Letters and manuscripts of Virginia Woolf, Ted Hughes, TS Eliot, George Orwell and other 20th century literary greats have been made available free online by the British Library, giving fans, teachers and students unprecedented access to the rare documents.
The documents include a letter from George Bernard Shaw in which he gives his opinion of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (“It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one”), Orwell’s notebook in which he lists ideas for what would become the classic dystopic novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, and Woolf’s manuscript draft of the acclaimed “Mrs Dalloway” and an early travel notebook in which she begins to explore the “stream of consciousness” technique.
The material is available on the website called “Discovering Literature: 20th Century” and reveals the ways in which key writers of the 20th century rejected inherited traditions and experimented with new forms and themes.
The library said through the authors’ notebooks and first drafts, people could see their creative processes, innovation, self-doubt, rejection, rebellion and risks they took on their journey to becoming the literary greats they are known as today.
Anna Lobbenberg, digital programmes manager at the library, said: “Until now these treasures could only be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms or on display in exhibitions – now ‘Discovering Literature: 20th Century’ will bring these items to anyone in the world with an internet connection.
“With these stunning documents we hope to shine a light on the extraordinary innovation demonstrated by key writers of the 20th century. From James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and T S Eliot to Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, JG Ballard, Angela Carter and Hanif Kureishi, these rebels and risk-takers were determined to find new forms to reflect the fast changing world around them.”