News | February 17, 2024

New Exhibition Focuses on Literature's Famous Revisions and Abandoned Works

Bodleian Libraries

An excerpt from An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope

The Bodleian Libraries' new Write, Cut, Rewrite exhibition will shed light on the creative importance of revision in literature. Often referred to as ‘killing your darlings’, Write, Cut, Rewrite delves into the editing, cutting and creative undoing of some of the world's most celebrated authors, revealing little-known literary treasures. 

The exhibition will offer a peek behind the scenes into writers’ workshops, drawing upon The Bodleian Libraries’ collection of modern manuscripts from the 18th century to the modern day. Write, Cut, Rewrite will feature abandoned works such as Jane Austen’s The Watsons, and cases of censorship, such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It also touches on the revisions and rewritings of famous books, offering visitors a unique chance to look over the shoulder of literary greats at the moment of creation. Highlights include discarded ideas, fundamental changes, deletions, additions, notes and scribbles from great authors such as Mary and Percy Shelley, Jane Austen, James Joyce, Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, Samuel Beckett, and John le Carré.

"Write, Cut, Rewrite reveals ideas that did not make it into some of our best-known novels, poems or plays, ideas that can only be recovered in manuscripts, held in archives and special collections," said exhibition curators, Dirk Van Hulle, Professor of Bibliography and Modern Book History at the University of Oxford, and Mark Nixon, Professor of Modern Literature and Beckett Studies at the University of Reading.

Other insights from the cutting room floor will include the original ending to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, George Eliot’s reading notes, Franz Kafka’s cuts in the manuscript of his novel The Castle and the description in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein extracted from Percy Shelley’s journal.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, said: "The editorial process, an integral step in the creation of great works of literature, is invisible to the reader when they are enjoying a favourite novel or poem. Our exhibition attemps to bring these cuts and rewrites back from obscurity."

Write, Cut, Rewrite runs February 29 until January 5, 2025 at the 
Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries.