public Domain.

Once we’ve decided on a theme and an activity, our next step is to spread the word to schools across the UK. It’s my job to send out emails to our target schools and to keep track of which schools have signed up. Our Outreach campaigns are designed to support schools in low socio-economic areas, so I do a lot of research to make sure that we’re contacting those most in need of our support.

As a member of the Digital Learning Team, I also help with the process of building webpages so that our resources are accessible online to anyone who wants to use them. Although I had some experience in creating digital content before starting in this role, I’m glad I’ve been able to receive training in this area as it’s helped me grow in confidence whilst learning different strategies for improving SEO. Since completing the training, I’ve enjoyed putting these strategies into practice on our Learning website.

This Roma story by Richard O’Neill is one of the stories featured in our fairy tales project. It depicts the Parno Gry, a magical horse who takes children to wonderful faraway places. Shelfmark: LC.31.a.20058. Title: Yokki and the Parno Gry (2016). Reproduced by kind permission of Child's Play (International) Ltd. Text copyright © 2016 Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby. Illustrations copyright © 2016 Child's Play (International) Ltd. First published 2016 by Child's Play. All rights reserved. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Do you have a favourite digitised collection item from Discovering Children’s Books?

I absolutely love looking through Quentin Blake’s rough sketches of Matilda. Matilda was my favourite book growing up and these sketches bring back lovely memories of laughing at Matilda’s antics with my family.

DCB interviews
Discovering Children’s Books features interviews with authors and illustrators including Quentin Blake, Jacqueline Wilson, Zanib Mian, Joseph Coelho and Julia Donaldson.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

One of the most wonderful things is seeing the fantastic stories we receive from schools and families across the UK. When a campaign is launched, we ask teachers, parents and guardians to send us photos of the children’s work and I’m always amazed by the quality of submissions. There’s nothing better than opening my inbox to find stories about time-travelling cats and magic shoes!

Overall, it’s been a joy to take on this role at the British Library.

Millbrook Park Primary  Mill Hill 1
Fairy tales © Millbrook Primary School, Mill Hill.
St George's C of E Primary  Barrow-in-Furness 1 (1)
Step inside your story entries © St George’s Church of England Primary School, Barrow-in-Furness.

To learn more about our online learning resources, visit Discovering Children's Books, Discovering Literature and Windrush Stories – or explore our full offer.

10 March 2023

Call for Papers for 'Ted Hughes’ Expressionism: Visionary Subjectivity'

We are delighted to announce that the British Library will host a symposium on Ted Hughes and Expressionism in collaboration with Dr Steve Ely, Director of the Ted Hughes Network at the University of Huddersfield.

Black and white photograph of Ted Hughes, with a close up on his face. Taken by Fay Godwin
Ted Hughes by Fay Godwin © British Library Board

This symposium is designed to explore and investigate the claim that Hughes’s most characteristic, distinctive, and innovative work—wherein lies the weight of his claim to be regarded as a major poet and an internationally significant artist—is essentially Expressionist, characterised by a rejection of objectivity in representation in favour of a Visionary Subjectivity that draws on inner life and imagination to transform and distort content, deploying abstraction, typologies and symbols to shape presentations in an essentially didactic manner.

Hughes’s Expressionist mode manifests throughout his oeuvre and includes many of his most celebrated poems and books, including ‘Wind’, ‘Mayday on Holderness’, ‘Thrushes’, ‘Pike’, Wodwo, Crow, Cave Birds, Gaudete, Remains of Elmet and Capriccio.  Many of his plays and short stories—'Difficulties of a Bridegroom’, ‘The Wound’, ‘The Head’—are similarly Expressionist, having particular affinities with German Expressionism. Of course, not all Hughes’s work is Expressionist by any means, and across his career he produced celebrated poetry that seems to represent a more objective—Naturalist, Realist—response to experience, in works including Season Songs, Moortown Diaries, River and Birthday Letters, for example. 

Focusing on Hughes’s art, method and technique in this way invites approaches to his work that go beyond the Anglophone literary-historical tradition and discuss his work in the context of European and international artists and movements in the arts—visual, dramatic and musical as well as literary—looking at affinity, influence and collaboration: one thinks immediately of Hughes’s work with, and advocacy of, innovative, experimental and avant-garde artists in the Expressionist tradition, including the Eastern European poets Herbert, Holub, Pilinsky and Popa; the American artist Leonard Baskin; the dramatist, director and impresario Peter Brook and the photographer Fay Godwin.

The British Library is a major centre for Hughes study with substantial collections relating to the poet that include archival, printed and audio-visual material. Researchers can learn more about all aspects of Hughes’ work by exploring his large personal archive (Add MS 88918), which was acquired in 2008 and a number of smaller related collections including Hughes’ correspondence with Olwyn Hughes, Leonard Baskin and Keith Sagar. Please see the Library’s collection guide on Hughes for more information about its Hughes holdings.

A selection of notebooks, typed and handwritten pages of paper displayed in a fan shape on a black background. Items are from the Ted Hughes archive.
Material from the Ted Hughes Archive

Subjects for papers might include, but are by no means limited to, the following.  Proposals should make the link to the themes of the symposium clear.

  • Works by Hughes: specific poems, sequences or collections; radio plays; short stories; critical prose or pedagogical works
  • Hughes’s poetics: artifice, method, style, technique
  • Hughes and ‘visionary precursors’ (including, but not limited to, Christopher Smart, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, D.H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats)
  • Hughes, T.S. Eliot and Modernism
  • Hughes, Dylan Thomas & the poets of the New Apocalypse
  • Hughes’s relationship with modern and contemporary experimental and avant-garde English language poetry
  • Hughes, European and International poetry & poets
  • Hughes and visual artists (including, but not limited to, relevant collaborations, for example, with Leonard Baskin and Fay Godwin)
  • Hughes and Drama
  • Hughes’s work with Peter Brook
  • Hughes and German Expressionism
  • Hughes and Music

Please send proposals of up to 250 words for 20-minute papers, plus a short biographical note, to Steve Ely at [email protected] by Friday, 12th May, 2023. There will be no charge for registration.

For more information about the Ted Hughes Network, see: https://research.hud.ac.uk/institutes-centres/tedhughes/.

17 February 2023

Artists’ Books and Fine Press at Small Publisher Fairs

By Eva Isherwood-Wallace, PhD Placement Student with Contemporary British & Irish Published Collection.

As part of the British Library PhD placement scheme, I spent three months investigating small publisher fairs across the UK and Ireland to support collection development for artists’ books and fine press. This placement was based in the Contemporary British and Irish department, under the supervision of curator Jerry Jenkins. Small publisher fairs are held all over the UK and Ireland, showcasing the work of artists and small presses that produce handmade and limited-edition books. Curatorial staff from institutions like the British Library regularly attend these events to acquire new publications for their collections and to develop their relationships with individual artists and presses.

What can the British Library learn from these book fairs? By comparing lists of exhibitors to the British Library’s holdings, we can see whose work is being collected and where they are based. This is particularly important when assessing the regional diversity of the collection. During my placement, I had the opportunity to attend a few of these book fairs. My first visit was to the Small Publishers Fair in October 2022. Around 60 artists and publishers from across the world gather to share their work each year at Conway Hall in Bloomsbury. The hall was packed, filled with artists, printmakers, publishers, editors, librarians, curators, collectors, students and interested members of the public. These fairs are a great opportunity to discover unique publications from a wide variety of places. I left with a bag filled with as much as I could carry home with me, including a pamphlet from a Yorkshire-based printmaker, Irish writing from Aberdeen and a French novel printed in London.

Image One
Image by Eva Isherwood-Wallace

As well as seeing all of these interesting books and meeting the artists and presses behind them, attending the fair allowed me to do some in-person detective work. With my list of exhibitors, I made my way around the busy room to work out which exhibitors were relevant to the placement project. For my purposes, ‘relevant’ meant artists and presses based within the UK and Ireland who produce work in editions rather than unique artworks. This means that each individual work has multiple copies (e.g. in an edition of 50) because one-off pieces are considered manuscripts, a category handled by a different department. Exploring the fair in this way took most of the afternoon, mostly because I wanted to stop to examine every book on every table!

Before my visit, there were a few questions I particularly wanted to find the answers to. Do online fairs allow for wider regional representation? Did some of the changes made because of the Covid-19 pandemic actually benefit artists and presses based outside of London? We might expect to see a big shift in the locations of exhibitors when a fair is held online. However, the data I collected during my research suggests that the story is more complicated.

Image Two
Image by Eva Isherwood-Wallace

More Scottish presses participated in the online Small Publishers Fair in 2021 than in person in 2022. However, nearly all of these presses had already travelled to the Small Publishers Fair before the pandemic. Only one Scottish press, Stichill Marigold, exhibited at the Small Publishers Fair for the first time when it was held online. This was also the case for artists and presses based in Wales and the Republic of Ireland. This points towards the close-knit nature of this publishing community, with exhibitors returning year after year to the same fairs. For artists and presses in this industry, online provision does not necessarily equal accessibility. This can be partially explained by the difficulty in accurately representing work of this kind on a screen.

The work of these artists and presses is tactile and material. The making of artists’ books and fine press editions involves traditional techniques and equipment, with some publishers like Distillers Press in Dublin using printing presses that are over a century old. Artists’ books also act as physical documents of experience. Some recent works have been produced in a ‘lockdown diary’ format, which provides artists with a way to record their experiences of the pandemic. By acquiring these works for the collection, the British Library can safely archive them and make them available to readers who would not have otherwise been able to see them.

Image Three
Image by Eva Isherwood-Wallace

One example of the ‘lockdown diary’ artist’s book is Setting by Helen Douglas of Weproductions, a press based at Deuchar Mill in the Scottish Borders. Attending these fairs opens up the possibility of face-to-face encounters between collectors, curators and artists from across the UK and Ireland. We were able to meet with Helen Douglas and see her latest works, and this also gave me the chance to observe a British Library acquisition in the wild. The value of these fairs as meeting places underlines their importance to the British Library’s collecting practices.

From the data I collected during this visit, I was able to develop my understanding of the British Library’s relationship with small publisher fairs. By comparing the list of artists and presses at the Small Publishers Fair 2022 with the British Library’s holdings, I found that 70% of these exhibitors can be found in the Library’s collection. In contrast, 29% of exhibitors at another major fair­—Bristol Artist’s Book Event 2022—are represented in the collection. In preparing my final report at the end of my placement, I thought about how the British Library can develop its collecting strategies to ensure that the collection is inclusive of artists and publishers across the UK and Ireland.

It is, however, important to remember that this data doesn’t necessarily have a simple explanation. While the comparison between the Small Publishers Fair at Conway Hall and the Bristol Artist’s Book Event might suggest a skewed regional representation based on proximity to London, there are other factors at play. With 42% included in the British Library collection, more exhibitors at Dublin Art Book Fair 2022 are represented than those in Bristol. Nevertheless, these small publisher fairs are key to identifying regions that are underrepresented in the collection. By ensuring that the British Library has a presence at small publisher fairs throughout the UK and Ireland, curators will be able to acquire a diverse range of exciting new works for readers to discover.

17 January 2023

Digitisation of manuscripts from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library

By Catherine Angerson, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts.

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library is a collection of books and manuscripts of exceptional historical and literary importance formed by the Lancashire mill owner William Law (1836–1901) in the late 19th century and cared for by subsequent generations of the family until the sale of the collection in 2022. The collection includes manuscripts and rare editions of the work of Jane Austen, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, the Brontë siblings, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Honresfield House, just outside Littleborough near Rochdale, was where William Law lived with his brother Alfred, who inherited the collection after William’s death in 1901. It then passed to a nephew, the Conservative MP Sir Alfred Law (1860–1939). Selected scholars were granted access during the 1930s and transcriptions of several of the manuscripts were made, but the collection then largely disappeared from public view after the death of Alfred Law in 1939.

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library was purchased for the nation in 2022 by the Friends of the National Libraries with the support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and many other generous supporters. The collection has been shared between cultural heritage institutions in the UK who are all committed to making the items in their care publically accessible.

The British Library was one of the beneficiaries, receiving 102 printed books, four manuscript items, and the William Maskell chapbook collection. The manuscript items have now been digitised and you can access the images by following the links below.

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Emily Brontë’s notebook of poems, 1844–46, Add MS 89488, ff. 5v-6r.

One of the highlights of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is the notebook of Emily Brontë’s poems (Add MS 89488) which she kept between 1844 and 1846. Few of Emily Brontë’s literary manuscripts survive and the notebook is a fascinating record of her creative process. Brontë transcribed neat copies of 31 of her own poems into this notebook, recording the date of original composition next to each.

The first poem, ‘Loud without the wind was roaring’, is dated 11 November 1838 when Emily was 20. She composed the final poem, ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’, on 2 January 1846 at the age of 27. Some of the poems include further revisions in the hand of her sister Charlotte. Beneath the poem ‘How beautiful the earth is still’ of 2 June 1845, pictured below, Charlotte has written, ‘Never was better stuff penned’, in the miniature script shared by both sisters.

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Emily Brontë’s poem ‘How beautiful the earth is still’, composed 2 June 1845, Add MS 89488, f. 17v.

The notebook is the source for 15 of the 21 of Emily Brontë’s poems selected for Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). The other six poems came from Emily’s ‘Gondal Poems’ notebook which she kept at the same time. Emily Brontë’s own signed copy of Poems (1846) is also among the treasures of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.

Another treasure allocated to the British Library is a miniature book by Charlotte Brontë titled, 'Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree' (Add MS 89486). The tiny book, created by Charlotte when she was just 13 years old, is one of seven early Brontë manuscripts now jointly owned by the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. The book is narrated by Captain Tree, one of Charlotte’s childhood pen names. It consists of ten chapters that feature ‘Celebrated Men’ such as the Duke of Wellington, Lord Charles Wellesley, Captain Bud and Young Man Naughty. These figures were drawn from real life as well as from the fictional world of Glass Town. The Glass Town Federation was a complex fantasy land created by Charlotte and her siblings Branwell, Emily and Anne.

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Charlotte Brontë, ‘Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree’, 12–17 December 1829, Add MS 89486.

The book measures a tiny 5 x 3.7 cm, the size of a small matchbox. The digital images allow us to zoom in on Brontë’s tiny script and to examine the pages of the manuscript in detail. The pages are slightly uneven in size. This is because Charlotte cut the paper by hand and sewed the pages together using a needle and thread, and the book is still bound in its original yellow sugar paper cover.

The manuscript items allocated to the British Library also include a letter dated 10 November 1847 from Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams of Smith, Elder & Co., the publisher of Jane Eyre (1847) (Add MS 89487). In this letter, Brontë (using her pen name ‘C. Bell’) complains about the ‘exhausting delay and procrastination’ that her sisters Emily (‘Ellis’) and Anne (‘Acton’) have had to endure in the publication of their novels by Thomas Newby. Emily Brontë’s only novel Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s first novel Agnes Grey were both published by Newby in December 1847 shortly after Charlotte wrote this letter.

In addition to the Brontë manuscripts described above, the British Library also received two leaves from the manuscript of Walter Scott’s Kenilworth (Add MS 89485), a novel of intrigue and deception set in Elizabethan England. These handwritten pages were part of the manuscript which Scott sent to the printer John Ballantyne for the publication of the novel in January 1821. The Library also holds the larger part of the manuscript of Kenilworth and two further leaves acquired in 2017.

The manuscripts have been digitised in full and images can be accessed via the archives and manuscripts catalogue and through the links in this blogpost. The printed items are described in the main catalogue and can be identified by the shelfmark prefix ‘Hon’. See our new collection guide for further details.

A small selection of books and manuscripts from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library in London (until 19 February 2023). The display includes a leaf from Walter Scott’s Kenilworth manuscript, the letter from Charlotte Brontë to WS Williams, Emily Brontë’s poetry notebook together with her own copy of Poems (1846), and two of the chapbooks from the Maskell collection.

We are delighted to be working with the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library to make the Brontë material available to new audiences (online and in an exhibition) over the coming months and years.    




NHMFLOGO2 colour

28 October 2022

‘The Darker Side’ – Unpublished Arthur Conan Doyle Chapter Acquired by the British Library

By Zoe Louca-Richards, Curator Modern Archives and Manuscripts, and Dr Christine Ferguson, Chair in English Studies at the University of Stirling.

In 2019, the British Library acquired a rather remarkable piece of Arthur Conan Doyle history – an unpublished chapter from his final Professor Challenger novel The Land of Mist. The ‘lost’ chapter, as it was dubbed, comprises nine pages in Conan Doyle’s hand and is titled ‘Chapter XIII/ The Darker Side’ (Add MS 89427).

Previously, the chapter is believed to have remained in the possession of Doyle’s family until the death of his eldest son Denis Conan Doyle in 1955, whereupon the manuscript was auctioned in New York on November 22, 1955 and then again in March, 1966. The manuscript was sent to auction in 2019 by Meisei Iwaki University, Japan, where it was purchased by the British Library and is now available to be consulted by researchers.  

The first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist
The first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist (Add MS 89427 f.1r)

The Land of Mist deals heavily with both spiritualism, a movement and belief in which Conan Doyle had become active following the death of his son and brother in WW1, and Christianity, the faith in which he had been raised. It follows several of the characters from Conan Doyle’s earlier Professor Challenger novels as they investigate the spirit world. At first largely sceptical, approaching with purely professional interest, they soon become enthralled by the individuals they encounter and their other worldly experiences.

Conan Doyle drafted the narrative over a few months between late 1924 and early 1925. It appeared in The Strand Magazine from July 1925 to March 1926 before publication by Hutchinson and Co in 1926.

This draft chapter, Chapter XIII, which contains numerous corrections and additions throughout, is believed to have been written whilst Conan Doyle was travelling in Switzerland. Conan Doyle’s close connection with the country is well documented, and it is believed several other chapters from Land of Mist were also drafted there.

Professor Christine Ferguson, Chair in English Studies at the University of Stirling, is currently working on a new scholarly edition of The Land of Mist, due for publication in 2024. Ferguson’s research focuses on nineteenth and twentieth-century British literature, and in particular on the impact of occult beliefs and new religious movements on the popular fiction of these periods. During the course of her research into the Land of Mist, she has looked closely at the ‘Lost’ chapter and its significance to the rest of the novel, as well as its broader significance to Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and personal beliefs. She notes of the chapter: 

Folio 7 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. On this page a young French man named La Paix describes his seduction and financial entrapment by a beautiful spirit named Sylvia
Folio 7 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. (Add MS 89427 f.7r)

“‘The Darker Side’ arguably represents the most sensational and prurient episode within The Land of Mist, detailing the seduction and financial entrapment of a young French man named La Paix by a beautiful spirit named Sylvia who demands that he pay increasingly large sums of money to advertise her name in the French press. If he does not, she threatens, he will soon die.

Alongside the chapter it was originally intended to precede (‘There are Heights and Depths’), it seems to have been designed to dramatize the distinctions between the pious British spiritualists for whom Doyle had in the 1920s become a figurehead, and the more scientifically aligned psychical researchers at work in Europe. While the former, represented by the high-minded Christian spiritualist Algernon Mailey, are given purely religious motivations for exploring the other world, the latter are presented as agnostic materialists, disinterested in the moral aspects of the question. Ever the patriot, Doyle presents only pure-hearted British spiritualism as proof and protection against the type of metaphysical threat posed by Sylvia and her ilk: ‘unless you get the religious bearing of this thing’, Mailey insists, ‘it is always a danger’”.

Detail from the first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. Shown is a small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book’ (Add MS 89427 f.1 detail)
Detail from the first page of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. Shown is a small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book’ (Add MS 89427 f.1 detail)

A small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book.’ It seems that Doyle had intended for the chapter to be included. Although the Chapter is labelled chapter XIII, Professor Ferguson believes the chapter should in fact be situated narratively between what were published as chapter XI ‘Where Silas Linden Comes Into His Own’ and Chapter XII ‘There are Heights and there are Depths.’

Like Doyle, we cannot be certain as to why the chapter was omitted. However, the subject matter that the chapter deals with is somewhat challenging in its nature touching on issues of nationalism and gender politics. Christine notes:

“British nationalism is not the only ideological position or indeed, form of bias, on display in “The Darker Side.” This chapter also compounds the deep sexism embedded within The Land of Mist, most evident hitherto in the novel’s side lining of Enid Challenger, daughter of The Lost World’s Professor George Edward Challenger, within its male conversion quest.  While Professor Challenger, Edward Malone, and Lord John Roxton test, explore, and ultimately push to achieve a fully rationalist form of spiritualist belief, Enid remains largely silent, seeming to automatically assent to the truth of spiritualism with no great struggle and proving most—perhaps only ever— instrumental to the plot when channelling the words of dead men.

Folio 8 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. This page reveals Conan Doyle’s sexism with the character Mailey’s comments about the spirit Sylvia. (Add MS 89427 f.8r)
Folio 8 of the handwritten draft of Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost chapter, ‘XIII/The Darker Side’ from the story The Land of Mist. This page reveals Conan Doyle’s sexism with the character Mailey’s comments about the spirit Sylvia. (Add MS 89427 f.8r)

This chapter implies that there may be good reasons for limiting women’s power both in and beyond the séance room. When La Paix asks Mailey if Sylvia is a demon, the older man gestures to the Paris streets outside and says, ‘You’ll find dozens of Sylvias there. . . You do not call them demons. . .  No. I do not call her a demon, but the unchanged spirit of woman. Living or dead, he suggests, women are always already demonic, a threat to the men from whom they seek power’. These powerfully misogynistic sentiments will render ‘The Darker Side’ a key document for scholars of Doyle’s gender politics in years to come.

In light of such controversial content, it might be tempting to view the omission of ‘The Darker Side’ from the published version of The Land of Mist as deliberate, perhaps a last-minute retraction by a jittery publisher. But there is no evidence for doing so. On the contrary, it seems clear that both Doyle and Hutchinson & Co. fully intended it to appear in the first edition, which includes an appendix item about the chapter (‘Note on Chapter XII’), but not the actual chapter itself. More likely, the chapter simply fell victim to a slip in the proof and production process.”  

The acquisition of the chapter by the British Library will open its contents up to broader research and offers both enthusiasts and scholars alike further material documenting Conan Doyle’s own spiritual beliefs.

Further reading:

The Arthur Conan Doyle Papers (Add MS 88924), include extensive correspondence to and from Conan Doyle and his family, literary manuscripts, lectures and essays, diaries, papers relating to Arthur Conan Doyle's education, and a significant cache of papers related to his involvement with spiritualism.

Arthur Conan Doyle: Brigadier Gerard stories (Add MS 89337)

Several of Conan Doyle’s plays can also be found in the Lord Chamberlains Plays collection.

21 October 2022

In Memory of Carmen Callil

Carmen Callil, publisher, author and founder of Virago Press died on Monday.

Callil founded the publishing house Virago Press, in 1972, and was also Managing Director of Chatto and Windus and the Hogarth Press between 1982-1994. Callil remained Chairman of Virago Press until 1995 and was also a member of the Board of Channel 4 Television, between 1985 and 1991, and a member of the committee for The Booker Prize between 1979-1984.

Callil wrote and published in her own right, including Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland, a biography of Louis Darquier de Pellepoix and Vichy France, published in 2006.

The British Library Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts Department holds the archive of Virago Press, as well as the recently acquired personal papers of Callil herself. A truly contemporary collection, with material spanning into the 2010s, the Carmen Callil archive is still being catalogued and is expected to be available to researchers in 2023.  

As the cataloguer of this material, it was an honour to be able to work alongside Callil while processing it. She was always supportive and interested in the work we were doing, as well as enthusiastic about participating in events and research, and with helping our team to navigate the collections.

‘Keep whatever you think a student of women’s literature in 2000 would like to know about us’ [1] Callil wrote on an internal memo to the staff of the Virago Press in the early 1980s.

The message appears to have been taken on board. Both the Virago Press Papers and the Carmen Callil Archive come together to create a wonderful resource for researchers in a wide range of areas, as well as being a fitting part of remembering Carmen herself.

Image shows a promotional pin badge for Virago Press which has a white background and an image of an apple with a bite taken out of it below the Virago Press fontThe Virago Press Archive, Add MS 88904, is accessible in the Manuscripts Reading room.

The Carmen Callil Archive, Add MS 89178, is currently being catalogued and will be released to researchers in 2023. Please contact [email protected] for any enquiries.



[1] The Carmen Callil Archive, Add MS 89178/1/71 

30 September 2022

The Beatles and Hunter Davies

By Greg Buzwell, Curator, Contemporary Literary Archives.

‘Does anyone seriously believe that Beatles music will be an unthinkingly accepted part of daily life all over the world in the 2000s?’ wrote the philosopher and politician Bryan Magee in the February 1967 issue of The Listener. The passage of time has subsequently given a resounding answer to Magee’s question, and it turned out not to be the one he was obviously expecting. His comment highlights the now almost eye-wateringly unbelievable notion that, even after Beatlemania, several albums including A Hard Day’s Night, Rubber Soul and Revolver - and on the verge of the Summer of Love and the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - the Beatles’ lasting contribution to popular culture was still being questioned in certain quarters.

Image shows a selection of Hunter Davie's notebook, arranged in a fan shape, showing the different covers which are red and blue covered and annotated with the subject
A small selection of the notebooks kept by Hunter Davies in 1967 as he carried out interviews and research for his book The Beatles: The Authorised Biography’. © Hunter Davies

Someone else also pondering the Beatles and their legacy in 1967 was the journalist Hunter Davies. The British Library has recently acquired Davies’s archive of Beatles-related material consisting of photographs, press cuttings, concert programmes and ephemera together with the notebooks he kept when carrying out his research for his 1968 biography of the band – The Beatles: The Authorised Biography. Hunter interviewed dozens of people prior to writing his book, including of course John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but also wives and girlfriends including Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher, along with other key contributors to the band’s success such as their manager Brian Epstein; their producer George Martin; Astrid Kirchherr whose early photographs of the group were instrumental in defining their look, and their road manager Mal Evans along with many, many others. Among the collection there is also a draft of Hunter’s original letter to Brian Epstein suggesting the idea that he write an authorised biography of the Beatles and asking for Brian’s approval.

Image shows Hunter's letter to Brian Epstein, black typed ink on white paper
A draft of Hunter’s letter to Brian Epstein outlining his proposal to write an authorised biography of the Beatles. 31st December 1966. © Hunter Davies

One of the points Hunter makes in the letter is that the book would provide a record of the Beatles phenomenon and allow everyone involved with the band to have their say while events were still relatively fresh in their memories. In essence the book would be, in Hunter’s words, ‘not a fan book, but a full study of what happened and why during the last five years’. Perhaps, even in 1967, this was ambitious. In particular the band’s recollection of their early days in Hamburg was already a little hazy. Unsurprising given the relentless nature of the gigs they had to play and the outrageous nightlife offered to those on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn where the clubs the Beatles played were situated. When talking to the Beatles about their Hamburg days Hunter’s notebooks contain details of John Lennon sleeping behind the stage and of Pete Best, the band’s drummer before Ringo Starr joined in 1962, being so exhausted he once collapsed over his drum kit mid-performance. Then again, all the more reason to have those recollections and thoughts put down on paper before they became even more lost in the haze between actuality and memory.

The highlight of the collection is undoubtedly to be found in one of the notebooks in which Hunter recorded his interviews with Paul McCartney. At one point Hunter asked Paul to describe how John Lennon and George Harrison looked back in their late-1950s pre-Beatles days with the band The Quarrymen. Paul duly obliged, but he also borrowed Hunter’s notebook and quickly sketched George and John: the former all boyishly innocent with upswept hair and bushy eyebrows and the latter with sideburns, glasses and a stare firmly focused on the future. There’s something touching about the sketches – an authenticity and affection that comes from Paul reflecting on two friends and the impression they made on him in the very first days of their friendship.

Image shows Paul McCartney's sketches of John Lennon and George Harrison, the sketches are on the left page of an open notebook, in blue pen on white paper, with notes on the right hand page. The sketches are caricature style showing head and shoulders
Paul McCartney’s sketches of George Harrison and John Lennon back in their Quarrymen days. © MPL Communications Inc

Also among the archive is the transcript of a television interview, the recording of which is now thought to be lost, between Hunter Davies and Ringo Starr dated December 15th 1970. A date by which point the band had effectively split. In the interview Ringo talks about how one of his childhood ambitions, at least according to his mother, was to be a tramp and to wander the world. There’s also a list of the questions Hunter is hoping to have answered in the interview, such as whether Ringo worries that film companies only want him in their movies so they can put his name on the poster; whether he still goes back to Liverpool to revisit his roots and whether his fame prevents him from ordinary pleasures such as evenings out in a pub with friends. Much of the interview comes across as a touching attempt to discover Ringo the private individual, husband and father beneath the surface glamour of Ringo the rock-star drummer.

Image shows Hunter's notes for his interview with Ringo, written on paper with the BBC letterhead
Hunter’s outline for the questions he’d like to ask Ringo Starr prior to a television interview. December 1970. © Hunter Davies

At its heart though the archive is really about Hunter’s authorised biography of the Beatles. First published in 1968 and the only book about the group ever written with the backing of the whole band and those within their inner circle. As such it offers an invaluable insight into what made the Beatles tick, and how they managed to achieve so much in such a relatively short space of time. There have been, quite literally, thousands of books written about the Beatles and while they all offer something perhaps only a dozen or so are absolutely essential to anyone who loves the music and wishes to know more about how it all came about. Hunter’s book is definitely towards the top of that select list and his archive reveals a great deal about how he put it together.

To learn more about The Beatles: The Authorised Biography, along with the archive behind its creation and Hunter Davies’s long association with the Beatles, please follow the link below for details of an event on November 11th 2022 featuring Hunter in conversation: Hunter Davies: Writing The Beatles.

23 September 2022

East and West with D. M. Thomas

by Dominic Newman, Manuscripts Cataloguer. 

Donald Michael Thomas (b. 1935) made his name as a writer when, in the early 1980s, his novel ‘The White Hotel’ scored a sudden success in the United States. With its psychedelic expedition into the subconscious, Freud and the Holocaust, and the vertiginous buckling and melting away of trust in its fickle narrator, the sensation it caused then spread back across the Atlantic to Britain.

Yet Thomas had been writing steadily and copiously for many years beforehand, as his archive, now fully catalogued and available in the Reading Rooms, records.  In his early career he considered himself mainly a poet: between the 1960s and the 1980s he filled thirty-five notebooks (preserved in photocopied form) with sketches and drafts of verse.  A home-made chart (Add MS 89363/9/6) chronicles appearances of his early poems in magazines and journals.

Image is of a chart showing publications of Thomas’s early poems in red and black ink, from around 1960
A chart showing publications of Thomas’s early poems, c. 1960 (Add MS 89363/9/6).  ‘Weirdly child-like!’ is his subsequent annotation.

It was only at the end of the 1970s that Thomas turned to writing novels.  His first, ‘Birthstone’, set in his native Cornwall and already exploring his interest in the ideas of Sigmund Freud, is preserved in a first-edition copy (Add MS 89363/1/4) with annotations and amendments by the author.  Draft material and annotated typescripts and proofs record work on the other titles that then followed in quick succession, including ‘Russian Nights’, a sequence of novels which, though originally planned as a trilogy, expanded first into a quartet, then a quintet.

Image is an extract from 'Lying Together' and is typed on white paper
In ‘Lying Together’ (1990), Thomas appears as one of his own characters, helping three other writers to improvise a novel-within-a-novel (Add MS 89363/1/23)

Russia is a recurring theme in Thomas’s work.  He has translated the poetry of Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova, and made radio adaptations of Russian literature.  In the late 1990s he embarked on a substantial biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘A Century in his Life’, which won the Orwell Book Prize in 1999.  The archive contains a great deal of draft and research material for this book, as well as photographs and interview transcripts.

A more unusual series of papers (Add MS 89363/8) records one of the great frustrations of Thomas’s career: the seeming impossibility of making a film adaptation of ‘The White Hotel’, in spite of at least three separate attempts by different producers over the years.  The idea of a film first surfaced almost immediately after the novel’s overnight success, and at various junctures it seemed almost certain to be made.  But each time the project ran into difficulties, including of the legal variety (Thomas even found himself being dragged unwittingly into an American court case).  He relates the whole saga in his memoir ‘Bleak Hotel’ (2008), a typescript of which is also present in the archive (Add MS 89363/3/4-5).

Image shows a typed commentary by D M Thomas on Dennis Potter's screenplay for the film adaption of 'The White Hotel'
Thomas’s commentary on Dennis Potter’s screenplay for a proposed film adaptation of ‘The White Hotel’ (Add MS 89363/8/19)

Thomas has retained much of his correspondence with publishers and well-known writers (Charles Causley, Stevie Smith, Peter Redgrove, and others), along with hundreds of messages from his sister Lois (Add MS 89363/9/18-24).  There are also dozens of family photographs (Add MS 89363/9/8-11), starting at the time of his parents’ courtship in Cornwall in the 1920s and continuing through his childhood and adult life.  Lively scenes at home in Truro, where he returned to live in the late 1980s, are preserved for posterity. Most of the snaps are captioned by Thomas himself: ‘Rugby with Dad’ – ‘I was always distant at visits to beach / sea’ – ‘Singing my face off’. Family and friends too are fondly epitheted. There is even a calendar entitled ‘Singing Thomas’s’, each month with a different picture of the family singing, drinking and generally making merry.  Thomas has still found time to write, however: the latest drafts and sketches in the archive (Add MS 89363/2/9-23) date from as recently as 2017.

Image is a black and white photograph of D M Thomas playing rugby with his dad in an open field with hills behind. Thomas is holding the ball and is a young child.
‘Rugby with Dad’ in the field behind Thomas’s childhood home at Carnkie, near Redruth in Cornwall (Add Ms 89363/9/8)

The D. M. Thomas archive is available under shelf-mark Add MS 89363.