2017 at the British Library: major exhibitions on the Russian Revolution and the magic of Harry Potter, and Jane Austen’s teenage writings are reunited for the first time in 40 years

Letter from Vladimir Lenin requesting the use of the Reading Room at the British Museum (now British Library) copyright British Library

Today we reveal the British Library’s cultural highlights for the year ahead, including:

  • Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, a major new exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution
  • Title announced for exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK
  • The personal archive of writer P.G. Wodehouse comes to the British Library on loan
  • Jane Austen’s teenage writings reunited for the first time in 40 years
  • British Library treasures go on tour to China for the first time
  • Material from 20th century playwrights, including Joan Littlewood and Terence Rattigan, to go online on our Discovering Literature website
  • Brand new portraits of some of Roald Dahl’s best-loved characters painted by Sir Quentin Blake to be displayed in a new free exhibition space

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths
(28 April 2017 – 29 August 2017)

As part of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution this major exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, will shine new light on the unprecedented and world-changing events of the period, focusing on the experiences of ordinary Russians living through extraordinary times.

The exhibition will begin in the reign of the last Tsar and explore the growth of revolutionary movements, which brought about the transformation of Russia’s traditional monarchy into the world’s first Communist state as well as colossal social and political change. Key figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and revolutionary leaders including Vladimir Lenin will be examined along with the political events of the period.

Today we can reveal that one of the items going on display for the first time is a letter written by Lenin in April 1902, applying to become a Reader at the British Museum Library, now part of the British Library. The letter is signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, which he was using in order to evade the Tsarist police of the time. This letter marks the first of several trips he made to the Library. He later recalled in 1907:

“It is a remarkable institution, especially that exceptional reference section. Ask them any question, and in the very shortest space of time they'll tell you where to look to find the material that interests you.”

The exhibition will tell the incredible story of the Revolution through posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, items of uniform, recordings and film: from a luxury souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation to propaganda wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers, this exhibition will unite the personal and the political, bringing to life the hope, the tragedy, and the myths at the heart of this seismic Revolution.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic 
(20 October 2017 – 28 February 2018)

We are happy to be able to say more about the previously announced Harry Potter exhibition, which will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 

We can now announce that the title of the exhibition, which was announced in partnership with Bloomsbury earlier this year, will be Harry Potter: A History of Magic. This is a thrilling new exhibition that will showcase a fascinating display of wizarding books, manuscripts and magical objects, and combine centuries-old British Library treasures with original material from Bloomsbury’s and J.K. Rowling’s own archives.

The structure of the exhibition has been inspired by the subjects that Harry and his friends study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from Potions and Herbology, to Astronomy and Care of Magical Creatures, and will explore the rich magic traditions that they draw on.

Today we also reveal an exclusive sneak preview of a selection of British Library medieval manuscripts and early printed books that will feature in the Care of Magical Creatures section of the exhibition, depicting magical creatures which inspired characters that all fans of the books will recognise, such as Fawkes the Phoenix or Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback.

More information about the exhibition will be released throughout 2017, and tickets will be on sale from Monday 3 April 2017 at www.bl.uk.

New archive at the British Library – P.G. Wodehouse

The British Library is delighted to announce that the personal archive of P.G. Wodehouse is to be made publicly available for the first time.

P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) was a prolific writer and is one of the most widely read humourists of the twentieth century. Publishing over ninety books in his lifetime, he is best known as the author of the well-loved series of novels featuring Jeeves and Wooster. He also forged a successful career as an acclaimed lyricist, satirist and social commentator, at one time having five musicals playing simultaneously on Broadway.

The archive spans material dating from 1900-2005 and includes manuscript drafts and notebooks relating to Wodehouse’s fiction and essays (including Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, the last novel in the Jeeves and Wooster books, and his final published novel, Sunset at Blandings) and material relating to his writing for film and cinema alongside extensive correspondence with family, friends and fellow artists including Evelyn Waugh and Ira Gershwin, and his ‘Camp Diary’.

The archive has been made available to the British Library on loan by Sir Edward Cazalet, Wodehouse’s step-grandson.

Sir Edward Cazalet said:

“I am so delighted that the British Library is to provide a home for my P.G. Wodehouse archive. Given that Wodehouse is now ranked as one of the leading, if not the leading, humourist authors of the 20th century writing in the English language, I believe that this broad-based collection will not only bring much pleasure and laughter to its readers but will also prove to be critical to any serious study of 20th century humour and literature.  

PGW would have been so proud to know that he is now counted amongst his great literary heroes, headed by Shakespeare, Tennyson and so many others. This archive I have built up over a period of more than 40 years since Plum’s [Wodehouse] death in 1975. It contains many of his drafts and manuscripts, and has copious quantities of correspondence with composers, authors, relations and close friends, as well as a wide range of other interesting documents.”

Kathryn Johnson, Curator of Theatrical Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library, said:

“It is a privilege for the British Library to take on the P.G. Wodehouse Archive, which will be an extremely valuable resource for researchers and for everyone with an interest in twentieth century literature.”

Jane Austen Among Family and Friends
(10 January 2017 – 19 February 2017)

Next year marks the bicentenary of the death of one of our most-loved writers, Jane Austen. To mark this anniversary, we are bringing together writings from Austen’s formative teenage years for the first time in 40 years, from the British Library and Bodleian Library collections, plus family letters and memorabilia as part of a temporary display in our free Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. This display will also include one of the Library’s finest treasures – Austen’s writing desk.

Together they illuminate the personal family life of this towering literary figure. We are uniting the three treasured notebooks that Austen kept of her teenage writings, which include “The Beautiful Cassandra”, a story dedicated to Austen’s sister, and a spoof history of England featuring illustrations of the Kings and Queens by Cassandra Austen. The exhibits reveal family joys and sorrows which shaped the writer: one letter tells of Austen’s sorrow on the death of her beloved father, while a poem expresses the joy Austen felt on the birth of her nephew.

Discovering Literature: 20th century playwrights

In spring 2017, the British Library will publish over 100 items from its 20th-century drama collections, including manuscripts by J.B. Priestley, Joan Littlewood, Terence Rattigan and Shelagh Delaney, on the Library’s acclaimed educational resource Discovering Literature. The site will include original drafts of playscripts; reports and correspondence from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office; costume and set design sketches; scrapbooks; letters and photographs. Alongside high resolution images, users will be able to explore newly commissioned articles by leading experts from Michael Billington to Andrew Dickson. This array of rich content will offer new insights into the creative lives of these trail-blazing playwrights for a new generation.

Discovering Literature is a free to access website that provides unprecedented access to the Library’s literary and historical treasures. Aimed at A Level students, teachers, undergraduates and lovers of literature, the site aims to enhance the study and enjoyment of English literature and has received 3.5 million unique visitors since launching in 2014. The Library has already published collections relating to the Romantics and Victorians, Shakespeare and 20th century literature, and will continue to add to the site until it covers the entire canon of English literature from Beowulf to the present day.

British literary icons head for China

In 2017 the British Library will, for the first time ever, take some of its most spectacular items on tour to cities around China, beginning with the National Library of Beijing in April.

Ten iconic items from the Library’s collections, including Charlotte Brontë’s handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre and one of the earliest quarto editions of Romeo and Juliet, will be the star items in a major exhibition showcasing British literary and cultural highlights from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes.

Following the exhibition in Beijing, there will be pop-up displays in other cities across mainland China and Hong Kong, including Shanghai, Wuzhen and others. The British Library will also be launching a Chinese language version of the Discovering Literature website, designed specifically to reach audiences across China and enable them to explore digitised versions of the Library’s greatest literary treasures.

This increased engagement with institutions in China will include a knowledge and skills exchange programme, enabling staff from the Library to visit and work with colleagues in China, while the National Library of China and the other partner institutions will be sending curators and other experts to learn from what the Library is doing here in the UK. The programme is funded by the UK Government as part of an ambitious cultural exchange programme with China

UK-India Year of Culture

2017 is the UK-India Year of Culture, and today we announce our plans to loan George III’s own copy of one of the world’s most famous books, Shakespeare’s First Folio, for public display at the CSMVS museum in Mumbai in January. The loan is supported by the British Council as part of the GREAT campaign, and builds on the Library’s wider programme of working more closely with sister institutions in India and digitising our extensive collections relating to South Asia, such as the Two Centuries of Indian Print project.

The British Library will be partnering with the Jaipur Literature Festival to host a series of events in Jaipur and London during 2017. In January the Library will be part of the programme in Jaipur that looks at the legacy of Magna Carta, including the loan of a facsimile of the 1215 Magna Carta to be displayed on site during the Festival; and in May, the London leg of the Jaipur Literature Festival will be hosted by the British Library for the first time.

Quentin Blake: The Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits
(2 December 2016 - 21 May 2017)

From Friday 2 December 2016, we will be displaying a series of portraits produced by Sir Quentin Blake to mark the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth in our new small exhibition space, the Second Floor Gallery (free).

The portraits are of Roald Dahl’s most celebrated fictional characters, including Matilda, Charlie Bucket and the BFG, and the premise is that all the characters have been invited to sit for their portrait. These pictures were not commissioned and are an initiative of Sir Quentin’s own.

Sir Quentin Blake said:

“The Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits ask you to imagine that a number of Dahl’s characters have been invited to come and sit for their portrait; they are depicted, not quite as they appear in the illustrations, but more formally.

The perceptive spectator may notice that one celebrated couple declined to appear together, and another formidable personality obviously disapproved of the whole venture. Nevertheless, I hope visitors to the British Library will be happy to see this group of well-known characters treated as though they were real people – which, of course, to many of us they are.”

Images available on request – press@bl.uk

Notes to Editors

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

Bloomsbury Publishing is a leading independent publishing house. The children’s division publishes books for children of all ages up to 16 in both print and e-formats. It publishes across preschool, picture books, fiction and non-fiction. Its award-winning list includes authors such as J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Louis Sachar and Sarah J. Maas, and illustrators such as Jim Kay, Chris Riddell and Emily Gravett. For more information go to www.bloomsbury.com

The first book in the series of Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was originally published by Bloomsbury in 1997. Since then Bloomsbury has published all seven of the Harry Potter novels in children’s and adult editions, three charity books – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemQuidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and the ILLUSTRATED EDITION of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bloomsbury are also the publishers for the physical audiobooks of the entire series.

2016 marks Roald Dahl’s centenary. Entitled Roald Dahl 100, 2016 marks 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl – the world’s number one storyteller. There have been celebrations for Roald Dahl 100 throughout 2016, delivering a year packed with treats and surprises for everyone.

For more information:

Stephanie Knox
The British Library
t: +44 (0)20 7412 7329
e: stephanie.knox@bl.uk

Evenings and weekends:
+44 (0) 20 7412 7150

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