LONDON: FROM the earliest known writing of Charlotte Bronte, a charmingly illustrated short story the Villette author penned for her little sister Anne, to Jane Austens wry recording of an acquaintances dismissal of Pride and Prejudice as downright nonsense, the British Library has put 1,200 of its greatest literary treasures online in what is expected to become the biggest digital English literature resource.
Highlighting a survey of more than 500 English teachers, which found that 82 per cent believe secondary school students find it hard to identify with classic authors, the British Library has launched the Victorian and Romantic section of its new Discovering Literature website. With material from organisations such as the Bronte Parsonage Museum and Keats House, the site features manuscripts from authors including Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Austen, Dickens and Wilde, as well as diaries, letters, newspaper clippings from the time and photographs, in an attempt to bring the period to life.
Theres a lock of Shelleys hair, as well as his poem Ozymandias, and an early draft of Oscar Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as newspaper coverage of his 1895 trial. One press piece from the time reveals an illustration of the trials closing moments, as well as two vignettes contrasting the authors former fame with his new convict status. The website also features an 1809 dictionary of criminal slang, including words found in the works of Charles Dickens, and the largest collection of Bronte childhood writings, such as their miniature notebooks detailing their fantasy worlds of Gondol and Angria. It also includes Charlotte Brontes little book made for her sister Anne, which is illustrated with tiny watercolour drawings and features its original covers made from a piece of flowered wallpaper.
A host of texts from Austen have been digitised for the new site, meanwhile, including the opinions mostly positive her friends and family had of her novels, copied out by the author. Her immediate family is shown to have disagreed over which of her books was better; her sister Cassandra liked Emma better than P&P but not so well as MP while her mother found the same novel more entertaining than MP but not so interesting as P&P. A Mr Cockerelle, however, liked [Emma] so little, that Fanny would not send me his opinion, while a Mrs Augusta Bramstone owned that she thought S&S and P&P downright nonsense, and having finished the 1st vol. [of Mansfield Park] flattered herself she had got through the worst.
The British Library said that Mrs Bramstone sounded so much like something Austens comic characters might say that one suspects a degree of mockery in her portrayal of them.
The library will add material to the website until it covers literature from Beowulf until the present day, as it aims to help teachers to engage young people with the classics of English literature. The institution pointed to the fact that the ComRes survey of teachers it commissioned found that 76pc of teachers feel their students find it hard to perceive the classic authors as real people, and 82pc of English teachers say it is inspiring for students to experience original manuscripts and drafts.
The British Librarys head of public engagement and learning, Roger Walshe, said that contact with original materials can bring to life a novel or poem written centuries ago.
The students of today make the readers of tomorrow and we want to inspire the next generation of readers with this fantastic digital offering, he said.
Education minister Elizabeth Truss said the Discovering Literature site would support the new curriculum by helping to bring to life some of the greatest pieces of literature of our time such as Oliver Twist and Tess of the dUrbervilles.
Every child should have the chance to enjoy the best English authors, and thats why this government has put great literature back at the heart of school life. We want pupils to discover a love for literature they can carry with them for life, she said. At GCSE students will study Shakespeare, 19th-century novels and romantic poetry while at A level they will study whole texts from the 18th century, including a Shakespeare play, in even greater detail.– Guardian
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.