The British Library Sends Manuscript Treasures to Shanghai Library

shanghai-exhibition-jane-eyre-ms-page copy.jpgOriginal manuscripts by five of the greatest writers in the English language will go on show in Shanghai for the first time in March 2018. ‘Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library’ will feature drafts, correspondence and manuscripts by writers including Charlotte Brontë, D.H. Lawrence, Percy Bysshe Shelley, T.S. Eliot and Charles Dickens, alongside Chinese translations, adaptations and responses to their works.

The exhibition will reflect Shanghai’s importance as a historic gateway through which English literature first arrived in China, subsequently finding an audience through its strong traditions of translation and publishing. It also marks a milestone in the relationship between the British Library and Shanghai Library: the two institutions signed a Letter of Intent and arrangements to hold the current exhibition were finalised at UK-China High Level People to People dialogue in London last December.

The exhibition includes valuable and rare manuscripts from the British Library:

  • Charlotte Brontë’s manuscript of Jane Eyre, including the famous line from the concluding chapter: ‘Reader - I married him’;
  • Drafts of poems for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, including letters discussing feline behaviour;
  • Letters from D.H. Lawrence about his novel, The Rainbow, discussing the ban on its publication and alternative routes for it to reach a readership; 
  • Manuscript draft of a sonnet dedicated to Lord Byron by Percy Bysshe Shelley; 
  • Five pages from the original manuscript of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Focusing on original manuscripts, the exhibition at Shanghai Library explores the journey of the five writers’ works through China and reveals the story of the translation and reception of English literature in China. It shows the ways in which Chinese and English culture have interacted through various publications in China, and explores how Chinese people absorb and respond to cultural achievements from around the world.

Items from Shanghai Library’s collections are also featured, including a manuscript presented by George Bernard Shaw to the Shanghai dramatist Huang Zuolin in 1937, with the inscription: ‘Rise up, China! You are the future of the eastern world’; the earliest English novel translated into Chinese (Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, published as ‘Tan Ying Xiao Lu’ in 1872); English books used by the famous translator Tu An when he was undertaking the first Chinese translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Shanghai; Charles Dickens' personal collection of books and bookplates; D.H. Lawrence’s signed limited edition of the poetry collection Pansies, and the signed first limited edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Shanghai Library will also hold a series of promotional activities, including a translation competition, a recital of English literary works and a programme of lectures and reading groups. They will invite Shanghai cultural celebrities to send in their handwritten thoughts on ‘English Literature and Me’, to encourage readers to explore and interact with the exhibition and attract the widest possible audience. The British Library will also invite readers to visit the exhibition and take part in a digital campaign ‘Back to the Origins of English Literature’ to discover more about English authors and their works.

Alexandra Ault, the British curator of the exhibition ‘Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library’, said: ‘Nothing matches the thrill of seeing first hand original manuscripts: from Charlotte Brontë’s scrupulously neat fair copy to Charles Dickens’ hurried and rather messy draft pages, they reveal the many different ways in which writers create. It has been a pleasure to work with colleagues at Shanghai Library to develop an exhibition that will showcase authors and poets familiar to millions of readers in China’.  

Chen Chao, Director of the Shanghai Library, said: ‘It gives me a great pleasure to host this exhibition presenting literary treasures in Shanghai. This is not just an event of the high-level cultural exchange between China and the UK and the first in-depth cooperation between the Shanghai Library and the British Library, but also a spiritual interaction between the people of both countries’.

Phil Spence, the British Library’s Chief Operating Officer, said: ‘Shanghai has historically been one of the great gateways between Britain and China, with culture, trade and diplomacy flowing in both directions and bringing our peoples closer together. The new exhibition will be an opportunity to share manuscripts of five of our greatest authors with audiences in Shanghai, and to deepen the relationship between the British Library and Shanghai Library, with staff exchanges and the very process of collaborating on an exhibition of this kind enabling us to share knowledge, experience and expertise’.  

The exhibition catalogue of ‘Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library’ has been jointly compiled by the Shanghai Library and the British Library and will be published by the Commercial Press.

The exhibition is the latest stage of ambitious cultural exchange programme, ‘The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning’, which has already seen major exhibitions at the National Library of China in Beijing and, most recently, at Mu Xin Art Museum in Wuzhen, which was visited by more than 41,000 people between October 2017 and January 2018. The initiative is funded by HM Government and also includes a programme of knowledge exchange between staff at the British Library and its counterparts in China, and the development of the Library’s first Chinese website Discovering Literature, introducing more than 200 digitised literary treasures from the Library’s literary collections, as well as in-depth interpretative articles, short films and interactive elements: www.britishlibrary.cn The Library has also grown its audience on its new social media platforms WeChat and Weibo.

Image: Conclusion of manuscript fair copy of Jane Eyre, volume III by Charlotte Brontë , 1847, British Library Add MS 43476, f 259r.

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