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

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16 December 2020

What’s in a Name? The Archival Legacy of Emilia Francis Strong/Pattison/Dilke

By Jessica Gregory, Curatorial Support Officer for Modern Manuscripts, 1601 – 1950. The papers of Emilia Francis Dilke (Née Strong, formerly Pattison) can be found at Add MS 43903-43908. The correspondence of Emilia Francis Dilke and Gertrude Tuckwell are found at Add MS 49610-49612. The British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, explores the history of women’s rights activism and is open now.

Portrait of Emilia Dilke

Emila Francis (Née Strong), Lady Dilke by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1887.
(NPG 5288, © National Portrait Gallery, London)

For too long, the achievements of women of the past have been lost; many who have made significant contributions to various fields find themselves remembered only in relation to the men in their lives. Tracing their own histories through archival collections can be a difficult task: within their husband’s papers, their legacies are already framed by the names they inherit and the proximity to power which was granted by them. Retelling the achievements of women from the past often requires us to reconstruct and draw together their lives through their disparate archival legacies, so often mapped according to their inherited names.

One such case is that of Emilia Francis Strong. She would become an essayist, author, art historian and women’s rights activist, but despite her varied intellectual output, there is a surprising lack of primary material preserved. The British Library holds some of her papers within her second husband’s archive: The Charles Dilke Papers. There are also a few items of correspondence within the collections of other powerful men too, but she has — to adapt Woolf’s famous phrase — no  Archive of her Own.
 
Strong’s marriage to Dilke and her social class ensured that her name was preserved in history, but her varied intellectual pursuits have been overshadowed by her husband’s sex-scandal, which even now would have tabloid editors licking their lips. (And which, regrettably, I have to go into in order to contextualise her life).  

Photographic portrait of Emilia Dilke and her second husband, Charles

Sir Charles Dilke and Emilia Dilke,1894, By W. & D. Downey, published by Cassel and Company, Ltd. (NPG x8701. © National Portrait Gallery, London)

 

Charles was a Liberal MP with a radical agenda, but the discovery of his extramarital relations with his brother’s mother-in-law, followed by his brother’s sister-in-law, Virginia Crawford, was just scratching the surface of his misdeeds. When Mr. Crawford’s divorce trial made the headlines, the judge found Virginia Crawford guilty of adultery, but — paradoxically — found Charles Dilke innocent of the same crime. On top of this, Dilke found himself pursued by an investigative journalist with a grudge, and was soon forced to enter a case in an effort to clear his name, which catastrophically backfired when his heavily mutilated liaison diaries were paraded in court. The torn and self-censored diaries seemed to prove Charles Dilke’s adultery and he became a figure of ridicule for his desperate attempts to cover up his indiscretions. Emilia had defended Charles at the trial, but the damage was done. His reputation crumbled and his love-life was the talk of the town for many years to come.

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Engagement Book of Sir Charles Dilke, 1888,
Add MS 49402

Emilia’s legacy — like her life — is framed by this relationship.  The situation would not be much improved by remembering her as ‘Emilia Pattison, wife of Mark Pattison’, either; her first marriage was so famously unhappy that she and her husband are said to be the real-life inspiration for the unhappy couple of Mr. Casaubon and Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s, Middlemarch.

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A letter to Emilia Pattison from her friend, author George Eliot, 1870. Add MS 43907. British Library.

However, apart from her two marriages, Emilia sought to establish a name for herself through her own actions and writings. She studied at the South Kensington Art School in London. After her studies, she began contributing essays to the periodicals, such as The Saturday Review. She studied and wrote on Art and became arts editor of The Academy journal. Married to Mark Pattison at this point, she signed her articles E. F. S. Pattison, adding the ‘S’ to signify her maiden name: Strong — to reflect an element of her independence from her husband. Emilia published on the subject of French Art and gained a reputation as a respectable historian and critic in her own right.

She was also interested in social reform and particularly in improving working conditions for women. She was a prominent figure in the Women’s Trade Union League, founded in 1874 and became its president in 1886. She wrote on the subject of women’s rights at work. In the book Women’s Work, she explores the idea that women are a feature of the modern workplace and that their low wages are damaging not just to women, but to men — who were having their wages undercut — too. She outlines her argument for a raise of women’s wages to be in line with those of men as follows:

It is only too clear that economic independence of women is very, very far from being accomplished…Even though a woman’s work may be as good and as rapid as a man’s, we have seen that her scale of payment is frequently inferior to his…it would seem, therefore, clearly to be in the interest of workman to promote legislation and such methods of organisation as will afford to women the same vantageground [sic] as men

Emilia examined many aspects of women’s work in her essays and opinion pieces, outlining issues of inequality and advocating for health reforms in various sectors — even speaking at the Trade Unions’ Congress. She advocated for women’s trade unionism and would continue to publish on this subject — as well as Fine Art — for the rest of her life. Emilia was also friends with Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst and supported their campaigns for women’s suffrage.

Header for article titled 'Trades Union for Women'

Header for an Article published in the North American Review, 1891.

Even more than this, Emelia also wrote fiction, publishing two volumes of short stories, called, The Shrine of Death and Other Stories (1886) and The Shrine of Love and Other Stories (1891). The preface to The Shrine of Love seems to reaffirm the importance of working for reform through life:

Nothing has troubled me more than the weight of retribution which often falls on those who revolt against any point of prevailing order.

Image taken from short story collection showing graveyard.

Fly-page image from The Shrine of Death and Other Stories, 1886.

Hers are strange, allegorical tales, sometimes with a supernatural element, and a strong focus on morality and fate. They did not prove popular at the time, but these stories have recently been consolidated and republished for a new audience.

Considering this complex and varied legacy, it is a reductive to think of Emilia Dilke as simply the wife of MP Charles Dilke. Her many writing talents should have ensured her a more pronounced legacy than the one she currently holds. Compared to other women of the era, Emilia Dilke was privileged enough to be published and this has preserved many of her thoughts for the long-term. There is no doubt her work on women’s rights was an influence on other women, including her niece Gertrude Tuckwell, who advocated for women’s rights and women’s suffrage, becoming one of the first female magistrates in the UK. However, the lack of available archival material reflects a system of collecting that was very much centered on prominent men.

Photographic portrait of Gertrude Tuckwell

Gertrude Tuckwell, Emilia Dilke’s niece, women’s rights advocate and suffragist. Wikicommons.

The centuries of male dominance in society are reflected in the contents of historic archive collections. The exclusion of women from professional careers means that essential institutional records are primarily authored by men on the actions of men. Therefore, women of the past with intellectual careers and contributions to various fields, often find themselves excluded from many historical records. Without admittance into the professional sphere their work has often been side-lined as that of personal ‘interests’ or ‘hobbies’, and therefore, historically not deemed worthy of formal preservation. This may help explain the disparity between Charles Dilke’s archival collections and Emilia’s.

As well as this, the ability to trace individuals is also more complex for some than it is for others. Barring titles, ranks and self-administered change, the majority of male names will remain the same throughout life, whereas women’s names often change through marriage. Archivists make efforts to discover women’s maiden names so that they can link individuals’ relative outputs together and to help establish a full biography of a person, but sometimes these names are never found. Emilia went by many names during her life, she had her married names, but also preferred to call herself Francis over Emilia at times. As well as this, she would sometimes include her maiden name in signatures and sometimes prefer to author articles with differing initials. Given this abundance of known names, one might see how articles of her authorship may not be linked together.

A combination of structural bias and incidental loss has inhibited the collection of women’s archives for generations, but there is change in the air. Archival institutions now make efforts to correct imbalances in their archival collections. The efforts to brings the many untold lives of women back into history was a major feature of second-wave feminism. As well as this, the internet has provided a means of connecting and tying women’s narratives together, enabling the writing of fuller biographies and giving more credence to their achievements.

The legacy of Emilia Francis Dilke has certainly benefitted from these changes, and many of her works have even been digitised and so can be accessed by a wider range of scholars. Likewise, contemporary women have made efforts to recover Emilia Dilke’s legacy, with Professor Hilary Fraser writing her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, and Dr. Kali Israel writing a  contemporary feminist biography of Emilia Dilke that explores her accomplishments on her own terms. But such work has had to be accomplished without a comprehensive archival legacy for Emilia’s life and work. Given all this, one can see how easily other women have been lost to history, especially without the privilege of access to publishing that Emilia enjoyed. So many legacies have been reduced to a few scraps of paper and given our current advances in the field of archives, it is essential that we make an effort today to ensure that female archival legacies are fuller, broader, and most importantly, present in the future.

Further Reading

  • Women’s Work…With a Preface by Lady Dilke, by A. A. Brooke. (London: Methuen & Co, 1894)
  • The Shrine of Death, and other stories. L.P., By Emilia Francis Strong Dilke. (London: Routledge and sons, 1886)
  • The Shrine of Love, and other stories. L.P., By Emilia Francis Strong Dilke. (London: Routledge and sons, 1891)
  • Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture. By Kali Israel. (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1999).

09 December 2020

Celebrating New Poetry Pamphlets: The Michael Marks Awards 2020

by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Published Collections. The Michael Marks Awards were founded by the British Library and the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, and partners today include the Wordsworth Trust, the TLS, Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Scotland. Join us online to hear the winners announced on 14th December 2020.

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The shortlisted pamphlets for the Michael Marks Award for Poetry 2020

The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets will be announced on Monday 14th December, at a free online event. Join us to hear from the publishers and shortlisted and winning poets.

The Awards are now in their 12th year and celebrate poetry pamphlets as a site for innovation, making new poetry accessible in a variety of inventive styles and formats.

Four Awards will be announced on the evening of 14th December: the Poetry Award, best Publisher, Illustrator and Poetry in a Celtic Language. The shortlists for the Poetry Award and best Publisher have been announced on the Michael Marks Awards website

At the start of 2020, we were uncertain about how the Awards would run this year. Over its history, the Awards has relied on people being able to travel and meet in person, whether for judging meetings or for the awards ceremony itself. The latter is a highlight, bringing together poets and publishers and hearing each other read and speak.

However, we quickly gathered very strong support for the Awards from the people that we spoke to, who emphasised the importance of celebrating new poetry and the role of independent publishers in this year particularly. The response to our call for entries was greater than ever before, with almost twice as many pamphlets submitted, and many new publishers. Although we wouldn’t be able to hold our celebration at the British Library as usual, we were excited that holding an event online would allow us to include far more people than we would usually be able to accommodate in our physical spaces. Poetry pamphlets are a fantastic way to bring exciting new poetry to a wide audience, and we wanted our online Awards to follow in that spirit.

Our shortlisted poetry pamphlets and publishers show that excitement, and demonstrate how poetry pamphlets reflect a very wide range of expression and experience. These include the first pamphlet from Sarah Wimbush, Bloodlines, and Alycia Pirmohamed’s second pamphlet, Hinge. But also pamphlets from poets with longer publishing histories, such as Jamie McKendrick’s The Years and Paul Muldoon’s Binge.

The poetry in the pamphlets reflect movement and changing perspectives, with Alycia Pirmohamed’s Hinge using themes of landscape, space and migration. Paul Muldoon’s Binge moves from detailed descriptions of place and experience in Northern Ireland to locations around the world and across history.

Fothermather, by Gail McConnell, describes change and formation in a different sense, from the development of a baby before birth, through to the change in identity of a new parent and — much more broadly — to the way that things are given form and names. Bloodlines incorporates a highly personal use of language and presentation of different characters, to explore and express Sarah Wimbush’s Gypsy/Traveller heritage. In Jamie McKendrick’s The Years, the relationship between the poems and pictures throughout the pamphlet allow a conversation between text and image, allowing one to influence how the other is read or viewed.   

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The shortlisted publishers for the Michael Marks Awards 2020

As with the poetry pamphlets, the shortlist for publishers show a commitment to representing a range of voices, coupled with a very careful attention to the form in which each poet and pamphlet is presented.

Guillemot Press, a former winner, gave each pamphlet its own clear identity, through choice of format, sustainable paper stock, and type face.

Face Press similarly use materials that reflect the character of each pamphlet, with the judges noting that ‘every pamphlet submitted by Face Press was an individual event’.

Broken Sleep Books show a strong commitment to inclusivity and community engagement in their publishing, with several initiatives designed especially for writers on low incomes.

Another former winner, the Emma Press, equally take an active interest in representing poets from different backgrounds and experiences, and in cultivating a love for poetry amongst new audiences. 

At our Awards event on 14th December, all our shortlisted publishers and poets will speak and read. We will also hear from our winners for the Illustration and Poetry in a Celtic Language awards, as well as from our judges and partners. We are very excited that this year’s awards ceremony can be opened up to a wider audience online, and hope you can join us to hear the winners announced

07 December 2020

New Acquisition: John Donne and the Melford Hall Manuscript

by Dr. Alexander Lock, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts. The Melford Hall Manuscript is now available to view online, in full, on our website.

The British Library has recently announced its acquisition of the Melford Hall manuscript: a rare seventeenth-century volume containing the poetry of John Donne (1572–1631), one of the most popular poets of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Dating from the 1620s or early 1630s, the Melford Hall manuscript comprises over 130 poems by Donne and is one of the largest near contemporary scribal collections of his work. The manuscript has never been properly studied and was unknown to scholarship until it was discovered in 2018 in the library at Melford Hall, Suffolk. As one of the largest extant manuscript collections of Donne’s poetry, it covers the entire range of his poetical output, and – until its sale – was probably the most significant manuscript collection of Donne’s poetry to remain in private hands. 

 

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‘Elegy XIX: To his Mistress Going to Bed’ by John Donne from the Melford Hall Manuscript (Egerton MS 3884) © British Library Board.

The discovery of this manuscript is particularly exciting as it provides new evidence for the study of Donne’s work and the literary culture in which it was created. John Donne should be understood as a ‘coterie’ poet in the sense that his poetry was almost entirely distributed (or ‘published’) in manuscript copy amongst a select circle (or coterie) of privileged friends, acquaintances and potential patrons. These readers would, in turn, copy Donne’s lines to keep in their own private collections or to share with close friends. Only one English poem written in Donne’s own hand has survived and so much of what we know about his poetical output comes from these manuscript copies made for, and by, his ‘coterie’ of readers. The Melford Hall manuscript, therefore, is of outstanding literary significance because it provides new evidence as to how Donne’s poetry was written, copied, circulated, and received in the early seventeenth century. It also offers scholars important new evidence for the study of the manuscript transmission of poetry in the early modern period.

 

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Detail of ‘Fall of a Wall’ by John Donne from the Melford Hall Manuscript (Egerton MS 3884) © British Library Board.

Following its discovery in Melford Hall the manuscript was subsequently sold at auction where it was purchased by an overseas bidder. Following independent assessment of the importance of the manuscript the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced a temporary export bar on the work in a bid to save the manuscript for the nation. The British Library was ultimately able to raise the money to secure the acquisition of this manuscript and is delighted to announce that it can now be freely examined by readers online and will be available in the Library’s reading rooms from early 2021.

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The Melford Hall Manuscript (Egerton MS 3884) with seventeenth-century binding © British Library Board.

The manuscript retains its seventeenth-century binding and contains some of Donne’s most popular works including his songs and sonnets, elegies, epigrams, erotic verse, satires, epithalamia, verse epistles, obsequies, and divine poems. Alongside the poetry of Donne, the volume also features verse by other contemporary writers such as Francis Beaumont (1584–1616), Thomas Carew (1595–1640) and Sir Thomas Overbury (1581–1613). It also intriguingly contains a series of six currently unknown and unattributed seventeenth-century poems. Towards the back of the volume, and added in a later seventeenth century hand, are notes made on the sermons of Robert Meldrum (c.1653–1699) and a number of popular songs that were copied out in the mid-eighteenth century.

The manuscript has now been fully digitised and is freely available online on Digitised Manuscripts. The acquisition and digitisation of this manuscript was made possible with a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and with funding from the Friends of the National Libraries, the British Library Collections Trust, the T.S. Blakeney Fund, the Bridgewater Fund, and the American Trust for the British Library with thanks to Paul Chrzanowski and Patrick Donovan.