Dickens’ Autograph Manuscript! Coming to a Screen Near You!
Breaking Literary News! British Manuscripts Online c.1600 – 1900 launched.
Today (2nd June) sees the launch of British Literary Manuscripts Online c.1600 – 1900, which should prove to be a fascinating resource for obsessive literateurs. It puts online 400,000 pages of manuscripts, letters, diaries and notes by the foremost writers of this period. Unlike Early English Books Online, a vast resource of printed books online, the emphasis is very much on the process of writing rather than the finished product.
The resource will first be available to subscribing universities and other education institutions and then on a fee-per-view basis for private customers. It is unclear from the press releases how expensive using the resource will be. Let us hope that it does not price out the penniless poets in garrets.
Highlights includes manuscript drafts of twelve works by Dickens, autograph manuscripts of three works by Charlotte Brontë and William Blake’s notebook. The manuscript of Pope’s translation of The Odyssey may bring a 280-year-old scandal back to life. Following the success of his version of The Iliad, Pope decided to try his hand at the other Homer epic. However faced with the unenviable task of translating twenty-four books into heroic couplets, he secretly enlisted the help of William Broome and Elijah Fenton, who ended up translating around half the work. The secret did get out however and became rather an embarrassment. Now one can see for oneself Elijah Fenton’s rendering of the first book and Pope’s revisions.
The Man for wisdom fam’d, O Muse! relate,
Thro’ woes and wanderings long pursued by fate
Pope crossed it out to give us the famous opener:
The Man for wisdom’s various Arts renowned,
Long exercis’d in woes; O Muse resound!
On second thoughts, perhaps it would not reflect badly on Pope. His revisions are by far the superior. Surely the verb ‘relate’ is a bit of an anti-climax to the excited apostrophe of ‘O Muse!’ while ‘resound!’ gets it off to a more rousing start.
The Telegraph however is understandably more excited by the thought of sneaking a peek at love letters, specifically the ones from Oscar Wilde to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas: evidence of the turbulent affair which famously landed Wilde in prison for homosexuality. Even in the reporting of academic resources, sex sells.
Other letters of interest include Charlotte Brontë’s letter to Ellen Nussey in which she writes of her fears for her sister Anne’s health following Emily Brontë’s death: ‘If there were no hope beyond this world – no eternity – no life to come – Emily’s fate and that which threatens Anne would be heart-breaking. I cannot forget Emily’s death-day.’ There is certainly something more moving about reading the anguished hand-written words than there is about reading the typed up transcript, perhaps akin to watching a band perform live instead of listening to the same studio-produced song through speakers.
There is an exciting rawness to manuscripts which the uniformity of typed up print cannot reproduce. Of course, there is an even greater thrill in turning the pages of the physical manuscript. But that was often an opportunity out of reach unless one happens to be writing a PhD on the author. Now, however – they are coming to a screen near you.
More information can be found at http://www.gale.cengage.co.uk/manuscripts/