May 20, 2022

The British Library Puts Literary Treasures From 20th Century Writers Online For Free

From The British Library:

Discovering Literature: 20th Century aims to bring the work of some of the period’s most famous writers to life. It features over 300 digitised collection items from the Library collections and over 90 essays written by writers and academics such as Elaine Showalter, Simon Armitage, Bidisha, Kate Flint, Hanif Kureishi, Caryl Phillips, Laura Marcus and Mark Ford placing the works of the 20th century writers in context.

The materials on Discovering Literature: 20th Century reveal the ways in which key writers of the 20th century rejected inherited traditions and experimented with new forms and themes. Through their notebooks and first drafts, we see their creative processes, innovation, self-doubt, rejection, rebellion and the risks they took on their journey to becoming the literary greats we know today.

  • Virginia Woolf’s manuscript draft of Mrs Dalloway and an early travel notebook in which she begins to explore her ‘stream of consciousness’ technique
  • George Orwell’s notebook in which he lists ideas for what would become Nineteen Eighty-Four, including ‘newspeak’, ‘doublethink’ and ‘two minutes of hate’
  • Ted Hughes’s manuscript drafts of Birthday Letters
  • Sylvia Plath’s draft manuscripts of The Bell Jar and extracts from her diary
  • Angela Carter’s manuscript drafts of Wise Children and The Bloody Chamber
  • J G Ballard’s manuscript drafts of High-Rise, Crash and Empire of the Sun
  • Hanif Kureishi’s manuscript drafts of My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia

The site also includes a number of items revealing the interplay between the writers, including:

  • A letter from Virginia Woolf to James Joyce’s patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, declining to print Ulysses
  • A letter from TS Eliot declining to publish George Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • A poem in which James Joyce attacks contemporary Irish writers
  • A letter from Bernard Shaw to Sylvia Beach in which he gives his opinion of Joyce’s Ulysses: ‘It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one’
  • A review by Angela Carter of J G Ballard’s Empire of the Sun

Note: We encourage you to take a look at the videos that are included on the site. Here’s a direct link to one of them. Expect more videos moving forward.

Direct to Discovering Literature: 20th Century

See Also: Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians

See Also: Discovering Literature: Shakespeare – The British Library

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.