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

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.

04 March 2015

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

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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



12 January 2015

"Terror ... and the Supernatural": Stanley Kubrick's Gothic Adaptation of The Shining

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Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of the most recognisable works on display in the Terror and Wonder exhibition so we decided to ask Catriona McAvoy to explain its Gothic credentials. Catriona is a writer and filmmaker from London whose research into the films and working practices of Stanley Kubrick began with her Masters degree in 2009. Since then she has presented her findings at several international conferences and in discussion panels. Her forthcoming publications include chapters in Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives (Black Dog Publishing, 2015) and in Studies in the Horror Film: Stanly Kubrick's The Shining Vol. 1 & 2 (Centipede Press, 2015). More information about her research can be found at


The Shining is a film steeped in the Gothic tradition. Stephen King's book makes reference to Gothic literature and Stanley Kubrick approached the adaptation with this in mind. He recruited the author Diane Johnson to co-write the screenplay with him. He had read her modern Gothic novel The Shadow Knows (1974) and she taught a course on Gothic literature at the University of California, making her in Kubrick's opinion "the ideal collaborator".1 They discussed psychoanalysis and a wide range of literature, reading and recommending many books to each other in order to weave deeper themes into the fabric of the film.

The British Library's Gothic exhibition traces the same rich literary history that Kubrick and Johnson explored. Connections can be made between some of the exhibits and the evidence of the Gothic influences on The Shining found in The Stanley Kubrick Archive, The Diane Johnson Archive and from an interview I carried out with Diane Johnson. The exhibition displays some fascinating items from the production of The Shining including photographs and a note from Kubrick listing the 'Manifestations of a Haunted House'. Also displayed is the scrapbook prop which featured heavily in early drafts of the film (several scenes featuring it were shot but they were eventually edited out, leaving it appearing only once). However, it is not just in this section of the exhibition that we find the ghosts of The Shining. We can retrace our steps through the maze of meaning in Kubrick's film using some of the exhibits to guide us. 

Jack awakes from his nightmare, the scrapbook can be seen beside him on the desk (The Shining, 1980)

In the first room of the exhibition Shakespeare's work is highlighted as an inspiration for Gothic writers. His ghosts and supernatural happenings have certainly haunted the genre but his influence goes further than this. The externalization of inner turmoil is a common theme of the Gothic that is present in Shakespeare's work; think of Lady Macbeth who could not wash the blood from her hands. In Kubrick's development notes on The Shining "shades of Throne of Blood" is written beside an idea for a dramatic scene with Danny and Jack.3 Throne of Blood (1957) was Akira Kurosawa's brilliant adaptation of Macbeth and this is one of the few film references noted in The Shining development. Shakespeare again appears in a note from Diane Johnson. She is considering the balance of the narrative and the motivation of the characters and has written: "Tragedy or Fairytale? Lear - Tom Thumb. Moment of choice for Jack - Danny saves everyone."4 Diane Johnson explained the connection with The Shining and the story of King Lear to me as related to tragedy and the perils of "over-reaching ambition."5

Continuing through the exhibition the work of Ann Radcliffe provides the next link to The Shining. Her novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is a defining Gothic tale from this period. One of the key features of her writing is the evocative description of landscapes. Gothic literature often uses landscape and the sublime to inspire terror and awe; dark forests, remote mountains and precarious paths leading to gloomy castles. Johnson recalls discussing the work of Ann Radcliffe with Kubrick during their research. In the dramatic opening sequence of the film we are taken on an aerial journey following Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) as he drives through a Gothic landscape of forests and mountains to the remote and haunted Overlook Hotel. Later in the film as the family make the journey together Jack relishes telling them the story of the Donner party, early settlers who got stranded in the hills and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive: ferocious nature turning man to beast.

Loutherbourg Banditti_Tate_T00921_10
Travellers Attacked by Banditti, Philip James De Loutherbourg (1781)

Matthew Lewis's novel The Monk (1796) provides the next clue to the secrets of The Shining. Amongst the book's supernatural happenings the main protagonist falls into a dream trance and rapes a young woman. Sleepwalking was a key theme in King's book and also appeared in Johnson's novel. In the film Jack is seen having a terrible nightmare at his desk and is drawn into the hotel's ballroom and to the mysterious room 237 in a dreamlike state. Johnson relates The Monk's psychological and supernatural themes to the narrative of The Shining. Jack's pursuit of pleasure at the expense of others is his downfall, mirroring the fate of the monk, Ambrosio, in Lewis's book. The exhibition displays the edited third edition open on a page where we see Lewis had to remove an enthusiastic description of a young woman's bare breast for a milder fourth edition. Interestingly almost 200 years later Kubrick had to blur out the breasts of the naked woman in the 237 bathtub scene for censors in several countries.

Matthew Lewis's annotated third edition of The Monk (1797)

The manuscript of Frankenstein (1818) handwritten by Mary Shelley and annotated by Percy Shelley is a fascinating part of the exhibition. Displayed is the section where Frankenstein comes face to face with the monster in the mountains. Again here we see an evocative description of an unforgiving landscape, relating back to Ann Radcliffe's work and linking us to the setting of the Overlook Hotel. More importantly we find Frankenstein confronting the monster that he created, perhaps the monster within. This duality is a theme throughout Kubrick's film; mirrors are frequently used to show the two sides of Jack and of the Overlook. Jack's inner turmoil and ultimate unleashing of his monstrous side provides us with the true horror of the film and of man's dark side. Johnson remembers discussing Frankenstein with Kubrick during the development of the screenplay. King perhaps also had this character in mind as he describes Frankenstein's monster in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre (1981) as "The Thing Without a Name", an archetype for numerous horrific creations.

The manuscript of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley, annotated by Percy Shelley (1816)

The Brontës’ Gothic imagery is an important part of The Shining's visual horror. The exhibition fittingly displays items from the work of Emily and Charlotte, which connect directly with The Shining. Diane Johnson explains: "in an attempt to understand the essential seriousness of the genre, we discussed Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre"6 Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) manuscript is displayed open to a page describing Bertha, 'the madwoman in the attic'. This is referenced in The Shining with the crazed corpse of the 'bathtub lady' in room 237. The theme of imprisonment in the grand old house is central to Jane Eyre and is echoed in The Shining.

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) also played a part in the development of the screenplay. In Diane Johnson's manuscript notes, next to the scene where Danny is confronted by the ghostly Grady Girls, she has written "rather like the very affecting scene in Wuthering Heights where the visitor wakes up to discover a child's imploring hand reaching through the broken window."7 On display in the exhibition is a 1943 edition of Wuthering Heights showing an illustration of the very scene that Johnson describes in her notes. She confirms it was the "imagery ... and the underlying psychic elements"8 of this story that Kubrick was interested in.

Wuthering 01
Fritz Eichenberg illustration from Wuthering Heights (1943)

Next in the exhibition's Shining maze is the work of Edgar Allan Poe. His story 'The Masque of the Red Death' (1842) is heavily referenced throughout King's novel (there is a short extract in the epigraph and it reappears many times throughout the text). Although the ballroom scene association remains in the film, Kubrick avoided making such obvious links to the story. In a 1980 interview he downplayed the connection: "All his [Stephen King's] Poe quotes and Red Death things are alright but didn't seem necessary".9 However Diane Johnson does recall discussing "how Poe ended his stories".10

The enduring tradition of the fairytale is the last clue to the mysteries of The Shining that we find in the exhibition. Although a genre in itself and influential to the book and film in many other ways there is also an overlap with the Gothic themes here too. The exhibition points out that fairytales are "not strictly Gothic" but that often the stories are '"supernatural and frightening". On display is a 1909 copy of Red Riding Hood, a tale that is referenced in the research for The Shining. Diane Johnson has commented that she and Kubrick explored fairytales through the psychoanalytic lens of Bruno Bettelheim's book The Uses of Enchantment (1976). In the Stanley Kubrick Archive Kubrick's personal copy of the book with annotations and highlighted sections gives some very revealing insights into the Jack and Danny (Danny Lloyd) relationship of The Shining. Of particular note here is a highlighted section including a description of the symbolism of Charles Perrault's Wolf and Red Riding Hood characters. There are many suggestions of Jack as the big bad wolf in Kubrick's notes and in the film this is made evident in one of the most iconic scenes. As Jack prepares to axe through the bathroom door to get to a terrified Wendy (Shelley Duvall) he teases: "little pigs, little pigs let me in ... "

As we piece together the evidence of the many literary influences on The Shining we can begin to understand more about this enigmatic film. It is perhaps the ghosts of the Gothic past haunting the story that have helped to make it such an enduring classic. The familiar themes from historical literature that influence the characterization, the visual elements and the narrative of the film create a feeling of 'The Uncanny'. The Shining resonates with our cultural past and long imagined fears; like the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, The Shining has "always been here".

Shining ballroom
The final shot from the film, Jack is pictured in a photograph on the hotel wall from 1921 (The Shining, 1980)

To learn more about The Shining and the history of Gothic literature visit Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination (now in its final weeks). For more information (including extra late night openings) please visit the website



1 Kubrick, Stanley, “Oui, il y a des revenants”, interview with Michel Ciment, L’Express, 25 October 1980, Reprinted in Michel Ciment, Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, New York: Faber and Faber, 2001.

2 Johnson, Diane, "Draft Fragments and Notes", 1978, DJ/1/B/23/1-2, Diane Johnson Archive, Harry Ransom Centre (HRC), University of Texas Austin.

3 Johnson, Diane, "Draft Fragments and Notes", 1978, HRC.

4 Johnson, Diane (2013). Interview with Catriona McAvoy. 11 November, 2013. From the forthcoming publication: Studies in the Horror Film: Stanley Kubrick's the Shining. Ed. Danel Olson. Centipede Press, 2015.

5 Johnson, Diane (1978). "Kubrick Films 'The Shining' In Secrecy in English Studio", interview with Aljean Harmetz, The New York Times, November 1978.

6 Johnson, Diane, “Treatment”, 16 August 1977, SK/15/1/9, Stanley Kubrick Archive (SKA), Archives and Special Collections Centre, University of the Arts London.

7 Johnson, Diane (2013).

8 Kubrick, Stanley (1980). Interview with Vicente Molina Foix. Reprint. The Stanley Kubrick Archives. Ed. Alison Castle. Koln: Taschen, 2008.

9 Johnson, Diane (1978).

NB - The title of this post is taken from one of Stanley Kubrick's letters in which he describes The Shining as "a film of terror...and the supernatural" (Kubrick, Stanley, letter to Saul Bass describing The Shining, 10 October 1978, SK/15/5/2/5, SKA).