THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

4 posts categorized "Writing"

19 March 2019

Marie Corelli: Superstar Author of the Victorian Era

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Of all the authors of the Victorian era, Marie Corelli (1855-1924) is not easily recalled, names such as Tennyson, Dickens, the Brontës and Mary Shelley are more likely to come to mind.  She has slipped into obscurity over the years.  Yet intriguingly, Corelli was one of the most popular authors of her time.  She was a bestselling author and an individual whose life contained many of the hallmarks of contemporary celebrity: fame, fortune and famous friends.

Picture 1Postcard depicting popular Victorian author Marie Corelli Wikimedia Commons

Evidence of the scale of her popularity is illustrated in the British Library’s Manuscript Collections.  There are a number of her publishing agreements in the archive of Marie Corelli’s publisher, Richard Bentley (Add MS 46560-46682).  One of these is the publishing agreement for Corelli’s book Wormwood (published only a few years into her literary career) which shows that she was offered a total of £800 for this title.  In today’s money this would be an advance of over £65,000, quite a lot of money for any author.  Such a sum shows just how much confidence Bentley had in Corelli.  He evidently believed that the investment would be rewarded.

Picture 2Add MS 46623, f.327

Corelli's novels combined a writing style that was melodramatic and florid.  Her interest in mysticism and spiritualism could lead to her characters expressing bizarre abilities to dematerialise and time-travel.  On top of this she had a tendency to moralise and bemoan contemporary society.  This made her novels rather liable to ridicule by critics.  However it does not seem to have affected her sales; according to the Bentley’s accounts, Corelli made over £900 in royalties alone in 1893, and £1000 in 1894.

Picture 3Add MS 46562, f.15

Aside from considerable sales, the stardom of Corelli is further illustrated by a number of unlikely, but influential fans, one being Oscar Wilde who stated that she told of ‘marvellous things in a marvellous way’.  She was also friends with Ellen Terry, the leading Shakespearean actress.  Another fan was the Prime Minister, William Galdstone.  Gladstone was such a fan that he popped around unannounced to meet Corelli.  To her horror, she was out at the time and was dreadfully disappointed to have missed one of the ‘profound thinkers and sage of the century’.

Picture 4Add MS 44507, f.3

Corelli’s extroverted personality and her fame meant she was scrutinized more closely than most.  She often cut a contradictory figure.   She railed against marriage in her article 'The Modern Marriage Market', feeling that women too often were sold and traded like property, and yet she was an avid anti-suffragette.  She appealed for charity on behalf of hospitals during the First World War, but was convicted of hoarding food against regulation.  She could be fleeting with friends, but she lived solely with one woman, Bertha Vyver, for 40 years, dedicating her books to her and leaving her everything in her will.

Picture 5The dedication to Bertha in Thelma, 1888

A century after her death, Marie Corelli’s work is largely forgotten.  Her florid style and sentimentality became unfashionable as a new generation of modernist writers took hold of the literary lime-light.  For most of her lifetime, however, Corelli’s writing brought her great success, so much so that that most of her fellow Victorians would have known her name.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Bentley Papers, Add MS 46560-46682, British Library
Bigland, E. Marie Corelli: The Woman and the Legend, (London: Jarrolds Publishers, 1953)
Corelli, M and Others. The Modern Marriage Market, (London : Hutchinson & Co, 1898)
Corelli, M. Thelma: A New Edition, (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1888)
The National Archives, Currency Converter

 

23 January 2018

The good, the bad, and the cross-hatched

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Today is National (and possibly International) Handwriting Day, and we thought we would take a quick look at some examples from recently-catalogued papers in our Modern Archives and Manuscripts collections.

The good (and improving) 

Luckily for our manuscript cataloguers, the recently acquired letters of Princess Charlotte Augusta to her tutor George Frederick Nott (1805-1808) posed little difficulty. In the series of 31 letters and notes we get to see the development of her handwriting.

Charlotte Prayer 2
Charlotte Prayer 2

Early prayer, Add MS 89259/1, Papers relating to the Royal family within the correspondence of John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury

By the time of this second undated example her hand is progressing nicely – and thankfully neatly – with the help of guidelines penciled on to the paper to keep her lines straight.

Charlotte 2Add MS 89259/2

By 1807 Charlotte’s handwriting is well formed and regular, with nice little flourishes, and written without the aid of guidelines.

Charlotte 3Add MS 89259/2

 

The bad

Unless they have been very lucky in their research, most archive users will have experienced frustration when trying to decipher a difficult hand. It can be tempting to conclude that some lives will remain untold because they are recorded illegibly, and some famous lives have been delved into despite their terrible handwriting – Charles Darwin is a name which springs immediately to mind.

CD2Charles Darwin to Alfred Russell Wallace, Add MS 46434, f 230

CD4Charles Darwin to Alfred Russell Wallace, Add MS 46434, f 75v

(Darwin was well-aware of the general assessment of his handwriting. In a letter to John Murray, 31 Mar 1859 he wrote “I defy anyone, not familiar with my handwriting & odd arrangements to make out my M.S. till fairly copied”. A transcription of this letter can be found online at the Darwin Correspondence Project).

The cross-hatched

The Grimaldi correspondence features letters written by Louisa Frances Edmeads to her brother William Grimaldi , as well as a small number of letters from Stacey Grimaldi to other family members. Lurking in these letters are examples of the dreaded (or keenly anticipated, if you’re feeling up to the challenge) cross-hatching, where the writing is continued at 90 degrees across the page.

Crosshatch 1

Crosshatch 2Add MS 89258

Combine cross-hatching with bleed-through from the verso of the folio, and you have a recipe for a research headache.

If we’ve whet your appetite for handwriting, why not head over to the Digital Scholarship blog to read about the Library’s work with the Transkribus tool, generating and testing automatic Handwritten Text Recognition models for the India Office Records.

Alex Hailey

Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

14 December 2017

Sixty Thousand Signatures against the Bengal Partition: Bengali Resistance in 1905

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The ‘Partition’ of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 saw the birth of India and Pakistan in an unprecedented human tragedy.  But it was not the first time that British India witnessed a partition.

On 16 October 1905 Bengal province was ‘redistributed’ by the Viceroy Lord Curzon, apparently for administrative efficiency. Its eastern part was conceded to Assam Province to form a new ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam Province’. The remaining part of Bengal was further reduced by surrendering some of its parts to the Central Province.

This partition excited the Bengali population and resulted into various kinds of organized protest movements.  Memorials containing thousands of signatures were sent to the Governor General of India in Council to revoke the partition.  It was unprecedented in the history of the Raj that so many of her subjects literally took up their pen in an organized manner to register their protest against a Government decision.


L PJ 6 754 File 1027IOR/L/PJ/6/754. File 1027

One of many such memorials, sent on 31 December 1906 by Khaja Atikulla of Dacca, describes the day of the partition: ‘The demonstration which took place on the 16th October 1905, when the Partition was carried out, will never be forgotten. The whole Province was in mourning; the shops were closed; it was a day of fasting and prayers; and in Calcutta thousands of devout Hindus bathed in the Ganges, as is customary when a great misfortune overwhelms them’.

L PJ 6 803IOR/L/PJ/6/803

The ‘multitudinous signatures’ created a stir even in the British Parliament. MP Herbert Roberts asked the Secretary of State for India 'whether he has received & considered a memorial signed by 60,000 of the inhabitants of Eastern Bengal, protesting against the proposals of the Government of India in reference to the partition of Bengal...’

L PJ 6 729  File 2260IOR/L/PJ/6/729, File 2260

The list of the signatures running to thousands of pages bears the marks of a great number of Bengali population either in terms of written signatures or thumb impressions.

L PJ 6 803 AOne of many such volumes containing thousands of signatures IOR/L/PJ/6/803

The pages of signature were divided into three columns: Name/Signature, Address, and Profession. The overwhelming majority of the signatories were Hindu by religion, even in places like ‘East Bengal’ where Muslims outnumbered the Hindus.  A conspicuous absence of Bengali women from the lists went against the fact that Bengali women participated in the Movement in great numbers.

L PJ 6 754A page bearing the signature of Upendra Kisor Raychaudhuri, an eminent Bengali writer who established India’s finest printing press in Calcutta and introduced half tone and colour block making for the first time in the subcontinent IOR/L/PJ/6/754

  L PJ 6 755A signature page  IOR/L/PJ/6/755

The lists start with signatures of men of prominence and authority, mostly Maharajahas and Zamindars. They were followed by common men of different professions. During the first decade of the 20th century, the majority of Bengalis were farmers by profession. But the list does not reflect a proportionate representation of the Bengali population as the majority of the signatories were land owners (Taluqdar) or in money-lending professions (Mahajani, Tejarati).

However, organizing such a huge signature campaign against the reigning colonial power was not an easy job. Reaching the households of hundreds of villages all over Bengal, crossing rivers and forests, braving seasonal difficulties like those in the monsoon time could not have been possible without very organized concerted efforts. The list of 60,000 signatures seems to be a premonition of organized nation-wide struggle against the British Government which paved the way for the leaders like Gandhi.

Parthasarathi Bhaumik
Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, and Chevening Fellow at the British Library

Chevening_primary_CMYK (with bleed)

 

 

 

 

 

23 January 2016

Queen Victoria’s handwriting

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As it is National Handwriting Day, we have decided to treat our readers to a letter by Queen Victoria from the India Office Private Papers.  Perhaps best described as ‘challenging’, this sample of the Queen’s handwriting dates from 24 June 1897, a few days after her  Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Here is a flattering portrait from that year of the 78-year-old monarch sitting beside an open writing box.

  Queen Victoria F60125-26

Queen Victoria - Illustrated London News: Diamond Jubilee Special (1897) Images Online Noc


The Queen is writing from Osborne House, her holiday home on the Isle of Wight, to Lord George Francis Hamilton, Secretary of State for India 1895-1903.  Enjoy!

Mss Eur A147 ff.19

Mss Eur A147 f.19v

Mss Eur A147 f.20

Mss Eur A147 f.20v

Letter from Mss Eur A147 ff.19-20v

 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
India Office Records and Private Papers -Mss Eur A147 Letters from Queen Victoria (1819-1901) to Lord George Francis Hamilton (1845-1927), Secretary of State for India 1895-1903, including comments on the treatment of her `munshi' and on arrangements for the Indian delegation to her Diamond Jubilee.