English and Drama blog

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


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

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.

24 April 2015

Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner

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As international commemorations in Turkey mark the centenary of the battle of Gallipoli we remember the thousands of people on both sides of the conflict who lost their lives. The poet, Rupert Brooke, died after contracting septicaemia from a mosquito bite a hundred years ago yesterday (23rd April 1915) on a ship going to Gallipoli.


After his death accounts of Brooke’s life were written by Edward Marsh and others, depicting Brooke as a tragic figure cut down in his prime. Brooke’s poems such as ‘The Soldier’ and ‘The Dead’ meanwhile were used to stoke patriotism at the early years of the war. Yet it was felt by many, including Virginia Woolf, that this view of Brooke was not a rounded picture of the man or his work.

In 2000 the British Library de-reserved a collection of letters and a memoir documenting the previously unknown relationship of Brooke and the artist, Phyllis Gardner. The collection was donated to the British Museum Library in 1948 by Phyllis’s sister, Delphis, on the understanding that it would remain closed for 50 years. A note included with the collection stated that Delphis Gardner gave permission for the collection to be reserved for a further period or even destroyed if it was felt that it should not be opened after the initial period of reservation had elapsed.

Colleagues who de-reserved the collection 15 years ago found a wonderful treasure trove of letters from Brooke along with Phyllis Gardner’s memoir of the couple’s love affair which began after Gardner first saw Brooke on a train to Cambridge on 11th November 1911. Brooke’s letters to Gardner illustrate different aspects of Brooke’s character than those presented by Marsh and others. Although some have chosen to highlight what they see as Brooke’s cruel behaviour, and I offer no excuse for his treatment of Gardner, I think that it presents us with a greater insight into all aspects of his character, both good and bad.

This week Brooke and Gardner’s story has been brought to a wider audience though the publication of The Second I Saw You: The True Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner by Lorna C. Beckett. As well as the first publication of Gardner’s memoir the book also includes a wealth of information about their relationship pieced together from correspondence between the couple, their friends and families, and other sources. In addition to providing a revealing insight into the life and personality of Brooke, the book uncovers the neglected life story of Phyllis Gardner, which has been almost lost from history.

The acquisition of two further collections at the British Library (both sources for Lorna Beckett's book) have provided further knowledge about Phyllis Gardner, her family and social circle. In 2009 the Library acquired the Radford Family Papers which include letters from Gardner to Maitland Radford, with one written after Brooke’s death. The letter about Brooke was digitised as part of the Europeana digitisation project and can be found on the Library’s website. In 2013 the Gardner Family papers, including a long series of illustrated letters from Phyllis to Delphis, were donated to the Library. The collections are both catalogued and available to researchers under the references Add MS 89029 and Add MS 89076 respectively.  

Please see the British Library website for more information about the new publication.

26 March 2015

Marking the Centenary of Virginia Woolf’s first novel: The Voyage Out.

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This month marks the centenary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out. The novel was published by Duckworth & Co. on the 26 March 1915 in an edition of 2,000 copies. It follows the development of Rachel Vinrace on board her father’s ship the Euphrosyne on a voyage to the fictional South American port of Santa Marina. The novel satirizes British colonialism and society, and has also been seen as reflecting Virginia Woolf’s personal journey from an upper middle class Victorian upbringing; to the freedoms she was to experience as part of the Bloomsbury Group. The group had its antecedents at Cambridge University among the friends of her brother Thoby. After leaving university the debates and conversations of Cambridge were to carry on in the squares around the London district of Bloomsbury, most famously at 46 Gordon Square. One of the characters in the novel, St John Hirst, is clearly based on Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury friend Lytton Strachey, and perhaps through this character we learn something of the flavour of what Bloomsbury conversation was like, as Hirst discusses philosophy and life with his friend Terrence Hewett. In The Voyage Out Woolf also introduces the reader to Richard and Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa Dalloway would of course reappear later as the central character in Woolf’s 1925 novel, Mrs Dalloway. Clarissa Dalloway also appears in a number of short stories written by Woolf in the 1920s.

Voyage out
Title-page of the first edition. Cup.407.c.37

The Voyage Out had a long and difficult journey itself. Hermione Lee in her biography of Woolf has suggested she may have begun work on the novel as early as 1906, certainly the novel is mentioned by Woolf in letters from 1908 where it is referred to by the title, Melymbrosia. The novel underwent many drafts and revisions over the years and was put aside for a period when Woolf was too ill to continue with it following a breakdown in 1910. It is the long development of the novel which allowed Woolf to use events and experiences in her personal life to be reflected in the novel. In August 1912 Virginia married Leonard Woolf. The nature of marriage occupies the thoughts of the heroine Rachel Vinrace and would likely have reflected one of Woolf’s own preoccupations at the time. Woolf also used her experience of illness during the writing of the novel in the description of Rachel’s delirium when she is struck down by fever.

The novel was finished in the spring of 1913 and the manuscript delivered to her publisher on 9 March. However, the strain of completing the novel led to another breakdown this time far more serious than that of 1910, occasioning Woolf to be cared for in a nursing home from July and subsequently attempting to take her own life in September. The severity of her illness accounts for the long delay between submitting the manuscript and the book appearing in print. The proofs of the novel were meticulously revised by Woolf, a task she was unable to undertake until her health had sufficiently improved.

Around the time of publication the Woolfs had been looking for somewhere to live outside London and had settled on a house in Richmond.  Because of Virginia’s incapacity, Leonard was left to make most of the practical arrangements of the move himself as Virginia continued to recover in the nursing home. Eventually they moved to Hogarth House in the spring of 1915 where, a couple of years later they established the Hogarth Press. The purpose of the press was twofold; partly to provide a therapeutic distraction for Virginia, and secondly to provide them with the freedom to publish more experimental works. The first publication by the press was Two Stories written and produced by Virginia and Leonard in 1917. However, for her second novel, Night and Day Virginia was again committed to using Duckworth’s, the publishing company of her half-brother Gerald Duckworth and an establishment somewhat conservative in outlook. After the publication of Night and Day Virginia was particularly relieved to be released from what she felt to be the restrictive nature of editors at Duckworth and her subsequent works were published by the Hogarth Press. The Hogarth Press eventually obtained the rights to The Voyage Out from Duckworth’s in 1929.