Profile: British Library

The British Library was established by the British Library Act 1972. The Act places the Library under the control and management of the British Library Board. An Advisory Council advises the Board on all aspects of the development of its services at home and its relations with libraries overseas.

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An Introduction to The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest draws on elements of farce and melodrama in its depiction of a particular social world. Professor John Stokes considers how Oscar Wilde combined disparate influences into a brilliant satire which contained hidden, progressive sentiments.
Article by:John Stokes
Theme:Fin de siècle
The British Library
CC BY 4.0

Category: Book Club

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Charlotte Canning’s Burning Tent

On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi. Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze. The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire. Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.
British Library
CC BY

Category: Biography

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The Origins of A Christmas Carol

Dickens had some very strong views on Victorian attitudes towards children, poverty, labor and the Christmas spirit. He carefully crafted A Christmas Carol, from the illustrations to the cover, to highlight some of his concerns.

British Library
(CC BY 4.0)

Category: Book Club

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Jane Austen and Social Judgement

Jane Austen’s characters are continually watching, judging and gossiping about others and, in turn, are watched, judged and gossiped about. Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores the ways in which behaviour and etiquette are closely monitored in the novels, and how characters must learn to be skilful readers of those around them.
Two brief videos by Professor Sutherland are included.
British Library
CC BY 4.0

Category: Book Club

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Jane Austen: Social Realism and the Novel

Jane Austen fills her novels with ordinary people, places and events, in stark contrast to other novels of the time. Professor Kathryn Sutherland considers the function of social realism in Austen’s work.
British Library
CC BY 4.0

Category: Book Club

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The Imperial Gothic

Mysticism, degeneracy, irrationality, barbarism: these are the qualities that came to define the non-western ‘other’ in 19th-century Britain. Here Professor Suzanne Daly explores the ‘Imperial Gothic’, examining the ways in which ‘otherness’ and Empire were depicted in Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, The Moonstone, Dracula and Heart of Darkness.
British Library
CC BY 4.0

Category: Book Club

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Frankenstein: Graveyards, Scientific Experiments & Bodysnatchers

Ruth Richardson shows how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written as a result of a challenge to compose a ghost story, was influenced by thoughts of death, scientific experimentation and Gothic tales.
British Library
CC BY 4.0

Category: Book Club

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Status, Rank and Class in Jane Austen's Novels

Status and titles fueled much of the satire and humor in the novels of Jane Austen. From Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, to the vain spendthrift Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, those with pretensions of rank were the subjects of her sharp pen.
British Library
(CC BY 4.0)

Category: Book Club

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Jack the Ripper

The unidentified killer known as Jack the Ripper murdered a series of women in the Whitechapel area of London during 1888. Judith Flanders explores how the excitement and fear surrounding the mysterious murderer made its way into late-Victorian literature.
British Library
CC BY 4.0

Category: History

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Female Education, Reading And Jane Austen

The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw fierce debates about the nature and purpose of women’s education. Professor Kathryn Sutherland takes a look at these debates, and describes the education and reading practices of Jane Austen and her female characters.

Category: Book Club

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Victorian Britain: The Working Classes & the Poor

The Victorians liked to have their social classes clearly defined. The working class was divided into three layers, the lowest being 'working men' or labourers, then the ‘intelligent artisan’, and above him the ‘educated working man’. In reality, things were not so tidily demarcated.

Category: Book Club

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Health And Hygiene In The 19th Century

In the 19th century, disease like, cholera, TB and smallpox were relentless, and occurred in waves of epidemics. Liza Picard explains how the medicinal landscape was shaped by health innovations and pioneers in the medical field.

Category: Book Club

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Dickens The Performer

Simon Callow CBE examines Dickens as an actor who gave lively and emotional performances of his own works to an enthralled public on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dickens was extraordinary in many ways – in the fertility of his imagination, in his passionate and practical commitment to social justice, and in his vast popularity – but he is quite unique among novelists in his career as a public performer of his own works.
Short video with the legendary Simon Callow included, filmed at the Charles Dickens Museum, London.

The British Library
(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Category: Book Club

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The Ball In The Novels Of Jane Austen

In Austen's fiction, as in many novels of the 19th century, a ball is the ultimate occasion for a heady kind of courtship – a trying out of partners that is exciting, flirtatious and downright erotic. Couples perform together, feeling each other’s physical proximity (though both men and women wore gloves throughout) while being watched by others.

Category: Book Club

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Crime in Great Expectations

Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.

Category: Book Club

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Jane Austen’s Juvenilia

Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores how Jane Austen’s education and upbringing shaped her childhood writing, and considers the relationship between these early works and her adult novels.

Category: Book Club

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The Middle Classes: Etiquette And Upward Mobility

For centuries the aristocracy had been the most powerful section of British society. But from the last quarter of the 18th century, the middle classes began to grow in power and confidence. Land was no longer the only source of wealth. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, it was now possible to make a fortune from manufacturing and trading goods.

Category: Book Club

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Orphans In Fiction

Why do orphans appear so frequently in 19th-century fiction? Professor John Mullan reflects on the opportunities they provide for authors, considering some of the most famous examples of the period.

Category: Book Club

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