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Secret Life of Books: Marvels of the Manuscript

2 September 2014

The British Library in London boasts a remarkable collection of more than 300,000 original manuscripts. The BBC Four series The Secret Life of Books filmed a number of texts there. In an exclusive interview for BBC Arts, Jamie Andrews, Head of English and Drama Collections, reveals manuscripts for William Blake’s London, JG Ballard’s Crash and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and explains why these documents are so important.

The Secret Life of Books: British Library Archive

Curator Jamie Andrews reveals manuscripts by William Blake, JG Ballard and Lewis Carroll.

The Secret Life of Books, produced in partnership with The Open University, examines original texts, manuscripts, letters and diaries to uncover the stories behind the creation of six classic books.

In these extracts from the series, television dramatist Tony Jordan, actor Simon Russell Beale, award-winning writer and Virginia Woolf expert Dr Alexandra Harris, singer and broadcaster Cerys Matthews, journalist and author Bidisha and scientist Prof Alice Roberts decipher the manuscripts which mean most to them.

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The British Library's Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians collection features articles on authors including Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.

The collection features Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – which was then titled Alice's Adventures under Ground.

It also includes the notebook of William Blake and the illustrated manuscript of Blake’s London from Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The JG Ballard archive is not yet digitised but the article The Progress of the Text: The Papers of JG Ballard at The British Library offers a comprehensive overview.

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