Monday, February 04, 2008

Fact and Fiction




The British Library is possibly the world's greatest repository of original manuscripts and musical scores, not to mention prints, drawings, newspapers and maps. All told, it houses about 150 million documents in nearly every language known.

Leave it to marketing guru William Miller (best friend of Nigella Lawson and creator of her wildly successful Living Kitchen brand) to found his own public relations firm and kick start a range of tableware called Great Works benefitting one of the world's most important libraries. The line of ceramic dinnerware also includes a set for children, depicting, quite rightly, passages and line drawings from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Not only do you have the sheer enjoyment of supporting a lovely English institution (or an American one, should you wish to order items through the New York Public Library) but you'll learn quite a bit of literary history in the process.




Dinner Plates – Boxed Set of 4 (Brontë, Browning, Coleridge and Hardy)

Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel, tells the story of a passionate love checked by its heroine’s stern moral scruples and beset by apparently insurmountable difficulties. The manuscript was written out with amazing speed by Charlotte between 16 and 19 March 1847 and appeared only two months after her publishers, Smith, Elder and Co., received it on 24 August 1847. Originally published under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, the true identity of the author was not disclosed until 1848.

The excerpt used on the Great Works range is taken from the concluding chapter which includes the famous line ‘Reader I married him’. The manuscript is a beautiful example of what Charlotte’s biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, described as ‘her clear, legible, delicate traced writing almost as easy to read as print’ and provides a wonderful insight into the creation of
one of the most popular and widely read of English novels.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In the summer of 1849, in a small Tuscan town which Byron had once made his home, Elizabeth Barrett Browning presented her husband Robert Browning with Sonnets from the Portuguese, a sequence of 44 love sonnets including How do I Love Thee?, recently voted the Britain's favourite love poem. Secretly written throughout their clandestine courtship, the title referred to Robert’s affectionate nickname for Elizabeth – ‘my little Portuguese’ – taken from one of his earlier love poems. Elizabeth and Robert were married on 12 September 1846 against her father’s wishes, and soon afterwards fled to Italy where they remained until Elizabeth died in her husband’s arms in the early morning of 29 June 1861.

The manuscript draft of How do I Love Thee? used on the Great Works range is the penultimate sonnet in the sequence and celebrates the culmination of Elizabeth’s growing love for Robert with one of the most famous opening lines in the English language.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge
A monument to English Romanticism, Kubla Khan was published in 1816. So unique and modern was the poem’s style that it was greeted with confusion and dismissal. Taking its title from the Chinese Emperor, Kublai Khan, of the Yuan Dynasty, Kubla Khan contrasts a man-made, earthly paradise with a “true” form of Paradise. In the summer of 1797 Coleridge, in ill health,
retired to a farmhouse in Exmoor, where he almost certainly wrote the poem in the midst of what he called a ‘waking dream’.. According to his own account, he experienced the sensation of having composed over two to three hundred lines while in this state, with images appearing to him in almost tangible form. On fully awakening he had a clear recollection of the whole,
and instantly wrote down the lines.

Coleridge’s original manuscript of Kubla Khan, the first page of which is used on the Great Works range, shows no signs of its supposedly hurried creation and is probably a fair copy, perhaps written up from the original draft.



Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D’Urbervilles, subtitled ‘A Pure Woman’, first appeared as an illustrated serial in the Graphic Magazine and was later published in three volumes in 1891. Criticised for his ‘pessimism’ and ‘immorality’, Hardy created a sensation. Although hurt and offended – ‘I have put in it the best of me’, he later said – his sales surged as a result. Hardy later presented
the manuscript to the British Museum Library in 1911, along with The Dynasts.

Hardy’s complex working method is clearly seen in the excerpt used on the Great Works range. Instructions to move text, repagination, additions and deletions all point to a concentrated effort on the part of the author. Of particular interest is the amendment of the heroine’s name – ‘Rose Mary’ is painstakingly crossed out whenever it occurs in the manuscript, and replaced by ‘Tess’.






Tea Mugs – Boxed Set of 2
Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro, 1784–1791

Mozart’s Musical Diary contains 145 musical introductions to some of his most famous compositions as well as the tantalising opening bars of a number of lost works, all written during the last seven years of his life, from 1784 until December 1791. On the left hand page Mozart wrote five compositions, each with the completion date, the title and usually its instrumentation. Details such as the singer’s name, where the piece was composed or who had commissioned it were sometimes included. Mozart divided the right hand page into five pairs of staves on which he wrote the opening bars of each work. The last 14 openings in the manuscript were poignantly left blank after he died.

The Musical Diary includes entries for many of Mozart’s best-known works such as The Marriage of Figaro, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and The Magic Flute. His last great work, the Requiem, was never entered as it remained unfinished when he died in 1791, aged 35. The entry taken for the Great Works range was made on the 29 April 1786 and is for his opera, The Marriage of Figaro.




Egg Cups – Boxed Set of 2
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel, tells the story of a passionate love checked by its heroine’s stern moral scruples and beset by apparently insurmountable difficulties. The manuscript was written out with amazing speed by Charlotte between 16 and 19 March 1847 and appeared only two months after her publishers, Smith, Elder and Co., received it on 24 August 1847. Originally published under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, the true identity of the author was not disclosed until 1848.

The excerpt used on the Great Works range is taken from the concluding chapter which includes the famous line ‘Reader I married him’. The manuscript is a beautiful example of what Charlotte’s biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, described as ‘her clear, legible, delicate traced writing almost as easy to read as print’ and provides a wonderful insight into the creation of
one of the most popular and widely read of English novels.


For more information on the line, or for a list of stockists, visit: www.millerandcomp.com