Britian's rich literary heritage includes some of the most famous English-language authors, starting with the 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer, and including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and George Orwell. Britain has always been full of exceptional literary talents, many of whom remain obscure, particularly women writers and poets. The work of Warwick's English department has rehabilitated some of these forgotten writers and brought fresh perspectives to the well-known, enhancing the public's cultural enjoyment and understanding in the process.
Recovering Britain's Lost Literary Voices
Warwick's scholars have recovered writings by women from the seventeenth century onwards. Many of these writings, including poetry, account books, religious writing, cooking and medical recipes, and diaries, are in manuscript meaning that they are only accessible to readers who can visit the libraries where they are held. Warwick researcher Elizabeth Clarke has addressed this issue by making these writings available in digital format. The Perdita Collection contains digital images of more than 230 manuscripts from 15 libraries in the UK and USA. It was commercialised by Adam Matthew Digital in 2003 and has since been sold in the UK and Ireland, Hong Kong, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It has given access to these manuscripts around the world, making available an important part of the heritage of English-language writing.
Women writers were also central to the British Romantic movement of the early Nineteenth century. Jacqueline Labbe of Warwick's English Department from 2000 until 2013 has shown how Charlotte Turner Smith, who lived in the South Downs in Sussex, was a central figure in literary circles of the time, which included William Wordsworth. Celebrated for the sensibility, innovation and skill of her poetry and prose during her lifetime, Smith and her works have been overshadowed by the legacies of her male counterparts.
Smith wrote about the South Downs where she lived and her family home, Bignor Park, which still exists today and is open to visitors. To fully understand Smith's poems, an awareness of the relationship between the house and the poems is necessary. With Professor Labbe's help, the owners of Bignor Park included new information about Smith and her poems for visitors, offering a fresh perspective on the physicality of the house and its landscape. Through further outreach activities with the public, Smith has been reconnected with her homestead.
Fresh Perspectives on Britain's most famous literary voices
Jon Mee, a member of Warwick's English Department from 2007 until 2013, researched the works of Charles Dickens, one of Britain's most celebrated writers, in the context of the radical political thought circulating around London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Mee's research has encouraged readers to see Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in a fresh light.
As a result of his research, Mee led an interdisciplinary project with academic and industry colleagues to celebrate the bicentenary of Dickens' birth. The project resulted in a 45 minute documentary, Celebrating Dickens, which won the best Education In House Production Award at the Learning on Screen Awards hosted by the British Universities Film and Video Council. As well as the documentary, the project website contains videos, interviews and podcasts. iPhone and Android mobile phone users can download the highly-rated Celebrating Dickens app which has already received more than 12,000 downloads.
Watch the Celebrating Dickens documentary here: