Manuscripts for Our Mutual Friend and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde return to London for the first time in over a century for Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands

  • British Library to display Our Mutual Friend instalment rescued from 1865 train crash by Dickens himself
  • Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde shows how the author toned down his earlier more ‘explicit’ drafts of the novella in Writing Britain exhibition

The manuscripts for two of Britain’s most celebrated literary works are to be on show in England for the first time as part of the British Library’s next major exhibition, Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. On loan from the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, neither manuscript has been in England for over 100 years, but both reveal stories about their makers. The two manuscripts, Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, will be on display in this summer’s major literary exhibition, from 11 May to 25 September, to demonstrate strong connections between literature and place. www.bl.uk/writingbritain

In the year of Dickens bicentenary, pages from Dickens’ original manuscript of Our Mutual Friend will return to London to form part of Writing Britain. Dickens presents the River Thames as a menacingly gothic place which brings about death and yet sustains and transforms life, and demonstrates how London’s surroundings influenced his creative thinking. These two pages from Dickens’ original manuscript describe the urban Thames downstream in central London and the rural river upstream near Shepperton in Surrey.

The autographed page (pictured) is taken from the instalment of the manuscript which Dickens rescued from the Staplehurst rail crash in 1865, an accident in which ten passengers were killed and which made the author a national hero for his role in rescuing the injured. The carriage in which Dickens was travelling with his mistress was derailed and suspended over the precipice of a collapsed bridge. After assisting with the evacuation of other passengers, Dickens realised this next instalment of the novel was still inside the carriage so clambered back into the wreckage to rescue the manuscript. The manuscript is spattered with dark stains, which have been examined by experts, though it is yet to be determined exactly what they are.

Jekyll and Hyde rank among the most fearsomely memorable doubling. Robert Louis Stevenson’s original manuscript, written in Bournemouth in 1885, describes Soho as ‘a dismal quarter…like a district of some city in a nightmare’, where Hyde lives. Despite clearly using London surroundings to illustrate the story, the atmosphere of a divided city applies as much to Stevenson’s birthplace, Edinburgh, as it does to the ‘fogged city’ of London.

The first manuscript of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written furiously following a dream. It worried Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, and was burnt, then rewritten twice over a six-week period. Earlier versions made more explicit suggestions to Hyde’s sexual ‘vices’. In this final manuscript however, we see how Stevenson softens the line about Jekyll becoming ‘the slave of certain appetites’ to merely an ‘impatient gaiety of disposition’.

Jamie Andrews, Lead Curator of Writing Britain, comments: “We are thrilled to receive these two loans, both of which have been away from London for so long. In addition to the British Library’s archives, we are excited to be able to share for the first time manuscripts that left the country many decades ago. These will feature among 150 other literary works that have helped shaped the nation’s understanding of our landscape and surroundings. Writing Britain celebrates the incredible collection of great literary works held at the British Library, spanning more than 1000 years to the present day. These rare and unique collections will help give a fascinating and new insight into the creative thinking behind iconic British novels, poems and illustrations.”

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands will examine how the landscapes of Britain permeate great literary works. Taking location as its starting point, the exhibition will allow visitors to read between the lines of great works of English literature, discovering the secrets and stories surrounding the works’ creation and critical reception over the years, shedding new light on how they speak to the country today.

Writing Britain is part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration from 21 June and running until 9 September 2012 bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK.

Notes to Editors:

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands runs from 11 May until 25 September.

Featuring a range of stunning items, some of which have never been seen before, Writing Britain will draw on the breadth of the Library’s collections to explore how writers from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf and Hanif Kureishi have been inspired by, and helped to shape, the nation’s understanding of landscape and place. www.bl.uk/writingbritain

Exhibition opening hours

Monday 10.00 – 18.00, Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00, Wednesday – Friday 10.00 – 18.00, Saturday 10.00 – 17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00 – 17.00

All galleries are accessible by wheelchair. Information can be requested from Visitor Services staff on: T +44 (0)20 7412 7332.


An exciting programme of talks, discussions, film and performances will accompany the exhibition – taking a deeper and sometimes surprising look at the themes of place and space. Speakers will include language expert David Crystal, landscape writer Robert MacFarlane, author Iain Sinclair and many others to be announced soon.

Booking information

For further information please visit www.bl.uk and register for our e-what's on newsletter https://forms.bl.uk/newsletters/index.aspx

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.

About the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival

The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements. Spread over four years, it is designed to give everyone in the UK a chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture, especially among young people.

The culmination of the Cultural Olympiad will be the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK, from Midsummers Day on 21 June and running until the final day of the Paralympic Games on 9 September 2012.The London 2012 Festival will celebrate the huge range, quality and accessibility of the UK’s world-class culture including dance, music, theatre, the visual arts, fashion, film and digital innovation, giving the opportunity for people across the UK to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Principal funders of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival are Arts Council England, Legacy Trust UK and the Olympic Lottery Distributor. BP and BT are Premier Partners of the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival.

For more details on the programme and to sign up for information visit www.london2012.com/festival

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