From Shakespeare to Sherlock Master Manuscript and British Legend
Some classic works from English history have travelled to China in yet another way, with the National Library of China joining the British Library in holding an exhibition which opened on April 21, 2017.
Among the treasures of world literature, the British contributions continue to dazzle, having evolved over the centuries, from the Renaissance to the romantic to realist eras, from the elegant to the subtle to the popular. The themes are rich and varied, with profound connotations and expressions with their own unique meaning and artistic charm.
Among the giants are William Shakespeare (1564–1616), Lord Byron (1788–1824) the poet, Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855) the novelist, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), all of whom enjoy a popular reputation among Chinese readers, and whose classic works have been passed down for generations. Romeo and Juliet is known for its love story, Jane Eyre has come to represent women's pursuit of independence and self-awareness, David Copperfield has made readers aware of the tragedy, happiness and fate of Britain's common people, while Sherlock Holmes has even made it to the big screen, where he keeps revealing mysteries.
Now, these classic English works have travelled to China in yet another way, with the National Library of China joining the British Library hosting an exhibition— Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library— which opened on April 21, 2017, with original manuscripts and early prints, some of the most dazzling treasures of British literature, now on hand for avid Chinese readers to view for the first time.
The British Library has a more than 250-year history collecting as many as 150
million works that provide a long record of human civilisation. In explaining the transaction, one official from the British Library noted, “It was the staff of China's National Library who suggested we have this exchange,” then went on to explain that they selected nine manuscripts from these iconic British writers and two early prints to bring to Chinese viewers. The items in the Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library exhibition are arranged in three categories—poetry, drama and the novel.
Imagine the excitement of seeing the real manuscripts of these English literary masters, seeing the words, and imagining the writer! To help the visitors understand the incredible influence these works have had in China, some famous Chinese translations, adaptations and commentaries have been exhibited at the same time. The people can see how the modern Chinese masters, such as Cao Yu (1910–1996), Guo Moruo (1892–1978) and Lao She (1899–1966) were affected by Shakespeare. There are also Chinese translations of Shakespeare's works by the famous translator Zhu Shenghao (1912–1944), to balance out and complement the collection. These represent a peak in classical literature in both China and Britain and provide satisfaction for Chinese readers.
This exhibition is part of a three-yearlong, large cultural exchange programme called “The British Library in China: Sharing Knowledge and Culture” to show the long history of contacts between Chinese and English literature and culture.
A Life in Drama
British drama developed alongside its own literature, with the two intermingling and Shakespeare, the country's greatest playwright had written many tragicomedies. In the 17th century, these were performed at the Globe Theatre, a centre of British drama, which gave expression to Shakespeare's thoughts on life. The King’s Collection and Shakespeare’s Masterpiece Romeo and Juliet tells the story of two lovers caught between two feuding families who ultimately choose to end their lives, taking with them their forbidden love. Today, many young people think of Juliet praying for eternal love. The version of this tragic masterpiece that has travelled to China, the second quarto edition of Romeo and Juliet, from 1599, was once obtained by King George III (1738–1820). The first quarto edition of Romeo and Juliet, published as early as 1597, is different from other versions, so, the title page of this second edition explains that this version is corrected and updated. The quarto edition, not especially large, lies open in the warm light of the showcase, distant but comforting, demonstrating the long history of British literature and its enduring charm.
Residing in the same room as Shakespeare's work is Mudan Ting (Peony Pavilion), written by Tang Xianzu (1550– 1616) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), for a display of two contemporaries of dramatic genius spanning east and west and transcending time and space, and to praise freedom and liberate humanity. Tang is, by the way, known as the “Oriental Shakespeare.”
Shakespeare's works have been translated into many languages and span the globe, and his plays are staged in many countries. He was first introduced to China in the late Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).
At the centre of the exhibition hall, there is a unique “birdcage” that attracts a lot of people to stop and gaze at it, representing how Hamlet is a drama within a drama, and the birdcage goes well with the image of the vindictive Fortinbras,” who appears briefly in the tragedy as a sort of foil for the prince.
A Song in Poetry
Romanticism in Britain flourished from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th when poets began to draw inspiration from nature and travel and added Gothic elements to their work to excite the reader's imagination. Those most closely linked with Romanticism from this period were Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) and William Wordsworth (1770–1850) whose poems are full of exploration.
A Smudge of Romance on the Notebook
The Manuscript of Don Juan by George Gordon Byron (1788–1824), is a tale of a good and just Spanish warrior often tricked by women, an aristocratic child who intends to travel, love and enjoy adventure in Europe, but encounters a dark, ugly society full of hypocrisy. This typical “Byronic hero” stands up and fights for freedom. Byron's poetic work is full of irony, half serious and half funny, and is just as controversial as its author. Don Juan was seen by Goethe to be “a work of absolute genius” because of its broad description of life, profound ideas and unique style. Byron had finished 16 chapters but had not completed the work when he went off to join the Greek liberation movement.
The manuscript on display here is wrapped in brown paper, in different sizes. It is said that Byron carried these pieces of paper around with him, so he could write down whatever came to his mind when inspiration struck. This collection of thin paper resembles a notebook and is one of the greatest romantic masterpieces.
At the beginning of Chapter Seven, Don Juan gets involved in Tsarist Russia's attempt to surround an Ottoman fortress in Izmail, in 1790, and the manuscript itself is covered with various writings, and ink smudges, so perhaps Byron was altering the story to convey his own ambitions and revolutionary ideas via Don Juan, changing the tragic fate of this well-known character.
A Message to the Publisher
The Manuscript of I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud is perhaps William Wordsworth's most famous. He was a member of the Lake School, living in the countryside far from city life, alongside a rustic lake in nature, the landscape, and the scenery which give his work strong vitality. He praised the natural, true joy and wisdom of the poetic life, with a style that has freshness and depth, along with moments of self-reflection and philosophy of life.
Part of the inspiration for this work comes from 1802, when the “Poet Laureate” and his sister, Dorothy, were strolling beside the lake, and he saw daffodils blossoming golden in the spring light and could not help admiring the beauty of nature. Two years later, reflecting on this and the “emotion in his calm memories,” he compared himself to a cloud in writing some verse called Daffodils. This masterpiece shows a richness of imagination and a heart longing for freedom. He finally handed the manuscript over to the publisher in 1807.
If taking a slightly closer look at
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud you may notice that Wordsworth left a message at the top of the manuscript asking the publisher to put the poem in the section titled “My Mind.” God is in the details. This romantic poet, who advocated “plain living and noble thinking” with his own unique expressions and ideas, was behind innovations in British poetry and even had a far-reaching influence on Chinese poetry in the 20th century.
The World in Novels
The English novel, characterised by its realism and characters, had matured by the beginning of the 19th century and Charlotte
Brontë's Jane Eyre marks the rise of British literature, so that, by the late 19th century, its writers had created more exciting stories with vivid characters in a modernist vein.
Publishing under an Alias
It's an old theme: a lonely female teacher falls in love with someone else's husband. Nothing new to Chinese readers, of course, because it's Jane Eyre. Not many readers may know that much of this story was based on personal experience. Charlotte Brontë was the daughter of a village pastor, in Yorkshire, in the north of England, felt humiliated in her early years and went to be a tutor for a wealthy family. Later, she travelled to Brussels, Belgium to study French, where she was attracted by the knowledge, intellect, and masculinity of French teachers, but, alas, the relationship was doomed. Brontë's heart was broken but it took her less than a year's time to write a semi-autobiographical novel. In the book, Jane Eyre is a family tutor who fights for her freedom and equality and falls in love with her employer, Rochester. The gloomy, hidden love affair is full of twists and turns, but ultimately escapes prejudice and comes to a happy ending. So, the struggle for independence ultimately overcomes loneliness and humility.
Unfortunately, in real life, Brontë was not so lucky. In this version of Jane Eyre on display, if you look at the name that appears on top of the title page, it is not Charlotte Brontë, but Currer Bell, a man's name. At the beginning of the 19th century, women were subordinate to men, so, to increase the credibility and popularity of the novel, and to avoid arousing suspicion among certain parties about her being the writer, Brontë had to use a pseudonym. If you look even closer, you can see inky fingerprints on the manuscript. Just try to imagine the author's indignation when she delivered the work to the printer.
Joy and Sorrow all in Good Order Charles Dickens is no stranger to the Chinese. In fact, he was probably the first British writer to be introduced to China, especially from Nicholas Nickleby, his early humorous fiction. The story takes place in London, where Nickleby's family are penniless after his father's death. But, he's honest, kind and ambitious, and uses his mind and courage to deal with tough people. He faces many challenges as he grows up. The language of the novel is clearly humorous, but reveals the cruelty of society, about which Dickens shows so much concern, especially the living conditions of the working class in Britain, based on his own experience. In his childhood, Dickens's father was jailed for his debts, a common occurrence at that time, and he himself was sent to a shoe factory in London as an apprentice, working 10 hours a day and experiencing the throes of the working class. Hence his feelings about the fate of the common people were prevalent.
Nicholas Nickleby was originally published in serial form. But, there's an added delight in the display here, another item with a blue cover—the “favourite child” of Dickens, a one-volume edition of David Copperfield, regarded as Dickens's most distinctive autobiographical novel. This particular volume contains the original book and serials published before and after 1850. Every book in this volume has a blue cover, with beautiful illustrations. A first-person narrative is used to put in his real-life experiences, so family, friendship, and love are intertwined against the social background of the mid-19th century, as well as the joys and sorrows and the ups and downs of the common people.
The humanitarianism of Dickens's literary works had a profound effect on the Chinese and world literature. The exhibition also has Lin Shu's (1852–1924) translation of Dickens's Oliver Twist. Lin Shu didn't understand English, but, using other people's oral description of the work, he turned it into a beautiful classical Chinese tale, combined with a stlye of the Chinese novel style, with a couplet at the beginning of every chapter to please Chinese readers'.
A Clean Bit of Sherlock
No, we are not talking about the hot TV series Sherlock, but the famous, brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, the creation of renowned detective storyteller of the 19th century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is a genius of observation and reasoning, who together with his friend and biographer Dr. Watson, solves one puzzle after another. The pair has many devoted fans, and Holmes is practically a household name in China and probably the one literary character in the world that is most frequently adapted for the screen. Doyle created four novellas and 56 short stories with Sherlock Holmes. On display here is the story, The Adventure of the Missing Three-quarter, which was first published in The Strand in 1904. Although the signature of Conan Doyle has yellowed over time, the manuscript is clean and tidy, with only a few corrections and notes throughout its 25 pages.