*Update on Coronavirus*

In response to the latest government advice regarding the developing COVID-19 situation, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all events and external visits due to take place at The MERL and Special Collections until the end of April. In addition, the museum and the reading room will close at 5pm on Friday 20th March until further notice.

Please note that we will respond to/forward email enquiries that we receive during this time and assist where we can. However, we cannot take reading room bookings until we have reopened, and will not be able to answer any research enquiries that require access to the physical collection stores.

We understand that this news will be disappointing. We would like to reassure you that it is not a decision we have taken lightly. We will review our plans beyond April in due course. For updates, please visit our website and follow us on social media.

Our primary concern is to protect the health of our visitors, volunteers, students and staff. The University’s Major Incident Team is meeting regularly to monitor the situation closely and follow all government advice to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Thank you for your understanding.

Postal Notation: Melanie Daiken and Samuel Beckett

Written by Xander Ryan, graduate student in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading

When Melanie Daiken moved to Paris in 1966 she wrote to Samuel Beckett, a friend of her father’s, telling him that she was on her way. He replied that he was happy to meet her, and gave her his preciously guarded phone number. During her musical studies at the Conservatoire over the next two years, which included being taught composition by Olivier Messiaen, Daiken and Beckett became friends. He took her out for smoked salmon and Muscadet, presumably an improvement on her usual student meals, and they discussed the libretto she was writing for her chamber opera Eusebius. She later sent him sheet music by Haydn and Schubert for his recreational piano playing.


Stamps on the envelope of one of Beckett’s letters to Melanie Daiken from Tunisia


The Leslie Daiken Collection holds approximately 25 letters and cards from Beckett to Melanie’s parents, Leslie and Lilyan Daiken, and 18 items of correspondence written to Melanie herself. Part of my recent placement at the University of Reading Special Collections, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was to transcribe and catalogue this correspondence, creating PDF handlists that would be available to researchers online.

The need to publicise this significant collection through a publicly available catalogue is partly evident in the fact that none of the letters are included in the publication The Letters of Samuel Beckett (2009-2016). This serves as a reminder that the editors of the Letters, as part of their enormous feat of editorial scholarship, had to carry out a rigorous selection process: only 20% of Beckett’s letters made the final cut.

Like most of Beckett’s correspondence, only his half of the exchange with Melanie Daiken has survived. The one exception, which I was delighted to come across when examining the documents, is a letter from Daiken to Beckett drafted on the back of one of Beckett’s envelopes. In the draft she writes to postpone their meeting, explaining that she is in bed with a cold, listening feverishly to her fellow students practising music next door.


Cover of ‘Samuel Beckett and music’, edited by Mary Bryden (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)

Daiken went on to have a distinguished career as a composer and lecturer. She taught composition and contemporary music at the Royal Academy of Music and Goldsmith’s College, and her compositions were performed at the Wigmore Hall, Cheltenham Music Festival, and broadcast on BBC Radio Three. Her relationship with Beckett was an artistic connection as well as a friendship – her ironically-titled piece Gems of Erin (1975) was based on Beckett’s poems from Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates. Another of her works, Quatre Poèmes (for piano, viola and clarinet, first performed in 1985), speaks not only of Beckett’s texts but also his biography, incorporating a French Resistance song in its coda.

Scholars are increasingly interested in Beckett’s legacy, not only his influence within drama and literature, but also in other artistic media. Derval Tubridy has lectured and written on Beckett and contemporary art, and Julie Bates is running a research project on contemporary Irish authors and their relationship to Beckett’s writing. Beckett’s connection with the music of Melanie Daiken, which she writes about compellingly in her essay Working with Beckett Texts (which appears in the publication Samuel Beckett and Music), demonstrates one musical aspect of this legacy. Their correspondence, housed in Reading’s Special Collections and newly catalogued, together with the rich resources of the Samuel Beckett Collection and the James and Elizabeth Knowlson Collection, provide a new avenue for readers and researchers to explore.


Acknowledgements and bibliography

I am grateful for the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, administered through the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP) and its Student Development Fund.

Melanie Daiken, ‘Working with Beckett Texts’, Samuel Beckett and Music, ed. Mary Bryden (Oxford, 1998). Special Collections Service: BECKETT COLLECTION–50-SAM

Sophie Fuller, ‘Melanie Daiken’, The Pandora Guide to Women Composers: Britain and the U.S. 1629-Present (London, 1994). University Library: R.U. RESERVE–780.9103-FUL

Derval Tubridy, Samuel Beckett and Performance Art, Journal of Beckett Studies 23:1 (April 2014). Special Collections Service: BECKETT COLLECTION–70-JOU

New exhibition: “Colours More Than Sentences”: illustrated editions of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’

Text by Michael Seeney, abridged and adapted with additional text by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian.

“I wish I could draw like you, for I like lines better than words and colours more than sentences”.

–  Oscar Wilde to W Graham Robertson in 1888

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of imprisonment with hard labour for “acts of gross indecency with another male person”. He spent most of those two years in Reading Prison. On his release, he entered a self-imposed exile in France. Broken in health, and declared bankrupt, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a love-poem and an impassioned plea for prison reform. It was his last work.

For our new exhibition, we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to show a selection of illustrated editions of the Ballad lent from the collection of Michael Seeney. The editions on show include the first published illustrated edition of the Ballad and recent editions produced by small presses such as Reading’s Two Rivers Press. This exhibition has been organised by the University’s Department of English in collaboration with Michael Seeney, and was on show at the Berkshire Record Office last year.

Image from ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde ; afterword by Peter Stoneley ; illustrated by Peter Hay. 3rd edn. Two Rivers Press, 2011. Reproduced by kind permission of Two Rivers Press.


The following text is an abridged version of an introduction to the exhibition by Michael Seeney examining the history of the writing, publication and illustration of the Ballad. A leaflet which features the full version of the introduction is available free of charge to visitors to the exhibition.


“Oscar Wilde was released from prison in May 1897. The same night he and his friend More Adey took the night boat from Newhaven to Dieppe. The British in Dieppe were, with few exceptions, unfriendly and, before the end of the month, Wilde moved a few miles along the coast to Berneval-sur-Mer. There he rented a small house – the Chalet Bourgeat. Here he intended writing three essays, two of which would describe the prison system. They were never written, but in June he began writing his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In the words of a later High Court judge, “He owed his inspiration to Her Majesty’s Government”.



Wilde’s intention was to write a poem which combined propaganda for prison reform with a Romanticism in part drawn from Coleridge. In doing so he claimed to “out-Kipling Henley”. Wilde’s poem accurately reflects the conditions in prison. The central narrative of the poem is the execution by hanging of Charles Thomas Wooldridge at Reading on 7 July 1896.



Wilde sent an almost complete manuscript to the publisher Leonard Smithers who approached Aubrey Beardsley with a proposal for an illustrated edition. Beardsley expressed great interest and, as Smithers told Wilde, “I showed it to Aubrey and he seemed to be much struck by it. He promised at once to do a frontispiece for it – in a manner which immediately convinced me that he will never do it.” Wilde thought that if Beardsley “will do it, it will be a great thing” but, if he would not give a commitment, Smithers should “try some of the jeunes Belges – Khnoppf for example.” In the same letter Wilde spelled out in detail his ideas for illustrations and decorations:

I want something curious – a design of Death and Sin walking hand in hand, very severe, and mediaeval. Also, for the divisions between the separate parts of each canto of the ballad, I want not asterisks, nor lines, but a little design of three flowers or some decorative motive, simple and severe: then there are five or six initial letters – H: F: I: I: T.



In December Wilde made clear that for illustrations he was looking for something non-representational; in writing to Smithers about his American agent, Elizabeth Marbury, he said that:

Her suggestion of illustration is of course out of the question. Pray tell her from me that it would entirely spoil any beauty the poem has, and not add anything to its psychological revelations. The horror of prison-life is the contrast between the grotesqueness of one’s aspect and the tragedy in one’s soul. Illustrations would emphasise the former, and conceal the latter. Of course I refer to realistic illustration.

When the book was published on 13 February 1898 there were no illustrations; and instead of Wilde’s “three flowers” there were single standard printers’ fleurons.

Smithers and Wilde had agreed that the author’s name would not appear on the book, and that the title page would say it was by C.3.3. (the number of Wilde’s cell in Reading Gaol). However, the authorship was an open secret; on the day of publication Reynold’s Newspaper carried news of the book under the heading “New Poem by Oscar Wilde” and printed eighteen verses.



The first edition consisted of 800 copies, with a further 30 printed on Japanese vellum. The entire edition sold out within a few days. A second edition followed and then, at Wilde’s request, a third edition, limited to 99 copies signed by Wilde (thus removing any last doubts about its authorship) was issued in March. Another four editions were issued bringing the total number of copies in circulation to over 5000, meaning it was commercially by far the most successful of his works. Having said to Wilde that he thought it time Wilde “owned” the Ballad, Smithers added Wilde’s name to the title page of the seventh edition following “C.3.3.”. This was the last edition published during Wilde’s lifetime, although Smithers continued to produce what were effectively pirated editions for some years after Wilde’s death in November 1900.

Although the Ballad was issued by a number of publishers abroad, there was no attempt to illustrate the book until 1907. The first fully illustrated edition appeared in New York, illustrated by Latimer J Wilson.

The first European illustrated edition appeared in German in 1916 and was followed by French, Czech and Hungarian editions. Several fully illustrated editions appeared in America in the late twenties and thirties. There was no illustrated edition published in Britain until 1948. Arthur Wragg, the illustrator, was, as far as is known, the only illustrator up to that time who had actually visited Reading Gaol. Britain still lags behind in the number of illustrated editions, although in recent years there have been notable sets of illustrations by Garrick Palmer, Peter Forster and Peter Hay, as well as the abstract illustrations of Jeremy Mason.

In accordance with Wilde’s views expressed to Smithers, each of the illustrated editions examined has been interpretive rather than realistic. We cannot know what Wilde envisaged as an ideal illustration but he would certainly have been delighted to see that so many artists have taken the poem as an inspiration”.


The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 31 July 2019, and is available to view during The Museum of English Rural Life opening hours.

We are also delighted to announce that to coincide with the exhibition, Michael Seeney will give a talk about building a collection on Oscar Wilde. In addition to books, Michael’s collection also extends to anything related to Wilde, from letters and autograph material to mugs and t-shirts. As well as talking about his own collection, Michael will also look at important collectors of the past and what has become of their collections, and the role of private collectors in academic research.

The talk, entitled Collecting Oscar Wilde: Public and Private Good, will take place at The Museum of English Rural Life on Thursday 30 May 2019, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. The event is free but booking is advisable – you can book tickets here.
This event takes place during our monthly Late Opening Night, so the museum, shop, cafe, garden and reading room are all open until 9pm.


Not forgotten: University of Reading to add names to war memorial

On 9 November 2018, the University of Reading will formally announce that the names of nine members who fell in the First World War will be added to its war memorial. This will be the culmination of a long research process by community volunteers based in Special Collections.

A building of a tower being built, surrounded by scaffolding. A note next to the image is states that this is from 1924.

An image of the University of Reading London Road campus Clock Tower being built in 1924. (Image taken from the University of Reading Archives).

The genesis of the project dates back to 2013 and the Arts Council England-funded “Reading Connections” Project. One element of the project was to feed into the commemorations of the First World War. The University’s clock tower memorial, formally dedicated on 7th June 1924, lists those fallen servicemen with a connection to what was then called Reading University College. But this is not the only memorial.

In the University Archives lay a somewhat overlooked volume containing photographs of many of those who fell. As part of the project, this was digitised and made freely available via Flickr along with a brief service and personal history of the individuals listed, well as information on their connection to the College, if known. Information came largely from 1911 census records, WWI service records, War Graves Commission records and the University of Reading Archive. Many people responded to this and added details to the Flickr site.

The story did not stop there. One of the community volunteers, Jeremy Jones, continued delving into the histories of the men and women whose names appeared on the memorial and in the book. Jeremy presented a seminar in 2015 as part of a series looking at the First World War, in which he revealed many of the fascinating stories behind the names.

As the research work continued, it became clear that some names had been omitted from the clock tower, the book, or both. Although the College at the time was small, keeping track of every past student and staff member was not an easy task, and it is perhaps inevitable that there were some names that were missed, primarily through a lack of information, the “fog of war”. In one case, that of “laboratory boy” Charles Flint, the omission had in fact been noted by the first Vice-Chancellor, William Childs, as far back as 1927. A decision was made to wait until “perhaps three or four names come to knowledge”: it has taken a very long time.

These discoveries were a call to action: the University quickly determined that some additional names should be added. Nine have been identified so far. On 9 November 2018 the Acting Vice-Chancellor, hopefully joined by representatives of some of the services and units in which the men served, will announce the names. Also present will be staff and students of the University, who are also the successors of these nine men. The research work continues and more names may be uncovered and added. Some will forever remain unknown, but their sacrifice, made a century or more ago, is not diminished by that.

If the first casualty of war is truth, then by adding these names we hope to make some recompense by painting a more truthful picture of the extent of the sacrifice made by our forebears.


The following names will be added:


Frederick Wallis Aubrey

Born c. 1884 in Bradfield, Berkshire. Employed at Wantage Hall, described as a “waiter” or “servant”. Served in 4th Btn Royal Berkshire Regiment. Died 16th August 1917. Buried in New Irish Farm Cemetery, Belgium.


Richard Herbert Howell Biddulph

Born 1889 in London, Ontario, Canada. One of twelve local men who joined the Officer Training Corps at Reading University College on the outbreak of war, although not a student at the college (he had a degree from McGill University, Montreal and is on their honour roll). Served in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment). Died 5th July 1917 at Avion. Buried in La Targette British Cemetery, Neuville-St. Vaast, France.


Charles Henry Thomas Flint  

A man dressed in military uniform.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC. Image taken from the University of Reading Magazine Tamesis (Vol XXXII No 2), which noted that the image was provided by his mother.

Born 1900 in Reading. Employed as a “laboratory boy” at Reading University College. Served as an apprentice in what was to become the Merchant Navy.  Died 11th April 1916 at the Royal Hospital, Melcombe Regis. Buried in London Road Cemetery, Reading.


Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC 

Born 1893 in Shropshire. Famous as one of the leading poets of the Great War, Wilfred Owen attended Reading University College briefly in 1912. Served with the Artists’ Rifles and the Manchester Regiment, earning the Military Cross. Died 4th November 1918. Buried in Ors Communal Cemetery, France. Named in the Reading University College memorial book.


John Wilmot Mackenzie Palk  

Born c. 1874. Attended a course in the Faculty of Agriculture in 1905. In 1914 he was living in New Zealand but served in the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). Died 16th November 1916. Buried in Contay British Cemetery, France.


Francis Edgar Pearse 

Born 1891 in Tottenham. Awarded a Borough of Reading Minor Scholarship in Arts for the 1909-10 and 1910-11 sessions to study at Reading University College. Served in the Royal Berkshire

An image of a man in army uniform.

Francis Edgar Pearse. Image taken from Book of Remembrance of those Members of The University College Reading who fell in The War 1914-1918 (MS 5339)

Regiment. Died 3rd October 1916. Buried in Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, France. Named in the Reading University College memorial book.


Percy Leigh Pemberton 

Born 1886. Studied in the Faculty of Agriculture during the 1905-06 session. Served in the Middlesex Regiment. Died 27th February 1916. Buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France.


Thomas Albany Troward  

Born 1881 in India. Studied Fine Arts, 1902-06. By 1915 he was living in New Zealand where he enlisted and served in the Auckland Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Died 21st May 1918. Buried in the Wellington (Karori) Cemetery, New Zealand.


Frederick Charles Wenham

Born 1889 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.  Studied in the Faculty of Letters, passing the Final Examination for the Diploma in Letters in 1912 and being made an Associate of the College in May 1913. A member of the Officer Training Corps. Served in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). Died 20th November 1917. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France and in the National Union of Teachers War Record.


Post written by Guy Baxter, Associate Director of Archives Services. For more information on our archival material on World War 1, or if you have any further information on the names listed here, please contact us at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk. 

From Artistotle to Anatomy and the tongue of a woodpecker… Digitising the Cole photographic records

Diagram of a Woodpecker Tongue

A lantern slide of a scientific diagram of the tongue of a woodpecker, taken from the works of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli. (MS 5315/2/30). You can also see the string (left of the illustration) used by Cole.



In today’s blog post, Tim and Ceri discuss their progress in digitising the glass lantern negatives created by Professor F J Cole (1872-1959), F.R.S., Professor of Zoology in the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939.










Tim Jerrome – Graduate Trainee Archive Assistant

Though I am admittedly fairly new to work in archives, I already have the belief that accessibility to collections is the most important part of an archivist’s job. As such, when given the chance to participate in the Cole project – cataloguing and digitising the lantern slides of Professor Cole – I was eager to get started!

Illustration of a Rhinoceros

A lantern slide of a Rhinoceros by Albrecht (Albert) Dürer, taken from one of his works. (MS 5315/4/2/76/5

The cataloguing part of the project has been a learning experience in more ways than one. Not only have I become involved with the nuances of cataloguing hierarchy, as well as using the cataloguing software, Adlib, I have also learnt a great deal about Professor Cole’s collection simply by observing the slides as I catalogue them. For example, I came across an image of Dürer’s Rhinoceros at one point, which encouraged me to research the fascinating story behind it.


Once I had catalogued my first set of slides, I moved on to digitisation; essentially, taking high-quality photographs of the lantern slides, editing the images, and adding them to our database of digital assets. I was a little sceptical when I first heard the camera described as a ‘praying mantis’ but it really does fit that description, and it is also enormous! The quality of images it produces is worth it, however, and I’ve relished the chance to get to grips with such high-end hardware.

I’m hoping that my contribution to the project will make the Cole collection more accessible to researchers, and I’m looking forward to continuing.



Ceri Lumley – Archive Assistant

Purple gloves handling box of glass negatives

Careful handling of the Cole glass plate negatives.

For someone who has an interest in the history of science the opportunity to work on the Cole digitisation of glass plate negatives was a welcome one. However, it was not without its technical trickiness.

Cole photographed images from many core medical and natural philosophy texts, from Aristotle to Leeuwenhoek and beyond. He used these images in his lectures and teaching at the University of Reading but also in his published works, something which is evidenced elsewhere in his papers. From these glass plates we can see his process and the painstaking effort he went to reproduce these images, sometimes taking multiple copies of the same image until he was happy with the result. The photographing set up he had devised can be seen in the images with string and pins delicately holding pages in place to enable him to get the best picture possible.

When digitising glass plate negatives there is often a choice to be made between digitising the object as an object and capturing the image on the glass. This is particularly true of Cole’s process as he often used tape or paint to conceal or highlight parts of the images he was photographing; a kind of early Photoshop. The materiality of the negatives is fascinating in itself and I hope the efforts to digitise them captures a bit of both the image itself and the condition of the negative as a ‘thing’.

It has been quite a task to digitise the photographic records within the Cole collection held at Special Collections. There are almost 1500 glass negatives alone!

Stay tuned for further updates regarding the slides as this work continues. The images of the glass plate negatives from the digitisation project for each individual author will soon be available to view on our Enterprise catalogue and through our online database.

To learn more about the papers of F J Cole see our previous blog post by Cataloguing Archivist Sharon Maxwell here. For the Cole Museum email colemuseum@reading.ac.uk. You can also follow the Cole on Twitter @ColeZoology


New Exhibition: The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection

The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection consists of over 20,000 examples of printed documents covering several centuries and a wide variety of research subjects –from Fifteenth Century religious texts, Nineteenth Century love tokens to Twentieth Century book design. It complements other important printing and publishing collections held at the University’s Special Collections Service and the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication. A selection of favourite items from the collection is currently on display here at the Museum of English Rural Life.

A page from a journal article, decorated with red flowers.

An Illustration from Le Journal de la Decoration c.1906 (JGL 23 23)

John Lewis and His Chance Find

John Lewis spent many years as a lecturer in graphic design at the Royal College of Art, and wrote several publications on printing and book design. His 1962 publication Printed Ephemera: The Changing Uses of Type and Letterforms in English and American Printing is considered pivotal in giving credence to the notion of paper ephemera as a subject for academic study.

His interest in ephemera began as a young man. Lewis started his career as a printer for the firm of Cowells in Ipswich. While working here in the mid-1950s Lewis found a large scrapbook in a secondhand bookshop. The book contained an assortment of printed matter including printer’s marks, specimens of typefaces, tradesman’s bills and public notices. The scrapbook had been compiled in the 1820s by a Dr Lodge, at one time the librarian of the University of Cambridge. The exact purpose of the scrapbook remains a mystery, but John Lewis was compelled to purchase the book and study its contents. This original volume, which he later dissembled, formed the starting point of Lewis’s fascination with paper ephemera. In his collecting he was joined by his wife, the noted ceramicist Griselda Lewis. They believed that such temporary documents contain a wealth of evidence of everyday life in the past, as well as charting the development of printing techniques in the UK.

Wolpe and Weinreb

In addition to John and Griselda’s original collection, a proportion of the archive was originally collected by the typographer and illustrator Berthold Wolpe, a fellow lecturer at the Royal College of Art. The collection was further added to by Ben Weinreb, a London-based dealer in rare books who purchased the collection sometime around 1990. What survives today is an amalgamation of the collecting interests of these various parties. The result is a rare and diverse collection of printed ephemera incorporating early printing specimens, newspaper advertisements, street literature, book covers and trade cards, plus specimens of calligraphy, lithography and fine art printing. As such, material in this collection can support the research of many aspects of social history, as well as students of graphic design and the visual arts.

A black and white magazine cover of a woman, with the words Wendingen on the cover.

Cover from a 1924 edition of Wendingen magazine of art and architecture (JGL 29-4 -15)

During his ownership of the collection, Weinreb arranged the documents into various categories. Roughly the first half of the collection is organised by document type. These include Early Manuscripts and Printed Books, Prospectuses, and Trade Cards, Letterheads and Catalogues. Much of the latter half is arranged by themes, such as Religion, Maritime, Agriculture, and so on, each of which contain a broad mixture of documents. The majority of documents were glued and mounted onto around 1,900 light cardboard sheets, presumably as an aid to displaying and discussing the collection.


 Our Project

The collection is now fully catalogued, and is to be made available via our online catalogue. Each cardboard sheet has been digitally photographed. In addition, we are mid-way through a programme of conservation, as the glues used to mount the documents are harmful to their long term preservation. Documents are being carefully removed from their mounts and placed in archive-quality folders. This not only creates a better preservation environment, but also makes them easier for visitors to access in our reading room. In the short term parts of the collection are unavailable to researchers, but archive staff can advise enquirers as to specifics of availability.

The John and Griselda Lewis Printing Collection is being celebrated with an exhibition here at our Special Collections Service, housed at the Museum of English Rural Life. This exhibition showcases a range of attractive and unusual documents from the collection, and runs until Sunday 11th February.

Image of the Exhibition space.

A snapshot of our John and Griselda Lewis Exhibition.

#ReadaBookDay – Our top suggestions!

In celebration of #ReadABookDay, members of staff at The MERL and Special Collections have been sharing their favourite books from within our collection on Twitter. This blog post looks in a bit more depth at our selections (beyond the 140 character limit).

David’s Choice- The Eagle Annual (1950)

David’s selection is from our Children’s Collection, which includes a significant run of the Eagle comics

David with the 1950 Annual of the Eagle. (CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–052)

and three annuals. Created in 1950, Eagle comics were created by Marcus Morris, an Anglican vicar who was disillusioned with children’s literature at the time. The comics ran from 1950 to 1969, and included the iconic character Dan Dare, iconic pilot of the future. The comic holds nostalgic value for many readers, including David, who can remember rereading old copies of Eagle when he was a young boy.


Erika’s Choice- Sallust’s Coniuratio Catilinae et Bellum Iugurthinum (1569)

Erika’s choice of Sallust, including marginalia. (RESERVE–878.2)

Translated into The Conspiracy of Catiline and Jugurthine War, Erika’s choice comes from one of the earliest Roman historians. This particular copy was printed in the late 15th century by Aldus Manutius, an influential figure in early Venetian printing.  The reason Erika chose this book, however, is because it includes a large number of drawings and doodles within the margins. The study of marginalia within books has become an important aspect of reception studies and book history, and provides an insight into the character of historical readers.



Claire’s Choice- The history of a Banbury cake (1835?) 

Another look into our Children’s Collection now, which comprises over 6,000 books and journals written

Claire’s Choice- a talking Banbury cake on a journey to Bristol. (CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–828.7-HIS)

for children. Although the collection mainly covers the 19th and early 20th century. Claire’s choice,

however, is one of the 900 works which are pre-1851. Titled The history of a Banbury Cake: an entertaining book for children, the book is based around a talking Banbury cake, and it’s subsequent adventures from Oxford to Bristol. You can find more about Banbury from our previous blog here, alongside a further look at cakes within the Special Collections. 



Bethan’s Choice- The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines (1884)

Bethan’s choice- The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines. (RESERVE–822.33-CLA)

Bethan is one of our newest recruits to Special Collections, but she has already picked out a possible favourite- The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines by Mary Cowden Clarke. Clarke was often a partner with her husband Charles Clarke in various Shakespearean studies (Marshall & Thompson 2011). The girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines was previously maligned by critics as supposedly focusing upon Shakespeare’s female characters as actual people, rather than literary creations. However, more recent research has shown Clarke’s writings to be more subversive and feminist then previously thought (Brown 2005). A previous English Literature student, Bethan  liked the focus on Shakespeare’s female characters, and the illustrations included throughout the book.




If you’re interested in any of the items mentioned here, please feel free to contact us for more information! We hope we’ve inspired you to pick out your favourite books.


Brown, S. A. (2005) “The Prequel as Palinode: Mary Cowden Clarke’s Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” in Holland, P. (ed.) Shakespeare Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Shakespeare Survey), pp. 95–106.

Marshall, Gail, & Thompson, Ann (2011) ‘Mary Cowden Clarke’, in Gail Marshall (ed.), Great Shakespeareans volume 7. 


Brian Aldiss (1925-2017)

Brian Aldiss Collection in the Special Collections store

We were sad to hear that Brian Aldiss (born 1925), one of Britain’s most notable writers of science fiction, passed away earlier this week.  Author of the Helliconia trilogy, one of Aldiss’ short stories inspired the 2001 film AI: Artificial Intelligence.  

Frankenstein unbound by Brian W. Aldiss [RESERVE–823.914-ALD]

Bury my heart at W.H. Smith’s: a writing life by Brian Aldiss. [ W.H. SMITH COLLECTION–010]


In 2000 Aldiss received an honorary degree from the University of Reading.  We hold a selection of his papers including notebooks for works such as Helliconia, typescripts of Aldiss’ autobiography Bury my heart at WH Smith’s and other works, articles and books by and about Aldiss, interviews and other papers.

You can read a full obituary on the Guardian website or find out more about our Brian Aldiss Collection.



New collection strengths web page on travel and exploration

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

Plate from Luigi Mayer’s ‘Views in Egypt’ (1801) OVERSTONE–SHELF FOLIO 1I/02


Discover our lesser-known collection strength in material on travel and exploration in our new web page. Our collection strength pages on the Special Collections website are designed to help researchers discover more about our collection strengths, provide more thematic entry points into our collections, and hopefully encourage a more integrated, cross-collection exploration of the University’s resources which will help researchers make the most of our collections.

This new page complements our existing pages on authors’ and writers’ papers, book history and children’s books, with more to follow on themes such as business history, literature and art of the 1890s, the First and Second World Wars, and science, medicine and mathematics, so watch this space!

If you have any comments or suggestions to make about these pages, please let us know.

Iris Murdoch’s The Flight from the Enchanter: from manuscript to marketplace

Edward Bawden’s cover design for The Flight from the Enchanter (Ref. CW AW/M/40).

Edward Bawden’s cover design for The Flight from the Enchanter (Ref. CW AW/M/40).

The publishing archives of Chatto and Windus provide a fascinating insight into the process which brings a new book to its readers, allowing us to see the interplay between the literary and commercial worlds.

I decided to follow The Flight from the Enchanter, Iris Murdoch’s second novel, from the submission of the manuscript to the launch of the finished product to see this process in action.

‘By the Way, I Have a New Novel…’

Chatto and Windus maintained correspondence files concerning many of its published titles, containing letters to and from the author, the publisher and other relevant parties. The file for The Flight from the Enchanter (reference CW 548/2) tells us much about the creation of this novel.

Murdoch had already enjoyed considerable success with her debut Under the Net, published by Chatto and Windus in May 1954. Yet despite this achievement, she is casual on the subject of her next manuscript. Murdoch wrote to her contact at Chatto and Windus, Norah Smallwood (one of the company’s board members), on 5 May 1955. Although the letter mainly discusses her financial affairs (it seems most authors at some point write to their publishers asking for money), Murdoch waits until the final paragraph before revealing ‘By the way, I have a new novel…’ Smallwood’s reply, sent the following day, is enthusiastic: ‘I am plunged into the wildest excitement by your letter…. Of course I am dying to see the new novel’.

At this time, Murdoch was combining her literary career with her post as a lecturer in philosophy at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. In her correspondence with Smallwood, Murdoch reveals something of the circumstances in which she was working. In a letter of 9 May 1955 she explains, ‘I’ll send the typescript shortly – I’d like to look through it again. Frenzied [with] philosophical papers just now’.

Final page of Reader’s Report no.12833, written by Cecil Day Lewis (Series Ref. CW RR).

Final page of Reader’s Report no.12833, written by Cecil Day Lewis (Series Ref. CW RR).

The First Review

Chatto and Windus used Manuscript Entry Books to record all newly submitted manuscripts. Murdoch’s manuscript arrived on 23 May 1955 and was given to three readers for evaluation – Norah Smallwood herself, the then chairman Ian Parsons and the poet, Cecil Day Lewis. Chatto and Windus often used authors to appraise a new manuscript, indicating the significance of the literary perspective in their commercial decisions.

The resulting Reader’s Report written by Day Lewis himself (series reference CW RR) gives a mixed reaction. He begins, ‘This novel seems to me a whirl of scintillating fragments which never quite weave into a whole’. He goes on to find fault in so many aspects of the novel – some chapters drag, the plot construction is too loose and individual characters are merely ‘…bumping into one another, but giving no impression of relationship.’ There is little here to suggest that the novel will be a bestseller.

So why publish? Day Lewis sees merit in the writing, stating that ‘…some of the scenes are wildly funny [and] some excellently sinister…’ but his conclusion that ‘I don’t see that we can do much about this novel, except publish it!’ is hardly a resounding endorsement from Murdoch’s literary peer. Perhaps showing the sensitivity that publishers need in their relationships with authors, Smallwood’s letter of 13 Jun 1955 to Murdoch glosses over Day Lewis’ concerns, noting all reviewers had ‘….read it with very great enjoyment. It is exciting, sensitive, at times a little sinister and on many glorious occasions wildly funny.’ The letter also outlines the proposed terms of payments for the novel. Murdoch must have been greatly encouraged.

However, the same letter also makes the first suggestions for changes to the manuscript, starting the process of negotiated redrafting which characterises the relationship between publisher and author. The editorial correspondence for The Flight from the Enchanter (reference CW 548/2) shows that Murdoch was largely amenable to proposed changes, having previously been through this process for Under the Net. Nevertheless she is not lacking in resolve, especially to some of the more extensive edits suggested by Smallwood. In a letter of 2 Aug 1955, Murdoch refuses to remove one of the novel’s characters as suggested by Smallwood. The publishers, like Day Lewis, also had concerns about the series of accidental meetings between characters but Murdoch was insistent that they remain, stating that ‘They emphasise the dream-like, fairytale-like character of the book’. Manuscripts are evidently fertile ground for negotiation but Murdoch was clear on the boundaries, defending aspects that she considered integral to the text.

Producing the Finished Product

The collection contains a series of ledgers which record the costs incurred in producing a new publication. These include profit and loss figures and author’s accounts, as well as stock books which record printing details such as the numbers of units produced (series reference CW B/2). An initial run of 5,000 copies of The Flight from the Enchanter were printed on 16 Dec 1955, costing just over £238. Chatto and Windus were staking a sizeable amount of money on the title in the hope of making a profit. This initial run was noticeably larger than that of Murdoch’s debut, demonstrating her growing reputation as a novelist. Murdoch’s subsequent books would have increasingly larger first print runs as public interest grew in her work.

Press release sent to bookshops in January 1956 (from file CW 548/2).

Press release sent to bookshops in January 1956 (from file CW 548/2).

Launch and Reaction

The Flight from the Enchanter was published on 23rd of March 1956 but publicity for the novel began well in advance. Stock book CW B/2/22 tells us that 75 copies of the novel were produced for publicity purposes which, along with the above press release, were sent out to various leading bookshops around Britain.

The collection of advertisement books (reference CW D) shows the investment Chatto and Windus put into The Flight from the Enchanter. These are scrapbooks with examples of the adverts placed in newspapers and magazines. Like today, the adverts often used favourable quotes from other authors. In the case of The Flight from the Enchanter, these included praise from the author VS Pritchett. This delighted both Smallwood and Murdoch. In a letter dated 8 Mar 1956, Smallwood tells her ‘His opinion will influence those wavering critics, of which there are, alas, so many nowadays, who are apprehensive about pronouncing their views too definitely.’ Again, the value of the literary perspective in the marketplace is acknowledged; the critical judgement of authors can be used to commercial advantage.

Chatto and Windus kept records of the critical response to their novels, adding small newspaper cuttings into a series of albums (reference CW C), and keeping longer articles in Review Files (reference number CW R). The Flight from the Enchanter received notably mixed reviews on its publication, something which Smallwood felt aggrieved by. In a letter of 9 Apr 1956 to the critic John Russell, Smallwood writes ‘To date the reviewers by and large have been chiefly concerned with condemning it for not being the book it isn’t.’ Smallwood’s belief in both the novel and the novelist is unwavering, but she must also have been concerned about sales and the impact that a commercial failure would have both on company profits and the morale of her author.

She should not have worried. The Flight from the Enchanter enhanced Murdoch’s reputation. She would go on to publish many more novels for Chatto and Windus until her death in 1999.

This is just one trail followed through the archives of Chatto and Windus. Their output was prodigious and diverse, and there are many more titles to be investigated.

Blog post written by David Plant (Project Archivist).


Sources and Further Reading

Chatto and Windus is one of several subsidiary companies of Penguin Random House. The University of Reading also maintains archives from other subsidiary companies under Random House, including The Bodley Head, Jonathan Cape, The Hogarth Press and John Lane. For more details of these collections, either use the online search function or visit the A-Z  list of our collections. Both of these are available via our Special Collections homepage:


Please note that researchers wishing to consult this collection are required to obtain permission prior to access. Please see the Archive of Random House publishers page for more information.

Cover Design © Penguin Random House / The Estate of Edward Bawden

Reader’s Report and Press Release © Penguin Random House