About the project

A rich celebration of our cultural heritage, Discovering Literature is a free online learning resource that provides unprecedented access to the Library’s unique literary and historical collections.

This phase of the project features over 400 20th-century treasures from the British Library’s collection including literary drafts, rare first editions, notebooks, letters, programmes, reviews, newspapers and photographs. Reflecting a century of dramatic change, the site reveals the ways in which key writers of the period captured the world around them by rejecting inherited traditions and experimenting with new forms and themes. These writers explored everything from mechanical warfare to urban life, from recorded sound to cinema, from consciousness to time, from ethnic identity to gender politics and from fairy tales to dystopian visions of the future. The site includes fascinating manuscripts by, among others, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T S Eliot, Terence Rattigan, J B Priestley, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Errol John, Shelagh Delaney, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Joan Littlewood, Joe Orton, C L R James, J G Ballard, Angela Carter, Andrea Levy and Hanif Kureishi. Users can also browse over 130 articles, short documentary films and teachers’ notes. With this material the Library hopes to illuminate the social, political and cultural context in which these writers were working.

Aimed at A Level students, teachers, lifelong learners and undergraduates, Discovering Literature aims to enrich the study and enjoyment of key literary works. The first phase of the project was described as ‘an important cultural resource that can be enjoyed by all ages’ (The Observer, 30 August 2014); ‘immensely fantastic’ (Stephen Fry, Twitter); ‘inspiring’ (BBC Click); and of ‘enormous value’ to students, teachers and scholars (Journal of Victorian Culture Online, May 2014).

We would like to thank the following project advisors and partners:
Professor John Mullan
Professor John Bowen
Dr Matthew Taunton
Dr Katherine Mullin
Professor Elaine Showalter
Faber & Faber
Society of Authors
UCL Special Collections and Rare Books
Smith College Special Collections
New York Public Library
King’s College, Cambridge
Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading
Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Special Collections, University of Bradford
Islington Local History Centre
National Theatre Archive

With thanks to all the individuals and literary estates who have so generously allowed us to put this archival material online. Special thanks to Hanif Kureishi and Timberlake Wertenbaker and to the estates of Virginia Woolf, T S Eliot, E M Forster, George Orwell, Terence Rattigan, J B Priestley, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Shelagh Delaney, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Joan Littlewood, Joe Orton, J G Ballard and Angela Carter.

With thanks to the authors of our 'People' and 'Works' pages: Marl'ene Edwin, Louise Kimpton Nye, Heather Marks, Deirdre Osborne, Tom Overton and Natasha Tripney.

Thanks also to our illustrators:
Matthew Richardson
Merrilees Brown
Harriet Lee Merrion

Discovering Literature has been supported since its inception by Dr Naim Dangoor CBE, Dangoor Education.

Dangoor Education

The project has also been generously supported by the following donors:
Evalyn Lee and Peter Bacon
Mark Pigott KBE, KStJ
Luci Baines Johnson
Ian Turpin
Garfield Weston Foundation
The American Trust for the British Library
The John S Cohen Foundation
Andor Charitable Trust
The Allan and Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust
The British Library Trust and the British Library Patrons

Access and Reuse Guidance Notes for Discovering Literature: 20th Century

Discovering Literature is an educational resource aimed at A Level students, teachers, undergraduates and lifelong learners. A lot of the material in the resource can be reused for non-commercial purposes, and we hope teachers and students will use this material to gain a deeper understanding of set texts. We do ask that you check the usage terms by each item to ensure that material is available for reuse.

The British Library asks that anyone reusing digital images from this collection applies the following principles:
  • Please respect the creators – ensure traditional cultural expressions and all ethical concerns in the use of the material are considered, and any information relating to the creator is clear and accurate. 
  • Please note, any adaptations made to an image should not be attributed to the original creator and should not be derogatory to the originating cultures or communities.
  • Please credit the source of the material – providing a link back to the image on the British Library’s website will encourage others to explore and use the collections.

This usage guide for images is based on goodwill. It is not a legal contract. We ask that you respect it.

For any further questions please contact copyright@bl.uk