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

24 April 2015

Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner

Add comment Comments (0)

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.

Add comment Comments (0)

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.

04 March 2015

On novels and the art of writing them: the rules according to Anthony Trollope

Add comment Comments (0)

Anthony Trollope by Lock and Whitfield, British Library

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-82). The British Library have marked the birth of this prolific 19th century author by mounting a display in our Treasures Gallery, centred around the manuscript of Trollope’s An Autobiography, which the Library is lucky enough to hold.

The display looks at the author’s ‘rules’ for novel writing, as laid down in his autobiography. Trollope outlines the essential qualities required of any aspiring writer, which include the ability to write honestly, naturally, intelligibly, rhythmically and pleasantly; to create sympathetic characters and primarily a willingness to submit to severe toil. He describes in detail the ‘self-imposed laws’, under which he operated. When he began a book he prepared a diary, decided upon a deadline and assigned himself so many words per week. He attributed his entire success to the virtue of his early hours; he would rise at 5am each day and undertake his literary work for three hours before starting for the Post Office (his parallel career). He wrote with his watch before him, aiming to write 250 words every 15 minutes. Trollope was a hugely prolific writer, producing 47 novels, an autobiography, two plays, short stories, travel books, articles, reviews and lectures.  Proud of his achievements, he boasted that he always had a pen in hand and was bound to the rules of labour in the same way as a mechanic or a shoemaker. The autobiography also contains a very frank account of the monetary rewards he received for each novel, which he freely admits is part of his motivation for writing; it remains a testament to the value of hard work and self-motivation.


Dr wortle yellowback cover
Trollope, Anthony. Doctor Wortle's School. (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1881)

Though critical opinion has fluctuated over time, Trollope’s readers have remained constant. He’s never been out of print, and he has attracted admiration from many other members of his profession, such as Virgina Woolf . Most are in agreement that his genius lies in his characterisation and his attention to detail when talking about the details of life itself. Nathanial Hawthorne famously described Trollope as ‘dealing with the solid, substantial, written on strength of beef and through inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were made a show of.” 


Other highlights of the display include his letter of appointment to the General Post Office; a watch given by Trollope to his nephew; a selection of Trollope’s novels in various forms – in parts, triple deckers, periodicals, as yellow backs (with wonderfully dramatic cover illustrations); caricatures; letters to the Royal Literary Fund and even one to the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, apologising for causing offence.

There is so much to write about Anthony Trollope that I find I’ve hardly scratched the surface. If you want to know more about him then please come along to our display (which is up until 7 June) – or indeed the event we’re holding on 23 April ‘A celebration of Anthony Trollope’ with an esteemed and eclectic panel of special guest speakers and a reception generously sponsored by the Trollope Society (who are particularly active in this bicentenary year, extolling the virtues of the great author). In addition the British Library’s Discovering Literature site has added an Anthony Trollope section in honour of the occasion. Alternatively there are several very wonderful books about this man who wrote so many wonderful books that anyone interested might turn to – or you could read his autobiography, of course.

Bibliography and links

Trollope, Anthony. An autobiography. (Edinburgh; London: Blackwood & Sons, 1883)

Glendinning, Victoria. Trollope (London: Hutchinson, 1992)

Sadleir, Michael. Trollope: a commentary (London: Constable & Co., 1927)

On novels and the art of writing them

A Celebration of Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope on Discovering Literature

The Trollope Society and