THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

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

Introduction

From Shakespeare’s First Folio to live recordings of experimental theatre, from Charlotte Brontë’s love letters to Wendy Cope’s emails, our collections offer unique, fascinating and unexpected sources for your research. Discover more about our manuscript, printed, digital and audiovisual collections here. Follow us on Twitter: @BLEnglish_Drama. Read more

03 July 2015

Remembering the 4th of July...

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Carroll lewis alices c03312 08 Additional MS 46700

 

       Tomorrow sees the anniversary of the now world famous boat trip on the River Thames in Oxford, when the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics don at Oxford University, rowed up the river with the three young daughters of the University’s Vice-Chancellor. The middle child was Alice Liddell, then aged ten.

       Dodgson recorded the trip in his diary for 1862, one of nine volumes of his diaries that are held at the British Library. The details of the rowing trip itself are recorded on folio 15 of his diary:

Dodgson charles vol add ms 54343 f015rAdditional MS 54343

but the page opposite records why the trip turned out to be so important in the history of English literature. As he rowed up the river Dodgson began to tell the girls a story about a bored child called Alice who follows a white rabbit and ends up having a series of surreal adventures. The story, as recorded in Dodgson’s diary, was initially called ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’. One year later, under his pen name of Lewis Carroll, the story was published in an expanded form with the new title Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Dodgson charles vol add ms 54343 f014v  Additional MS 54343

         After the trip, Dodgson had written up the story, painstakingly added his own illustrations, and presented the manuscript to Alice Liddell as a gift, with the dedication: ‘A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer’s Day’. This manuscript is now one of the British Library’s treasures; however, its journey from its original creation to its home in the Library is quite a marvellous tale in itself. Alice Liddell kept the manuscript until 1928 when she was forced to sell it to pay death duties after the death of her husband. The manuscript was sold at auction at Sotheby’s for £15,000 to an American dealer, Dr Rosenbach, who in turn sold it to Eldridge Johnson upon returning to America. Following Johnson’s death in 1946 the manuscript was again sold at auction. This time, however, it was purchased by a wealthy group of benefactors who donated the volume to the British people (and the British Museum) in 1948 in gratitude for their gallantry against Hitler during World War Two.

        This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland and gives us a chance to celebrate and to reflect upon the continuing influence of this much-loved story. The Alice manuscript has just taken a trip back across the Atlantic to be the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Later in the year it will have a short sojourn at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia before returning to us and going on display as part of our Front Hall exhibition which will explore the many ways that the story has been adapted, appropriated, reimaged and re-illustrated since its conception. The exhibition curators will be blogging later in the year as we work towards the launch on 20th November.

       Though if you can’t wait until then to find out more, you can explore this manuscript and much more besides on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website, which you can find at http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/alices-adventures-under-ground-the-original-manuscript-version-of-alices-adventures-in-wonderland

02 June 2015

The British Library acquires the archive of the playwright and screenwriter, Julian Mitchell

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The British Library is very pleased to announce that it has acquired the archive of the playwright, screenwriter and novelist, Julian Mitchell. Julian Mitchell began his playwriting career adapting novels for performance, starting with several novels by Ivy Compton-Burnett. He adapted Jane Austen’s 'Persuasion' (1971), Paul Scott’s 'Staying On' (1980) and Ford Madox Ford’s 'The Good Soldier' (1981) for television. Among his original works, he is best known for his play, 'Another Country', recently revived in the West End and on tour.

'Another Country' is based on the life of the spy Guy Burgess and explores the tensions of politics and sexuality within the context of the hypocrisy of the English public school system in the 1930s. The play won the Olivier Award for best play in 1981 and Julian later wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation in 1984. Early productions of the play were instrumental in launching the careers of Rupert Everett, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Firth, and Julian's involvement with these productions can be seen in the archive. He also won the SWET Award in 1985 for 'After Aida' his play about the composer, Giuseppe Verdi, and wrote the screenplay for the film 'Wilde' (1997). Julian also wrote numerous screenplays for the Inspector Morse series and the archive including notes on adapting Colin Dexter’s books for television, along with drafts, shooting scripts and other related papers.

 

JM archive boxes
Just some of the 80 boxes of the archive in their new home at the Library

The archive includes successive drafts of Julian’s work providing a real insight into his creative process and the subjects which inspired him. In addition the archive includes correspondence with a wide range of people from theatre and television including the actors John Gielgud and Alec Guinness, the American writer, Philip Roth and the poet, Stephen Spender. A series of personal diaries, photographs and press cuttings are also included.

JM_Persuasion

Some of the research notes, letters, scripts and other papers relating to 'Persuasion'

Julian’s archive is an exciting addition to the Library’s literary and creative archives and I am sure that it will be a great resource for researchers.

19 May 2015

Podcast of 'A Celebration of Anthony Trollope' at the British Library

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On 23rd April the British Library held 'A Celebration of Anthony Trollope', an evening event to mark the writer's bicentenary. The event which was held in the Library’s conference centre featured panel discussion between Trollope’s biographer, Victoria Glendinning, the writer, Victoria Trollope and the actor, Edward Fox, chaired by editor of the Mail on Sunday, Geordie Greig. There was lively discussion between the participants on a range of subjects relating to Trollope’s life and work from his involvement with the Post Office to his difficult childhood and his relationship with his wife, Rose.


As the event provided so popular we were keen for a recording to be made available as a podcast for anyone who was not able to attend. The podcast can be downloaded for free from the British Library website. Trollope fans may also like to know that a display on Trollope and novel writing mentioned in an earlier blog posting on 4th March remains on show in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library gallery until June 7th. You can also find out more about Trollope on the Library's Discovering Literature website.